The MASS Explained

This week we continue our series called The MASS Explained.

When someone wants to show you their affection and friendship, they invite you to their home. There are two important things which occur next: conversation and a meal. In the celebration of the Mass, it is Jesus who invites us to participate in his friendship, during which we also encounter these two important moments: conversation, which is when Jesus speaks to us through his Word and we respond with our prayers; and a meal, when Jesus offers us the Eucharistic banquet giving us his Body and Blood.

The MASS Explained #1

What is the "Mass"?
    The Mass, or celebration of the Eucharist, is the principal liturgical action in the Roman Catholic Church. The word "Mass" comes from the Latin word, missa meaning "mission" or "sending" because the liturgy is to send forth the faithful to bring forth the Good News and to be His sacramental presence in the world.
    In this celebration, established by the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper on the night before He died for us, we participate in the mystery of salvation by remembering the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Lord.
    In order to personally prepare for Mass, a quiet time for reflection and prayer is needed. Arriving at church early helps us to focus on the upcoming celebration. This quiet, prayerful time relaxes and calms us. Distractions are removed from our minds, opening space to be able to hear Jesus speaking to us.

The MASS Explained #2

    We often get so distracted by external thoughts when we go to Mass that we fail to see the great reality of what is really happening right before our eyes. St. John Vianney said, "If we really understood the Mass we would die of joy."
    While most of us are familiar with the term "Mass," there are many different ways to refer to the same thing. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), in paragraphs 1328 - 1332, refers to many different names for the Mass. For Catholics, attending Mass on Sunday (or Saturday evening vigil Mass) is not optional. It is an obligation. "The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice" (CCC para. 2181). In going to Mass on Sunday, we follow the Third Commandment to keep holy the Sabbath.
    The Mass has its beginnings at the Last Supper. You can read the accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. To this day, the priest echoes the words of Jesus at every Mass. In Acts 2:42, the very first Christians "devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers." Here we see the two major parts of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word—the teaching of the apostles, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist—the breaking of the bread. It is further structured in four specific parts: Introductory Rite, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist, and Concluding Rite.

The MASS Explained #3

    Now that we've entered the church and reminded ourselves of the gift of our Baptism, we are ready to enter the pews for worship. To honor the true presence of Jesus Christ in the tabernacle, we genuflect (touch our right knee to the floor) or bow deeply in a spirit of prayer and as a sign of adoration of the Lord. Since the focus is on the altar, you will notice that at other times during the Mass, the priest and ministers bow as they cross the sanctuary.

The Introductory Rite - Part 1

    Setting the tone and theme of the Mass, the Introductory Rite unifies the diverse members of the faithful into ONE community of faith. Here is where we are prepared for worship and invited to enter into the mystery of the liturgy.

- Entrance Procession:
    The celebrant and other ministers enter in procession as the congregation sings an opening hymn or the entrance antiphon is recited.

- Veneration of the Altar:
    The priest kisses the altar, a symbol of Christ at the heart of the assembly, as a sign of reverence/veneration.

- Sign of the Cross:
    The Mass begins by all making the Sign of the Cross which is both a true blessing from God and a true commitment from us to follow the Lord. The celebrant extends a greeting to the people in words taken from Scripture. (St. Paul's epistles in the beginning.)

The MASS Explained #4

The Introductory Rite - Part 2

- Greeting:
    The celebrant greets us in words from our Christian tradition such as "The Lord be with you," to which we respond, "And with your spirit."

- Penitential Rite:
    We are called to pause, recall our sins, and place our trust in God's abiding mercy. The Act of Penitence includes the Kyrie Eleison, a Greek phrase meaning, "Lord, have mercy," recalling God's merciful actions (Mk 10:47).

- Glory to God:
    On all Sundays, except during Advent and Lent, the Gloria is recited or sung. This hymn of praise, echoing the song of the angels at the birth of Christ and acknowledging God's greatness, infuses us with an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving. "Glory to God in the Highest!"

- Collect:
    The Opening Prayer (Collect) gives the context for the celebration. This prayer literally "collects" the prayers of all gathered into one prayer led by the priest. It ends with us responding "Amen" in affirmation.

    In conclusion, the Introductory Rites that precede the Liturgy of the Word, namely, the Entrance, the Greeting, the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, the Gloria, and Collect, have the character of a beginning, an introduction, and a preparation. The purpose is to ensure that we come together as one, establish communion, and dispose ourselves properly to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily.

