General Audience Catechesis – 7 February

Pope Francis continues his catechesis on matters liturgical at this week’s General Audience…


Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

We continue with the catecheses on the Holy Mass. We had arrived at the Readings. The dialogue between God and His People, developed in the Liturgy of the Word of the Mass, reaches its culmination in the proclamation of the Gospel. It is preceded by the singing of the Alleluia – or, in Lent, by another acclamation – with which “the assembly of the faithful receives and greets the Lord, who is about to speak in the Gospel.”[1] As Christ’s mysteries illumine the whole of biblical revelation, so, in the Liturgy of the Word, the Gospel constitutes the light to understand the meaning of the biblical texts that precede it, be it of the Old or of the New Testament. In fact, Christ is the center and fullness of the whole of Scripture, as well as of the whole liturgical celebration.”[2] Jesus Christ is always at the center, always.

Therefore, the liturgy itself distinguishes the Gospel from the other Readings and surrounds it with particular honour and veneration.[3] In fact, its reading is reserved to the ordained minister, who ends by kissing the Book; we stand to listen to it and trace the sign of the cross on the forehead, on the mouth and on the breast; the candles and incense honour Christ that, through the evangelical reading, makes His effective word resound. The assembly acknowledges with these signs the presence of Christ who gives it the “Good News,” which converts and transforms. It’s a direct discourse that takes place, as if attesting the acclamations with which one responds to the proclamation: “Glory to you, O Lord” and “Praise be to You, O Christ.” We stand to listen to the Gospel, but it’s Christ who is speaking to us there. And so we are attentive, because it’s a direct conversation. It’s the Lord that is speaking to us.

Therefore, we don’t read the Gospel in the Mass to know how things happened, but we listen to the Gospel to become aware of what Jesus did and said once; and that Word is living, the Word of Jesus, which is in the Gospel, is living and reaches one’s heart. This is why it’s so important to listen to the Gospel with an open heart, because it’s a living Word. Saint Augustine wrote: “the Gospel is the mouth of Christ. He reigns in Heaven, but doesn’t cease to speak on earth.”[4] If it’s true that in the liturgy “Christ proclaims the Gospel again,”[5] it follows that, taking part in the Mass, we must give Him a response. We listen to the Gospel and we must give a response in our life.

To bring His message, Christ also makes use of the word of the priest that, after the Gospel, gives the homily.[6] Earnestly recommended by Vatican Council II as part of the liturgy itself,[7] the homily isn’t a circumstantial discourse or a catechesis, such as the one I’m giving now –, or a conference or not even a lesson; the homily is something else. What is the homily? It’s “a taking up again of the dialogue already open between the Lord and His people, so that it finds fulfilment in life. The Gospel’s authentic exegesis is our holy life! The Lord’s word ends its course becoming flesh in us, translated into works, as happened with Mary and the Saints.  Remember what I said the last time, the Word of the Lord enters by the ears, reaches the heart and goes to the hands, to good works. And the homily also follows the Lord’s Word and follows this course as well to help us, so that the Lord’s Word, passing through the heart, reaches the hands.

I have already addressed the argument of the homily in the Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, where I recalled that the liturgical context “calls for the preaching to orient the assembly, and also the preacher, to a communion with Christ in the Eucharist, which transforms life.”

One who gives the homily must fulfil well his ministry – he who preaches, the priest, or the deacon or the Bishop –, offers a real service to all those taking part in the Mass, but those who hear him must also do their part. First of all, by paying due attention, namely, by assuming the right interior dispositions, without subjective demands, knowing that every preacher has merits and limitations. If sometimes there is reason to be bored by a long, or unfocused, or incomprehensible homily, at others times, in stead, it’s prejudice that is the obstacle. And one who gives a homily must be conscious that he’s not doing something of his own; he is preaching, giving voice to Jesus, he is preaching the Word of Jesus. And the homily must be well prepared; it must be brief, brief! A priest said to me that once he went to another city where his parents lived and his father said to him: “You know, I’m happy, because along with my friends we found a church where there is Mass without a homily!” And how often we see that during the homily some fall asleep, others chat or go outside to smoke a cigarette . . . Therefore, please, make the homily brief, but it must be well prepared. And how is a homily prepared, dear priests, deacons and Bishops? How is it prepared? With prayer, with the study of the Word of God and by doing a clear and brief synthesis; it must not go beyond ten minutes, please.

By way of conclusion we can say that, through the Gospel and the Homily, in the Liturgy of the Word God dialogues with His people, who listen to Him with attention and veneration and, at the same time, recognize Him present and operating. If, then, we listen to the “Good News,” we will be converted and transformed by it, therefore we will be capable of changing ourselves and the world. Why? Because the Good News, the Word of God enters the ears, goes to the heart and reaches the hands to do good works.

[1] Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano, 62

[2] Introduction to the Lectionary, 5.

[3] Cf. Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano, 60 and 134.

[4] Sermon 85, 1:PL 38, 520; Cf. also Treatise  on the Gosep of John, XXX, I: PL 35, 1632; CCL 36, 289.

[5] Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 33.

[6] Cf. Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano, 65-66; Introduction to the Lectionary, 24-27.

[7] Cf. Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 52.

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

Translation from the Italian by Virginia M. Forrester, © ZENIT, http://www.zenit.org

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