The leader of every celebration of the Mass is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the fundamental agent of the Eucharist. He is the High Priest of the New Covenant. It is He Himself who officiates invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration. It is in standing for Him that the bishop or priest presides over the congregation. It is in standing for Him that they preach after the readings. It is in standing for Him that they receive the offerings and recite the Eucharistic Prayer. The bishop or the priest act in the person of Christ! They act in the person of Christ during the Mass — the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (cf. CCC 1348).
During Mass, the Liturgy of the Word covers all the readings, the homily, the Creed, and the Prayers of the Faithful or General Intercessions. The Liturgy of the Word is an important part of sacramental celebrations. To encourage the faith of believers, the signs which go with the Word of God are emphasized. We sing Alleluia, we have the procession of the Book of the Gospels before its proclamation; and this emphasizes its importance and veneration. Even from where it’s proclaimed, the ambo also emphasizes that the Word of God is being decreed. The clear and intelligible reading, homily, and the responses of the people are more signs which go with the Word of God being highlighted (cf. CCC 1154).
The Liturgy of the Word during Mass is in our history all the way back to the time of Ezra. We heard from the Book of Nehemiah in the First Reading the description of what Ezra, the priest, did in the synagogue. It’s very similar to what we do at Mass, today. Ezra was standing at one end and standing higher up; that’s what the priest or deacon does: from the Ambo. As Ezra opened the scroll, the people rose; that’s what happened at the Gospel during the Mass, the people stand to listen the Gospel proclaimed. Then Ezra interpreted the reading for the people; and that’s what the priest or deacon or bishop does after the proclamation of the Gospel, he gives the homily.
Every time we read the Old Testament, try to keep in mind Jesus Christ because everything recorded in the Old Testament leads us to Jesus Christ. He is the completion of all prophecies in the Old Testament. Ezra, too, anticipates Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, which we heard in the Gospel today. Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah to read and then He gave his “homily” by saying: Today, this passage is fulfilled in your hearing. Again, the Liturgy of the Word goes back all the way to Ezra’s and Our Lord’s time. The people were attentive in hearing the readings being interpreted by Ezra and by Our Lord.
So, the Liturgy of the Word is like a form of a conversation. God speaks to us through the readings and the homily; and we respond to Him by our profession of faith and interceding on behalf of the Church as His family.
Mother Angelica gives us her guidance on how to listen to sermons. She said: “Don’t shut off the Word, because you’re going to miss a lot of graces in your life. Don’t say, ‘I’ve heard all of this before.’ Listen to what the Spirit wants to say to you right now… Now, maybe you don’t like his interpretation. Fine. You don’t have to like it. There are a lot of speakers that I don’t like. But there have been times where the worst speaker will say something that hits me like a rock. So please don’t sit there with a Christian Science grin. Wake up and listen. Really listen! There is no sermon that you cannot get something out of. I don’t care who gives it. It’s not what they are saying. It’s the Word! You need to ask only one question when that homily begins: ‘What is Jesus going to say to me today?’”
For us, priests, preaching is undeniably an important office we’ve been given to deliver faithfully. We are being shaped through the preaching of the word of God. This is when we decide to leave sin behind during the preaching of the word of God. This is when we transform during the preaching of the word. It is during the preaching of the word that we decide to embrace the life of the Gospel and abandon the worldly life. It is during the preaching of the word that we decide to try for virtue and stop vices. So, know this anytime a Bishop, Priest or Deacon prepares and gives a homily he is talking to himself also, we are far from perfect.
St. Dominic also placed great emphasis on study. A preacher needed to be educated to know what he was talking about before he got into the pulpit. This is the origin of one of the 4 Pillars of the Dominican charism
I want to conclude with a discernment of St. John Marie Vianney, the patron of all priests, about preaching. Through his words, he speaks to us, priests, and to the rest of the People of God. First, he calls us, priests, to model after the good thief on the cross; and then, he speaks to the lay faithful.
Be like ministers who offer Jesus Christ to God his Father and make him the sacrifice of all they are and take as a good model the good thief on the cross. What an evolution he makes during the three hours that he finds himself in the company of his dying Savior! First, he opens the eyes of his soul to recognize his deliverer; then, fastened to the cross, and having nothing that still is free but his heart and tongue, he offers both to Jesus Christ. He consecrates his heart to him by faith and hope, and humbly asks of him a place in paradise; and he consecrates his tongue to him by proclaiming his innocence and holiness: “And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. (Luke 23:41) …
My children, you listen when you like the preacher; but if the preacher does not suit you, you turn him into ridicule… We must not think so much about the man. It is not the body that we must deal with. No matter what you think of the person giving the homily, if he is a true person of God there is going to be a message. You may like the delivery of one over another but let me ask you this Duracell or Eveready they both will light up the same candle?
Bottom Line is be prepared for Mass! There is no chewing gum during Mass! Sit up, listen! When we come to Mass, we come to Christ. Let us ask Mother Mary, as Deacon said last week, to help us always prepare for the Mass. Let us ask Her every time we attend Mass, so we can do it with love and devotion. Ask our Holy Mother to bring us to her son, with the desire to know him, with a clear head and open heart.