What’s Happening in the Mass?
THE PARTS OF THE MASS
The gathering rite gives a formal beginning to our mass and sets the mood. It is helpful to have this start, so that we all know that this is the time to open ourselves more fully to the presence of God and to leave our preoccupation with schedules, plans, and other daily concerns behind.
Get Up, Stand Up
Standing is both a sign of respect and an expression of joy in our celebration.
Singing is an act of prayer, and it’s usually an act of prayer that’s done with other people. St. Augustine says “One who sings prays twice.” Singing can be an act of joyful prayer, and the gathering song brings us together as a community to pray and express the joy in our hearts. If you’re not a good singer, that’s okay. There’s somebody else there that’s not a good singer in the exact opposite degree that you aren’t, and so the two of you will balance out in the end. It might not sound good to the person next to you, but it’ll sound fine to the whole Church.
The priest greets the congregation in God’s name and we make the sign of the cross as he speaks the words “In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. This ritual greeting acknowledges the presence of the Lord. After all, we believe that wherever two or three of us are gathered, Christ is there too. After the greeting, the priest or a reader may take a moment to introduce the theme of the mass that day.
Option one: Confiteor, or the Penitential Rite
The first option for the presider to use is the Confiteor. We make it known to God and to those around us that we all have human imperfections. God expects a lot of us and sometimes we don’t live up to His expectations. This isn’t intended to make us feel guilty. Catholicism is not about guilt! It’s about being aware of our limitations, acknowledging them, and asking God’s help to make ourselves better.
Option two: Sprinkling
The rite of sprinkling can replace the penitential rite especially during Easter time. It is a form of blessing, and a reminder of baptism. When you are “sprinkled” acknowledge the blessing by making the sign of the cross.
Option three: Litany of Praise (Lord Have Mercy)
The Litany of Praise, often called the Kyrie, is often said in Greek, but can be spoken in the language of the people. This prayer is a song in which the people ask for God’s mercy, and usually should be sung. If it is not sung, it should be recited. Asking for mercy allows us to come more fully into God’s presence and opens us to hearing God’s message in the Liturgy of the Word.
Now that we have acknowledged our wrongdoings and asked for mercy, it is time to praise God in the Gloria, which is a song that reaches far back into church history and worship.
It is impossible to clear all worries from your mind, and the opening prayer is an opportunity to place yourself in the presence of God and present him with your personal petitions. While you pray with the celebrant, you also are asked to silently make your own prayer to God.
LITURGY OF THE WORD
SO WHO’S GOT A STORY?
The two central parts of the mass are the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word is that time when we share our history through the scripture readings, but scripture is not only a collection of histories; rather it is something that can inform and inspire our lives today. The stories we tell here are also stories that relate fundamentally to our own lives. If you think they’re old, boring, and useless, please, just listen. You might find something that could change your life.
Sit Down! Have a Good Time.
Um, Catholics sit down and stand up a lot. But-you don’t want to stand during the stories.
This reading is usually taken from the Old Testament but occasionally comes from the New Testament. The scriptures of the Jewish people are our scriptures as well, as we are deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. Remember, Jesus was an observant Jew.
The psalm is quite often set to music, and involves the congregation’s response after each verse. Even if the psalm is not set to music, there is a repeating line that the assembly says as a way of more actively participating in the readings. This call-and-response is one of the most famous methods of Catholic prayer.
The second reading is usually taken from one of the letters of the New Testament, called the letters of the apostles. This reading is part of the Sunday masses and other special occasions, although it is not part of daily masses.
After the first and second readings, the reader will say: “Word of the Lord” to which the community responds “Thanks be to God,” showing our thanks to have these readings and their insight and guidance.
Get Up, Stand Up
Up we go again! We stand in rejoicing at the acclamation “alleluia”, eager to hear the gospel reading (the stories about Jesus). Our standing here is also a sign of welcome and respect. It also keeps that blood clot down in your leg where it belongs.
