THE MASS – STEP BY STEP
In this world, Christ has made himself the visible presence of the invisible God. Christ maintains his oneness with God the Father through a deep personal relationship of prayer and obedience. The same way, as branches of the one vine who is Jesus, (John 15:5) Christians maintain their oneness with Christ and God the Father by coming together to join Jesus Christ to offer to God that reconciliatory sacrifice of himself which is pleasing to the Father, for the forgiveness of sins. Because the baptized are in Christ, we join him in his work of praising his Father, who is also our Father. This is what Mass is.
THE GATHERING: Believe it or not, the Mass begins as soon as we get out of bed in the morning planning to come to church. Even if we don’t feel like going, God is at work from the moment our feet hit the floor. The Holy Spirit is bringing together all the members of the body of Christ from all corners of our parish, town, or community to join Christ in worshiping the Father. When everybody gets to church, the first thing that happens is we act as Christ’s body, as a “team.” Standing together for the Introductory Rites helps us build that sense of being a team.
THE INTRODUCTORY RITES
THE ENTRANCE CHANT: Helping us know that we are one is the job of the first part of the Introductory Rites – the Entrance Chant. When we all sing together, we make “one voice” which joins Christ’s voice. Singing makes us one. It does not even matter if you are a good singer or if you think you don’t sing well: it’s all about being one in Christ, a community of believers. The procession of the ministers shows that God has chosen them that day to lead us all in the worship. Their unity of purpose, vesting, walking, bowing and genuflecting, all show the unity and oneness of Christ in worship.
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS: All Liturgical prayer begins with the Sign of the Cross. Liturgy is the public worship of God by the church. At Mass, we mark ourselves (forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder) with the invocation of the cross of Jesus as we pray – In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. We call on the names of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – as we remember the cross, the central sign of God’s love for us. This one simple gesture contains the key beliefs of our faith!
THE GREETING: At Mass, after the invocation of divine assistance and his abiding presence with the sign of the cross of salvation, the priest greets us. This is not ordinary greeting, like “Hey!” or “Hi!” Instead, he uses words from scripture: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14) or “The Lord be with you” (Romans 16:20). This greeting is used a few times during Mass. It recognizes that we are God’s holy people and that Jesus is “God with us” – that God walks with us and lives in us. It’s both an invocation and an affirmation. To this greeting, we reply “And with your spirit” (2 Timothy 4:22; Philemon 1:25). The spirit in us – the essence of who we are, centre of intimate encounter with the divine – recognizes the same Spirit working in the priest who leads us in prayer. We and the priest wish each other the Lord’s abiding presence, for it is the Lord who leads us in this prayer.
THE PENITENCIATIAL ACT: We live in Christ by our baptism and constant communion with him, but we know we are not perfect as he wants us to be. In the Penitential Act, we ask God and each other for forgiveness for the times we have sinned. When we sin, we break that relationship with God and with his people, asking forgiveness helps us heal that break and start fresh. Then the priest assures us that God forgives us and loves us and brings us to everlasting life.
THE GLORY TO GOD: The glory to God is sometimes called the “angelic hymn.” The first words come from the description in Luke’s Gospel of the song the angels sang at Christ’s birth (Luke 2:14). It is sung on most Sundays and Feasts. The song is addressed to God the Father and to Jesus Christ. We could call it the original “praise and worship” song, because it can’t say often enough how wonderful God is and how delighted and thankful we are.
THE COLLECT: This prayer closes the Introductory Rites. The priest invites us to pray, saying, let us pray. A short period of silence follows. During this time, we pray for all the people and situations that are in our hearts. Perhaps someone we love is sick or struggling. Perhaps we have an upcoming exam or other challenges. Perhaps a nation in the world has been hit by natural disaster. Perhaps we want to ask God to dispose us for the glory of his name. Then, in the prayer that follows, the priest gathers up or “collects” all our prayers with the prayer of the church and offers them to God, through Christ.
THE LITURGY OF THE WORD
In the Liturgy of the Word, which is the second part of Mass, God speaks to us here and now. If you remember only two things about the Liturgy of the Word, remember these points: (1) God speaks to us because God loves us. As you know, talking to someone we love is a major part of the relationship. It helps us get to know the other person better and to love them even more. (2) God’s word is food that nourishes our hearts, our souls and minds. The Church actually describes this part of the Mass as “the table of God’s Word.”
