After discussing the Sign of the Cross, the Penitential Act, the Gloria, and the Collect, we now arrive at the readings from Sacred Scripture. You may find it strange when I state there are not two readings but actually four readings. In addition to that, the Mass is filled throughout with Scripture. There are the Entrance Antiphons—traditionally known as the Introit—and the Communion Antiphons: phrases and lines from Scripture chanted or sung. We sing the “Holy, Holy, Holy” (the Sanctus in Latin), which is comes from Isaiah 6 and the Psalms, and we say before receiving Holy Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed,” which comes from the centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant.
Back to the four readings from Scripture at Mass. There is the first reading, which usually comes from the Old Testament; only in the Easter season do we hear from the Acts of the Apostles instead of a reading from the Old Testament. The next reading we refer to as the Responsorial Psalm, coming commonly from the Book of Psalms—a book of hymns and songs, some of which were composed by King David. We often sing the Responsorial Psalm, and at minimum, there is a response, so we probably don't think of it as a reading from Scripture. This is a reminder that even though there is singing, we should pay attention to God speaking to us through the Psalm.
After the Responsorial Psalm, the next reading is what we sometimes call the second reading, but more appropriately, we should call it the Epistle. An epistle is a letter, and this reading is one of the epistles, letters from the New Testament. Most of these epistles were written by St. Paul to specific communities—the Romans, the Galatians, the Corinthians, and so on—at a specific time to address topics or issues. There are also epistles written by St. Peter, St. John, and St. James. At the end of the Old Testament reading and Epistle, the lector says, “The Word of the Lord,” and we respond, “Thanks be to God.” Thanks be to God because God is speaking to us, teaching us, challenging us, and comforting us in these readings. We sit throughout these readings, being in a posture of listening.
Then we stand for the Gospel, but first we sing the Alleluia. Alleluia is word of rejoicing, more or less meaning, “Praise to God!” Because Lent is a penitential season, we don't utter or sing Alleluia and instead sing “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.” The Alleluia is accompanied by a verse, usually a phrase related to the readings of that Mass. The Gospel comes from one of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. We conclude the Gospel reading, saying, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”
There are a couple of items for us to keep in mind about these readings. Firstly, the readings are tied into the liturgical seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. In Ordinary Time, the Gospel readings follow sequentially. Secondly, there is a three year cycle of readings. We hear primarily from St. Matthew's Gospel in Year A of the cycle, St. Mark's Gospel and some of St. John's Gospel in Year B, and St. Luke's Gospel in Year C. Thirdly, the Gospel reading and the Old Testament reading are often connected to each other. We often don't understand the Old Testament and think it's disconnected from the Gospels, but there is an basic tenet in Scriptural studies: what lies hidden in the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. The Old Testament is filled with what are called “types,” people, images, or events foreshadowing our Lord Jesus Christ. We need both the Old and New Testaments.
We are saints under construction, listening to God speaking to us and forming us through Sacred Scripture. Have a great week!