Parts of the Mass
Before we get into the parts of the Mass it's important for us to understand why we go to Mass to begin with. We come to Mass because we believe there is something substantial that takes place every time we gather. There is something about Mass that takes us away from this world and firmly plants us in Heaven. Our hope is that these 4 weeks can help us encounter the Lord in new ways at Mass so we can more deeply understand why we gather together as a community.
THE INTRODUCTORY RITE
The first part of the Mass is called the Introductory Rite. What better way to begin the Introductory Rite than with an introduction? The priest greets the faithful with the custom of our faith: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Many of us make the Sign of the Cross daily to the point that it may become "routine", but the Sign of the Cross sets the tone for the entirety of our worship. We see its importance immediately after we make the Sign of the Cross when the priest says: "The Lord be with you." This "Lord" is not simply the Lord of the Old Testament that led the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt nor is the "Lord" simply Christ who is called "Lord and God" by Doubting Thomas. This "Lord" that the priest asks to be with us is the "Lord" described at the baptism of Jesus when the skys opened and the Spirit descended upon Him and the Voice spoke "this is My beloved Son with Whom I am pleased." That "Lord" 3-in-1 is given to us at the very beginning of Mass and sets the course for what is to come.
Having been reminded that we are coming into the presence of God, we are invited as a community to pray an act of penance. Often this is done with the Confiteor ("I confess") which has us confess our sins to God and to all present at Mass. In the Confiteor we say the words "I have greatly sinned . . . in what I have done and in what I have failed to do." Not only do we acknowledge the times we have chosen to live against how God has called us to live, but we also ask forgiveness for the times we failed to take action as we ought to (sins of omission).
At the end of the Pentitential Act, which includes the Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy), the Gloria is typically recited. The ancient hymn takes its inspiration from the salutaion of the angels to the shepherds in the Gospel of St. Luke. During the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent we don't recite the Gloria as a practical and external way of waiting for the joys of Christmas and Easter. By not reciting the Gloria in Advent, we can participate in a similar experience as the shepherds of Bethlehem who heard the angels say with joy "Glory to God in the Highest."
The Introductory Rite closes with the priest praying the Collect. This opening prayer sets the tone for what will be heard at Mass. the Collect typically alludes to the saint of the day or connects to the general theme of the day's Mass. For example, this Sunday's Collect, which asks for God's grace so we can carry out good works, alludes to the three readings that all address how people encounter and live for God. The Collect bridges the gap between the introduction to the Mass and the Liturgy of the Word.
This is just some of what is so beautiful about the beginning of Mass. There are many resources out there to learn more about the Mass, and we will link some here. These links will remain in our weekly emails as the series continues and more may be added in the future.
THE LITURGY OF THE WORD
Last week we began our journey through the parts of the Mass by looking at the Introductory Rite. This week we continue by looking at the Liturgy of the Word.
The Liturgy of the Word is most easily identified by the 3 readings, though it contains so much more than that!
Before the calling of the Second Vatican Council by Pope St. John XXIII, the Liturgy of the Word looked vastly different and was called something completely different. If we were to teleport to a Mass said in 1955 here at Corpus Christi-St. Bernard's, we would easily miss the readings since they were said in Latin. Thanks to Vatican II we get to hear the Bible proclaimed in our own language. For a breakdown of how the readings get picked, check our our bulletin!
In between the readings we lift our hearts up in song. After the first reading and before the second reading, we recite some verses from the Psalms. The Book of Psalms is sometimes called "the prayer book of the Bible" (The Mass Explained) since the psalms were originally written as songs to the Lord and it starkly contrasts the other books of the Bible which focus a lot on narrative accounts. After the second reading, we prepare ourselves for the Gospel by singing the Alleluia. In Lent, we move away from the Alleluia as we prepare for Easter. By keeping the Alleluia in our "back pocket" during Lent, we more deeply participate in the penitential aspect of the season. The Alleluia and Lenten acclamation open our hearts to hear the saving message of the Gospel.
The Gospel reading begins with another interaction between the priest (or deacon) and the faithful gathered. The priest or deacon calls us back to the beginning of Mass by saying "The Lord be with you." Once more we receive the Triune Lord and God into our hearts as we await the Gospel message. After we respond with: "and with your spirit," the Gospel writer is proclaimed and we acclaim "Glory to You, O Lord." As we acclaim this response, we make a small cross on our forehead, lips, and hearts as an external sign of our desire that the Gospel message be always on our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. Some people practice the private devotion of saying "Lord be ever in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart."
After these three readings, we are invited to sit as the priest or deacon gives his homily about the readings of the day. The goal of the homily is to explain the difficult portions of the Scripture readings while also helping us reflect on how we can live the message of the Scripture. Every Sunday Mass has a homily and is a great tool for deepening our faith lives each week.
