In the earliest description of the mass, written by Justin Martyr around 150 AD, Justin says, “On the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are being read as long as it is allowable.” Even in the New Testament, Paul instructs Timothy to “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13) The Second Epistle of Peter speaks of the public reading of Paul’s letters, referring to them as Scripture and encouraging a carefully guided understanding. (2 Peter 3:16) These early references show us that from the first days of the Church, the public reading of Scripture and an explanatory homily was a crucial part of Christian worship.
The Liturgy of the Word, then, is not just a preamble to the Eucharist. It is a conduit of God’s transformative grace that renews our minds and changes our lives. St. Paul refers to the Scriptures as “God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
Receiving the Holy Eucharist gives us food for the journey. It cleanses and strengthens us to live the life of God in this life. But the Liturgy of the Word is no less important as it give us direction and understanding. Without it, we could be carried away by the personal opinions, conjectures, and agendas of “those who distort the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)
The importance of the Liturgy of the Word has become even more apparent in this time when so many do not have access to the Holy Eucharist because of the pandemic restrictions. I know those who cannot safely attend mass rightfully long for the day they can return to the reception of the Eucharist. But during these trying times, we should not belittle what God gives us in his Holy Scriptures. There is power in the Word of God. It was through the Word of God that all of creation came into being. And the Word of God can encourage, guide, and strengthen you in the days ahead and throughout your life.