THE CELEBRATION OF MASS
- Arrive early. If you can get here on time, you can get here early. Don’t procrastinate, don’t find last minute things to do. Plan ahead. The time to prepare oneself for Mass is important.
- Use the holy water, and make the sign of the cross. Holy Water is a sacramental, a devotional object or a practice of devotion. It reminds us of the life we are called to, because of our baptism. Carefully make the sign of the cross, not a minimum effort; not just a “good enough” sign of the cross.
- When you get to your pew, genuflect to Our Lord, present in the tabernacle. Touch your knee to the floor, if you can, with reverence. Sign yourself again, with care. Enter the pew, then kneel and pray. Ask God to help you to prepare yourself to enter into the mystery of the Mass. Ask God to reveal to you one thing you can work on that week to be better, then spend that Mass listening for that one thing.
- Sing the opening hymn. We stand. The opening hymn takes the place of the opening antiphon, which is an integral element of the Mass. This is the first of the many times during Mass where we have to participate, and overcome our social norm of being a spectator. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing. God listens to angels singing. He knows you can’t sing. But sing your best.
- The Greeting and Introduction. We begin the Mass in the sign of our Lord, the cross. We ask God for the blessings in our lives earned by the sacrifice of the Cross. We come to Church to renew ourselves in that grace, as God commanded, in keeping holy the day of the Lord. We also follow the scriptural instruction to greet each other with blessings and in the communion of the peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
- The Penitential Rite. We bring to mind our need for God’s grace—our sinfulness. We acknowledge our sinfulness, and ask God to remove our sins, so we can most fully enter into and benefit by the graces of the Mass. Venial sins can be absolved by the sacrifice of prayers and the Mass. Mortal sins must be taken to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- The Gloria. The main text of the Gloria is from Scripture—the angelic song revealed to the shepherds at the birth of Christ. We sing or say the Gloria every Sunday, except during Advent and Lent. It gives glory to God, who forgives us our sins.
- The Invitation to Pray and Collect, or Opening Prayer. The priest gives the instruction, “Let us pray,” and then allows a few moments of silence. In that time, the people offer their own silent prayers. The priest then collects those prayers into the first of the three presidential prayers (meaning a communal prayer to God on behalf of the congregation) offered by the one presiding over the liturgy.
LITURGY OF THE WORD
- The Old Testament Reading. We sit. We then begin the Liturgy of the Word. The Old Testament provides us the historic context out of which the Christian Tradition emerged. The Church as the Messianic Israel learns to interpret itself from God’s covenant with the historic Israel, and we hear of the faithfulness of God.
We sit when we listen together, we stand when we pray together (and listen to the Gospel proclaimed), and we kneel when we adore God in the Blessed Sacrament together.
The readings for Sunday Masses are on a 3-year cycle, and the daily readings on a 2-year cycle, to cover most of the bible. In the Sunday Lectionary Cycle, the Gospel selections continue through the particular gospel of the season and year. The First Readings coordinate with the Gospel Readings, and the Psalms coordinate with the First Readings. The Second Readings have their own cycle, and might not match the themes of the other readings. Special holidays may have their own “proper” readings, which interrupt the Lectionary cycle.
- The Responsorial Psalm. The Psalms are the record of Israel’s lived experience of their relationship with God in all kind of conditions and emotions; songs of affliction, of joy, of frustration, of hope and trust, of lament, and of celebration.
- The New Testament Reading follows, which gives us the inspired scriptural explication of the Christian mystery as it unfolded into the principles of the Christian life.
- The Gospel. We Stand. The Gospel reading then comes from one of the four Gospel books, each of which was written to a particular community by a particular author. They are not historical in our modern sense of the word, but an interpreted history of the life of Christ, inspired to be fruitful for all generations.
- The Homily. We Sit. Then comes the homily, which is the integration of the Christian mystery to the concrete context of our modern lives. It is an integral part of the Mass, but not the most important part, which of course is the Eucharist.
- The Creed. We Stand. The Homily is followed by the Creed, which is the central kernel of the Christian faith of the Church. It is the fruit of the early Church controversies and councils, to refine what it means to say that one believes, if one confesses to be Christian.
- The Prayer of the Faithful. We are not all in the ministerial priesthood. But we all share in the common priesthood (of Christ’s priestly mission of sanctifying the world) by our lives and our prayers. Here we pray for the needs of the world and our community before the throne of God.
THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST
- The Collection. We sit. The Collection is the gathering offerings from the assembly, to be united with the offering on the altar. In antiquity, it may have been whatever people had to offer from their trades, in addition to alms for the Church and the poor. A portion of the collection is brought forward by members of the community, and used for the celebration of the Eucharist. The altar is prepared, and the offerings consecrated, or set aside, by the recognition that what we have received and what we offer are in cooperation with what God first provided. The priest offers the bread with the prayer, “Blessed are you, God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life,” and a similar prayer of offering for the wine.
