Missa – Primam Lectionem
The Liturgy of the Word begins with the first reading. A person called a “lector” approaches the “lectern” and reads from the “lectionary”. The latin root for all of these words comes from the verb “legere” which means to read and is also where the english word lecture comes from.
As the lector approaches the lectern they will bow toward the altar, showing reverence for the presence of Christ. They will then open the lectionary, which is a book containing the specific readings for the day, and address the congregation with the section of Scripture to be read, stating “A reading from the book of ______”. They will read through the portion of scripture and upon completion will again address the congregation saying, “The Word of the Lord”. To which the people respond by saying “Thanks be to God”.
The first reading has selections of Scripture which are mostly from the Hebrew Scriptures, or what is commonly called the Old Testament. There are times when readings may be from the book of Acts, especially during the season of Lent. The purpose of the first reading, or reading from the Old Testament is to show a comparison or continuity between the old and new. Notice how often the readings all coordinate or tie in the the Gospel reading. This demonstrates a purpose in the old and reason for the new.
The Old Testament Contains all the “classics”. Genesis with stories of Creation and the Noah’s Flood; Exodus which tells of Moses and the freeing of Israel from Pharoah. Stories of David, Solomon, Job, and the prophets like Daniel and Jonah. It is story which tells of Gods work in history, especially with the Hebrew people and is full of awe and wonder, as well sadness and horror. It is here that we also find the Psalms and books of wisdom like Proverbs. In many ways the Old Testament is a lot like J.R.R. Tolkiens’ “Silmarillion”. It is epic and mythic and sets the stage of history for the stories which come later.
It is also important to know that in the catholic church the old testament is a bit larger. Where later denominations sectioned off certain books which they called “apocrypha”, or completely removed them from their bibles, the catholic church still contains these writings which we term deuterocanonical.
The deuterocanonical books seem to have been trouble makers for a while. They were contained in the Septuagint, which was a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures used during the time of Christ and in the early church period. But as the early church began to grow; Jewish leaders rejected these books because of their support for christian beliefs. During the reformation, these same books were again rejected because of their support for catholic beliefs. However they were and still are considered part of the canon of scripture used by catholics as well as the orthodox; with a few variations.
For my part I can only say that there is no table of contents to the canon of scripture which was handed down by God. This means that any grouping or accepting of books included in any canon of scripture must come through the authority of the church or governing religious leaders. Catholics refer to this authority as Sacred Tradition; the right of Peter and the Apostles, and their successors to define and interpret, to bind and loose, and to govern the church. This is not understood as the mere operation of men in power, rather it is believed that this process is accomplished by the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is demonstrated in the Bible, especially in the writings of Paul, who always asserts his authority as an “apostle” as he explains the traditions of the church to the christians he is writing to. Through Sacred Tradition the catholic church accepts the Deutero-Canonical books as part of their canon.
For those visiting a catholic church, the readings can be found in the missal, a book found in the pews. While it may be a little difficult to navigate the missal, it is always a good idea to read along with the scriptures and so the readings are made available to all in this little book.