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What We Do at Mass and Why

The Mass is divided into Introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Communion Rite and the Concluding Rites.

I. Introductory Rites
We arrive at the church and prepare ourselves to celebrate the greatest mystery of our faith. The faithful stand during these rites.

A. Entrance Hymn and Procession
We joyfully sing an appropriate hymn. The entrance hymn became a part of the Roman liturgy in the fifth century. The procession symbolizes the Pilgrim Church’s path towards the heavenly Jerusalem.

The priest arrives at the altar, kisses it, and according to the situation, may incense it. Incensing is a symbol of honor, purification and sanctification. Then, he makes the sign of the cross.

B. Greeting by the Presiding Priest
The greeting harkens back to the words with which St. Paul greeted the first Christian communities in his epistles.

C. Penitential Act
We recognize before God that we are sinners and that we are weak. It is an act of humility. We ask him to forgive our sins. (This does not replace the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation, in the case of mortal sin.)  

This act consists of four parts:

1. Inviting the faithful to examine their consciences and recognize that they are sinners, during a moment of silence. This moment of silence is important and forms an essential part of this act.

2. Asking for forgiveness, using the prayer, “I confess to almighty God…”, and striking our breast when we say, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” In the form of the rite before Vatican II, we struck our breast three times; now once is enough.

3. Absolution, which in this case is not a sacrament, but expresses a desire for God’s forgiveness. The priest prays, “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”  The people respond, saying, “Amen.”

4. Singing “Lord, have mercy.”

D. Gloria
(On feast days — whether or not they are holy days of obligation — and solemnities.) The Gloria is an ancient and venerable hymn with which the Church glorifies God the Father and glorifies and prays to the Lamb. The text to this hymn cannot be changed for another. We praise God and we acknowledge in his presence how much we need him.

E. Collect Prayer (prayed only by the priest)
This is a prayer that expresses the character of the celebration. It is a prayer that the priest, in the name of all, offers to the Father. This prayer collects or brings together the needs of the whole congregation.

II. Liturgy of the Word
The faithful are seated. During the readings (which are also spiritual food), God speaks to his people, revealing to them the mysteries of redemption and salvation.

According to tradition, the service of proclaiming the readings does not fall to the presiding priest, but to ministers of the Word.

The readings at Mass vary throughout the year depending on the liturgical season (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ordinary Time) and are divided into three cycles, one per year: A,B,C; therefore if every Catholic goes to Mass every day, after three years, he will have heard almost the whole Bible.

At this moment, God speaks to us and wants us to keep this daily message in our hearts, meditate on it and apply it during the day.

How are the readings proclaimed? The reader goes to the lectern and the faithful sit down. The readings are begun immediately, without first saying, “First Reading” or “Second Reading.” They end with the phrase, “The word of the Lord” (not “This is the word of the Lord”), which is not an explanation, but rather a profession of faith.

A. First Reading
This reading will always be taken from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God speaks to us through the history of the people of Israel and their prophets.

B. Responsorial Psalm
This is a response to the Word of God, related to the first reading. It is a Biblical text through which God speaks to his people. The psalms are a part of the wisdom books.

C. Second Reading
This will always be taken from the New Testament (and is used on some feast days – whether or not they are holy days of obligation – and on solemnities).

D. Alleluia (the faithful stand)
It is always sung, except during Lent.

E. Proclamation of the Gospel
(On some occasions, the book of the Gospels is incensed.)

F. The Homily (the faithful are seated) 
On Sundays and holy days of obligation, all Masses celebrated with the faithful in attendance should include a homily, which cannot be omitted without a grave cause.  On ordinary weekdays it is still recommended to have a homily. At this moment of the Mass, the priest explains the meaning of the three readings and how to apply them to our lives.

G. The Creed (the faithful stand)
The Creed is recited on certain feasts – whether or not they are holy days of obligation – and on solemnities. The goal of the Creed, Symbol or Profession of Faith, is that the people respond to the Word of God and proclaim the Creed as the rule of faith.

H. Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful
Normally there will be four intentions: For the needs of the Church; for those who govern and for the salvation of the world; for those who suffer any difficulty; and for the local community. During special celebrations such as Confirmation, a wedding or a funeral, the order of the intentions may take into account the particular occasion more explicitly.

III. The Liturgy of the Eucharist
(The faithful sit down.)

A. Offertory Hymn

B. Offertory Procession

C. Presentaton of the Bread, Wine and Water and the Offering of Alms of the Faithful 
During this part of the Mass, the offering, the bread and the wine are taken to the altar and the priest presents them to God, offering them so that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ.

We should take advantage of this moment to offer God our life, our resolutions and intentions, our love, and our talents, so that he may sanctify them for the service and good of the Church.  It is the moment to offer him internally a new effort to achieve our spiritual and human goals.

It is appropriate to temporarily pause the collection of the people’s offering if it overlaps the moment of the consecration.
The priest takes the patten with the host in his hands and, lifting it a little, prays a blessing. He does the same with the chalice.

Before presenting the wine, a few drops of water are added to it. What does this mixture of water and wine symbolize?  It has three meanings: the union of the faithful (the water) with Christ (the wine), the union of Christ’s human nature with his divine nature, and above all, it symbolizes the water and wine that flowed from the side of Christ when his side was pierced by the lance.  According to the circumstances, the altar, the priest and the congregation may be incensed.

D. The Hand Washing 
The priest washes his hands on one side of the altar. This rite expresses the desire for interior purification. (The faithful stand up.)

E. Invitation to Prayer
“Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours…”

F. Prayer over the Gifts

G. Eucharistic Prayer

1. Preface
The preface is a prayer of thanksgiving in which the priest, in the name of all the holy people of God, glorifies God the Father and gives him thanks for all his work of salvation.

