Families can make the most of the Liturgy of the Word at Mass by preparing ahead of time to listen to these readings in the assembly. It can be hard for children (not to mention adults) to take in the details of an Old Testament story, an often-abstract message from an epistle writer, and a reading from the Gospel in rapid succession. A little time spent discussing at least one of these readings each week can help the whole family grow in understanding.
The regular family Bible may not be the best translation to share the readings with children. Use a Catholic Bible but one that is appropriate for children. Use Bible stories for younger children. If possible, they may take a turn at reading aloud the chosen passage for each week’s family sharing.
Many parishes publish the following Sunday's reading citations in the bulletin. You may also have a Catholic calendar that lists the readings of the day. If neither is the case, you can look ahead in the missalette and make note of the three readings for next Sunday. You may also want to include the Responsorial Psalm as a fourth Scripture passage. With younger children, choosing one reading each week works better than trying to juggle several. Either the Gospel story or the Old Testament reading is usually a better choice than the Second Reading or the Responsorial Psalm. With older children, you may want to use the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading, since these two often have parallel themes that lead to helpful comparisons (such as God’s promise to Israel and the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus). From time to time, a favorite reading from Saint Paul's writings, such as 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient, love is kind . . .”) may be the Second Reading and would make a worthwhile diversion. A classic psalm such as Psalm 23 (“The LORD is my shepherd . . .”) may lead to a discussion on praying that even small children can understand.
You might begin by asking each family member which part of the reading caught his or her attention. Listening to each other talk about points of interest can help your family connect Scripture with your daily lives. Parts of the reading may lead you to think about an event or feeling experienced during the previous week.
Another way to approach the reading is to ask each family member which character he or she most identified with. Was it Jesus, moved with sadness at the sight of the paralyzed man’s suffering? Was it the blind man, feeling lonely and confused? Was it a disciple, watching an amazing event unfold?
You can also ask small children to retell the story as if they were themselves the paralyzed man, the blind man, or a disciple. What was it like for him before Jesus came? How did he feel when this famous holy man approached him? What was it like to be free of the pain? Who will he tell first? Re-enacting the story is an effective vehicle, especially if the parents are willing to participate.
The family might wish to decide together what the message of the chosen reading for the week is. In the case of the paralyzed man, the message might be that Jesus can free us from feelings of hopelessness. Each family member could name a different feeling—frustration, impatience, anger, sadness, loneliness, worry, and so on. If the children are quite young, the parents will want to have a predetermined message or theme for the week.
Then, each person involved might draw a picture of what he or she would like to be freed from. Mom and Dad should draw pictures too. All of the drawings can be hung on the refrigerator for the week. If the children are past the age of drawing pictures, they may want to write a prayer asking for help with a particular problem (“Jesus, be with me when I am lonely”) or a poem conveying their feelings. Later in the week, if a bout of impatience or other troubling feeling does arise, family members can support one another in turning to God for help.
The time spent in Scripture sharing is not complete without a moment for prayer. Often the message of the reading will suggest the kind of prayer. For example, if a psalm is used, writing a psalm in your own words together and praying it at the end might be appropriate. If the reading is about a healing, the family might pray for those who are suffering from that affliction or others who are sick. If the reading is about something wonderful God has done, a prayer of praising and thanking God for personal blessings may be in order. Encourage the children to actively participate in the prayer or even to lead it if they are comfortable doing so.
The Liturgy of the Word is rich in the quantity and variety of its readings. It provides the priest and people alike with an abundance of material for prayer and reflection. It is an opportunity for the richness of the Bible to be opened to all. In the three readings from sacred Scripture, God is speaking to his people.
Among the readings, the Gospel is set aside by marks of honor. For example, the faithful stand, a Gospel Acclamation is sung, and, on occasion, the book of the Gospels is incensed. The Liturgy of the Word prepares and leads the assembly forward to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Together the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist form one single act of worship.