7 Things To Know That Will Change Your Next Mass Experience

By October 4, 2016 Articles

I believe that we live in an age where fallen-away Catholics don’t really know what they’ve left, non-Catholics don’t really know what they’re missing, and many Catholics don’t really know what they’ve got. They don’t really know the Mass.
The Mass is the climactic form of Christian worship and within it is contained the greatest miracle on earth. It is a mystery in the fullest sense, and yet, it is comprehensible. As Christians we possess faith, but do we possess understanding? Do we even seek it? I know personally that my understanding of the Mass and what happens during it is inexcusably deficient, mostly from neglect. But I (and you) can change this — and it begins here.
I want to help change your next Mass experience, by the grace of God. So I’ve compiled a list of 7 interesting facts about the Mass, each with a brief explanation. I hope you learn something new!
1. The Mark of the Christian
The Sign of the Cross that marks the beginning and end of the Holy Mass, and which signifies the sealing of the Word of God “in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts” at the reading of the Gospel, has its origin in the first centuries of Christianity.
Tertullian wrote in the mid-3rd century:

“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross” (De corona, 30).

The sign of the cross, done by faith, has immense power. St. Benedict once did the sign of the cross over a poisoned drink meant to kill him, and as his hand moved reverently through the four directions of the cross, the glass shattered. What would have happened if he had been insincere, or worse, not blessed his food and drink at all with the sacred sign? God only knows.
Each sign of the cross is also a sign —a renewal even — of one’s personal decision to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. How many times have we gone through the “motion of the cross” instead of the “sign of the cross”?
2. And With Your Spirit”
When the Christian people respond “and with your spirit” to the priest’s greeting (“The Lord be with you”) in the Holy Mass, it is not just a polite (and somewhat odd) response. It is a profession of faith in the power of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It recognizes the unique action of the Holy Spirit in the ordained priest, particularly in the Sacraments. Remember, for example, it is not the priest who changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ — it is Jesus Christ. Thus, the priest receives the power to serve as a special instrument of the Holy Spirit at his ordination; that is, when he receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders through the “laying on of hands” (see 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).
Here’s what the 4th century bishop, St. John Crysostom,wrote about these words and their meaning:

“If the Holy Spirit were not in this your common father and teacher, you would not, just now, when he ascended this holy chair and wished you all peace, have cried out with one accord, ‘And with your spirit.’
Thus you cry out to him, not only when he ascends his throne and when he speaks to you and prays for you, but also when he stands at this holy altar to offer the sacrifice. He does not touch that which lies on the altar before wishing you the grace of our Lord, and before you have replied to him, ‘And with your spirit.’
By this cry, you are reminded that he who stands at the altar does nothing, and that the gifts that repose there are not the merits of a man; but that the grace of the Holy Spirit is present and, descending on all, accomplishes this mysterious sacrifice. We indeed see a man, but it is God who acts through him. Nothing human takes place at this holy altar.”

3. Kiss of the Priest
The priest kisses the altar in veneration, recognizing it as the sacred place where Christ’s once and for all sacrifice will be made present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus’s death is re-presented in the Holy Mass as a celebration of the New Covenant Passover, just as the Old Covenant Passover was made present each year it was celebrated (see Ex 12:27). St. Paul contrasts the Eucharistic sacrifice to the pagan sacrifice in 1 Cor 11. Jesus is therefore not re-sacrificed at each Mass but rather, His one sacrifice becomes present to us as He is eternally presenting Himself to God as the sacrificial Lamb of God (Heb 7:25; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Cor 11:26; Rev 5:6).
Around 70 A.D. Church leaders wrote this about the Eucharistic sacrifice (the Mass):

“Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ [Mal. 1:11, 14]” (Didache 14 [A.D. 70]). 

4. What’s Inside the Altar?
Did you know that many Catholic altars have a relic placed inside?
Father Carlos Martins, CC, of Treasures of the Church describes relics in this way:

Relics are physical objects that have a direct association with the saints or with Our Lord. They are usually broken down into three classes. First class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone or flesh. Second class relics are something that a saint personally owned, such as a shirt or book (or fragments of those items). Third class relics are those items that a saint touched or that have been touched to a first, second, or another third class relic of a saint.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 302, contains the following statement:

“The practice of placing relics of Saints, even those not Martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. Care should be taken, however, to ensure the authenticity of such relics.”

The bones of St. Polycarp of Smyrna (a disciple of John the beloved apostle) were venerated in the early Church, for example:

“We took up his bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom” (The Martyrdom of Polycarp [A.D 156])

For more, I also discuss relics in this recent article.
5. Cross or Crucifix?
A cross with a figure of Christ crucified must be present on or near the altar. This is mandated by the Church. A bare cross or a cross with Jesus depicted in a non-crucified way (like the modern “resurrected” Christ portrayal which has become more common) does not meet this requirement. Like St. Paul in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, we preach Christ crucified as an ultimate sign of God’s love for us and the salvation won for us through His crucifixion:

“we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23; see also 2:2)

The crucifix, properly understood, is not an image of a mere gory execution; rather, it is a sign of the once for all sacrifice of the Lamb of God (1 Cor 5:7).
The General Instruction for the Roman Missal states:

There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations (GIRM 308).

6. Sit, Stand, Kneel and Bow
A genuflection before the Jesus in the tabernacle is not meant to be a purely physical action. It requires a simultaneous “bow of the heart.”

The venerable practice of genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament, whether enclosed in the tabernacle or publicly exposed, as a sign of adoration, is to be maintained. This act requires that it be performed in a recollected way. In order that the heart may bow before God in profound reverence, the genuflection must be neither hurried nor careless (Inaestimabile Donum 26).

Some people may wonder what’s up with Catholics and all the bowing, standing, sitting, kneeling that they do in the Mass. It’s a good and honest question. Catholics assume these gestures because of who and what they are encountering in the Mass — the King of Kings and His Word. In the case of veneration with the body, the body leads the heart.
Consider these words from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters:

“At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls” (Letter IV).

Our postures matter, especially in the Mass — the climax of Christian Worship. As King David writes in this beautiful Psalm:

“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God…” (Psalm 95)

7. The Fraction Rite
After the consecration (when the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus) but before Communion, the priest breaks off a piece of his “big” host and adds it to the precious blood (which still maintains the physical properties of wine). This breaking and commingling of the broken piece of the Body with the Blood is rich in significance:
First, it is not a separating of Christ, as though a “part” of Christ is here and a “part” of Christ is there. In each molecule of the consecrated host, the resurrected Christ is totally and perfectly present in His infinite divine substance.
Second, this “breaking”, called the “Fraction Rite”, follows Christ’s breaking of bread at the Last Supper and is rich in biblical significance (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:42, 46; 1 Cor 10:16).
Third, the commingling of the broken fraction with the blood in the chalice symbolizes the reunification of Christ’s body and blood in his glorious resurrection.
Now here’s an interesting tidbit to end off this post:
Originally, this Fraction rite and commingling had another important significance. At each Mass, the priest would break off a piece of the host (as he does now) but then, that consecrated fraction would be sent to another celebration of the Eucharist at another location. There, the fraction sent from the parish “down the road” would be commingled with the blood of Christ. The fraction of the host from that Mass would then be sent off to another Mass, and so on. This ritual created a great sense of unity among the faithful in the Mass, and signified the continuity of the eucharistic sacrifice in the Church (Mal 1:11; 1 Cor 10:17). This practice was known as fermentum, but has fallen out of practice in modern times.
If you would like to read more about the specifics of the Mass I highly recommend Mass Revision by Jimmy Akin to get you started.
See you in the Eucharist!


  • Peter Aiello says:

    Does Scripture emphasize the mass as much as the Catholic Church does? If not, why not:

    • Tim says:

      The answer to that question is a pretty extensive one, and I frankly am not sure what you mean by it. The Bible is not a book so much as it is God’s Library, spanning everything from Oral Traditions, Historical Accounts, Poetry, Wisdoms, Epistles, Sagas, and of course the accounts of Christ and the early Church.
      The Mass is very much rooted in scripture. It is soaked in Scripture actually. In short I would stress the following few points:
      1. No other denomination reads the Bible as much as the Catholic Church does. At Mass, which we have EVERY DAY, we will typically read an Old Testament, chant some Psalms, New Testament, and of course Gospel passage. You get 100% of the Bible if you attend Mass regularly, not just your pastor’s favorite verses.
      2. Please also refer to the following link that shows you just how much what is said and done is found in Scripture:http://www.wctc.net/~mudndirt/Scripture%20in%20mass.htm
      And finally 3: The Book of Revelation is the Mass. Please read, or simply listen to, Dr. Scott Hahn’s book and/or talk “The Lamb’s Supper” for a detailed explanation. I also recommend “The Fourth Cup” for an in depth theological explanation as to how the Holy Eucharist is foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New.
      If you want, I can send these to you for free via the web.
      Thanks hope this helps.

