The Catholic Mass

“At the Last Supper, Our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood, by which the Sacrifice of his Cross is perpetuated until he comes again; and till then he entrusts the memorial of his Death and Resurrection to his beloved spouse, the Church.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47)

Essentially, the Mass is a dialogue, the self-gift of Christ to God the Father.  Through the celebration of the Mass, Christ invites us to actively participate in His sacrifice which both glorifies the Father and wins salvation for us. It is understood that the “sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist [Mass] are one single sacrifice: ‘And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered Himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an un-bloody manner…this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367)   The Mass “unfolds according to a fundamental structure which has been preserved throughout the centuries down to our own day.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1346)

“The celebration of Mass, as the action of Christ and of the People of God arrayed hierarchically, is the center of the whole of Christian life for the Church both universal and local, as well as for each of the faithful individually. For in it is found the high point both of the action by which God sanctifies the world in Christ and of the worship that the human race offers to the Father, adoring him through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit. In it, moreover, during the course of the year, the mysteries of redemption are celebrated so as to be in some way made present. As to the other sacred actions and all the activities of the Christian life, these are bound up with it, flow from it, and are ordered to it.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 16)

Structure of the Mass

Once again, the Mass is properly speaking Christ’s own work; we participate in Christ’s work through active participation.  The Mass has two principle parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist:  “The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the Eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 56) Its purpose is the same as Christ’s: glorification of God the Father and the salvation of mankind.

The Mass is “arranged in such a way that it leads to a conscious, active, and full participation of the faithful, namely in body and in mind, a participation fervent with faith, hope, and charity.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 18)  “At Mass or the Lord’s Supper the People of God is called together, with a Priest presiding and acting in the person of Christ, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord or Eucharistic Sacrifice.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 27)

Parts of the Mass

 Introductory Rites:

Preceding the Liturgy of the Word, these rites (listed below) are a preparation “to ensure that the faithful, who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves properly to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 46)

  • Entrance Procession: Its purpose is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers.
  • Reverencing the Altar: Since Christ is continually present to His Church, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, the Altar is reverenced as Christ is greeted who calls us together to worship.
  • Penitential Act: Recognizing that we are all sinners, the penitential rite calls us to pause, recall our sins, and ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy.
  • Kyrie (Lord have mercy): Addressed to each person of the Trinity, in the Kyrie, the faithful acclaim the Lord and implore His mercy.
  • Gloria: An ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church glorifies God the Father and the Lamb.
  • Collect (Opening Prayer): The Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds expression.

Liturgy of the Word:

Made chiefly of readings from Sacred Scripture, this part of the Mass is where “God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present through his word in the midst of the faithful. By silence and by singing, the people make this divine word their own, and affirm their adherence to it by means of the Profession of Faith; finally, having been nourished by the divine word, the people pour out their petitions by means of the Universal Prayer for the needs of the whole Church and for the salvation of the whole world.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 55)

  • Readings – Customarily, for Sundays, the first readings come from the Old Testament, while the second reading from the New Testament, illustrating how God prepares His people for the coming of Christ and how Christ Himself fulfills salvation history.
  •  Responsorial Psalm – Intended to foster meditation on the Word of God and is taken from the Book of Psalms.
  • Gospel Acclamation (Alleluia) – An acclamation of this kind constitutes a rite or act in itself, by which the gathering of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to them in the Gospel and profess their faith by means of the chant.
  •  Gospel – Readings from the written witness of Christ’s life (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Gospels hold a primal place in Scripture. As the priest 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 and then strive to live it in our daily lives.
  •  Homily
  •  Profession of Faith – The purpose of the Creed or Profession of Faith is that the whole gathered people may respond to the Word of God proclaimed in the readings taken from Sacred Scripture and explained in the Homily and that they may also honor and confess the great mysteries of the faith by pronouncing the rule of faith.
  •  Universal Prayer – The people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal Priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all.

Liturgy of the Eucharist:

At the Last Supper Christ instituted the Paschal Sacrifice and banquet, by which the Sacrifice of the Cross is continuously made present in the Church whenever the Priest, representing Christ the Lord, carries out what the Lord himself did and handed over to his disciples to be done in his memory.

For Christ took the bread and the chalice, gave thanks, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat and drink: this is my Body; this is the chalice of my Blood. Do this in memory of me. Hence, the Church has arranged the entire celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist in parts corresponding to precisely these words and actions of Christ, namely:

  • At the Preparation of the Gifts, bread and wine with water are brought to the altar, the same elements, that is to say, which Christ took into his hands.
  • In the Eucharistic Prayer, thanks is given to God for the whole work of salvation, and the offerings become the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • Through the fraction and through Communion, the faithful, though many, receive from the one bread the Lord’s Body and from the one chalice the Lord’s Blood in the same way that the Apostles received them from the hands of Christ himself. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 72)

Concluding Rites:

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 of Jesus and to be His sacramental presence in the world.  This is the goal of the Concluding Rites; now that the people of God have received God’s word and very presence, they are called out to the world to bring the gifts they have received to others.

  • Priest’s Blessing – Once again the presiding priest greets the people and then blesses them using a simple form or a more solemn blessing during various seasons or on feast days. The Sign of the Cross is once again made.
  •  Dismissal – The sending forth to preach the Gospel of Christ by both word and deed.
  • Procession – The priest and liturgical ministers leave the altar and process down the main aisle to the church entrance. A suitable closing hymn may be played.  The faithful are encouraged to take some time in reflection after Mass before exiting the Church