Liturgy of the Word
The Entrance Rite complete, we are now in the throne room of God. As a result, we sit at the feet of the Great Teacher himself and listen to His words of wisdom. This is our opportunity to learn directly from Him, and so we hear readings from Holy Scripture, as the very revelation of God himself. These typically consist of an Old Testament reading, followed by a Psalm, and then the Epistle and Gospel readings. The readings are taken from the lectionary and tend to revolve around common themes that are appropriate for the various seasons of the liturgical year.
The Old Testament reading allows us to hear from the prophets of old, who anticipated the coming of the Messiah. After hearing from the prophets we read responsively one of the Psalms as an expression of our praise for the words of the prophets. The Epistle reading then allows us to hear from the Apostles. After hearing from the apostles we join responsively with the lector, reciting the Gradual Sentences and Alleluias that help to reorient our thinking towards the theme of the day’s liturgy that was established by the Introit and Collects.
Finally, after hearing from the prophets and the apostles, we hear from Christ himself through the Gospel Reading. The Gospel is read by either the priest or the deacon rather than by a lector or epistler. This coincides with the deacon or priest’s ordination vows to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. While we hold in esteem the totality of Holy Scripture, we acknowledge the special role of the Gospels as the very testament of the life of the Incarnate Lord himself; through the reading of the Gospel we are hearing the words of Jesus himself.
Understanding this, we can begin to see why there is increased ritual surrounding the reading of the Gospel. The Gospel Book is lifted as it is processed, not out of worship for the book but out of reverence for the One who spoke the words that are contained in the book’s pages. Before it is read or processed, the priest prays privately (or blesses the deacon with) the words, "The word of God be on my heart and on my lips, that I may worthily and rightly proclaim the Gospel.” It is then processed to the center of the nave as a reminder that the light and word of Christ is in the midst of His people. As it is processed, the people turn to face the Gospel, bowing as it passes, for in this moment it represents the presence of Christ, the Word made flesh, who left the throne of glory to take on flesh so He could minister and teach in the midst of humanity.
When the Gospel is introduced, the thumb is used to make a small sign of the cross on the head, the lips, and the heart, as a declaration of our desire for the teaching of Jesus to change our thinking, our speaking, and our feeling. Additionally, there are also recitations before and after the reading ("Glory be to Thee, O Lord,” and "Praise be to Thee, O Christ") through which we proclaim our appreciation and reverence for the words of Jesus.
All of these actions, responses, and motions are intended to reinforce the unique privilege we have of hearing the words of Jesus spoken to us. We are not reading an excerpt from a random member of society, nor are we solely hearing the words of apostles, rather we are blessed with the privilege to have the words of Jesus himself declared unto us so we can follow the teaching of Christ.
(As published in St. Luke's bulletin, 5/27/18)