Now we give thanks for the scriptures we have heard and in anticipation of the gospel message we are about to hear. The Gospel acclamation sets the tone for our hearing of the words and actions of Christ that have come to us through the generations. It is usually sung but can also be spoken.
Alleluia or not
During most times of the year, this is when we sing a resounding Alleluia! However, during Lent, which is a period of reflection and penance, the Alleluia is not said. Instead, another response is given.
“Good News.” It refers to the four books wriiten about the life of Jesus by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
The gospel reading is taken from one of the following books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. These books contain direct accounts of what Christ did and said, and each gospel book provides a unique take of the life of Jesus. Special reverence is given to this reading, and it is often read from a different spot than the other readings. A special minister, usually a priest or deacon, reads the gospel, preparing himself with a blessing first. At the beginning the community responds to the announcement of the Gospel reading by saying “Glory to you, Lord.” The response of the community at the end of the gospel reading is different from the response to the other readings. The community says: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now we sit down again, so that we can hear the prepared insights into the readings, known as the homily or sermon. The homily is usually delivered by a priest or a deacon. Often the homily will discuss a possible theme between the readings, or relate the readings to current events. Sometimes the homilist will discuss the context in which the scriptures were written and the relevance this has for us. It’s a time for us to be instructed by the homilist, but it is still not necessarily a passive experience, because we are also examining the scriptures in the light of our own experience in relation to the words of the homilist.
Sweet Lord, This Homily Stinks
Whether or not the presider is a good preacher or not we can reflect on his words during the homily and think about how the readings spoke to us! Maybe the homilist’s experience is different from yours and vice-versa and that’s OK. We all have different experiences and that doesn’t make us wrong. Some parishes have liturgy reflection committees and are always looking for input from parishioners for their thoughts on the upcoming week’s scriptures or the past week’s homily. You can tell the preacher that his homily isn’t speaking to you if it’s not. Most preachers appreciate input (even if it’s negative) and it will help him reach members of the community better.
We stand again for our profession of our faith, where we reaffirm our beliefs in the truths of our faith before going on to partake in the body and blood of Christ. The creed is usually the Nicene Creed, although the Apostle’s Creed may be substituted in. At times the creed will be replaced by a renewal of our baptismal promises.
Prayers of the Faithful (stand)
We continue to stand for the prayers of the faithful. This is our opportunity to bring our concerns as a community of faith to God. These prayers include our concerns for the Church, the world, including political policies and leaders, those in any form of need, and the community. This is also a time to pray as a community for those who have died, those who are ill, the newly married or born, and other life passages. There is usually time at the end of these prayers for silent personal prayers to be said, although some smaller communities ask for people to contribute these personal prayers out loud. There is a response after each prayer, which can be designated for that mass. The usual response, however, is “Lord, hear our prayer.”
THERE’S A PARTY GOING ON RIGHT HERE…..
Liturgy of the Eucharist
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is paired with the Liturgy of the Word as the central focus of the mass. Here we are brought to the table, to share bread and wine, to feast together. This feast is much more than your usual dinner party. It is also a memorial dinner, where we break the bread and pass the cup in memory of Jesus, as he asked us to do. It’s a bit like obeying the last wishes of a dying friend; only this friend went past death and is with us still. So, it is more than a memorial feast. The Eucharist is a sacrament. By breaking the bread and passing the cup, we do much more than participate in a symbolic action; we make that symbol real and powerful.
This part of the mass is also very reminiscent of the Jewish Passover meal, which was the meal that Jesus shared with his followers before his death. Our prayers over the bread and wine echo the ancient blessings over bread and wine from the Jewish tradition, blessings that are still spoken today.
Preparation of the Gifts
We offer up the bread and wine as a gift to God, who then transforms that gift into something more. We are offering up, symbolically in the bread and wine, the work of our human hands. Often the gift-bearers, who present the gifts to the priest, are members of the community and are asked to do this service before mass. This allows members of the church who are not necessarily able to participate in other forms of liturgical ministry a chance to play another role in the liturgy. When these volunteers include a family with children, it’s a special sight; one that reminds us that all of us, of all ages, are important members of the body of Christ.