God speaks to us through the readings from the Bible. In the Liturgy of the Word, God uses the voices of people from our community to tell the story of God’s relationship with us. The people who proclaim the first and second readings (and sometimes the psalm) are called readers or lectors. You’ll find all kinds of writing styles in the Bible: myths, poetry, stories, genealogies, legal documents, history, letters and Gospels, to name just a few. Hearing God should never be boring because God is lively!
SILENCE begins the Liturgy of the Word and follows each of the readings and the homily. Silence, no matter how little it appears, gives us time to think about what we’ve heard, to digest it and to let it sink into our hearts. During this time, the Holy Spirit helps us hear what God is saying to us.
The priest (or sometimes the deacon) gives THE HOMILY. He has spent a lot of time thinking about and praying on the readings and tries to help us see that this isn’t just past history: it’s the good news that God is still at work in us and in our world today. (In fact the word “Gospel” means “good news”!) We could say the priest interprets the Gospel for 21st century people. In the words of the homily he shows us that God is alive and is healing, challenging, forgiving and saving us today.
On Sundays and Solemn Feast Days (Solemnities), THE CREED comes right after the homily. The first line – “I believe” – tells us what the Creed is all about: it’s the Church’s profession of faith. (Because we are the Church, it is our faith that we are professing.) The Creed sums up the main teachings of the Church in one text. Hearing the Word of God helps us to believe more deeply in what God does, and so in response we stand and profess our faith. There are two Creeds – (a) the Apostles’ Creed and (b) the Nicene Creed. Nicene refers to the Council of Nicaea, held in present-day Turkey in 325 A.D.
Hearing the Word of God inspires us to take action, to live as God calls us to live. One form of action we do is to pray for the needs of the world. In the Prayer of the Faithful (sometimes called the Universal Prayer), we pray for several things and people in this order – the needs of the Church; those in public office and the salvation of the world; those who are having a hard time of any kind; and the local Church community. May the Lord hear our prayer! Amen!!
THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST
The Liturgy of the Eucharist, the third part of Mass, is divided into the presentation and preparation of gifts, the Eucharistic prayer and the Communion Rite.
(A) THE PRESENTATION OF GIFTS: Before any great feast, we gather what we need for the celebration. During this part of the liturgy, we get ready for the meal to which Christ invites us. The key elements of this meal are bread and wine. The meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples, the Last Supper, was a Passover meal. Passover is a Jewish feast which commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:15-20). Jesus frees us from the slavery of sin (Paschal Mystery). So the bread we use in the Eucharist, like the bread used in the Jewish Passover, is unleavened bread, which is made without yeast (Deuteronomy 16:8). Unleavened Bread speaks of sanctification. Jesus was set apart. His body would not decay in the grave (Acts 2:27). In the Bible, leaven symbolizes error or evil (Mark 8:15). It is the substance that causes fermentation and rot.
These gifts of bread and wine are brought forward in procession to the priest at the altar. Along with these gifts that God gives us, we also present ourselves to God who is the source of everything we have and are. (Later in the Mass, when we share in Holy Communion, we receive these gifts back. They have been transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit during the Eucharistic prayer).
Then the priest prays two lovely prayers which we will merge here. (If we are singing during this part of the Mass, he prays them quietly while we sing.) – Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread (or wine) we offer you: fruit of the earth (or fruit of the vine, in the case of the wine) and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life (it will become our spiritual drink). And we all respond: Blessed be God forever.
Both of these prayers acknowledge that God is the creator and that God is so good and generous. The prayers remind us of the role of creation in providing us with the bread and wine. Heaven and earth are caught up in praising God. The priest adds drops of water into the wine to symbolize mingling of humanity and divinity of Christ. The priest, this time, prays one of inaudible priestly prayers of the Mass while washing his hands as a sign of inner purity before the consecration of the bread and wine that become the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
(B) THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER: The Eucharistic Prayer is the heart of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In this prayer, the celebrant acts in the person of Christ as head of his body, the Church. He gathers not only the bread and the wine, but the substance of our lives and joins them to Christ’s perfect sacrifice, offering them to the Father. Thanksgiving is its central focus. Following the introductory dialogue, the celebrant begins the PREFACE.
The Eucharistic Prayers make clear that these prayers are offered, not to Christ, but to the Father. It is worship offered to the Father by Christ as it was at the moment of his passion, death and resurrection, but now it is offered through the priest acting in the person of Christ, and it is offered as well by all of the baptized, who are part of Christ’s Body, the Church. This is the action of Christ’s Body, the Church at Mass.
