Why must we be attentive when the priest reads the Gospel at Mass? Quite simply because it is Christ who is speaking to us, in a direct conversation.
This is the explanation that Pope Francis offered today as he continued his Wednesday audience series on the Mass.
“We stand to listen to the Gospel, but it is Christ Who speaks to us, there. And this is why we are attentive, because it is a direct conversation. It is the Lord Who speaks to us,” he said.
The pope thus continued with his reflection of last week, on the importance of the Liturgy of the Word, today focusing on the climax of this portion of the liturgy, the reading of the Gospel.
“Just as the mysteries of Christ illuminate the entire Biblical revelation, so, in the Liturgy of the Word, the Gospel is the light for understanding the meaning of the biblical texts that precede it, both of the Old and of the New Testament,” the Holy Father explained.
And that’s why, the pope said, the Gospel is set apart from the other readings, with “particular honor and veneration,” with its reading “reserved to the ordained minister, who ends by kissing the book,” and with the congregation standing, and the candles and incense that honor Christ, who “through the Gospel reading, makes His effective word resonate.”
All of these signs are the assembly’s acknowledgment of Christ’s presence, and his addressing to us the “good news” that “converts and transforms.”
“It is a direct discourse that takes place […] We stand to listen to the Gospel, but it is Christ Who speaks to us, there. And this is why we are attentive, because it is a direct conversation. It is the Lord Who speaks to us.”
Thus, Francis explained, the Gospel is not merely an account of past events. Instead, “that Word is living, the Word of Jesus that is in the Gospel is living and arrives to my heart. This is why listening to the Gospel is so important, with an open heart, because it is the living Word. St. Augustine writes that ‘the mouth of Christ is the Gospel. He reigns in heaven, but never ceases to speak on earth.’”
Listening and answering
Naturally, then, there must be an answer on our part in this conversation, and this, Pope Francis said, comes in how we live our lives. “We listen to the Gospel and we must give an answer in our life,” he said.
Francis then went on to speak about the homily.
He explained: “It is neither a conference nor a lesson. The homily is something else. What is a homily? It is the resumption of ‘a dialogue between God and His people,’ so that it may find fulfilment in life.”
“The authentic exegesis of the Gospel is our holy life!” he asserted. The homily is to help us “so that the Word of the Lord arrives at the hands, passing via the heart.”
The pope exhorted priests and deacons to perform this ministry well, saying they must prepare the homily with prayer and study, and should keep it brief — to less than 10 minutes.
But there is also an obligation on the part of the faithful, Francis said:
“First and foremost, they must pay attention, which means assuming the right inner predispositions, without subjective demands, knowing that every preacher has his gifts and his limits.
“While at times there is reason to be bored by a long, unfocused or incomprehensible homily, other times instead the obstacle is prejudice.”
5 Things to try if you find the homily boring
The pope concluded by reiterating that “in the Liturgy of the Word, through the Gospel and the homily, God engages in dialogue with His people, who listen to Him with attention and veneration and, at the same time, acknowledge that He is present and working.”
“If, then, we listen to the ‘good news,’ we will be converted and transformed by it, and capable of changing ourselves and the world,” he said. “Why? Because the Good News, the Word of God which enters through the ears, goes to the heart and arrives at the hands, to do good works.”
Read the full text here.
And check out previous catecheses: