1 STRUCTURE OF THE MASS Our Sunday Liturgy What s It All About? I ve been asked so many times Why do we do... at Mass, that I thought it would help to have a series on the elements of the Mass name each of them and briefly explain their purpose. INTRODUCTORY RITES: Entrance Procession. Our Sunday worship begins with an opening song and procession, which are part of the Introductory Rites. Together, these combined actions gather us into one assembly. That is why we sometimes call them our gathering rite. Why do we gather in this way? Because we come to church from different backgrounds, with many separate thoughts and in varied emotional states. Through song and procession of ministers to the sanctuary, all of us bring our many disparate thoughts and divergent lives into harmony through the words, melodies, and rhythms chosen to focus on our purpose here today. The Book of Gospels is raised high and carried by a deacon or lector and placed upon the altar. Then priest, deacon and other ministers bow to the altar as a sign of reverence. Afterward, the priest and deacon(s) make an additional reverence to the altar with a kiss. The lector returns to the congregation and priest, deacon(s) and servers take their places in the sanctuary. The song is completed and all of us are gathered minds and hearts (hopefully) ready for the celebration of this sacred mystery. Greeting & Penitential Rite Once we are all gathered and the entrance song concludes, the priest begins with the Sign of the Cross. This sign is our most frequent profession of our faith our belief in a threeperson God, symbolized by the cross-gesture made with our hands to signify our belief in redemption through Christ s death on a cross. Then the priest greets all present and may briefly introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day. (which, in our parish, is often mentioned in the commentary before Mass begins). Then the priest invites us to take part in the Penitential Rite. On most Sundays, we recite the Act of Penitence (I confess to almighty God) followed by the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, etc.) in which we ask for the Lord s forgiveness. In this rite, we recognize our sinfulness and accept Christ s forgiving love. This readies us for full participation in the sacrament that we will soon receive. Sometimes (especially during the Easter season) this rite is celebrated with the blessing and sprinkling of water to recall our baptism. [quotes are from the Church s official document on the Mass: General Instruction of the Roman Missal] The Gloria. The Glory to God is a very ancient hymn of praise to all three persons of the Trinity. It was first used at Christmas liturgies, but soon spread to all feast days and finally to Sundays.. It is spoken or sung at every Mass on Sundays (except during Advent and Lent), Holy Days and solemnities. Singing is the preferred form because the Gloria is, after all, a hymn a song. There are many musical settings for this sung prayer, and in our parish these settings change with the seasons and feasts. After having acknowledged our sinfulness and asked for the Lord s mercy, we joyfully raise our voices in praise of God. Opening Prayer (Collect). When the Glory to God is finished, the priest says, Let us pray. We pause for a moment of silence; then the priest says a prayer that summarizes the character of this particular celebration. In the first week of Advent he prays: help us to prepare for the coming of Christ. May he find us waiting, eager in joyful prayer. On Christmas eve: Father, you make this holy night radiant with the splendor of Jesus Christ our light. On Easter:.. by raising Christ your Son, you conquered the power of death and opened for us the way to eternal life. So, if we listen carefully to this prayer, we get a sense of this particular celebration, and we unite ourselves with this prayer through our Amen.
2 THE LITURGY OF THE WORD After we say our amen to the opening prayer, we are seated as the Introductory Rites conclude and the Liturgy of the Word begins. This part of the Mass consists of readings from Sacred Scripture: Old Testament (O.T.), Psalm, New Testament (N.T.) and Gospel. Sometimes (as during the Easter Season) the O. T. reading is substituted with a N.T. reading to give us a clearer picture of the season. The readings follow three cycles, so that by the time we have completed three years of readings, we will have a comprehensive picture of our salvation history. Year A (our current cycle) is based on the Gospel of Matthew; Year B, on Mark; Year C, on Luke. St. John s Gospel occurs on the first Sundays of Lent, during the Easter season, and on certain Sundays during Year B. We conclude each reading with Thanks be to God, or Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. These responses are a sign that we have heard the readings and are assenting to their summons. When the Word of God is proclaimed at Mass, Christ is present to us. We are not just hearing stories of past events; the Word is alive to us today. The First Reading is usually taken from the Old Testament. In the early Church, a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures (Our Old Testament) were included in liturgies because many of the early Christians were used to this as part of their Jewish heritage. As Christianity spread to Rome, a New Testament reading was included. As our Church grew, the O.T. reading was dropped until Vatican II restored it in the way we experience it today. During the Easter season, the O.T. readings are substituted with readings from the Acts of the Apostles so that we can hear the stories of the spread of the early Church after the Resurrection of Jesus. In the first reading, we learn about our origins as a people of God and the role that God has played in our lives. The Responsorial Psalm continues our participation in the Liturgy of the Word. The Book of Psalms is an important section of the Bible, which was used by the Jewish people as they sang in response to their scripture reading. The psalm is our sung response to the first reading. It is usually connected to the reading or to the season of the Church year. The word psalm means song, so it is more appropriate to sing it than to say it. At times, we sing a seasonal psalm such as one used during Easter time. At other times we use the psalm assigned to the day. The psalm helps us to reflect in a prayerful way on the reading we have just heard and to recall what God has done and continues to do in our lives. The Second Reading follows the psalm. For many years, this reading was called the Epistle, a term that means letter and usually refers to one of the letters of St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, etc. In these letters we hear about the early church living out its faith. We learn the way in which to live our Christian lives. Sequence. The Sequence (a song of praise) is an optional song or recitation which follows the second reading. It is reserved for special feasts and is optional except on Easter Sunday and on Pentecost Day. The Gospel Acclamation follows the 2 nd reading. This acclamation is usually alleluia with an optional verse; however, during the season of Lent, it consists of the verse only. The alleluia must either be sung or omitted. During the singing of the alleluia, the priest or deacon carries the Book of Gospels to the ambo (the lectern from which the Gospel is read). We stand as we sing the Alleluia to welcome and greet the Lord who is about to speak to [us]. [General Instruction of the Roman Missal] Gospel. The reading of the Gospel is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word. [General Instruction, no. 60 ] We stand, as a sign of reverence, while it is proclaimed by the priest or deacon. As he says the words a reading from... the priest or deacon makes the sign of the cross with his thumb on the book, his forehead, mouth,
3 and breast. Then he reads the Gospel, proclaiming the stories from the life of Christ. The gospel reading is chosen for the seasons of the Church Year. During Ordinary Time, we hear an almost-continuous reading of one of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, or Luke) the church year is on a 3-year cycle. The readings from John s gospel can be found in some of the Sundays and the feasts of all three cycles. This year (Year A), we are reading from the Gospel of Matthew the apostle who was a tax collector and whose purpose was to convince Christians of Jewish origin that Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled the promises of the prophets which is why he cites the Old Testament so frequently. The homily follows the reading of the Gospel at each liturgy and is ordinarily given by the priest celebrating the Mass, but it can be delivered by the deacon or a concelebrating priest. The homily leads us from reflecting on God s Word to living its message in our everyday lives. As far back as St. Justin (150 A.D.) homily played an important role in the early Christian liturgies: after the readings, the bishops instructed and exhorted the people to imitate the things they had heard (I Apologia 67:4). Today the homily is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life and should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 65) As members of the assembly, we are called (through the homily) to become the kind of people who can truly call themselves Christian. Creed. Following the homily on Sundays and solemnities, we declare our profession of faith through the Creed. In the early Church, the recitation of the Creed was associated with baptism. It entered the Mass in the 6 th century and has remained, although it has not always followed the homily. The Creed professes the mysteries of our faith states the basic beliefs that we share. Prayer of the Faithful. After reciting the Creed each weekend, we bring our prayer requests before the whole community through the Prayer of the Faithful. The general intercessions that we pray include petitions for the Church, for civil authorities, for those burdened by any kind of difficulty and for the local community. Here at Sacred Heart we customarily remember the sick and recently deceased in our prayers. These prayers are more than simply private prayers for individuals they include all our brothers and sisters who may be in the same circumstances as we are. These prayers may be either spoken or sung and are followed by a common response (often Lord, hear our prayer. ) LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST Preparation of the Gifts: The Prayer of the Faithful concludes the first major part of the Mass (the Liturgy of the Word). What follows is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which begins with the setting of the altar and the preparation of the gifts. The altar is prepared by the deacon and/or servers who place on it the corporal (a large napkin on which are set the chalice and paten [plate] of hosts), purificator (smaller napkin used by the priest to wipe the chalice, the communion cups with their purificators, and the Sacramentary (book of prayers for the Mass). Then the offerings of bread and wine are brought forward by the faithful. Money and gifts for the poor may also be brought forward at this time. The priest may incense the gifts placed on the altar and then incense the cross, the altar, and the people. (In our parish, this incensing is reserved only for very special occasions.) All of these preparations are accompanied by a suitable hymn which concludes as the priest washes his hands in preparation for the consecration which will follow.
4 Prayer Over the Offerings. After the priest washes his hands, the prayer over the offerings (gifts of bread and wine) are said. This prayer usually asks God s acceptance of our gifts, as in today s prayer:... in this Eucharist we proclaim the death of the Lord. Accept the gifts we present and help us follow him with love, for he is Lord for ever and ever. We unite ourselves to this prayer with or own amen. Eucharistic Prayer. The Eucharistic Prayer is the center and summit of our entire celebration a memorial of praise and thanksgiving, the recounting of the Last Supper, a proclamation in which the body and blood of Christ are made present by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharistic Prayer begins when the priest says: The Lord be with you. We respond: and also with you. The he says Lift up your hearts and we respond, we lift them up to the Lord. Finally he says: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, and we respond: It is right to give him thanks and praise. This exchange is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving that leads directly into the Preface part of the Eucharistic Prayer that always joins us with the whole church and all the angels and saints in praise of God and ends with our singing of the Holy, Holy (Sanctus). There is a preface for special occasions, for every major feast and season and several for the seasons of Advent, Lent, Ordinary Time and the weekdays during the Church year. If you listen carefully, you will hear the priest ask us to join our voices with those through the ages as we sing. The Holy, Holy (Sanctus) that we sing is taken from Isaiah s vision of the heavenly kingdom (6: 2-3) and from Matthew s account of Palm Sunday (21:9). We join all of creation in praising the Lord in this song. What follows the Holy, Holy is a prayer that the Holy Spirit will come to transform our gifts of bread and wine and ourselves. As the priest calls upon the Spirit to change the bread and wine, he extends his hands, palms down, over the gifts an ancient gesture that calls God to be with us. (The technical term for this calling of the Spirit is epiclesis, and it precedes the telling of the story of the Last Supper.) The Consecration is probably the word most of us remember to describe what happens to the bread and wine that have been placed on the altar. This part of the Mass, known as the Institution Narrative, give us the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper, in which he offered his body and blood under the appearances of bread and wine and gave them to his disciples to eat and drink, and gave the command to carry on this mystery. This sacred part of the Mass transforms bread and wine and those who consume them into the Christ whose last prayer asked the Father that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also maybe one in us. Following the consecration, we give our assent to the mystery of bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Christ when we sing the Mystery of Faith. The Church uses one of four versions in which we state our belief in the Christ who has come, who continues to come, and who will come again ( Christ has died... or Dying you destroyed our death... or When we eat this bread and drink this cup... or Lord, by your cross and resurrection... ) The anamnesis (now there s a word few of us have heard) follows our singing of the Mystery of Faith ( Christ has died, etc.). Anamnesis means memory in Greek. This is the part of the Mass in which the priest names the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as he recalls our redemption. Listen carefully for this part. It happens quickly. The offering follows and is made for the entire church, living and dead. Doxology. The Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass concludes with a statement of offering (we offer ourselves in union with the offering of Christ), with a round of intercessions for the whole Church (including the pope, our bishop, ourselves, the living and the dead), and with a sung doxology ( through him with him and in him... ) to which we respond a resounding amen.
5 Communion Rite After we all sing the great amen, there is a distinct pause as we stand to prepare for the communion rite. The priest invites us all to pray with confidence the Lord s Prayer. This prayer has been a part of the Mass since the 4 th century. It is a three-part prayer in which (1) we pray the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew s Gospel, (2) the priest continues with an embolism (addition) asking us to be delivered from evil and granted peace as we await Christ s second coming, and (3) we all join in the concluding acclamation (doxology): for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. As we prepare to approach the table of the Lord, our attention is drawn to others and our mutual desire for peace, justice, and love. The Sign of Peace is an ancient liturgical gesture that follows our praying of the Our Father. It begins with a quote from Christ ( I leave you peace, my peace I give you ) and a petition to Him to look not on our sins but on our faith and to grant us peace. Then the priest asks that the peace of the Lord be with all of us and we answer and also with you. The deacon (or the priest) then invites us to offer each other a sign of peace [according to local custom]. The local custom in the United States is to shake the hands of those nearest to us and to say Peace be with you. Our handshake is not the same as gesture that we use when we are meeting someone on the street; it is a brief and sincere encounter that shows our willingness to live in the peace of Christ and to enter more deeply into the Eucharist. The rite that follows the Sign of Peace goes back to the Last Supper itself. The Breaking of the Bread is the primary action for preparing for communion. In the early days of the church the entire Eucharistic celebration was known as the breaking of the bread an act of unity. ( Is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Because the bread is one, we, though many are one body for we all partake of the one bread. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) The one large host that is broken symbolizes our sharing in the one bread. (It would be difficult to create one loaf of unleavened bread that could be broken into 300 pieces for all to share.) The singing of the Lamb of God accompanies the breaking of the bread because every Eucharist is a memorial of the new Passover of Christ, the Paschal lamb. As we sing of the Lamb of God, the priest takes a small piece of the broken host and places it in the chalice and says (inaudibly) May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it. Priest s Communion. When we have finished singing the Lamb of God, The priest genuflects, takes the host, raises it over the paten (plate on which the hosts rest) and says: This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper. We respond, with him: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed. Then the priest consumes the body and blood of Christ. Distribution of Communion. After the priest has consumed the body and blood of Christ, he takes the paten and goes to the communicants (first to the deacon if one is assisting). He says: the body of Christ, and the communicant answers, Amen. Then he offers the blood of Christ, and once again we affirm our belief with Amen. John Foley, S.J., has asked some profound questions about our communion rite, and he challenges us with these words: Eucharist breaks boundaries. It unites us with all of our differences. It is not just something we do. It is something we are. Entering into this rite propels us into death and resurrection [dying to our old way of life and living anew]. What good is it if bread and wine are transformed and we are not transformed?
6 Communion Song. While we are receiving communion, we are singing a song that is (1) a psalm from the Roman Missal or (2) seasonal in nature, or (3) a psalm approved by the U.S. Conference of Bishops, or (4) a Eucharistic hymn. It begins with the priest s reception of communion and ends when distribution is completed. ] If the song has an easy-to-memorize refrain, we can sing it without having to use books. Its purpose is to express our union in spirit by means of the unity of [our] voices... and to highlight more clearly the communitarian nature of the procession to receive Communion. [General Instruction of the Roman Missal Prayer After Communion. After communion, the altar is cleared, vessels are removed and set aside for later purification, and the priest and assembly sit for a few moments of quiet meditation. Then the prayer after communion is prayed. This is not a prayer of thanksgiving, but rather a petition that asks for the effects of the mystery just celebrated, as in today s prayer: help us to live the example of love we celebrate in this eucharist, that we may come to its fulfillment in your presence. Prayer After Communion. After communion, the altar is cleared, vessels are removed and set aside for later purification, and the priest and assembly sit for a few moments of quiet meditation. Then the prayer after communion is prayed. This is not a prayer of thanksgiving, but rather a petition that asks for the effects of the mystery just celebrated, as in today s prayer: help us to live the example of love we celebrate in this eucharist, that we may come to its fulfillment in your presence. CONCLUDING RITES The concluding rites include brief announcements (which, in our parish, are made before Mass begins), the priest s blessing, and the dismissal ( Go in the peace of Christ to love and serve the Lord. ), reverencing the altar by the priest and deacon(s).