The MASS Explained #5

The Liturgy of the Word - Part 1

    This is the major part of the Mass between the Opening Prayer and the preparation of the Gifts during which the Word of God is proclaimed, responded to, explained, and accepted. The Scriptures are God's word spoken to us today. Through the Liturgy of the Word, God speaks to us personally and is fully present to us. We must open ourselves to God's presence by turning a listening ear and heart to the Sacred Scripture proclaimed during the liturgy.

- First Reading:
    On Sundays and solemnities during most of the year, this reading is taken from the Old Testament. During the Easter season, it is taken from the Acts of the Apostles which tells the story of the Church in its earliest days. Read by a lector from the Lectionary at the Ambo, this First Reading and the Gospel have be selected in coordination with each other so that there will be thematic unity.

- Responsorial Psalm:
    The psalm is a response to the First Reading to help us focus on the theme of the liturgy. It may be sung or recited. Each psalm is a prayer which reflects a wide range of human needs and emotions and helps us meditate on the Word of God.

- Second Reading:
    This reading, also read by a lector, is always from the epistles in the New Testament. Epistles are "letters" written by the apostles to churches or individuals that usually start with a personal greeting, identifying the intended recipient, followed by the topic for discussion that mixes admonitions to turn away from sinful things with instructions on how to live. It concludes with business matters-messages or things the writer needs the recipients to do-and a final farewell that may include a prayer or blessing for the recipients.

The MASS Explained #6

The Liturgy of the Word - Part 2

    In the Liturgy of the Word, the Church feeds the people of God from the table of his Word (Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 51). The Scriptures for the word of God were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the Scriptures, God speaks to us, leading us along the path to salvation.

- Gospel Acclamation:
    The high point of the Liturgy of the Word is the reading of the Gospel. Because the Gospels tell of the life, ministry, and preaching of Christ, it receives several special signs of honor and reverence. We stand to hear the Gospel as it is introduced by an acclamation of praise. Apart from Lent, that acclamation is "Alleluia," derived from a Hebrew phrase meaning "Praise the Lord!" Our priest, or deacon, if one is available, reads the Gospel.

- Gospel:
    The Gospel is a reading taken from one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which portrays the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus' life, ministry, miracles, parables, sayings, compassion, and mercy are all presented in the Gospel narrative. Here we have a God who relates to us and heals, forgives, loves, and saves us. As Father introduces the Gospel, we trace the sign of the cross with our thumb on our forehead, lips, and heart. In doing so, we ask God to be in our mind, on our lips, and in our heart as we listen to the Gospel. We are to strive to live it in our daily lives.

- Homily:
    Also called sermon, the homily is meant to explain the scriptures, give us lessons to help us live better lives, and to encourage us to be more faithful to Christ's call to grow in holiness.

- Profession of Faith:
    The Nicene Creed is a profession of our faith as Catholic Christians. It expresses our basic Catholic beliefs, enabling us to renew our faith and our baptismal commitment. It may be replaced by the Apostles' Creed or by a renewal of our baptismal promises.

- General Intercessions or Prayers of the Faithful:
    This is when we intercede with God on behalf of the Church, the world, and ourselves, entrusting our needs to our faithful and loving God.

The MASS Explained #7

The Liturgy of the Eucharist - Part 1

    The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the high point of Mass. It corresponds to the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper where he is finally and uniquely made present to us in the Mass through bread and wine that is transubstantiated into his body and blood. The complete change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ's body and blood by a validly ordained priest during the consecration at Mass is complete, so that only the accidents of bread and wine remain.

- Preparation of the Altar and Presentation of the Gifts:
    As our priest begins to prepare the altar, representatives of the people bring forward the bread and wine along with monetary gifts for the support of the Church and care of the poor. An offertory song may be sung at this time.

- Prayer Over the Gifts:
    Helping those assembled to get ready for the tremendous Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, the priest praises God and prays a blessing prayer offering the bread and wine to God. He then washes his hands as a symbolic gesture of purification.

- Invitation to Prayer:
    The priest invites the faithful to pray "that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father." The faithful prayerfully respond, "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church."

The MASS Explained #8

The Liturgy of the Eucharist - Part 2

    The prayer over the Offerings concluded the preparation of the altar and gifts and disposes all for the central part of the Mass—the Canon of the Mass, also called the Eucharistic Prayer.

* The Eucharistic Prayer *

    This prayer of thanksgiving at the heart of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is 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. Now it is offered through our priest, acting in the person of Christ, 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.
    Our priest gathers not only the bread and wine, but the substance of our lives and joins them to Christ's perfect sacrifice, offering them to the Father.

