Let’s examine the parts of the MASS, step-by-step.
The Mass is the central act of worship in the life of a Catholic. Going to Mass is about spending time with God, receiving His graces, and worshipping as a community of believers. We are not spectators, as one is at a sporting event. In fact, At Mass, The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pt 2:9; see 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
The name “Mass” comes from the final blessing said by the priest in Latin, “Ite Missa es” meaning “to send out” as Jesus Christ sent his disciples out to the world to take His teaching to them.
Catholics know what is going to happen next. One of the basic, distinctive marks of our way of praying is RITUAL: We do things over and over. When the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” without hesitation, the congregation responds, “And with your spirit.” The priest says, “Let us pray,” and the congregation is standing, or stands up.
Our daily lives have their rituals too: There are set ways of greeting people, eating, responding, etc. And when we are accustomed to a certain way of doing things we seldom ask why we do it? In the Eucharist, too, we have many ritual actions which we perform without asking, why?
WHAT IS THE MASS or LITURGY?
A good way to describe the Mass is to say that it is Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday made present today in ritual. It is not merely a meal which reminds us of the Last Supper, or a Passion Play which helps recall Good Friday, or an Easter Morning Mass which celebrates the Lord’s Resurrection.
The basic “shape” of the ritual of the Mass can be described as a meal. This is not to say it is “just another meal” or that we are ignoring the Mass as sacrifice. Not at all. The point is, the shape of the Mass, even when viewed as sacrifice, is that of a meal.
When family and or friends gather for a meal, they sit and talk. Eventually they move to the table, say grace, pass the food and eat and drink, finally take their leave and go home. On our walk through the Mass we will follow the same map: we will see ritual acts of Gathering, StoryTelling, Meal Sharing, and Commissioning.
THE MASS: Part One- The Gather Rites
Coming together, assembling, is the heart of our Sunday worship. The reason behind each of the ritual actions of the first part of Mass can be found in this word: Gathering. The purpose of these Rites is to bring us together into the one body, ready to listen and break bread together. Our “gathering” actually begins in our homes. Simply waking up and readying ourselves and family members to head to church is your domestic gathering. Arriving in the parking lot, seeing friends and neighbors as we walk into church, is also gathering, or the continuing of gathering.
Mass Assistants. For the entire time of the pandemic, all three of our churches had parishioners checking in people and/or signing in people. Greeting parishioners. Just like family and friends coming to your house for a meal or a party, you would greet and welcome them at the door of your home.
Use of Water. One of the first things a Catholic does when entering a church, is dipping their finger into the holy water font and make the sign of the cross. This ritual is a reminder of our Baptism: We were baptized with water and signed with the cross. At every Mass we renew our promises to die to sin. Because of the protocols of the pandemic, Holy Water fonts were removed from the doors of the churches. The pastoral staff is still discussing a new way to present Holy Water to the churches.
Genuflection. In Medieval Europe, it was a custom to go down on one knee (to genuflect) before a King or person of rank. This secular mark of honor gradually entered the Church and people began to genuflect to honor the altar and the presence of Christ in the tabernacle before entering the pew. Today, many people express their reverence with an even older custom and bow to the altar before taking their place. Our genuflecting entering and leaving the church building is to the Tabernacle, the presence of Christ. During Mass, when crossing in front of the altar, one should bow to the altar.
Posture & Song. After the Announcement of Welcome & Identity of the Mass we are celebrating (13th Sunday in Ordinary Time), the Mass continues with everyone standing up and singing the Entrance Song. Standing is the traditional posture of Christians at prayer: It expresses our attentiveness to the word of God and our readiness to carry it out. Singing is one of the primary ways that the assembly of the faithful participates actively in the Liturgy. What better way to gather than to unite our thoughts and our voices in common word, rhythm and melody. [Parts of Music: Melody, Harmony, different instruments]
Greeting. The priest leads us with the sign of the cross, again remind us of Baptism, and will greet us saying, “The Lord be with you.” It means many things. Example: “good day” or “hello” and “good-bye.” It is both a wish (may the Lord be with you) and a profound statement of faith (as you assemble for worship, the Lord is with you). It is an ancient biblical greeting: Boaz returned from Bethlehem (we read in the Book of Ruth 2:4) and said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” The ritual response to this greeting is always the formula, “and with your spirit,” by which we return the hello, the good wishes, the statement of faith.
