As the great teachers of the liturgy frequently explained, the Gospel is not simply a reading of the Bible or its teaching: it becomes an image of mystery in the Eucharistic environment, closely connected with the given part of the liturgical year and with the mystery of the Holy Mass. Its function is more than just to learn the Gospel: Christ’s presence in the Gospel is a prediction of his Eucharistic presence and its effects. A miracle when read as the Gospel may report a historical event, but it also tells us what Christ is to do with us in this Mass. The reading of the Gospel at Mass is a “prefiguration” of the sacrament, and a preparation for receiving it. (This is also the “clue” for a good homily.) Just as the accompanying ceremonies (processions, standing up, candles, incense, turning to face the North) represent welcome external means of promoting the full unfolding of the Gospel, so the liturgical place of the pericope in the year helps people and communities to grasp and retain it with their minds and hearts.

The permanence of biblical texts is more important than their high number. A given pericope affects us more if it regularly recurs in its classical formulation, supported by associated elements (e.g. antiphons taken from it) and explanations. Recollection transcends the limitations and finite lives of individuals. The Roman community read the same pericopes, with only negligible changes, for over 1200 years; the “great memory” of generations stored and elaborated these sections of the Gospel according to their liturgical place. Meditations and spiritual explanations are merely external manifestations of the process of inner assimilation by which the Church took this treasure into its possession and kept it there. Moreover, these pericopes also survived in the “Old-Church systems” of Anglican and Lutheran (and early Calvinist) worship.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

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