Before the bread and wine is brought forward, the altar is prepared; the table must be set. When presenting the gifts, the gift-bearers bring them up from the midst of the community, usually from a table set halfway down the aisle, showing that they are from the community. Sometimes other symbolic gifts are presented, or gifts that would then go to help the poor. There is usually a song during this time, which allows the congregation to pray and focus on the gifts placed on the altar. The priest then washes his hands as an expression of the desire to be cleansed. The priest then invites the community to pray with him over the offerings. This prayer leads us into the Eucharistic prayer.
Don’t you have enough solicitors calling your home or even coming to your door asking for money? Why then should you have to worry about being bothered by something as worldly as this during something as sacred as the mass? Why does even the Church keep asking for money? The answer is simple. The Church is the community of believers, and the way each parish pays for its needs and the needs of the poor in the community is through the financial offerings of its members. We are not paying for something we do not use or receive back. Why, then, do we collect this money during mass? The reason is that this is also a sacrifice and gift from each of us to God and to the community. This offering becomes sacred in its intent. The collection is taken up, usually by the ushers, at the time of the preparation of the gifts, and is presented as one of the gifts to be taken up to the altar, where it is usually placed beside of in front of the altar. If there is a specific secondary collection for missionaries or something similar, that is taken up later.
How much is enough?
The tradition of tithing (offering 10% of your annual salary) is traditionally the method preferred to measure what you should give. Many church leaders today recommend 10% for “good works.” That means 5% for the church and 5% to a charity. Our advice is to give not “what you can afford” but rather, “as much as you can afford.” Take some time and think about this when you are doing your personal budgeting. Throwing a dollar in the basket is pretty cheap unless that is really all you can afford to give! You can make an offering that truly gives something of yourself to the community.
The priest and the community are united in this prayer through a dialogue of “call and response.” This prayer is the center of our celebration; it is a prayer of sanctification and thanksgiving. The word “eucharist” comes from the Greek, and means “thanksgiving.” It is also very close to the Greek word “chairein” which means “to rejoice.” The first part, called the Preface, gives thanks and praise to God for what He’s done for us.
The next part of the Eucharistic prayer is the Sanctus, which translates into “Holy.” The congregation joins together in singing, or if necessary reciting, this acclamation, and in doing so we are joining with the angels in singing praise to God.
The epiclesis is the part of the prayer and is the point in the liturgy where the Church asks the spirit to transform the bread and wine, gifts made and brought by human hands, into the body and blood of Christ. In this prayer it is asked of God that the sacrifice, who is Christ, become the salvation of all those who partake. This is a most holy part of the ritual, for it is through the power of God that the bread and wine are consecrated and transformed, and this is done so as a gift to us from God. We ask; we do not ever compel.
The words of institution or consecration are the words that Christ used when he gave himself in the form of bread and wine to his apostles at the Last Supper, the Passover meal. Christ offered his apostles his body and blood, to eat and drink and share, and then he commanded that they continue to do this and celebrate this mystery. These words are more than echoes of the past, but words spoken to us as the followers of Jesus and people of God.
The memorial acclamation and anamnesis follow the command to remember, to continue on in the memory of Christ. We know, and speak our knowledge, that Christ died, was buried, and then, in a powerful reversal of entropy, rose again. The words for the memorial acclamation change to some extent, but the acknowledgement of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection does not change.
The offering is a memorial in which the Church offers the innocent sacrifice and victim, who is Jesus, to the Father in the Holy Spirit. In this prayer, however, we are not only offering up the sacrifice, but also ourselves, and therefore learn to surrender ourselves through Christ’s example more fully to the Creator. In this surrender we may find ourselves in a deeper union with God.
