“You’re a man and a half!” So stated the Dominican sister when — was I in second or third grade? — I purchased a daily missal from her.
This was the mid-1960s, and I really had not made things easy for myself. Our liturgy was in transition, and the missal was not necessarily reliable. I spent more time puzzling over it than learning from it.
I had not made things easy for my parents, either. I had had it in mind that I could buy a missal for one dollar. In fact, that was the price of a Sunday missal. But I wanted all the bells and whistles — something more substantial than the Sunday missal I received at my first holy Communion. I was in the habit of being at Mass with my school Monday through Friday. Either way, the money would come from my parents. The daily missal could be had for the princely sum of $3.75. They agreed to the purchase. And you understand better the reaction of the sister. (And no, I had no thoughts at that time about becoming a priest. I wanted to be a responsible member of the laity, thank you very much.)
But then came Nov. 30, the First Sunday of Advent, 1969. On Holy Thursday of that year, St. Paul VI had announced the new Order of the Mass — the “ordinary form” of the liturgy which we use to this day. All of us must consider, as it will soon be 50 years from Advent 1969, what this Order of Mass means to us.
For one thing, the new Order made daily and Sunday missals much more expansive (and expensive) — mainly because far more of the Bible was to be used in the Order of Mass of Paul VI. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) directed that, as the People of God come together for eucharistic worship, “the treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s Word” and that “a more representative portion of the Holy Scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years” — which turned out to be three years for Sundays. The weekday readings for Ordinary Time are distributed across a two-year cycle. These cycles are ample for our hearing of substantial sequential expanses of the Gospels, the letters of the New Testament, and (in the case of weekdays in Ordinary Time) many Old Testament books.
After my first year of seminary, realizing the importance of familiarity with the Sunday and weekday readings chosen for Mass, I bought (for $14, I think) a desk edition of the Lectionary for Mass at the Templegate Catholic bookstore which was in business in Springfield at that time, 1976.
I come to the end of this column and I find myself unable to share with you the various ways in which my familiarity with the Word of God changed me; this will be the substance of at least one future column. For now, it is enough to recognize this: Buying a Scriptural liturgical book does not make one a woman or man “and a half.” Familiarity with the Scriptures, gained through our faithful attendance at Mass and our own personal study, will afford us a depth of appreciation of our own humanity as we contemplate the God who has loved us by himself becoming human.