      • Giselle. Baptiste says:

        Hi Tim. Very good response. Can you send me the books? I’m always in search of resources to help me learn more about my Catholic Faith. Let me know. Thanks and God Bless you.

  • annette melendez says:

    This was wonderful to read, thank you. My one concern is that we receive the blood of Christ , only the body through the eucharist. Why? I was baptisted, received confirmation and first communion last spring . Mass is so special to me. But am I missing something important with this change ?

    • Lucia says:

      Hello Annette, my understanding of this is in faith flesh also has blood therefore receiving the body also mean you receive the blood.

  • Peter Aiello says:

    Tim: The Eucharist is discussed only in 1Corinthians in the epistles. There is no mention in the remainder of the epistles. Why is that? The emphasis in the epistles is in the Spirit of Christ which brings us the the Father and His benefits. Mary is only mentioned once in the epistles when Saint Paul says: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Seems like the New Testament has a different emphasis than the Catholic Church. I prefer the emphasis of the Christianity of the New Testament rather than what came after. It did not improve after that. “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where [is] the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16).

    • Tim says:

      Did you read any of those sources or examine any of the evidence I gave in the counter argument? It’s OK that you did not directly respond to all of it here, but I would hope you’re being intellectually honest with yourself at least.
      Let us start, however, with what you did say. You said that, “The Eucharist is discussed only in 1 Corinthians in the epistles”. OK. What is with your emphasis on it being only in the Epistles? Jesus Christ instituted this sacrament in The Gospels multiple times when he said, “Take this all of you and (eat…drink) of this…..do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). JESUS himself said that. Here are a dozen other verses relating to it also in the New Testament.
      That took me all of 5 seconds to find. Did you not think about looking in the Gospels, or are you intentionally trying to undermine the Catholic perspective by not citing them in your argument?
      Why is there no other explicit mention of it, you ask? I don’t know, why is there no mention of the Trinity anywhere in the Bible?
      Show me in the Bible where it talks explicitly about The Holy Trinity.
      Show me in the Bible where the words “personal Lord and Savior” appear.
      I’ll save you some time, you cannot find them.
      There are a lot of doctrines shared by Christians that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible.
      You said. “Mary is only mentioned in the epistles when….(Galatians 4:4).” Peter, again, what is with your emphasis on only the Epistles? She is mentioned in the Gospels numerous times. She interceded to bring about Christ’s first public miracle at Cana. And furthermore, when did this become a discussion on Mary? Stay on topic Peter, you are straying. But hey, while we are at it…I’ll give you some reading on Mary as the woman in the “Protoevangelium” in Genesis, as the New Eve, as the New Ark of the Covenant, as The God Bearer, and as the model Christian.
      I like how you quote from the Old Testament to support nothing else coming after to improve the faith. Nothing else coming after Jeremiah like….The Bible? The New Testament? Jesus himself? His sacrifice? Giving up on being required to live by Orthodox Jewish customs?
      I am a former anti-Catholic and former Protestant. I was shocked and joyfully surprised when I discovered how deep the Catholic faith is compared to Protestantism. I pray you will too.

      • Peter Aiello says:

        Tim: I’m aware of what is in the gospels. The gospels contain the life of Christ prior to Pentecost. My point in talking about the epistles is that they contain the theology of how to receive and relate to the post-Pentecost Christ.
        I know that there are many current theological terms that are not in the Bible. The NT term for original sin is the law of sin. Paul describes it in detail (Romans 7:14-8:2). Changes in terms are not the issue. The question is: how much are we in line with the priorities of the entire Bible, let alone the NT? This is important for me because I found my spirituality directly from Scripture with no direction from priests or ministers.
        God, and His Son are the only ones presented to us for salvation; and more specifically, presented as the only objects for our faith, trust, humility, surrender, consecration, or whatever other term there is. The NT Holy Spirit encompasses the whole Godhead; and Christ contains all the fullness of the Godhead. We get the Spirit of Christ only through our direct interaction with Him; and He, in turn, is our only access to the Father. There is no one else.
        This is why there is no mention of Mary in the epistles for bringing us any of this in terms of our receiving the Spirit of Christ even though she had brought Christ into the world so that He would accomplish the Redemption.
        We need to have His Spirit within us even before we participate in the Eucharist otherwise we are not in the state of grace. There are two other sacraments prior to the Eucharist that are part of what it takes to receive the Spirit of Christ. This is why priorities are important.

