Venerating the Word of God

Many Catholics who know well to show great reverence for the Holy Eucharist are uninformed about the way our Catholic faith reverences the word of God in Scripture.

Sr. Mary Timothea Elliott, RSM, a highly-respected Scripture scholar, who is now engaged in pastoral ministry in Tennessee, shared with me recently how she helps Catholics grasp the importance of Sacred Scripture to our Catholic faith.

She reminds people of what Vatican II says on the subject:

The Church has always venerated the divine scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ.

Since Vatican II the “veneration” of the Scriptures in the liturgy is powerfully connected with the Eucharist itself.  Sr. Timothea invites then people to remember and picture in their minds how we venerate the word of God at Mass.

Sr. Timothea gave a few examples off the top of her head that I found arresting:

1)      The deacon carries the Book of the Gospels into the Church, leading the procession, and lifting it high above his head for all to see.

2)      He places the Book of the Gospels upon the altar table for the introductory rites of the Mass.

3)      In the Liturgy of the Word, the book of the Gospels is carried in procession by the Deacon from its place on the altar to the ambo. In solemn liturgies he is led by two altar servers carrying lighted candles signifying the Word as Light

4)      In solemn liturgies incense is offered to the book of the Gospels—indicating the presence of Christ in the Word.

5)      After reading the Gospel the Deacon kisses the page of the Gospel reading

6)      Then he carries it to the presiding celebrant who kisses it also.

7)      If a Bishop is presiding, he takes the book of the Gospels and blesses the Congregation with it—again indicating the presence of Christ in his Word.

So, “The Church has always venerated the divine scriptures as she venerates the Body of the Lord….” Do we?

Comments

  1. Jack Flanagan says:

    As a deacon, while processing with the Book of the Gospels, I have learned to keep my gaze reverently on the Book of the Gospels, interceding for us, the People of God, to have ears to hear His Word proclaimed. That to understand His word, we would be willing to stand under His word humbly. In this processional posture I at times experience His graces being poured out on me, and hopefully, all of us. I experience His strong presence. Yes, Jesus is present in His word!

    Deacon Jack Flanagan

  2. Peter S. Williamson says:

    Thanks for the inspiring comment, Deacon!
    When I have the privilege of being a reader at Mass, I experience something similar. The Vatican II document on the liturgy says that it is Christ himself who speaks when the Scripture are read in Church. I therefore pray and ask the Holy Spirit to speak Christ’s word through me as I read. And he does.

  3. The carrying of the Gospel Book high above the heads of the procession is one of the most meaningful liturgical actions in the Mass. Thank you for posting this.

  4. There is no power but that from the Holy Trinity. We are commanded not to worship any object or image. Scripture teaches our faith and trust to be in God, rather than paper or other believers. The saints throughout scripture, as well as angels, refused worship of any kind. Christ died and rose for us and He, along with the Father and Holy Spirit, alone hears and acts on our prayers.

  5. I think this was one of the most helpful things taught to me by our priest during RCIA. Talk about fullness of the faith! As Catholics, we eat from both tables.

    He noted that because we revere the Word of God, we never place our Bibles on the ground. This drew a lot of uncomfortable looks as there was a long pause where people picked their Bibles up from the floor and put them on the table, but I think it was significant. How can we claim to revere God’s Word, if we are casual about our handling of it? We wouldn’t do that with the Eucharist (I hope!).

    It is easier, perhaps, to understand the interpersonal exchange that happens when you receive the Eucharist. After all, you’re taking Him inside you. That’s rather personal. But, each time you read His Word, you are taking His Spirit within you. From the very words, He breathes out and you breathe in.

    It is not so much that the Eucharist is “physical” food and the Word is “spiritual” food, but that both are both. Through the Eucharist and the Word are we fed spiritually, and through them both is the Divine Life of God actually communicated to us. It is precisely because we are body/spirit mixes that God deals with us in the same manner.

    One last point. This is why it is important to arrive on time to Mass. A few minutes late could mean that you miss the first reading. Or the psalm. Or the Liturgy of the Word. And it’s not the same to say that you can “just read them when I get home.” There is an added dimension to them being proclaimed at Mass. Even the way this is said is informative. Lectors do not read Scripture at the ambo, they proclaim the Scriptures. What’s the difference? At Mass, they are lending their voices to God. It is the Holy Spirit who is reading those Scriptures, very personally, to each one of us.

  6. Paul Major says:

    from the early Church Father Origin, in his Homily on Exodus:

    “You who often partake in the divine mysteries, when you receive the body of the Lord you treat it with great care and veneration so that not even a crumb will fall to the ground, so that nothing is lost of the consecrated gift. You are rightly convinced that that it is wrong to let a piece fall out of carelessness. If you are so careful in safeguarding his body — and it is right that you are — know that neglecting God’s word is not less wrong than neglecting his body.”

    • Peter S. Williamson says:

      Thanks, great quote! Pope Benedict also uses it in Verbum Domini.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Venerating the Word of God. A blog post by Catholic Scripture scholar Dr. Peter […]