Again, we offer forth our prayers and petitions, specifically mentioning the Pope, the bishops and priests, for unity of the Christian people, and for the dead. This prayer makes it clear that our offering is made on behalf of all the members of the Church, living and dead, and celebrated in communion with the entire Church of heaven and earth. (GI)
The final doxology is a praise of God at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, and calls for the response and assent from the community in the Great Amen. The word “amen” is not just the verbal period at the end of a prayer; it is both an expression of faith and one of approval. In the Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer the community is expressing faith and assent. This is the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Stand, kneel, or what?
This is the part of the mass that could be pretty funny if seen in fast-forward, what with all the standing and sitting and kneeling. If you are confused, in a pinch you can look to your neighbor or the people in the surrounding seats. If you want to be prepared, however, look in the missalette before mass begins. In Europe, it is customary to stand during the Eucharistic prayer. Some American churches also practice this and many theologians claim that it is more liturgically correct to stand. Most American churches kneel and in Latin America and some parts of Canada, Catholics kneel for the first part and stand for part two.
Bells or no bells
A little before the consecration and at the showing of the host and chalice it has been traditional to ring bells. Some people have liked that touch, with the bells sounding almost angelic, while others now think it is distracting and detracts from the moment. Some parishes still use the bells, while others have decided not to continue with that tradition. In ages past the bells were used because the priest faced away from the people and was speaking latin-so most people needed a wake up call to pay signal to them that the priest was going to raise the host or the cup. Some churches kept the tradition while others felt it was now irrelevant.
WE ARE ONE BODY
It all comes down to this: The communion rite is the climax of this gathering, the center of our ritual. We are now called to the feast.
Before we partake in this feast, we are asked to pray together in the words given to us by Jesus as the way to pray. This is the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father, as it is sometimes called. The entire congregation prays this together.
Hands or no Hands
All right – what do you do with your hands here? Some parishes tend to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes spreading out so that people are holding hands across the aisles and not just in their own pews. The people who are into this claim that it fosters a sense of community and visibly and physically demonstrates the unity of the church. Those who don’t like the practice claim that it is distracting and that the community is standing together during the prayer, which does indeed demonstrate unity. Just do what your parish does. And if you don’t like what your parish does, take it as a sign that you should get more involved.
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
SIGN OF PEACE
Before we come together to share this sacred meal, we offer each other a sign of peace. The way in which this is done varies according to place and custom, but the sign of peace is often expressed by a handshake or a hug and is offered to those that surround us, not just to those we know. When Christ first broke bread with his followers after his resurrection, he said to them, “peace be with you.” We ask for that gift of peace before we share in the Lord’s meal in the mass.
The bread is broken at this point, as an echo of Christ’s breaking of the bread and his being broken in the crucifixion. The priest holds up the bread to the congregation and then breaks it. Part of the bread is put into the cup, which is called commingling. This is not a symbol of breaking, however, but a symbol of unity. In the breaking of the bread we know the presence of Christ, and in the sharing of that bread we become one body of believers. After the breaking of the bread we sing, or recite, the Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God. This prayer, which asks for mercy, always ends with the petition “grant us peace.”
Distribution of Communion
The distribution of communion is a time of reception and reflection. Some of the medieval mystics likened taking communion to the act of a lover meeting with the beloved. When we go to receive the Eucharist we are welcoming Christ into our hearts and selves, and this is a very important moment. There is usually music during this part of the mass, and the music is intended to enhance our experience and focus us in to the mystery in which we are participating.
