Posted by: geolocke | 2014/10/13

Sweeter Than Honey

“How sweet to my tongue is your promise, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119:103)

The power of God’s Word has played a role in my life since I first heard it. Among one of my earliest memories is the time I spent thinking about the story of Zachariah having been struck speechless after learning from the angel that his wife would soon be pregnant.  I remember hanging out on the edge of the playground during school recess wondering what it would be like to have my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. How difficult it would have been to eat or drink or even whistle. In my child’s mind, I had literally understood the story to mean just that.

I stopped attending church in my early teens. The 70’s were a period of rebellion for many of my generation, and I fell in among that crowd. But I still gave thought to God’s Word. The musical “Jesus Christ, Superstar” was a hit, and songs from it played on the local radio stations. I even had an 8-track cassette of the sound track and played it constantly, singing along to every song, memorizing the tones and inflections of the various cast voices.  I was also singing in my school chorus at that time and we performed several pieces of religious oriented music including Vivaldi’s “Gloria” and Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” So even then God’s Word still dwelt within me, if only superficially.

During my early adult years my life was given over to many different attractions and distractions. I married and began raising a family while also attending school and working. Life was very busy, but occasionally I still found time to read a chapter or verse here and there. But in all honesty God’s Word was not in the forefront of my mind. Still, I remembered my bible stories from my youth and even referred to them from time to time when facing difficult decisions.

In my late 30’s I returned to the Church and within a couple of years, I became a Lector proclaiming God’s Word at Mass.  I eventually joined the Choir and later became a Cantor/Psalmist. These three ministries provided me with ample opportunity to learn, study, and meditate upon God’s Word. And even though today some consider my true gift to be the sung word, my first delight was and still remains the spoken word. To me, the spoken word can be more powerful, more emotive than the sung word if the Lector, Deacon, or Priest prepares for it and proclaims it with proper inflection, pronunciation and reverence.

The first part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, follows a particular pattern: We begin with a reading from the Old Testament (or Acts of the Apostles, depending upon the season), followed by a Psalm, then a second reading from one of the New Testament Epistles, followed by a Gospel acclimation, and finally a reading from one of the four Gospels. The Deacon or Priest then concludes the Liturgy of the Word by giving the homily which is most often built upon the readings and Psalm which have just been proclaimed/sung. The first and second readings are proclaimed by Lectors, the Psalm and Gospel Acclimation is sung by the Psalmist/Cantor, and the Gospel reading is proclaimed by either the Deacon or the Priest.

The Church developed a cycle for the readings so that the readings for every day, over the course of the three years, covers the entire Bible, both New and Old Testaments. Therefore a Lector who is scheduled in advance can take all the time necessary to prepare for their assigned reading. As a Lector I remember the excitement, challenge and sometimes dread of having to prepare to read from the Epistles of St. Paul.  St. Paul was not a big user of punctuation.  “The king of the run-on sentence” is how one of my fellow Lectors once put it to me.

I think what finally helped me was the realization (for me at least) that St. Paul’s problem wasn’t so much that he disliked punctuation, but rather he was so possessed with God’s word, so driven to proclaim it, that he spoke breathlessly in a rush to get God’s word out of his mouth, and consequently that is also how he wrote.  I can just see him in my mind’s eye speaking to a congregation until there was no more breath left in his lungs and then taking a quick gasp of air and continuing with his thought uninterrupted.

Once I thought about it in this manner, I understood how to better approach and proclaim his writings. Of course there are some of his writings where he obviously settled down and took his time when writing them. First Corinthians chapter 13 is one of my favorite readings in Scripture, and it is also one that St. Paul obviously put a lot of thought and care into writing. It is pure delight for me to be able to proclaim this one chapter to a congregation.

These days I am rarely called upon to proclaim God’s Word as a Lector, but I still prepare. Every morning I study the readings for the Mass of the day. I take time to meditate upon what I have read and reflect upon how this day’s readings might help me with my current situation. Sometimes I will re-read a particular passage if it sparks a thought within me. Then when I go to Mass, I sit and allow God’s Word to be proclaimed to me. I do not try to read along while God’s Word is being proclaimed because I rarely read at the same pace as the Word is proclaimed. Also, the Lector, Deacon, or Priest might place their emphasis in a different place than I would, accent a word differently than I would, pause at a different place than I would. I might miss these subtle differences if I were reading along while God’s Word was being proclaimed.

It is true that some Lectors, Deacons, and Priests are better than others at proclaiming God’s Word, but each has a way of imparting God’s Word to us through their own understanding and delivery of God’s Word. It is these differences might lead us to consider God’s word in a different way than how we currently understand it, and isn’t that really one of the major points of God’s message to us; not just to instruct us, but to sometimes shake us out of our set ways so we can look at things differently?

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