In August 2023, as part of our current Eucharistic Revival, Fr. Jeff began a long series of bulletin articles on the Mass. The goal is to help people understand and appreciate the depth of what we celebrate in the Mass. The articles flow from his series, Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass. As each new article is published in the bulletin, it will be added here.
The Hidden Depths of the Mass - Article #1
Why do you come to Mass? In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass…unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants)” (2180-2181). We receive this obligation from God in the Third Commandment, “Keep the Sabbath Holy.”
We shouldn’t have to be told to go to Mass. “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation” to living our faith (Catechism, 2181). It is the rich soil of God’s Word and celebrate the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. When we understand this, Mass begins to be something we want to come to. Some people go only when they feel they need a “recharge” of grace. Do you wait to charge your cell phone till it is completely dead? Probably not. Don’t wait until your spiritual batteries are dead to come to Mass.
Today we start a series of articles on the Mass. We hope you will read the articles each week to help you understand the depths of what we celebrate.
For more on Sunday as the Lord’s Day you can read Fr. Jeff’s article, “Keeping the Lord’s Day: What Does It Mean to Me"
The Hidden Depths of the Mass #2
The Origins of the Mass
Initially, Christians gathered with Jews on the Sabbath for the Jewish worship that included readings from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and a sermon. Then the Christians gathered on Sunday for the Eucharist.
As hostility developed between Jews and Christians, Christians stopped going to Jewish services and made Sunday their Sabbath. At Sunday Mass, they shared the Word of God from the Old Testament and celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday at one service. They began to include what we know today as the gospels and New Testament letters.
St. Justin Martyr, in his First Apology (c. 155 AD), shows us the same structure to Mass as we have today (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1345). The Mass in the second century included Bible readings, a homily, prayers for the people, a kiss of peace, and Eucharistic Prayer.
In 313 A.D., in the Edict of Milan, the emperor legalized Christianity. Since then, Mass has been celebrated openly in public.
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Can We Fully Understand It?
As we learn more about the Mass, an important piece to consider is that the Sacraments, including the Eucharist are rooted in mystery. We are not going to understand everything. For example, how God changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus is beyond what human words can express.
We also need to think about why we come to Mass. For many the answer is to feel good. While our participation at Mass should “lift us up”, Mass is first meant to give praise and worship to God. It helps us to grow in a deeper relationship with God. When we open ourselves to the depths of the Mass, we are filled with God’s grace. What do you do to prepare yourself for Mass?
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Preparation for Mass
What do we mean by preparation? It should include taking a few minutes before Mass to quiet our thoughts and to center ourselves on the Lord. This is often best done by spending a couple of minutes just before Mass begins in silent prayer in church. If something keeps you from being in church a couple of minutes before Mass starts, perhaps you can make the car ride to church a time of quiet prayer.
Preparation begins even before you leave home. How are you dressed? We no longer see suits and formal dresses in church but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to dress like we are on a day off. Does the way you dress for church say that you know that church is something important?
Lastly, when was the last time you went to confession? Our sins can block us from encountering God in the Mass. Do you need to go to confession?
The Hidden Depths of the Mass #5
Before we enter our pew we genuflect. When we come up for Communion we bow before we receive Communion. Why? Because our gestures mean something. In this case, they signify our reverence for the presence of our Lord in int Tabernacle and in the Eucharist.
We genuflect to the presence of the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle and when the Blessed Sacrament is in the monstrance on the altar. We genuflect because we believe Jesus our King is present in the Eucharist.
We offer a bow of the head when naming Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together and at the name of Jesus. We do this in recognition of who they are, God! We bow at the words, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”, and became man” because we know Jesus humbled himself to become human to save us.
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As each person arrives for Mass, they find a seat in the pews. It is a good time to pray in silence as you wait for the Mass to begin. When it is time for Mass to begin, the altar servers, lectors, and clergy process in. Their procession is symbolic of the entire congregation gathering together in church to praise God. The congregation stands as the procession enters, seeing the priest’s entry as symbolic of God entering. When an important person arrives, do we not stand in reverence for them? Who is more important than God?
During the procession, we are all called to join in song praising God. Recall how the crowds cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David” as Jesus entered Jerusalem.
The Hidden Depths of the Mass #7
The Importance of Music
Music has long been part of how people give thanks and praise to God. We hear of how the people sang in thankful response to God’s action in their lives in Exodus 15, Numbers 21:17, Judges 5, and in 2 Samuel 6:5.
The chief document for the way we celebrate Mass is The General Instruction of the Roman Missal. It speaks of the importance of singing at Mass in paragraph 39:
The Christian faithful who come together as one in expectation of the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together Psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles (cf. Col 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. Acts 2:46).
Singing at Mass is not just for musicians. It is for the musicians and the people in the pews to join in the singing (paragraph 40) as we all give thanks and praise to God.
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The Sign of the Cross
The two main parts of the Mass are the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Before we begin the Liturgy of the Word, we have the Introductory Rites. They begin with the procession and music that we have already reflected on. As part of the procession, the clergy kiss the altar as a sign of love and devotion in their service to God and the people.
