“The Word Proclaimed from the Depths of Silence and from the Depths of God”
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
We are hit with so many words nowadays. There are newspapers, advertisements, blogs, podcasts, twitter, email, text-messages, and on and on. It’s a noisy culture with so many words. As lectors, this is the world you’ll be reading and proclaiming the Word of God to. Is there perhaps a danger that the holy words of the Scriptures may be drowned out by all the other words? What will set apart the words of Scripture you proclaim at Mass from all the other words bouncing around our world today?
We hear many words today but so many of these words pass in one ear and out the other. And maybe they should, for they are often superficial. What we need more of today are words spoken from silence, words spoken from the depths of the heart, words spoken from the depth of God Himself! This is what is communicated to us through the Scriptures: words spoken from the depth of God Himself. And we need it so badly.
Among the many words of our day what we really need is contact with the Word, the Word made flesh, the Word transmitted to us in the Scriptures. And it’s silent reflection that opens us to this deeper Word. Silence opens us to the mystery of God and His plan for the human race. Silence opens us to the profound words flowing forth from the depths of God through the holy Scriptures to us.
St. John of the Cross says, “The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul” (Maxims and Counsels, 21). This is the way the Word of God is. And it should shape the one who proclaims the Word. There’s a call here. Is the lector a man of prayer and silent reflection? Has the lector allowed the Word of God to germinate first in his own heart before he proclaims it? Has he first “kept all these things, pondering them in his heart,” like Mary did in silence?
Verbum Domini, based on the 2008 Synod on the Word of God, has some beautiful reflections on this needed silence. It’s worth listening to at length. It says, “In their interventions, a good number of Synod Fathers insisted on the importance of silence in relation to the word of God and its reception in the lives of the faithful. The word, in fact, can only be spoken and heard in silence, outward and inward.
“Ours is not an age which fosters recollection; at times one has the impression that people are afraid of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the mass media. For this reason, it is necessary nowadays that the People of God be educated in the value of silence. Rediscovering the centrality of God’s word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. Our liturgies must facilitate this attitude of authentic listening” (#66).
These words from the Church of our day mean that you must prepare carefully to read the word of God in the liturgical assembly. Ezra the scribe “read clearly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.” You are not reading a dictionary or a phone book – a fairy tale or a mystery story – no, you are reading the very word of God, resounding from the depths of the Godhead! Not simply a historical document. The living word of God spoken here and now.
This means more than glancing to see if there are any “big” words or difficult names to pronounce. I urge you to practice aloud, listening to the sound of the words. What is the message being conveyed? What is the point of the passage? Pray over the passage; meditate on it.
Also pray for those who will hear the word you proclaim. By giving you this ministry, God will also give you graces to intercede for those you read the word of God to. Then proclaim the Word with conviction, confident in the power of the Word and the Lord working in souls. God needs you to proclaim his word! Focus your attention on the word of God and the congregation, not on yourself, and you will proclaim Scripture effectively. In a way, forget yourself and become “all-Word,” all focused on the Word and pointing to the Word.
It will be the task and the privilege of our newly-instituted Lectors to give voice to the One who is the Word of God. Through you, now in a formally commissioned way, God’s people will have their hearts touched by the consoling, and hope-filled, and challenging word of God. It is true that you have already become used to proclaiming the Word of God – but now you will do so in the name of the Church.
The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Sacred Liturgy highlights Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament but notes some secondary ways Christ is present in the Liturgy, including in the proclamation of the Word. It says about Jesus, “He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church” (#7). This is the significance of being installed a lector: Christ will speak through you as you read the Scriptures at Mass.
And so you must make sure that it is God’s word, and not your own, that you proclaim. You will be guided by your studies, by your prayer, by your openness to the ways in which God speaks to you, and of course by the wisdom and experience of the Church. Tonight is all about the Lord who chooses to live and work in and through his Church.
So how will the words of Scripture coming forth from the lectern at Mass be distinguished from the noise coming forth from a smartphone or an iPod? How will the Word of God not be drowned out by the many noisy words of our world today? How can the Word of God be louder than the world’s noise?
It’s paradoxical but St. Ignatius of Antioch speaks of the mysteries of God that “cry out loudly while being accomplished in the silence of God.” Moreover, he says these following words, which we can take as addressed especially to our lectors-to-be: “He who possesses the word of Jesus is truly able to hear even His very silence, that he may be perfect, and may both act as he speaks, and be recognized by his silence” (To Ephesus, #19, #15).
You are to be recognized as men of prayer, who reflect on the Word in silence and so can hear God’s mysterious voice. In the silence, you can finally hear words that have depth, words that are full of meaning and significance, words that touch the depths of the heart.
When God seems silent to many people in our world, you can help them hear his voice, to hear with their two ears but also with the ear of the heart. The Rule of St. Benedict tells us, “Listen carefully…and incline the ear of your heart.”
Because of all of this, in the end, I would encourage you, as Lectors, to take Mary, the Mother of the Lord, as both your model and your helper. The Angelus prayer recalls for us that she said yes to the Lord and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. To the extent that you also say yes to the Lord, the Word, through your lives and ministry, will become flesh in you. Then the Word of God you proclaim will resound from the depths of your being.
And people will hear it with the ear of the heart. The Word will be heard even in your silent action, even in your silent love. Then God’s People will be able to hear the Lord’s heart calling to their hearts, and they will, we pray, know how to give their yes to him as well. And because of the Word of God, we will all be able to say with Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!”