- Preface Dialogue:
    Our priest asks us to lift our hearts to the Lord and to give thanks and praise to God. This brief introductory dialogue opens us to the awe and majesty of God. It establishes the Eucharistic Prayer as the prayer of the baptized and ordained offered in the presence of God with thanksgiving as its central focus.

- Preface:
    The Preface tells of the wonderful actions of God, both throughout history and in our lives, giving thanks to God for all these things. The Preface concludes with the Sanctus in which we all join the song of the angels giving praise to the Father in heaven - "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts..."

The MASS Explained #9

The Liturgy of the Eucharist - Part 3

* The Eucharistic Prayer *

- Epiclesis:
    This is the center and high point of the Holy Mass that makes Christ present for us in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Our priest offers the Eucharistic Prayer in the first person plural, for example, "Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you…" This "we" signifies that all the baptized present at the Eucharistic celebration make the sacrificial offering in union with Christ, and pray the Eucharistic Prayer in union with him. This prayer of petition is the epiclesis. In the epiclesis, our priest asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit on the gifts of bread and wine so that, through the power of the Spirit, they may become the Body and Blood of Christ. The same Spirit transforms those present that they may grow in their unity with each other, with the whole Church, and with Christ.

- Institution Narrative & Consecration:
    The Eucharistic Prayer continues with the institution narrative recounting what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper. Christ is brought into our midst through the words of consecration. The host and chalice are raised for silent adoration and prayer. The simple gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, not a representation or a symbol of Christ, but an actual transformation known as transubstantiation.

- Anamnesis ("Remembrance") and Offering:
    This is when we, the Church, proclaim the memorial acclamation, calling to mind the Passion, Resurrection, and glorious return of Christ Jesus as our priest recalls the saving actions of God in Christ and joins the offering of this Mass to the perfect sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.

- Intercessions:
    Affirming Christ's presence and confident in His loving care, the gathered assembly makes this sacrifice on behalf of the living and the dead, for the leaders of the Church, and for all the faithful.

- Concluding Doxology:
    Elevating the Body and Blood of Christ, our priest makes the prayer through, in, and with Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, and presents it to God the Father. As a joyous affirmation of our faith and participation in this great sacrifice, we respond with the Great AMEN.

The MASS Explained #10

The Liturgy of the Eucharist - Part 4

* Communion Rite *
The Communion Rite follows the Eucharistic Prayer, leading the faithful to the Eucharistic table.

- The Lord's Prayer:
    The Communion Rite begins with the Lord's Prayer. Jesus taught this prayer to his discipleswhen they asked how to pray (cf. Mt 6:9-13, Lk 11:2-4). In this prayer, we join our voices to pray for the coming of God's Kingdom and to ask God to provide for our needs, forgive our sins, and bring us the joy of heaven. This sign of unity with Christ and one another helps prepare us to receive Holy Communion.

- Rite of Peace:
    The Rite of Peace follows. Father 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.

- Fraction Rite:
    In the Fraction Rite, Father breaks the consecrated bread as we sing Agnus Dei or "Lamb of God." John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29). The action of the breaking of 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).

The MASS Explained #11

The Liturgy of the Eucharist - Part 5

* Communion Rite *

- Invitation to Communion:
    Before receiving communion, Father and the assembly acknowledge that we are unworthy to receive so great a gift by joining in a preparation prayer to receive communion. We respond as did the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his son: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." The faithful, who have fasted (except for medicine) for one hour before receiving and are not conscious of having committed serious sin, are now ready and truly prepared to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

- Distribution of Holy Communion:
    Because sharing at the Eucharistic Table is a sign of unity in the Body of Christ, only Catholics may receive Communion. As we receive Holy Communion, we receive Christ into our hearts and lives. We are healed and forgiven by God. Communion may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, as long as He is received with reverence. We are to approach the altar with a bow of reverence and an "Amen," a Hebrew word meaning, "So be it" (CCC, 2856). Those who do not receive Communion still participate in this rite by praying for unity with Christ and with each other.T

- Sacred Silence (or a suitable hymn):
    A Communion hymn may be sung at this time as well as silent prayers of thanksgiving. This is a time of personal, quiet prayer and meditation on the sacred mystery which has been received. We are closely united to God at this time, so it is a perfect time to share our cares, concerns, and prayers with Him.

- Prayer after Communion:
   This is the final prayer of the liturgy which asks that the benefits of the Eucharist will remain active in our daily lives.

*** The MASS Explained will conclude next week with the Concluding Rite.



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