A-Z of the Mass: Gospel
The Lectionary is organised in such a way that each of the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – is read more or less continuously through the Sundays of Ordinary Time. Those gospels also provide the readings for the Sundays of Advent and Lent, Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B, and Luke in Year C. Because Mark is considerably shorter than Matthew and Luke a significant part of Mark’s year is given over to reading the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, the discourse on the bread of life and on the living bread. In Easter time the Sunday gospel readings are from the Gospel of John.
On weekdays we hear passages from Mark (Weeks 1-9), Matthew (Weeks 10-21) and Luke (Weeks 22-34). Some of these are passages that we hear again on one of the Sundays. What this means is that regular Sunday worshippers hear substantial parts of the four gospels over a three year period. People who attend Mass every day will hear almost all of the four gospels over a three year period. Though there are still many things about it with which one might argue, the Lectionary achieves one of the purposes of the Vatican II reform of the liturgy, to give in the Church’s liturgy a more ample, more varied, and more suitable reading from sacred scripture (Sacrosanctum concilium 35).
The Gospel remains the highlight in the Liturgy of the Word and the three year cycle helps us to appreciate the characteristic flavour and style of each Evangelist. The purpose of the readings is not simply pedagogical or catechetical, however. As the Irish Dominican Eugene O’Sullivan OP put it, ‘we are dealing here with a real presence of Christ … we are dealing with prayer, with being in the presence of Christ. … if scripture itself is given a chance, it will form us over the years with the insights that come from familiarity and love. It is in this sense that St Jerome says that ‘ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ’. That ignorance cannot be cured by a rapid reading of commentaries. Prolonged familiarity alone forms the ‘mind of Christ’ in us’ (Liturgy and Prayer, pp.100, 114). If this is true of Scripture generally, it is particularly true of the Gospels. And so we read them, over and over again, and continue to find new spiritual and theological treasures in them.