Penitential Act, Gloria. All the other Ritual acts of this part of the Mass are intended to gather us together into a worshipping assembly. Sometimes we are asked to pause and recall our common need for salvation (Penitential Act). The hymn, “Glory to God in the Highest” is sung or recited. The “Gloria” has been a part of the Mass since about the sixth century. To highlight the liturgical time of Christmas and Easter, along with Holy Days of Obligation, we sing the Gloria.
Collect. This was known as the “Opening Prayer” prior to the revision of the Roman Missal. At the close of the Gathering Rites, the priest will ask us to join our minds in prayer: “Let us pray.” After a moment of silence, he will “collect” all of our prayers into one prayer to which we all respond, “Amen,” a Hebrew word for “So be it.”
THE MASS: Part Two- Story Telling
Liturgy of the Word. When we gather at a friend’s home for a meal, we always begin with conversation, telling our stories. At Mass, after the Rites of Gathering, we sit down and listen as Readings from Scripture [The Word of God] are proclaimed. They are stories of God’s people through time.
Readings. On Sundays there are three readings from the Bible.
The First Reading will be from Hebrew Scriptures. (except during the Time of Easter) We recall the origins of our covenant. It will relate to the Gospel selection and will give background and an insight into the meaning of what Jesus will do in the Gospel.
Then we will sing a Psalm- a song from God’s own inspired hymnal, the Book of Psalms of the Hebrew Bible.
The Second Reading will usually be from one of the letters of Saint Paul or another apostolic writing.
The Third Reading is from one of the Gospel Writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
Some visitors to the Catholic Mass are surprised to find us reading from the Bible! We have not generally been famous for our Bible readings, and yet the Mass has always been basically and fundamentally biblical. Even some Catholics might be surprised to learn how much of the Mass is taken from the Bible. Not only the three Readings and Psalm, not only the obviously Biblical prayers such as the Holy, Holy, Holy and Lord’s Prayer, but most of the words and phrases of the prayers of the Mass are taken from the Bible.
Standing for the Gospel. Because of the unique presence of Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel, it has long been the custom to stand in attentive reverence to hear these words. We believe that Christ “is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are proclaimed.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #7). The priest or deacon will again greet us with “the Lord be with you.” He then introduces the Gospel reading while making a small cross on his forehead, lips, and heart with his thumb. We as the assembly performs this same ritual action. The Gospel reading concludes with the ritual formula, “The Gospel of the Lord,” and we respond, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, proclaiming our faith in the presence of Christ in the word. We sit for the homily.
Homily. It means more than just a sermon or talk about how we are to live or what we are to believe. The homily is to build a bridge from the scripture to our every day life. The homily is an act of worship rooted in the texts of the Mass and especially in the Readings from Scripture which have just been proclaimed. Just as a large piece of bread is broken to feed individual persons, the Word of God must be broken open so it can be received and digested by the assembly.
Creed. Now we stand and together recite the Creed. The Creed is more than a list of things which we believe. It is a statement of our faith in the word we have heard proclaimed in Scripture and the homily. A profession of the faith that leads us to give our lives for one another as Christ gave his life for us.
Universal Prayer. The Liturgy of the Word- our “story telling” comes to an end with the intercessions. The intercessions help us become who God is calling us to be. We are the Body of Christ by Baptism. Now, as we prepare to approach the table of the Eucharist, we look into the readings, like a mirror, and ask: Is that who we are? Does the Body of Christ present in this assembly resemble that Body of Christ pictured in the Scripture Readings? And so we make some adjustments: we pray that our assembly really comes to look like the Body of Christ, a body at peace, with shelter for the homeless, healing for the sick, food for the hungry.
We pray for the Church, nations and their leaders, people in special needs, our parish- the petitions usually include there four categories. The Deacon or lector announce the petitions, and we usually given an opportunity to pray for the intentions in our hearts, making some common response, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
THE MASS: Part Three- Meal Sharing
After the Readings, we move to the table. As at a meal in the home of a friend, we 1) set the table, 2) say grace and, 3) share the food that we eat and drink. At Mass these ritual actions are called 1) the Preparation of the Gifts, 2) the Eucharistic Prayer, 3) the Communion Rite.
Preparation of the Gifts. The early Christians each brought some bread and wine from their homes to church to be used for the Mass and to be given to the clergy and the poor. Today a similar offering for the parish and the poor is made with our monetary contributions. Our fiscal contributions today are given via online, mail in, dropped off, or placed in the basket at the front entrance doors of our churches. The pandemic resulted in changes, which has proven for the better. The deacon or priest prepares the bread and wine at the altar, and washes his hands as the Jews did at meals in Jesus’ day. Finally, he invites us to pray that the sacrifice be acceptable to God.
