The Catholic Mass Explained
The most important aspect of Catholic worship is the celebration of the Mass. The Mass is the sum and summit of our devotional life. It was instituted by Christ to give praise, worship, and honor to God. The Mass is where the faithful re-present to God the eternal sacrifice made on our behalf by His Son Jesus. We do not gather in order to focus on ourselves or what "moves" us. Worship is not about us, it's about recognizing the source of our redemption. It is about what Jesus did on the cross and what His resurrection means for humanity. The irony is that in honoring God, it does indeed serve to refresh us. This is because we are fulfilling the very reason for which we were created - to worship our Creator.
The Mass contains two main parts, 1/Liturgy of the Word - 2/Liturgy of the Eucharist. These two parts are celebrated with a focus on four separate concentrations:
- Introductory Rites
II. Liturgy of the Word
III. Liturgy of the Eucharist
IV. Concluding Rites
A More Detailed Explanation:
The introductory rites are not just something we do to get the Mass started. The introductory rites, beginning with the procession and opening hymn are meant to draw us together as a community and to open ourselves up to the working of the Holy Spirit.
Entrance Procession - The priest, (deacon), servers and other ministers enter in procession, while a hymn is being sung. This serves as a symbol of "gathering together" to worship God. The entrance hymn serves two purposes. One, it gives praise to God. Secondly, by the act of all the people singing together promotes the unity of the congregation as one body.
Gathering at the Altar and Greeting - The priest and ministers bow towards the altar as a sign of reverence and the priest (and deacon) kiss the altar as a further sign of reverence and all take their place. The priest then begins the Mass by making the Sign of the Cross and greeting the people.
Penitential Rite - In the Penitential Rite, we are called to reflect on the fact that we are all far from perfect in and of ourselves. Rather, we rely on God's help and seek His mercy for those times when we stumble and fail to do good (God's will). It's about thanking God for his mercy upon us in spite of our weaknesses.
Gloria - The Gloria is an ancient hymn of praise, giving glory to God and to Jesus as the Lamb of God.
Opening Prayer The opening prayer is a different prayer for each Sunday and Holy Day of the year. There are prayers written based on topics such as peace, unity, vocations, and a good harvest.
Liturgy of the Word
The Readings - The readings of the Mass are found in the Lectionary. For Sundays, the Lectionary follows a three year cycle. There are three readings and a responsorial psalm. The first reading is taking from the Old Testament. The first reading is followed by a responsorial psalm, generally taken from the Book of Psalms. Then, there is a second reading taken from one of the New Testament Letters. Then there is a reading from one of the Gospels.
Homily (sermon) - The homily is done by the priest or deacon. Most generally, the theme of the homily is taken from the readings of the day but may also be taken from any of the prayers of the day or the Eucharistic Prayer. The purpose of the homily is to take the sacred words of scripture or the sacred texts of Mass and interpret them to show how they guide us in our world today.
Creed (Profession of Faith) - A creed is a statement or profession of faith. At Mass, the creed that we profess is the Nicene Creed which has been in its present form since the fifth century and portions are much older than that. The Creed was developed as an expression of the basic beliefs of the Catholic Church.
Prayers of the Faithful - Jesus said where two or three pray in his name, the prayers will be answered (Matthew 18:19). Before concluding the Liturgy of the Word, we pray together for the needs of the Church and for the needs of the world.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
Preparation of the Gifts - The gifts are now brought forth but it is not just the gifts of bread and wine that we offer. The collection is taken up as one way that we give thanks to God for what he has done for us and contribute to the work of the church. But the gifts we offer go beyond that. We are also called, as members of the body of Christ through our baptism, to use the gifts God has given us for the good of all God's people. The preparation of the gifts concludes with the Prayer over the gifts said by the priest.
Eucharistic Prayer - The Eucharistic Prayer begins with the Preface and "The Lord be with you" to which the people respond: "And with your spirit." Throughout the Eucharistic Prayer the priest says the vast majority of the prayer himself with a few responses by the people. We are all called to share in the offering of our sacrifices. The priest as the presider says the prayers on behalf of all the people. However, as we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer that the Spirit come upon the gifts of bread and wine we also pray that the Spirit come upon us and transform form us into "one body, one spirit in Christ." As active participants in the Mass, we listen and offer ourselves as the priest leads us in the Eucharistic Prayer.
The Lord's Prayer - As we prepare to receive Communion, we pray together as Jesus taught us for the Lord to give us our daily bread. We ask for forgiveness and that we always do God's will.
The Sign of Peace - We seek the peace of Christ. In seeking God's peace we also seek unity with one another. As a sign of peace and unity we offer each other a sign of peace.
The Fraction - The fraction rite is the breaking of the bread that has become the Body of Christ. In offering his life for us on the Cross, Jesus has become the Lamb of God that is offered for our sins. As the priest breaks the bread, the people sing the Lamb of God, acknowledging Jesus' sacrifice on the cross that takes away our sins.
Communion - In receiving Communion, we profess faith in Jesus. By coming forth to receive Communion, we are agreeing to strive to do God's will in all things.
Prayer after Communion - We end the Communion Rite with a prayer that we be strengthened and transformed by the Communion we have received.
The concluding rites include the final blessing, the dismissal (The Mass is ended, go in peace), the kissing of the altar by the priest and deacon and the recessional. We are dismissed into the world to share our faith by loving and serving the Lord.