By Paul Wirth
Holy Mass is our central act of worship as Catholics, and the more we understand it, the more it can be personally and spiritually relevant to us.
That was the idea behind a “Walkthrough of the Mass” presented by Father Philip Maas, assistant pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, Nov. 14 at the church.
He began with something many Catholics never see, despite attending Mass for their entire lives – how a priest vests before Mass. Each garment has special symbolism, he said, and each has its own prayer, recited by the priest while vesting. Father Maas first donned an amice, an optional vestment worn around the neck, followed by his alb, a white gown-like garment. Next came the cincture, which is like a rope tied around the waist, and the stole, which rests on the shoulders and symbolizes priestly authority. Finally, he put on the chasuble, the outermost garment that varies in color depending on the liturgical season and “evokes the sweet yoke of Christ.”
The Mass is divided into four parts, the Introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Concluding Rites. Each section contains prayers and rituals rich in historical and biblical meaning, and Father Maas explained them as he “walked through” the steps of the Mass from beginning to end.
After the entrance procession, the celebrant reverences the altar with a kiss, because it is a symbol of Christ, and because many altars contain relics of martyrs. The Act of Penitence, when the faithful recall their sins, includes the Kyrie Eleison, which translated from Greek means “Lord have mercy.” This section of the Mass concludes with the Opening Prayer, also called the Collect. Think of this as the priest “collecting” the prayers of those gathered and offering them up to God, Father Maas said.
Liturgy of the Word
On Sundays, there are three Scripture readings, the first from the Old Testament, and the second from one of the New Testament letters. The Responsorial Psalm is sung in between, in which we respond back to God’s word with our prayers, Father Maas said. Then comes the Gospel, the “high point of the first half of the Mass,” he said, followed by the Homily, in which the celebrant focuses on the Scripture texts and relates lessons for those gathered.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
This section begins with rituals and prayers that lead up to the consecration of the bread and wine. At the Last Supper, as Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples, He instituted the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament that is most central to the Catholic faith. Whenever a priest celebrates Mass, he consecrates bread and wine, changing them by the power of the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus is present on the altar—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Following the Eucharistic Prayers, the Communion Rite begins with the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught to his disciples. Next, in the Rite of Peace, the priest prays that the peace of Christ fills our hearts, followed by a sign of peace shared by those in the pews. The priest then breaks the consecrated Host, recalling Jesus’ breaking of bread and sharing it with his disciples. Distribution of Communion follows.
Near the end of the Mass, the celebrant blesses those assembled “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The dismissal, by a deacon if present, follows. In fact, it is this dismissal that gives the liturgy its name, Father Maas said. At one time, people were dismissed with the words, “Ite, missa est.” The word Mass comes from the Latin word “missa.”
For more details on the Mass, visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops web page on the Structure and Meaning of the Mass, here.