Next, the priest begins speaking with the Sign of the Cross. We make the Sign of the Cross every time we begin and end our prayers. Who could even begin to count how many times a person makes the Sign of the Cross in a lifetime? Don’t let it become routine without any thought! The Cross is the place where Jesus gave his life so that our sins might be forgiven. We call upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God who loves us with an unending love.
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After the Sign of the Cross, the priest offers the greeting. There are three options for the greeting by the priest. The first one is “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.” This greeting is not arbitrarily made up. It comes from 2 Corinthians 13:13.
The second option for the greeting is “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This one follows a pattern found in Galatians 6:18.
The third option for the greeting is “The Lord be with you.” This is found in Ruth 2:4.
We are a Bible-based church. The Bible is foundational to our Catholic Mass.
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The Penitential Act
After the greeting, the priest may offer a few words on the readings or recalling why we come to Mass. Following that, he says, “Let us acknowledge our sins so as to prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries. This begins the Penitential Act. This does not take the place of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for mortal sins. Here, we are called to admit our sinfulness in humility, recognizing our need for God and his mercy. We need the grace God offers us in the Mass.
Then comes the Gloria. Just as we humble ourselves admitting our sinfulness, we give glory and thanks to God for all that He offers us. We thank Jesus for being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We acknowledge God as the Holy One, the Most High.
The Hidden Depths of the Mass #11
The Collect (Opening Prayer)
After the Gloria comes the Collect, often called the opening prayer. The priest begins, “Let us pray” and then there is silence. The silence is intentional as a moment to collect our thoughts to bring together our hearts in prayer. It is “usually addressed to God the Father through Christ, in the Holy Spirit” (G.I.R.M., 54).
While short, the prayer is structured in four parts:
1. Invocation - calls upon God, generally with the simple words “Almighty God”
2. Amplification - and then comes words announcing the good things God has done for us.
3. Petition - Then the prayer asks God to help us in some way
4. Conclusion - invokes the Trinity, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
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The Liturgy of the Word
After the Collect (opening prayer), we begin the Liturgy of the Word. This includes all the readings, the homily the Creed, and the Prayers of the Faithful (aka General Intercessions). The readings we share are the inspired Word of God. They were written down by human hands and thus are influenced by the humans but ultimately they deliver God’s message. The Bible tells us the story of Salvation History. It includes human sin. Sin is the rejection of what God has taught us. The Word of God tells us how over and over humans have turned away from God. The good news is that every time we sin, God forgives us when we repent. The gospels tell us that Jesus dies for our sins. This starts at the heart of our faith.
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The Liturgy of the Word – How the Readings Are Selected
Last week, we read about the importance of the Word of God. Today we take a look at how the Sunday readings are chosen. Every Latin Rite Catholic Church in the world uses the same readings each Sunday.
During the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter the readings are selected to correspond to the themes of the season. In Ordinary Time, selected passages from one of the gospels is read in order. Then, the first reading is picked to correspond to an idea presented in the gospel passage. In turn, the psalm is selected to correspond with the first reading. This helps us see the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
In Ordinary Time, the second reading is selected independent of the other readings. Letters from the New Testament are selected and read in semi-continuous sequence.
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The Liturgy of the Word – Daily Mass Readings
Just as on Sunday, during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter the readings for daily Mass are selected to correspond to the themes of the season.
At daily Mass there is not a second reading unless it is a special feast or solemnity. With six weekdays, there is much more opportunity to cover the readings. Thus, the gospel readings for daily Mass are on a one-year cycle. We begin Ordinary Time with the Gospel of Mark, followed by Matthew, and then Luke. (As on Sunday, the Gospel of John is used during Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter).
The first reading can be from the Old Testament or New Testament. Unlike Sunday Mass, the first reading at daily Mass is not chosen to correspond to the gospel reading of the day. The first reading is a semi-continuous reading of a book of the Bible.
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The Liturgy of the Word – The Homily & Creed
After the readings are finished, the congregation sits while an ordained person offers the homily. The homily is to help break open the readings and help people apply them to life in today’s world. The homily should help us form our consciences and daily lives in accord with God’s Word. While the homily is generally based on the readings, it may also make use of any prayers and texts for the Mass, the liturgical season, or the Eucharist itself.
At Sunday Mass, the homily is followed by the Creed. The Creed is a basic summary of many but not all aspects of our faith. It centers on who the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are to us and how they relate to one another.
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The Liturgy of the Word – The Prayers of the Faithful
Following the Creed, we conclude the Liturgy of the Word with the Prayers of the Faithful. They are also commonly called the General Intercessions or Universal Prayer. The priest introduces the prayers. The lector then reads the individual petitions followed by a concluding prayer. To each individual petition, we generally respond, “Lord, hear our prayer.” We collectively respond “amen” to the priest’s concluding prayer.
The petitions offered are not prayers for any one person. The intentions are those of any one person but rather those representing the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ here and across the world. Thus, we pray for the needs of the church, for public officials, for the sick, for the dying, and for needs representing what is going on in the world, and for our own local community. For all these needs, we pray to the Lord.
For more on the Eucharist and the Mass, check out our "All Things Eucharist" page.
"A clean heart create for him, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit." Psalm 51:12
Renewal of Faith
“This is my body…this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”
Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25