- The Prayer over the Gifts. We Stand. The priest then offers the second of the presidential prayers on behalf of the people, the Prayer over the Gifts, that they may be acceptable, and that we unite ourselves to these gifts, so that we, too, may be transformed by the outpouring of grace.
- THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER
- The Preface. We kneel. The priest chooses a preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, all of which begin with the same dialogue, in which we lift our hearts up to God, and give Him thanks and praise.
- The Sanctus. The Preface then ends with The Sanctus, or Holy, Holy, Holy, which, like the Gloria, is another scriptural reference, this time from Revelation, of the song of the Heavenly Host before God in Heaven. It is a sign that this celebration of the Mass is a participation in the eternal celebration of Heaven.
- The First Part of the Eucharistic Prayer. The priest then chooses one of the Eucharistic Prayers, which, then, is the main prayer of the Mass. In it we again acknowledge God for His goodness, we implore Him to accept and transform our offering into the real presence of Christ.
- The Consecration. Then Christ, in the person of the priest, re-presents the events of the sacrifice of the Last Supper.
- The Memorial Acclamation. In the Memorial Acclamation, we unite ourselves into that Christian Mystery.
- The Second Part of the Eucharist Prayer. The Eucharistic Prayer then continues with offering the oblation (the life-giving sacrifice) to God for the salvation of the World, in union with the whole Catholic Church, throughout time and across the world.
- The Doxology. The prayer is then made in the name of Christ, in the priest’s singing or saying of the Doxology: “Through Him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”
- The Great Amen. The people unite themselves with the prayer by their participation in the Great Amen, which concludes the Eucharistic Prayer.
THE COMMUNION RITE
- The Lord’s Prayer. We stand. We as the Church then offer the prayer that Jesus gave us as the model and perfect prayer, The “Our Father”; and with some additional prayers offered by the priest, ending with the doxology (the additional words some Protestants tag on the end–“for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever”), and then the Amen.
- The Sign of Peace. Jesus tells us that if we have something against our brother, or our brother has something against us, we should lay our offering at the foot of the altar, go make peace with our brother, then come back and make our sacrifice. The Sign of Peace is an expression that we are at peace with God and with one another.
- The Agnus Dei, or the “Lamb of God,” of course comes from the writings of St. John, both in the Gospel and in the Book of Revelation, that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who offers himself as the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of all sin, and for our reconciliation with God, the source of eternal life.
- Communion. We kneel. The Eucharist is then presented as the Lamb of God, Jesus truly present in the Eucharist, and that our celebration of the Eucharist, again, is in participation with the Eternal celebration of the Supper of the Lamb, the Heavenly Banquet. We then share in receiving, or celebrating our Communion of the Eucharist. St. Paul tells us that we should only sacramentally participate if we are truly in full communion, and accept that this is the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and if we are without mortal sin. If we cannot participate sacramentally, we can participate spiritually, without receiving the eucharistic species.
The Holy Eucharist may only be received by practicing Catholics who are properly disposed to receive the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord (i.e., participating in Mass weekly, free of grave sin through regular reception of Sacramental Confession, and normally having fasted for one hour). It is with great sadness that we are not able to offer Holy Communion to all present. We respectfully ask those who are not Catholic (or not actively living in accordance with the Catholic faith) to please remain in your seats during the distribution of Holy Communion and join in prayer and song.
- The Prayer after Communion. We stand. After the Communion Rite, and after the return of any remaining consecrated hosts to the tabernacle (and the purification of the sacred vessels, which may be done immediately after communion, or after the end of Mass), we have the third and last of the presidential prayers, The Prayer after Communion, which asks God that the sacrament in which we’ve participated would bear fruit in our life, and help us toward salvation.
- Announcements and Final Blessing and Dismissal. Then after any announcements of upcoming events in the life of the local Church Community, the Priest offers The Blessing and the priest or deacon gives the Dismissal. These close out the Mass, and send the people out into the world with the grace and blessings to sanctify the events and people in their lives, to serve with grace and humility, and to glorify God by their life.
- Recessional Song, or Song After Mass. Then the final song, technically called the Song after Mass, since the Mass ends with the Dismissal. Please note where the dismissal occurs in the Mass, and that it isn’t right after receiving Communion. The congregation then sings the final song. It is appropriate to spend a little time in prayers of thanksgiving before leaving. Then we leave the Church the same way we entered, by exiting the pew, patiently and reverently genuflecting and signing ourselves with the Sign of the Cross, and signing ourselves again with holy water as we leave the sacred space of the Church.
Go in peace, glorifying God by your life. Thanks be to God.
Newly available! This Youtube series on the “Elements of the Catholic Mass,” from the Liturgical Institute provides an in-depth reflection on the many parts and aspects of the celebration of the Mass. Enjoy it, learn it, live it!
Clicking on the image below will take you to the first video–the “Teaser,” or Introduction.