“Jesus began to speak in the synagogue: ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’”
Today’s Gospel follows on directly from last week’s. Jesus is at the beginning of his public ministry. He goes to the synagogue on the sabbath in his hometown of Nazareth and stands up to read from the Prophet Isaiah. He finds this text: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Lk 4:18-19).
Then he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. In other words, in himself. He’s the one anointed by the Spirit of the Lord. And he announces this within the liturgy of the Jewish synagogue. He begins the mission given him by the Father by being a reader / lector.
“Today”, he says. Today too, is also a day of grace; as in Nazareth then, so in Torry now. KM is being instituted as a lector or reader. He is receiving this public ministry. He is being blessed for this office by a successor of the apostles. He is being handed the book of Sacred Scripture, the Word of God in written form and is bidden to become someone steeped, soaked, pickled in the Word of God. He is now “assigned to the service of faith”. As a lector he can “proclaim the word of God in the liturgical assembly, instruct children and adults in the faith and in the worthy reception of the Sacraments, and announce the message of salvation to those who do not yet know it” (Proposed Homily in Rite of Institution of Lectors). He is being given a humble, but real share, in the liturgical, catechetical and evangelising mission of the Church. He’s to bring the word to the spiritually poor, enslaved, blind and oppressed.
On this “today”, then, I’d like to say something about what we call the Liturgy of the Word, especially as we experience it at Sunday Mass. It is an integral part of Mass. It is the moment when the Lord speaks to us, and we respond. It’s the time when he speaks with us “face to face”, “mouth to mouth”, as Scripture says, “as a man speaks to his friend”. Through the Liturgy of the Word, God gathers us together and teaches us, corrects us, inspires us, shows us how to live our Christian vocation. It’s a holy time: for listening, responding, for being touched and changed, for professing our faith. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your ears”, said Jesus in the Synagogue. In the Liturgy of the Word, God’s word leaps out of a book, out of the past, and through the reader’s voice, enters our ears, and through our ears should find our hearts, and through our hearts explode into our lives.
There’s a long history here. It goes back to the Exodus, to the foot of Mount Sinai. The people have been freed from slavery in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, come to the mountain, received the law and been made God’s people. This must be solemnised. So, Moses proclaims the Law to the people and they respond “with one voice… ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do’” (Ex 24:3). And the covenant between God and his people is sealed by the sprinkling of animal blood. Then 40 years later, at the very end of his life, Moses hands a written version of the Law to the priests and the elders and tells them that it is to be read publicly to the people every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles, so that they may remember the covenant (Dt 31:9-13). Next, after crossing the River Jordan into the Promised Land, Joshua renews the covenant between the Lord and his people again, by reading them “all the words of the Law” (Josh 8:34). And so it goes on. Centuries later, in the reign of King Josiah, the book of Deuteronomy is rediscovered in the Temple, and the King, realising how far the people have fallen from obedience, reads it to them all in a solemn ceremony. So, again the covenant is renewed (2 Kgs 23:1-3). Centuries later, after the return from Exile, Ezra the Scribe, with the help of Levites, reads the Law to the gathered people from a raised platform – the first pulpit (Neh 8:1-12). “And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (Neh 8:3). From these episodes of Israel’s history arose the practice of synagogue worship among the Jews, such as we see in Jesus’ time. Central to it was a regular orderly reading, first of the Law and then of the Prophets. And that Jewish liturgy of the Word has passed into ours, with our ordered, patterned reading of Old Testament, the writings of the Apostles and as a climax the Gospel. In Israel, this public reading fell to Moses and Joshua and to priests and levites. In the Church, it is entrusted to priests, deacons, and lectors or readers. It is the task of the ordained to proclaim the Gospel. It is the task of any baptised person, suitably qualified, to proclaim the readings that come before. These readers or lectors can be appointed, normally by the parish priest, appointed to read either regularly or occasionally. Or they can be instituted as readers / lectors through a special ceremony as today. In this case, they receive the official ministry of lector. This is often part of someone’s journey towards ordination, as with KM, but it does not have to be: one can be simply a lector. And a year ago, Pope Francis clarified that because these ministries are based on the Sacrament of baptism, not on ordination, they can be conferred on women as well as men (Motu Proprio, Spiritus Domini).
May today’s simple ceremony enrich KM, help us treasure the public hearing of God’s word and draw us ever closer to the Lord.
Sacred Heart, Torry, 30 January 2022