The priest, deacon, and lay Eucharistic ministers are the ones whose ministry it is to distribute the Eucharist. They affirm for us what it is we are receiving, by saying “The body (or blood) of Christ” to us as we come to accept the host or cup. We accept this by responding with the expression of faith: “Amen.” (which means “I truly believe” in this case) Some people prefer to have the minister place the host directly on the tongue, while others prefer to receive the bread in cupped hands. After taking the bread, each person consumes the host and then simply returns to their seat. Different parishes use different forms of bread. Some use unleavened bread made by members of the parish according to certain specifications. Other parishes use small white hosts instead, which are very flat and wafer-like. Again, customs differ according to parish and need, but some parishes or certain masses will offer the bread alone in the communion rite, while others will give communion under what is called “both species,” which is the host and the cup: both the body and blood of Christ. Both species are always present on the altar during the consecration.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE?
State of Grace?
We’ve all had fights with our friends, some small, some truly hurtful. If you have done something to a friend, are you likely to feel comfortable sitting down at the table with that person? Sin is, by one definition, something that separates us from God and others, and being in a state of serious sin keeps us from sitting down at the Lord’s table. Church leaders recommend the sacrament of reconciliation before taking communion if you have committed a serious or “mortal” sin. It is like making up with your friend and receiving forgiveness for any wrongdoing. The party can be enjoyed fully and with no bitter feelings.
What if I drop a host?
There’s no need to panic if you drop a host. It happens. Simply pick it up and either consume it (if you’re not totally skeeved out by this) or give it to the minister who will reserve it. Jesus can take care of himself, but you should act reverently if you drop a host by picking it up before someone steps on it.
Because of the sacred nature of this meal, it is important that there are no crumbs and remnants left over and forgotten. Therefore the paten, or plate for the hosts, is purified, and all crumbs are swept into the chalice. The chalice is finished, and then washed with water, which is also consumed at this time. The vessels used during communion are taken to the side and will be further purified after the liturgy is concluded.
Reserving the sacrament
Some of the Eucharist is taken to the tabernacle to be kept there for the private adoration. The sacrament is kept here also for use in giving the sacrament to those who are sick, homebound, or dying and unable to attend mass with the rest of the community. They are also kept for use at future masses although the general practice is to attempt to consecrate enough bread and wine for the present congregation.
Prayer after Communion
There is often a time of meditation, whether silent or guided, after everyone has come up to receive the Eucharist. After this period of silence, the priest will say, “Let us pray,” and then say the prayer after communion. The community responds with “Amen.”
Hey, now the stories are told and the meal is done – time to go, right?
Wrong. Many people receive communion and go straight from the line to the parking lot, but when you think about it, it’s rude to leave the table and immediately leave the party. Have you said goodbye to your host and fellow guests? The closing rite is still an important part of the liturgy, for it allows us to finish our ritual and ready ourselves again for the outside world. After all, this time spent here together during mass is for the purpose of allowing us to continue our lives as Christians in the world and witnesses to Christ. Besides we spend less time in line at Starbucks than we do for the Closing Rite to end. Right after the final communion prayer there are usually announcements. Every Christian community has news and happenings that need to be shared with the larger community, and this is the time to do so. The church wants you to know what events they have planned so you can take a more active role in the parish community. After the announcements, we receive a blessing from the celebrant, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to which, of course, we respond with “Amen.” At this point we are told that the mass is ended and to go in peace. The response here, “Thanks be to God,” is not an expression of relief that mass is over, but that we are empowered with the charge to serve God and the peace of the Lord will be with us and help us as we go. This is a sending forth, a commission to take the liturgy and its meaning and make it part of our lives. The final song gives us an end to our celebration, and is usually joyful in nature, as a musical prayer to send us forth into the outer world. The priest sometimes processes out, but not always. The congregation remains until the end of the song, and then disperses.
But it’s not polite to eat and run……
So when mass (our communal meal) is over, you might want to spend some time talking with other people in your parish. Who knows? You might find out that there’s a cool young adult group in your parish that addresses some of your needs. There could be a great trip to somewhere you’ve always wanted to go at half the cost. You might even meet that special someone you’ve been dreaming of, or even find a new job opportunity through another parish member that turns out to be your dream job. The mass is something that we need to “take with us” into our everyday lives and not simply “punch a heavenly time card” each week.