February 19, 2021

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Andrew Motyka

Pay attention to the other Scripture at Mass this Lent

Andrew MotykaOne complaint I have heard some Protestants make about Catholic liturgy is that we do not focus enough on Scripture.

On the contrary, our Mass is packed with Scripture, and it is not limited to the readings or even just to the Liturgy of the Word.

Of course, the prayers of the Mass, including the Eucharistic Prayer, are scripturally-based, but notice the texts of the Mass that are often forgotten: the propers.

The propers are texts sung during the Mass that change from week to week and sometimes day to day, just like the readings. These include, but are not limited to, the entrance antiphon, the offertory, and the Communion antiphon. You may see these texts in your parish missalette or even in some hymnals. We are allowed to sing other pieces of music at these times, but the Church actually prescribes particular texts for these moments, and they often elucidate or reinforce the readings and feasts that we are celebrating.

Let’s focus especially on the Communion antiphons during the upcoming Sundays of Lent. You will notice that they often refer back to the Gospel reading of the day.

On the First Sunday of Lent, the propers are all from Psalm 91. It is not often that every proper is from the same psalm or other book of the Bible, so there is clearly a point being driven home here. You might recognize Psalm 91 as the psalm on which the hymn “On Eagle’s Wings” is based. This psalm is all about trusting in the Lord to protect us from evil and from the trials that await us, a great choice during Lent and clearly connected to the Gospel reading of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.

The Second Sunday of Lent’s Communion antiphon is “Tell no one what you have seen until the Son of Man has risen from the dead” (Mk 9:9). This is a quote directly from the Gospel reading of the day. It is fitting to be reminded during Communion of the Transfiguration and the Apostles’ encounter with Jesus’ divinity.

On the Third Sunday of Lent, the Communion antiphon is slightly indirect. It is from Psalm 84: “Blessed are they who dwell in your house, they shall praise you for ever and ever.” Remembering that the Gospel reading on the Third Sunday of Lent is Jesus driving the lenders from the temple, this is another example of the Communion antiphon recalling the Gospel reading and a reminder that God’s house is to be a house of prayer.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent has a less direct reference to the readings, but synthesizes them well. The first reading and Psalm response remind us of the Babylonian exile, and the second reading and Gospel speak of God’s mercy and Jesus’ saving act. Therefore, the psalm at Communion is from Psalm 122, a psalm of ascents: “It is there [Jerusalem] that the tribes go up to give thanks unto your name, O Lord.” Just as God’s people gave thanks upon their return from Babylon, so do we give thanks to Jesus for freeing us from our exile.

The Communion antiphon on the Fifth Sunday of Lent simply echoes the Gospel reading for the day: “If a man would serve me, let him follow me; wherever I am, my servant will be there too” (Jn 12:26). This is good preparation for the upcoming passion of the Lord.

The texts of the propers can give us good insight into the mind of the Church, especially when celebrating the Mass as a whole. Scripture at Mass is not limited to the readings, but continues in many different forms all the way through. It is good to take some time with the full texts that the Church gives us, and they will help us to celebrate even better than we already do.

(Andrew Motyka is the director of Archdiocesan and Cathedral Liturgical Music for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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