As an act, the Holy Mass speaks to us in a variety of ways. First, Guardini tells us, God makes Himself known through His words of revelation and through this also reveals to us what the world is and who we are as human beings. Through the readings and through the speaker - - God speaks. But the mystery of God's word extends to the inspiration it gives rise to in the heart of those who listen. The wisdom of God penetrates the individual and renews the soul. What takes place, then, is not simply the transmission of information but rather a personal encounter with the Living and True God. Thus, Guardini states, "It is not sufficient merely to accept ideas and understand commandments. We must lay bare our hearts and minds to the power that comes to us from beyond." We must prepare the soil of our hearts to receive the seed of God's word. It is a word that must be proclaimed, not simply read; heard and allowed to penetrate to the depths of a person's religiosity. We must cultivate that soil through preparing ourselves by meditating upon the scriptures ahead of time, reading passages in their entirety and in their context and developing a love for the Word within our hearts.
HOLY MASS is an act; it is not, however, enacted mutely, but combines doing and speaking. It includes several varieties of words, and it is helpful not only to our understanding but also to our effective participation in the liturgy to realize this multiplicity and learn to distinguish between the different kinds of words employed.
First of all, there are the words from revelation. With them God tells man who He is and what the world is in His eyes; He proclaims His will and gives us His promise. They are Biblical words, and in the celebration of the Lord’s memorial they confront us at every step. Indeed, the first part of the Mass consists almost entirely of speech; action is limited to the simplest movements, certain gestures and positions or the passing from one symbolical place to another.
Epistle and Gospel are readings taken directly from Scripture. The first, as the name suggests, from the letters of the apostles, but also from the Acts and from the Old Testament; the second, again indicated by the name, from the reports on the life of the Lord, the Gospels. The Biblical reading is continued in the sermon, which is intended to explain, enlarge upon, adopt and apply the direct words of God. It loses its intrinsic character in the degree that it expresses instead the personal, human conceptions of the speaker.
God’s word is a great mystery. Through it He Himself speaks, but in the speech of men. It appears that another form of communication also exists, a so-called “purely divine” form in which God enlightens and directs the soul not through the medium of words, but by a thought that stirs only from within, silent but immediately comprehended. Tidings of this kind can never be passed on to others; they apply solely to him who has received them. With revelation it is different. It is meant for all men at all times. Hence it takes the form in which the spiritual community of men asserts itself, that of the spoken word; like all speech, it is a purely human blend of idea and sound. God’s wisdom has been placed in this human means of communication and can be removed and examined by itself at any time, but in such wise that His wisdom and the word containing it are an organic unit. Even the natural word cannot be separated from its audible sound and taken solely by itself, for it clings to its sound as the soul to the body. This unit now becomes, as it were, the body for a new “soul,” the divine, much as a man already having body and soul is filled by grace, which makes of him a newer and higher being: the “new” or “spiritual” man described by St. Paul.
The divine words must be considered as whole words with shape and sound. To focus our attention only on the intelligible concept expressed by them would be folly; it would be rootless intellectual theory. A word is a wondrous reality: form and content, significance and love, intellect and heart, a full, round, vibrant whole. It is not barren information for us to consider and understand, but a reality for us to encounter personally. We must receive and store it in all its earthiness, its characteristic style and imagery. Then it proves its power. In the parable of the sower our Lord Himself compares it to a seed in search of good ground. It possesses the power of growth, the strength to start and develop life. Hence we must not receive it as we grasp an idea with our mind, but as earth receives a grain of wheat.
Revelation says that the world was created by the word of God. God spoke: “Let there be . . .” By it we also were made, beings capable of hearing the word God gives us in revelation, summoning us to the new beginning and the new life of grace. Wherever we encounter His word, we encounter God’s creative power. To receive His word means to step into the sphere of sacred possibility, where the new man, the new heaven and the new earth are coming into being.
It is not sufficient merely to accept ideas and understand commandments. We must lay bare our hearts and minds to the power that comes to us from beyond.
God’s word, then, is addressed not only to the intellect, but to the whole man. (It has a human quality that seeks to become a living unit with mind and blood, soul and body.) Man, the entire man, must receive God’s word in all its significance, in the totality of its form, tone, warmth, and power. That is what the parable of the seed implies. The sacred word must be heard, not read. It should reach us through the ear, not through the eye, as color and form should be seized by the eyes, and not transposed through description. The how cannot be separated from the what. The word that is written and read silently is different from the fresh, full word of sound. In the process of silent reading, words shrink, their resonant fullness but poorly substituted by print. If the divine service was meant to be a reading session, books would be distributed; and everyone, priest and faithful, would quietly lose himself in them. The result would be a community of readers. Often we have very little more at Mass. But this is not as it should be. The word is meant to rise from the sacred page to the reader’s lips, from there to swing out into the room, to be heard by attentive ears and received by eager hearts.
Admittedly, there is one great obstacle: the fact that the liturgy is celebrated in a foreign tongue, Latin. We try to overcome this by repeating Epistle and Gospel in English prior to the sermon. But this is a makeshift and usually done only on Sunday. On weekdays as well as on Sundays the faithful are almost entirely dependent on their books. The divine word ought to reach the hearers simultaneously with its entry into the ceremony of the Mass, but as the liturgy is arranged today, this is impossible.
We must make the best of what we have. Above all, when the English texts are read, we must listen with minds alert and hearts and souls receptive. Such listening is all the more necessary because we’ve heard the words countless times. We are so used to them that they do not easily impress us. We are convinced that we know all about the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ parables, or the Epistles, and when they are read we nod as if to say: All right, all right I know. We must overcome this tendency, or our souls will become like a dirt road over which countless feet and wheels have passed, hard-packed and incapable of receiving a single seed.
The daily changing texts of the Proper: Introit, Offertory, Communion, often say very little because of their brevity. They have been taken from longer passages (mainly from the psalms, but also from other parts of Scripture) and it is very helpful to look them up and read them in their entirety. We should read also the Epistle and Gospel more completely in the Bible so as to grasp the context and consult the notes on difficult passages. When they are read aloud in church, we should take great pains to listen attentively; the word of mouth is always more powerful than the word of ink.