        • Tim says:

          Before I respond directly that what you have said, let us just return to the original question you had, because unfortunately you are taking this conversation in a wildly different direction.
          Your question was, “Does Scripture emphasize the mass as much as the Catholic Church does? If not, why not?”. You got on a Catholic website, and commented on an article aimed at practicing Catholics to ask this question. I took your motives as sincere.
          If you are genuinely interested in the Catholic position on this issue, which is a position held since Pentecost (which by the way is covered in Acts 2 and not simply the Gospels as your previous post indicates) and the founding of Christ’s church in Matthew 16:18, a position that is a command given by Christ himself in the Gospels (Luke 22:15, Mark 14:22, to name a few off the top of my head), reflected by Paul in his writings in Corinthians (1 COR 10:16-17, 21-22, and 11:20-24), practiced by the Apostles in Acts (Acts 2:42-47, Acts 20:7) and practiced by the early Church Fathers and Christian communities (who had no Bible, as you know, it for hundreds of years), then I suggest you read the numerous essays, citations, and books I have provided for you.
          You are really coming off as someone who just wants to pick an online fight with a Catholic, because anti-Catholic bias is rampant in fundamentalist and evangelical circles. I really doubt you’ve looked at any of the sources I have provided (because you have not commented on any of them directly), and everyone on here notices how you dodge questions and counter-arguments to your own arguments. Your Biblical scholarship is very poor, apparently. I mean you did not even cite where Pentecost is found in the Bible correctly. But, you came here looking for guidance, and guidance we shall give you!
          I will list the sources again for you.
          14 Biblical verses about the Eucharist (and if you really want to get into some deep Theology, check out Dr. Scott Hahn’s books “The Lambs Supper” and “The Fourth Cup” explaining the Old Testament’s fulfillment in the New, and thew New Testament hiding in the Old for more scriptural basis):
          Here are dozens of citations from the earliest Christians talking about how they celebrated Mass. They gathered in a place (church) read from the Old Testament and Letters (scripture readings), gave sermons (homily), professed their faith and shared gifts, and celebrated the Eucharist…just like Catholics.
          And finally here is the CCC on The Eucharist. It is full of explanations and Biblical citations backing up each point.
          Again, the answer to this question is extensive, as it follows a tradition of over 2000 years. As I said originally, the near entirety of the Book of Revelation is based off of the early Christians’ (i.e. pre-assembly of what you know as the Bible) celebration of the Mass. The Mass is the Lamb’s Supper. The Mass is also mirrored in Christ’s sacrifice and drinking of the Fourth Cup of the Hebrew Passover (see Last Supper in all four Gospels) resulting in his sacrificial death on the Cross, and subsequent conquering of death. This is what we celebrate every Mass, every day, over 350,000 times over the whole world, in nearly every language.
          We have been doing this since the 1st century, continue to do so today, and will continue until the end of time.
          Now, onto what you just posted, and will save the conversation on Mary for another time, as it is in fact, another topic.
          Yes, you are correct in saying that the Gospels account for the life of Jesus Christ prior to his establishment of His pilgrim Church on earth. It also contains HIS TEACHINGS. His TEACHINGS will directly dictate a lot, if not all, of Christian theology and practice.
          So when Jesus commands his disciples (all of us) to “do this in memory of me”, or tells us that Peter is the rock upon which He will build His church, or that “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood” I am not with you, or Christ instructing us how to pray (Lord’s Prayer)….it is pretty important. So, Christian theology is informed by the whole of the Bible, and not just the Epistles.
          God Bless, hope you actually care about considering the Catholic position. Again I am more than willing to send you FREE copies of lectures on the aforementioned subjects if you really want to listen to an expert on the subject.

          • Peter Aiello says:

            My original reason for asking the question about the Eucharist is because of the lack of Catholic teaching on importance of receiving and interacting with the Spirit of Christ found in the epistles. The Spirit of Christ is what brings us the benefits of Christianity.
            Paul, in 1Corinthians, reminds us that we proclaim the death of Christ in the Eucharist, and that it also is a sacrament of the mystical Body of Christ where the one bread is broken in pieces to enact our individual parts in the mystical Body of Christ. This is the extent of the Eucharist in 1Corinthians as I read it. There is no more mention of the Eucharist in any of the other epistles as far as I know.
            In current Catholic teaching, the place of the Eucharist appears to be much more prominent than it was in the NT church. I am very familiar with what is in the gospels and in the book of Acts. My original question was: why is there this difference that I see? I put out rhetorical questions to draw out responses from people who may have not noticed what I have.
            I am a Catholic who pays a great deal of attention to what is in the Bible. For me, it is more important than any other source; a view that is not very Catholic. I am not a formal scholar, but I am not uninformed.
            I do not believe that the Eucharist is a substitute for the Spirit of Christ. That is not its purpose. It is not the primary way that we receive Christ and the graces of Christianity. I believe that Saint Paul would agree with that. I think that most Catholics are taught and believe that the Eucharist is the primary way. I could quote the books of Romans and Galatians to make my case, but that would be too lengthy at this point. I am obviously not a traditionalist Catholic.
            I think that a Catholic website should be able to handle this type of conversation even if it is a bit challenging.

