The Bible in the Lectionary
One of the enduring results of the Second Vatican Council has been a renewed emphasis on the place of the Bible within Catholic life, and greater attention to its use in worship, study, and devotion. As a Church and as individuals we are discovering anew the truth of St. Jerome's insight that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Most Catholics now own a Bible; there are Bible study groups in many parishes; children are introduced to biblical stories and actual biblical texts from the first stages of their religious education; many new hymns and much contemporary folk music are biblically based; Services of the Word (which often include a solemn enthronement of the Bible) and parish celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours are slowly finding a place in Catholic piety.
Still, for most Catholics, their main exposure to the Bible comes at those times when the Church gathers for liturgy, to offer together praise and worship to God through Jesus. Each time the Mass is celebrated there are two or three readings from the Bible, always one from the Gospel and others from the book of Acts, the Epistles, or the Old Testament. Whenever the sacraments are celebrated (even when baptisms, marriages, and the sacrament of penance are celebrated apart from the Mass), readings from the Word of God are an integral part of the ritual. The first reading from Scripture is regularly followed by a psalm so that we might give our response in the words of Scripture. The Gospel Acclamation, the Entrance, and Communion antiphons are usually taken directly from Scripture; other prayers and texts of the Mass reflect or are based on scriptural sources (for instance, the Glory to God in the Highest, the Lamb of God, the Lord's Prayer).
It is instructive to reflect on why the Christian tradition is so insistent that we read the Word of God whenever we gather to pray as Church. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, one of the foundational documents of the Second Vatican Council, puts it this way: “Christ is present in His Word since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the church” (CSL, 7). The Eucharistic Instruction of 1967 elaborates at greater length “the principal modes by which the Lord is present to his Church in liturgical celebrations. First of all, Christ is present in the assembly of the faithful gathered in his name; He is also present in his word for it is He who is speaking as the sacred Scriptures are read in the Church; in the eucharistic sacrifice, He is present both in the person of the minister…and above all under the eucharistic elements” (CSL, 9).
Roman Catholicism has traditionally placed primary emphasis (at times, almost the sole emphasis) on the eucharistic presence of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. More recent theological reflection has emphasized that Christ is present from the moment when the people gather together in the Christian Assembly, and that He is present especially during the proclamation of the Word of God, both in the reading of Scripture and in its unfolding in the homily. The Eucharistic Instruction brings this all together with the beautiful imagery of food: “The Church is nourished by the bread of life, which she finds at the table both of the Word of God and the Body of Christ” (10).