Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Jan Larson
by Father Jan Larson
(From the April 29, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
One thing that people will notice who study the various liturgical rites of the Church is that every ritual, whether it be the ordination of a bishop or the blessing of a rosary, begins with a proclamation of Godís Word. This is the principle: God speaks to us first through the Scriptural readings and preaching, and then we make our human response. At the celebration of the Eucharist this means that the liturgy of the word comes first, followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Indeed, a number of key liturgical documents refer to the table of the word and the table of the Eucharist. At the table of the word (the ambo or pulpit) the bread of Godís Word is presented and broken to be our nourishment. Then the bread of the Eucharist is presented and broken at the altar table for our nourishment.
The Scriptures were read at the beginning of the liturgy from earliest times. The Church had its roots in Judaism, where every synagogue service centered on readings from the Jewish Scriptures. These Scriptures told the story of Godís relationship with Israel, and to this record the Christians soon added the words of Jesus and passages from the teachings of the Twelve. St. Justin the Martyr, in the middle of the second century, testifies to the format of readings that were used in his day at the beginning of the Eucharistic liturgy: ďThe memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time permits.Ē
Christians, however, had a quite different perspective on the readings that were proclaimed at their liturgies. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy in our own day summarizes their particular belief: It is the risen Christ ďhimself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church.Ē This belief is rooted in St. Lukeís account of the two disciples walking on their way to the town of Emmaus. The early Church, and we today, see in this wonderful story the intimate connection between Godís word and Godís sacrament. Jesus, unrecognized by the two disciples, joined them on the journey, and began to explain the Scriptures to them Ė to break open the bread of Godís Word. It was only after this experience that, at the end of their journey, the disciples were able to sit with the risen Lord, to dine with him, and there recognize his presence in the action of breaking bread at the table.
The same pattern of action happens today. The proclamation of the Scripture and the preaching disclose something important and exciting about the mystery of Godís kingdom. Remembering Godís deeds in the past, we then offer praise in the great prayer of thanksgiving Ė what we call the Eucharistic Prayer. Having been nourished by the bread of the word, we come to the table of the Eucharist, where, like the amazed disciples of Emmaus, we come to know the risen Jesus in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread.†
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)