          • Tim says:

            You said, “I think a Catholic website should be able to handle this type of conversation even if it is a bit challenging.”
            The Catholic Church has been handling this conversation, and much more difficult ones, for two thousand years. The “challenging” part, is when you get one individual, such as yourself, who refuses to concede, or even look at, evidence pointing contrary to what you are saying.
            What is so frustrating is that you have been provided dozens of scriptural citations for the Eucharist, given the CCC to elaborate on the Church’s actual position (which you are misunderstanding), and offered free resources by professional theologians on topics directly relating to this conversation. You have provided no commentary on those sources. You are just ignoring them. You are either being intellectually dishonest with yourself, or you are being a troll.
            And all you can say is that “your reading” of 1COR provides you a different explanation of the Eucharist…without ever even commenting on any of the evidence or counter argument against your claim.
            Peter, you are NOT a formal scholar, you are at least correct in saying that. In fact, you strike me as a very poor scholar (see previous posts). Maybe you could practice some humility, and go talk to a Catholic theologian or priest at your local parish about your ground breaking discoveries. I’m sure the Magisterium will want to know right away, that Theologian and Church Doctor Peter finally discovered the truth after 2000 years. We’ve been waiting for someone with your genius Peter! Save all your fellow Catholics with your rhetorical questions, surface level and cursory reads of scripture, and refusal to even acknowledge counter arguments!

          • Peter Aiello says:

            Tim: I did have K thru 16 Catholic schooling prior to Vatican II; so I am very familiar with Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. Rereading excerpts from the fathers of the Church was interesting.
            With all of my ethnic and formal Catholic training I was agnostic by the time I was 20. When I was 30, I found a Christianity that made sense to me and that transformed my life. This happened through instruction directly from the Bible which is the book that regulates all of the other Catholic books and teachings. This is why the Bible is so important for me. The theology in Saint Paul’s epistles has been very important in my understanding of post-Pentecost Christianity. The spirituality of casting all of our care on the Lord is in both testaments. I like to think that others who have had difficulty with their Catholic upbringing, which are many, may see that there is more than meets the eye. I don’t have a perfect understanding of the Eucharist but I do see a difference in emphases between what I see in Scripture and current Catholic teaching, also in other ways besides the Eucharist. This is what motivated my original question. I could have substituted the word Mary for the Eucharist in the same question, and gotten a similar response.

  • Dicie says:

    If you had knee replacement, prolong kneelig is not recommended.

  • George Hill says:

    The Consecration (consecrate: to make holy) occurs when the priest blesses the bread and wine, as Jesus did at the Last Supper, so that they may then be transfigured into the Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour (transfiguration.)

  • wacoi says:

    Peter,There is nothing you are telling us and understanding your posts is tricky.My analysis is that you have to guard your position and don’t care whether you are right or wrong unless you emerge the winner.Nothing you say makes sense and you have no facts,in your quest to find the truth you have (discovered truth)that makes everything else true and even sola scriptura.I don’t think you really are a Catholic,because we have a foundation that answers most of your queries here.The Eucharist @Mass is the ultimate because it’s Jesus himself crucified.,the reason he came and saved us.So it’s the most important aspect of Christians gathering on the Lord’s day.ofcourse after listening to his word(Bible)Its all there and so easy to find in the same bible and backed up by early church fathers writings.So clearly you have a long way to go and honestly ask the Holy spirit to guide you in your search of the truth otherwise your own interpretation becomes like every other past protestant own interpretation which conflicts and brings division.

  • Joy says:

    He who thinks he has found the truth about God, should ask St Augustine of Hippo the how frustrated he got at trying to understand the Trinity. Peter, if you feel you have found out the truth then you know what to do than trying to draw souls out to join you in your new found faith, however hard you try to confuse yourself here the more strength you give our Catholic faith. So you better rest or continue confusing yourself. We are Catholics and we are the light


    i can only say am proud of being a catholic,thank God

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