Once the homily is complete, the priest leads the faithful in the Profession of Faith or the Creed. There are two well-known creeds often recited. The first is the Apostles Creed which is said at the beginning of the Rosary, and the second is the Nicene Creed which is often the one said at Mass. The Nicene Creed was developed in the 4th century at the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople and was used in the early Church as a quick way to explain to new followers what the Church believed in. There are many reasons why certain sentences are phrased the way they are, but that would take us down a rabbit hole! We recite the Creed at Mass because it is important to remind ourselves what it is we truly believe. It can be easy for us to overlook parts of the Creed because we repeat it every weekend, but there are some beautiful statements we make in belief.
For example, each time we say the Creed, we profess that we believe that Jesus Christ is "begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father." Every week we are saying that the man who walked the earth 2000 years ago is 100% human and 100% God, that He is equal to God the Father, and that He existed with the Father from the very moment of Creation. The Creed is so important to our time at Mass because it reminds us of how the Holy Spirit is acting in us and in the celebration of the Eucharist.
We close out the Liturgy of the Word with the Prayers of the Faithful. The Prayers of the Faithful are a sort of bridge between the Liturgy of the Word and the next part of Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Often the petitions offered at the Prayers of the Faithful follow the theme of the readings. We also pray for Church and civil leaders and remember those who have died. All these prayers are spiritually brought forth to the Altar and offered up with bread and wine during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST
We're halfway through our discussion on the Mass. This week we will discuss the high point of our worship as Catholics: the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
As Catholics, we believe that Jesus Christ is truly present at every Mass hidden in bread and wine. Even though we profess this truth, it's definitely a hard truth to wrap our heads around. How can we be consuming Jesus' Body and Blood when it tastes and looks like bread and wine? Certainly the bread and wine must just be a symbol of Jesus, right? These questions can often enter our minds when gather for Mass, and they should not be overlooked!
This week we're going to focus our attention on the Communion Rite, which closes the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After the Eucharistic Prayer ends with the Great Amen, the Communion Rite begins with the Our Father (to learn more about the Eucharistic Prayer, check out the parts of the Mass column in our parish bulletin!).
The Our Father is the prayer Christ taught His disciples in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. We pray this prayer at Mass for a number of reasons. Firstly, since we are preparing to receive the Body of Christ, we should offer up the prayer He taught us. Secondly, the words of the Our Father speak to the very situation we find ourselves in at Mass. We ask the Father to "Give us this day our daily bread." What better time is there to pray those words than moments before receiving Jesus, the Bread of Life? We close the Our Father asking our sins to be forgiven and to be kept from evil. In praying the Our Father, we are reinforcing our belief that something has happened at Mass that has caused bread and wine to become Body and Blood while still appearing to our eyes as bread and wine.
The Sign of Peace, which directly follows the Our Father, functions almost as an extension of the Our Father. By extending the Sign of Peace to those near us, we are following the call of the Our Father to "forgive those who trespass against us."
While the Sign of Peace is happening, we can often miss a rather important part of the Communion Rite called the Fraction Rite. If we are sharing the Sign of Peace with those around us, the moment when the priest breaks the host in half and and places a tiny piece of the host in the chalice can pass right by us. Even if we don't manage to see the Fraction Rite with our own eyes, it is still impactful to our understanding of Holy Communion. The moment when the Body and Blood are united at Mass signifies the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day. It is the unification of the Body and Blood of Jesus that we receive at Communion. When we approach for Communion, we are approaching the Risen Jesus and receiving His whole Body and Blood in a small bread host.
THE CONCLUDING RITES
We’ve made it through another month. What better way to end the month of October by also wrapping up our series on the parts of the Mass?
The Concluding Rites are by far the shortest part of Mass. There isn’t much that is out of the ordinary for us as we close our time of worship. Even though the Concluding Rites are familiar, there is one unique thing about it. At the end of Mass we receive our mission as Catholics. The last words ushered from the Altar are some version of “Go in peace.” Other times we hear “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
Closing Mass with this sendoff is more than a way for us to say, “See you later” to one another. Instead it is a great calling from God to transfer to others what we have been given at Mass.
If we take a look at the Mass, we discover that it forms a spiritual cross for us. By participating at Mass, we form the vertical beam of the cross. We bring forth our prayers and petitions to God, and He gives us His Son’s Body and Blood.
At the very end of Mass, the “Go in peace” forms the link between the vertical and horizontal beams. The “Go in peace” finishes our act of worship and calls us to take the message we have received and spread it to the ends of the Earth. Going in peace really is our call to action. It is the mission we have been given by God and the Church. The image of the horizontal beam is a little easier to see than the vertical beam since we can imagine the message being spread down the block in a horizontal manner.
The “Go in peace” is perhaps the most vital part of our mission as Catholics. The beams of our spiritual cross cannot stand without one another. If we don’t answer the call to spread the Gospel to everyone around us, we cannot give to everyone the truth that God loves them so much that He gave His only Son so that we could have the hope of Heaven. And, if we try to spread the Gospel without the summit of the Christian life, the Eucharist, we are neglecting the greatest gift given to humanity.
All of this wrapped up in one simple sentence. This week, our mission is to “Go in peace” and share the gift we have received at Mass with everyone we encounter.