Tom RussellAs he continues his reflections in preparation for the Eucharistic Congress this June, tom Russell, OFM, ponders the central role the Word of God has in the liturgy.





Tom RussellAs he continues his reflections in preparation for the Eucharistic Congress this June, tom Russell, OFM, ponders the central role the Word of God has in the liturgy.


“O that today you would listen to His voice!” (Psalm 95)


A young man went to Mass one day. His parents were rich landowners living in Egypt. He was born in 251 A.D. However he had been orphaned at age 18 and now he was caring for his sister. The Gospel proclaimed at that day’s Mass said: “Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” The text sang like a personal letter singling him out. Having provided for his sister he sold up and was encouraged at another Mass where the Gospel said: “Be not anxious for tomorrow.” That decided him and he left normal life to live in caves and cemeteries, praying, studying and working.


God's Word: Light and Power

Many years later and now way out in the desert he had become a man of compassion and of joy with “not a single tooth missing!” Many companions came to join him when he was in his fifties, and so the idea of monks and monasteries took root in the Church moving out of the era of persecution. Emperor Constantine wrote to him. Anthony said: “We marvel that God wrote the Law for mankind and has spoken to us through His Son.” This young man became St Anthony of Egypt; he died in 356 A.D. aged 105. St Athanasius wrote his life ñ a first! ñ and this book influenced the future St Augustine, not to mention St Patrick just then training for his mission to the Irish. The Word of God had fallen on the good soil of Anthony’s “noble and generous heart” and produced a golden harvest.


Another young man went to Mass on the feast of St Matthias, 24th January 1209. This young shopkeeper had once dreamed of being a great knight or solider but Jesus had summoned him to live the Gospel, and now he was searching for a way forward. The young man was Francis of Assisi. He set such an example that others came to be his companions. But what should they be? Were they called to be like the monks in the desert or like the Benedictine or Cistercian or Celtic monks they knew? The Gospel at Mass that day cried out: “Go and preach that the Kingdom of God is at handÖ freely you have received, freely giveÖ Do not keep silver or gold, nor two tunics nor sandals nor staff, for the worker deserves his living.” Francis sought out the priest after Mass and asked him to explain the Gospel he had heard, line by line. As he listened a light came on in his heart and the young man exclaimed: “This is what I want, this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart.” It was truly a deciding moment, an eureka experience! He now knew that he and his friars should be itinerant preachers. That was to be their calling. It remains so!




He Still Speaks


Celebration: These stories of Anthony and Francis attending holy Mass and being deeply moved and changed by the Gospel message invites us to ask what is going on here? You may have had a similar experience yourself. Perhaps at some Mass you attended the Word of God seemed to be a letter addressed to yourself and no other. It may have come to you like a green light or a red light, a quiet whisper or a clear voice, a comfort or a hammer. The Word proclaimed to all was really beaming its light at you. You felt you had to respond.


What then is going on? We can begin with the broad canvas sketched by the opening verses of the Letter to the Hebrews: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days He spoke to us through a Son.” On Tabor the Father said: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The Scriptures tell us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” He promises to be “wherever two or three gather in His name.” “Watch out that you do not disregard Jesus when He speaks,” counsels the Letter to the Hebrews.


Jesus speaks “words of eternal life” and He tells us: “My sheep listen to my voice.”


When the bishops at the Second Vatican Council considered these basic truths they taught that Jesus with, in, and through us, continues to baptise, to forgive, to feed, so much so that “when the Scriptures are proclaimed in Church it is Christ Himself who speaks to us.” The Introduction to the Lectionary of readings for the Eucharist states: “The liturgical celebration based on the Word of God and sustained by it becomes a new event and enriches the Word itself with new meaning and power.”


In effect, Anthony and Francis went to Mass on particular days in their lives. Jesus spoke directly to their hearts and concerns, and they had life-changing experiences. The Word of God proproclaimed at worship involves the very presence of the Lord. It results in a dialogue between God and His people, a dialogue carried out in reading and reflection, in attentive listening and in the response of prayer and our daily living. The Second Vatican Council teaches: “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, insofar as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the Bread of Life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ.”

In all of this dynamic the Spirit of the Lord is very active. The Introduction to the Lectionary tells us: “The working of the Holy Spirit is needed if the Word of God is to make what we hear outwardly have its effect inwardly. Because of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and support, the Word of God becomes the foundation of the liturgical celebration and the rule and support of all our life. The working of the Holy Spirit precedes, accompanies and brings to completion the whole celebration of the liturgy. But the Spirit also brings home to each person individually everything that in the proclamation of the Word of God is spoken for the good of the whole assembly of the faithful. In strengthening the unity of all, the Holy Spirit at the same time fosters a diversity of gifts and furthers their multiform operation.”






The Church of the Beatitudes


The Road to Emaus

Cardinal Martini, retired Archbishop of Milan, gave an interview some years ago where he discussed reading “the signs of the times” calling them “those movements of the Holy Spirit which push one toward the goal, so as to live according to the Gospel in the real world.” The Second Vatican Council began 50 years ago in 1962. The Cardinal sees the liturgical, biblical and ecumenical movements leading up to the Council as the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He notes some other movements of the Spirit since the Council; for example, the huge increase in voluntary service in the Church or the love of contemplative prayer, for a deeper spirituality, but especially the hope that all Christians come to a more profound knowledge of Christ through the reading of Scripture. The Church of tomorrow, he says, will be “a Church fully subject to God’s Word, nourished and freed by this Word; a Church that puts the Eucharist at the centre of its life, focuses and reflects on the Lord, does everything ‘in memory of Him’, and models itself on His gifts.”


Eddie Fogarty was working with a mechanical digger on a bog at Faddan More, Riverstown, Co. Tipperary. It was 20th July 2006. He spotted a “package” in the bucket of his digger. Experts were called in and they discovered 60 pages of vellum containing all 150 psalms of the psalter. This 1200-year-old treasure is called the “Faddan More Psalter.” It is now being cleansed and studied in our National Museum. This discovery is a vivid reminder of the great love our Irish monks had for the Holy Bible. We are reminded how St Colmcille got into trouble for copying that same psalter. His great devotion to copying the Bible and encasing it in beauty led finally to the Book of Kells.


The International Eucharistic Congress now fills our horizon. You might prepare this coming Lenten season by coming to Sunday Mass with a real hunger and desire to meet Jesus in His holy Word. You might then have an experience of the disciples walking to Emmaus when they cried out: “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us and explained the Scriptures to us!” You would have uncovered a treasure hidden in a field, and the congress would become a profound event in your life.