One of the most significant retrievals of Vatican II
centered on the importance of the Word of God.
Of the 16 documents promulgated by the world’s
Catholic bishops at Vatican II, two exist at the
highest level of solemnity by the use of the word
“Dogmatic” in their title. One of them, the Dogmatic
Constitution on Divine Revelation, spoke about the primacy of the
Word of God in the lives of Catholics.
The fruit of the council on the Word of God has brought about a
flourishing of Bible study in parishes, something of a rarity before the
Council. Liturgically, the entire lectionary was revised in order that
those coming to Mass would be exposed to more of the Bible. Before
Vatican II we had one annual cycle of Sunday readings. Today
we have three annual cycles. Before Vatican II we had an epistle and
a gospel each Sunday. Now we have three readings and a responsorial
psalm. Before Vatican II we had a limited lectionary for daily
Mass. Today we have two annual cycles of readings. If you went to
Mass every day in the pre-conciliar Church you would have heard
1% of the Old Testament and 16.5% of the New Testament over the
course of an entire cycle of readings being offered. Today you hear
13.5% of the Old Testament (not counting the Psalms) and 71.5% of
the New Testament. Clearly the Church is placing the Scriptures in a
prominent place in Catholic worship.
Listening to the Word of God at Mass is very important. This is not
a new insight. St. Augustine (354-430AD) proclaimed this about its
importance: “Here is a question for you: Which to you seems greater,
the Word of God or the Body of Christ? If you want to give the right
answer you will reply that God’s Word is not less than Christ’s Body.
Therefore, just as we take care when we receive the Body of Christ
so that no part of it falls to the ground so, likewise, should we insure
that the Word of God which is given to us is not lost to our souls
because we are speaking or thinking about something different. One
who listens negligently to God’s Word is just as guilty as one who,
through carelessness, allows Christ’s Body to fall to the ground.”
(Sermon 300.2 in Patrologia Latina 39, col. 2319).
St. Augustine, a doctor of the Church, has some profound words
for us to remember when it comes to listening to the Word of God
at Mass. We should give this Word our undivided attention when it
is being proclaimed by the lector, deacon, or priest. If we arrive late
for Mass, we should not move about in the nave (where the people
are seated) of the church while the Scriptures are being proclaimed
lest we become a source of distraction for those listening and miss
these words ourselves. Wait until the passage is concluded before
moving to find a seat. If hearing the Word is difficult (and there are
some dead spots in the church and distractions that are inevitable),
consider acquiring a one-volume lectionary with the readings so you
may read along while the Word of God is being proclaimed.
Vatican II did a great service to our Church by restoring the primacy
of God’s Word to our liturgical and personal lives. I hope these
observations and comments help you to drink more deeply from the
well of God’s Word.

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