The Eucharistic Prayer. The prayer which follows brings us to the very center of the Mass and heart of our faith. While the words of the prayer may vary from Sunday to Sunday, the prayer always has this structure: 1) We call upon God to remember all the wonderful saving deeds of our history. 2) We recall the central event in our history: Jesus Christ, and in particular the memorial he left us on the night before he died. We recall his passion, death, and resurrection. 3) After gratefully calling to mind all the wonderful saving acts God has done for us in the past, we petition God to continue those deeds of Christ in the present: We pray that we may become one body, one spirit in Christ.
Invitation. The prayer begins with a dialogue between the leader and the assembly. First, the priest greets us with, “The Lord be with you.” He then asks if we are ready and willing to approach the table and to renew our baptismal commitment, offering ourselves to God, “Lift up your hearts.” And we respond that we are prepared to do so: “We lift them up to the Lord.” We are invited to give thanks to the Lord our God. And we respond, “It is right and just.” To “give thanks” translates the traditional Greek verb which now names the whole action: Eucharist.
Preface and Acclamation. The priest enters into the Preface, a prayer which prepares us to come before the face of God. We are brought into God’s presence and speak of how wonderful God has been to us. As the wonders of God are told, the assembly cannot hold back their joy and sing aloud: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of hosts.” “Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
Institution Narrative – Consecration. The priest continues our prayer, giving praise and thanks, and calling upon the Holy Spirit to change our gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. He then recalls the events of the last Supper- the institution of the Eucharist At this moment in the prayer, we proclaim the mystery of faith. The priest continues recalling the deeds of Christ.
Prayer for Unity and Intercessions. The grateful memory of God’s salvation leads us to make a bold petition, our main petition at every Eucharist: We pray for unity. “Humbly we pray . . . that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ . . . we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit” (Eucharistic Prayer II), To this petition we add prayers for the Bishop of Rome, our Archbishop, clergy, and all the faithful. We pray for the living and the dead, the intercession of Saints . . . that we may one day arrive at that table in heaven of which this table is only a hint and a taste. We look forward to that glorious day and raise our voices with those of all the saints who have gone before us as the priest raises the consecrated bread and wine- offers a toast: the doxology. Our “Amen” to this prayer acclaims our assent and participation in the entire Eucharistic Prayer.
The Communion Rite: Our Father and The Sign of Peace.
We prepare to eat and drink at the Lord’s Table with those words taught us by Jesus: “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Keenly aware that communion (the word means “union with”) is the sign and source of our reconciliation and union with God and with one another; we make a gesture of union and forgiveness with those around us and offer them a sign of peace.
Invitation to Communion. The priest then shows us the Body of Christ and invites us to come to the table: “Behold the Lamb of God, Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” The members of the assembly now approach the altar in procession.
Communion. As God fed our ancestors in the desert on their pilgrimage, so God gives us food for our journey. We approach the minister who gives us the Eucharistic bread with the words, “The Body of Christ,” and we respond, “Amen.” We sing a Eucharistic based song to show our joy of heart, communitarian procession,
Then we pray silently in our hearts, thanking and praising God and asking for all that this sacrament promises. The priests unites our silent prayers in the Prayer After Communion, to which we respond, Amen. Important verbal announcements are proclaimed.
Announcements. Finally we prepare to go back to that world in which we will live for the coming week. The burdens we have laid down at the door of the church for this Eucharist, we know we must now bear again—but now strengthened by this Eucharist and this community. There may be announcements at this time which remind us of important activities coming up in the parish. The priest again says, “The Lord be with you”—the ritual phrase serves now as a farewell.
Blessing and Dismissal. We bow our heads to receive a blessing. As the priest names the Trinity— Father, Son and Holy Spirit—we make the Sign of the Cross. The priest or deacon then dismisses the assembly: “Go in peace.” And we give our liturgical “yes” by saying, “Thanks be to God.”
Living the Eucharist in the world. We leave the assembly and the church building—but we carry something with us. What happens in our lives during the week gives deeper meaning to the ritual actions we have celebrated at Mass, whether it’s family, work with poor or just plain work. It is only in relation to our daily lives that the full meaning of the ritual actions of the Mass becomes clear to us.