2. Acclamation 
The whole congregation, joining the heavenly choirs, sing the Holy, Holy, Holy. This acclamation is proclaimed by all of the people in the congregation together with the priest.

Following this acclamation, the faithful kneel. Those who cannot kneel should bow their heads profoundly at the moments when the priest genuflects.

3. Epiclesis 
The invocation of the Holy Spirit to consecrate the Eucharistic bread and wine.

4. Narration of the Institution and Consecration  
According to the circumstances the body and blood of Christ may be incensed when the priest elevates them.

5. Acclamation
The priest proclaims, “The mystery of faith.” The people respond, “We proclaim your death…”

6. Anamnesis
The Church performs Christ’s memorial, bringing to mind particularly his blessed Passion, Death and Resurrection and his Ascension into heaven. The priest says, “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial…”

7. Oblation
The offering of the bread of life and the cup of salvation. The Church offers the spotless Victim to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

8. Prayers of Intercession
These express that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church, both in heaven and on earth.  The priest says, “Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world…”

9. Doxology
The priest (alone) says, “Through him, and with him, and in him…”  This exclamation glorifies God, and concludes with the people saying, “Amen.” (After the doxology, the people stand.)

IV. Communion Rite

A. The Lord’s Prayer
This is prayed by the priest and the people together. As a pious practice, if you usually lift up your hands or hold the hands of your family members to pray the Our Father, do not force others to follow your personal practice; some people might end up being bothered and paying more attention to being in physical contact with you than to the prayer itself.

B. The Embolism  
(This is prayed by the priest alone.) It elaborates on the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer, asking for deliverance from the power of evil, on behalf of the whole community of the faithful.  The people conclude with the doxology: “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.”

C. The Sign of Peace
This is a moment which is often abused and the cause of disorder; maintain an atmosphere of recollection and silence. The members of the faithful shake hands only with those who are next to them, as it is only a sign of peace. At the moment of offering the sign of peace, it is necessary to AVOID actions such as:

1. Introducing a “song for peace,” which is not a part of the Roman Rite.

2. The faithful walking around to give each other the sign of peace.

3. The priest leaving the altar to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful.

4. The rite of offering the sign of peace turning into an occasion for congratulations or condolences among those present.

(Letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, regarding the Sign of Peace, paragraph 6):
If you need to be reconciled with someone (although that person may be absent), do it before Mass, fulfilling the Lord’s command: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)  Therefore, the rite of the Sign of Peace is not the time for superhuman feats of arm stretching, long-distance greetings, turning around completely or leaving one’s place.

D. Singing the “Lamb of God” and the Breaking of the Bread 

The priest takes the consecrated bread, breaks it over the paten, and lets a piece of the bread fall into the chalice (commixture or immixture), saying a prayer under his breath, to signify the unity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, which is to say, the living and glorious Body of Jesus Christ, in the work of Redemption. (After singing or praying the “Lamb of God”, the people kneel.)

E. Rite of Distribution of Communion and the Communion Hymn
It is very desirable that, when the faithful receive the Body of the Lord, they receive hosts consecrated in the same Mass, and when planned, receive the Precious Blood from the chalice. Full of joy, we draw near to receive Jesus, the Bread of Life.

The priest genuflects, takes the consecrated bread and, holding it over the paten, he shows it to the people, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” The faithful respond, “Lord, I am not worthy…,” using the words of the centurion from Capernaum when he recognized that he was unworthy to receive Jesus into his house.

Jesus is called the Lamb in reference to the lambs who were sacrificed in the Temple, but with an important difference: the lambs of the Temple did not take away the sin of the world, whereas the “Lamb of God” does.
(After this response, the people stand.)

The Communion hymn then begins. All should participate (standing) whether or not they receive Communion. The hymn should not end until the last member of the faithful receives Holy Communion.

The tradition in the United States is for Holy Communion to be received while standing, either directly in the mouth or in the hand. (Nonetheless, communion may not be denied to those who chose to kneel.) Before receiving Communion, we should make an act of humility and faith, such as genuflecting or bowing our heads.

Communion is a gift which the Lord offers the faithful through an authorized minister, in imitation of the Lord’s gesture: “He gave it to them, saying…’”  This is why the Church does not permit the faithful to take the consecrated bread and sacred chalice on their own; nor do they pass it from one to another.

F. Ample Time of Silence 
After the last person receives Holy Communion and the priest reserves what is left in the tabernacle, the faithful sit or kneel and pray in private.

G. Prayer After Communion
(All stand.) This prayer asks God to grant the faithful the fruits of the mystery that has been celebrated, to conclude the prayers of the people of God and to conclude the entire Communion rite.

H. The Time for Possible Parish Announcement

V. Concluding Rites

1. The people receive the blessing, making the sign of the cross in silence and responding, “Amen.”

2. Closing Hymn: (After the closing hymn, the faithful may leave the church.) The moment of leaving the church is an extension of the sacred time of the Mass. Some people will still be praying, desiring to extend their personal moment of intimacy with God. Be attentive to their particular needs and devotions, cooperating by keeping silence.

VI. Appendix

The Private Prayers of the Priest
During different moments of the Mass, the priest prays under his breath or in silence: during the penitential rite, before proclaiming the Gospel, after the Gospel, while he washes his hands, during the commixture, after the Lamb of God, before receiving Communion, etc.

Moments of Silence During Mass 
There should also be moments of silence at the proper times. The purpose of that silence varies according to the moment of the Mass. During the penitential rite and after the invitation to pray, each person recollects their thoughts, whereas after the readings or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard. After Communion, the silence is used to praise God within our hearts and pray.

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Written by Raphael Benedict

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