The main elements of which the Eucharistic Prayer consists may be distinguished from one another in this way:
a) The thanksgiving (expressed especially in the Preface), in which the Priest, in the name of the whole of the holy people, glorifies God the Father and gives thanks to him for the whole work of salvation or for some particular aspect of it, according to the varying day, festivity, or time of year.
b) The acclamation, by which the whole congregation, joining with the heavenly powers, sings the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). This is taken from the angels’ worship of God in heaven. Prophet Isaiah (6:3) was given a vision of the angels praising God, crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts.” In the Mass, therefore, we join the angels in heaven, echoing their words of worship of God.
c) The epiclesis, in which, by means of particular invocations, the Church implores the power of the Holy Spirit that the gifts offered by human hands be consecrated, that is, become Christ’s Body and Blood, and that the unblemished sacrificial Victim to be consumed in Communion may be for the salvation of those who will partake of it.
d) The Institution narrative and Consecration, by which, by means of the words and actions of Christ, that Sacrifice is effected which Christ himself instituted during the Last Supper, when he offered his Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine, gave them to the Apostles to eat and drink, and leaving with the latter the command to perpetuate this same mystery.
e) The anamnesis, by which the Church, fulfilling the command that she received from Christ the Lord through the Apostles, celebrates the memorial of Christ, recalling especially his blessed Passion, glorious Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven.
f) The oblation, by which, in this very memorial, the Church, in particular that gathered here and now, offers the unblemished sacrificial Victim in the Holy Spirit to the Father. The Church’s intention, indeed, is that the faithful not only offer this unblemished sacrificial Victim but also learn to offer their very selves, and so day by day to be brought, through the mediation of Christ, into unity with God and with each other, so that God may at last be all in all.
g) The intercessions, by which expression is given to the fact that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church, of both heaven and of earth, and that the oblation is made for her and for all her members, living and dead, who are called to participate in the redemption and salvation purchased by the Body and Blood of Christ.
h) The concluding doxology, by which the glorification of God is expressed and which is affirmed and concluded by the people’s acclamation – the great “Amen.”
(C) COMMUNION RITE: The Communion Rite follows the Eucharistic Prayer, leading the faithful to the Eucharistic table. The rite begins with the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples when they asked how to pray (cf. Mt 6:9-13, Lk 11:2-4). In this prayer, the people join their voices to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom and to ask God to provide for our needs, forgive our sins, not to let us fall into temptation and to bring us to the joy of heaven.
The RITE OF PEACE follows. The celebrant prays that the peace of Christ will fill our hearts, our families, our Church, our communities, and our world. As a sign of hope, the people extend to those around them a sign of peace.
In the FRACTION RITE, the celebrant breaks the consecrated bread as the people sing the Agnus Dei or “Lamb of God.” John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). The action of breaking the bread recalls the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper, when he broke the bread before giving it to his disciples. One of the earliest names for the Eucharistic celebration is the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:35; Acts 2:42, 46).
Before receiving Holy Communion, the celebrant and assembly acknowledge their unworthiness to receive so great a gift. Like the centurion in Luke 7:6-7, we recognize our unworthiness to have come sacramentally under the “roof” of our souls in Holy Communion with the Lord.
The people approach the altar and, bowing with reverence, receive Holy Communion. People may receive the Body of Christ either on the tongue or in the hand. The priest or other minister offers the Eucharist to each person saying, “The Body of Christ.” The person receiving responds by saying, “Amen,” a Hebrew word meaning, “So be it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2856).
As the people receive Holy Communion, the communion chant/song is sung. The unity of voices echoes the unity the Eucharist brings. All may spend some time in silent prayer of thanksgiving as well. The Communion Rite ends with the Prayer after Communion which asks that the benefits of the Eucharist will remain active in our daily lives.
At the end of Mass, believers are sent forth to live the life of faith in daily activities and to make disciples for the Lord – “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord in one another,” the priest dismisses us. So the Mass continues in us as we go about our daily business until we reassemble next time to break the bread, tell of the Lord’s goodness and give thanks. And as members of his body, we are his visible presence in the world today – being and making disciples. This is an awesome knowledge of who we are as Christians. This is what Mass is.
Cf – US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Bernadette Gasslein’s Mass Step by Step