The Parts of the Mass
In talking or thinking about the Mass, first attention should be given to the Eucharistic Prayer. This, the center of the Mass, is that part when the Church recalls Jesus
Christ, does again what the Lord did at the Last Supper, and Prays with Him to the Heavenly Father. The Eucharistic Prayer is the heart of the Mass and deserves our close attention, our "Amen."
The Eucharistic Prayer is followed by the Communion Rite. Starting with the Our Father, we prepare for Holy Communion with our Lord.
Immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer is the short Offertory. Now the bread and wine, usually brought to the priest in a procession, are offered to God.
And before the Offertory there is a "Liturgy of the Word," when we listen to selected readings from the Bible and have them explained in the homily. At this time in the Mass, we review our sacred writings, our written heritage.
And before the Liturgy of the Word, there is a short Introductory Rite. In this we express our sinfulness and say together prayers to our God.
Every Mass we join in, ideally, means going through a familiar beloved journey which, though familiar, is different and novel every time.
The Preparatory Rites
After processing to the sanctuary and reverencing the Blessed Sacrament, the priest kisses the altar because the altar represents the Body of Christ and is the sacred place of sacrifice.
During the procession you may join in a hymn. Then you receive an opening greeting from the priest. There follows a short penitential rite. At this time you should recall your own failures, sins, selfishness and prideand should ask God''s pardon and mercy with the help of the subsequent prayers.
If the "Gloria" is said, make this an expression of your praise of God. Then listen to the Opening Prayer of the Massand make its sentiments your own. This you do by saying "Amen" at its end.
The Scripture Readings
This part of the Mass is controlled by a separate book, the "Lectionary for Mass." The Lectionary is a large book, usually kept open at the pulpit, from which the lectors and priest read Bible passages for the day''s liturgy.
The Lectionary is a remarkable piece of work. In clever fashion it gives us Bible readings expressing the message of the Bible as well as the liturgical season. By paying close attention to the readings, Sunday after Sunday, an alert Catholic can become reasonably familiar with the entire Bible.
Every Sunday there are three readings. These are printed in the Lectionary in a three year cycle. The year 1975 brings readings from the A cycle; 1976 from the B cycle; 1977 the C cycle; 1978 the A cycle again, etc.
During the ordinary green vestment Sundays ("Sundays in Ordinary Time"), we have Gospel readings in somewhat continuous fashion. Cycle A has Matthew''s Gospel; Cycle B that of Mark; Cycle C, Luke''s. During Lent and Advent we read John''s Gospel. Each time you stand for the Gospel, therefore, you are listening to another ongoing section of our most precious writings. And every three years you will have reviewed all four Gospels.
The first reading is generally from the Old Testament. This is chosen with two points in mind: (1) to illustrate some common link, some parallel, with the Gospel reading; (2) to acquaint us with all the 46 books of the Old Testament over the 3 year cycle. So you should listen carefully to the first reading for two reasons: to learn about this particular Old Testament book, and to notice the theme that will be picked up in the third reading, the Gospel.
After the Old Testament reading there is a "Responsorial Psalm." This is part of an Old Testament Psalm, chosen because it voices the sentiments of prayer we should express to God after hearing this first reading. There is a striking similarity in mood and sentiment between the Old Testament reading and the psalm which responds to it.
The second reading each Sunday is from the New Testament writings. Because of the parallel between the other readings, we might be tempted to pay less attention to this second reading. But it is important and helpful. This is simply a continuing reading from the New Testament. So Sunday after Sunday we go through the other books of the New Testament. It is interesting that every year we start the cycle by reading selections from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. This one letter is given emphasis because the concerns and questions of the Corinthians and the answers of Paul have perennial relevance for the Church today.
The Liturgy of the Word is designed as a class in Bible reading and Bible study. The homily an explanation of the readings with a lesson for contemporary Christian livingis meant to help us in learning and living the Word of God for today.
The Sermon or Homily
The preferred term now is the homily but most still refer to it as the sermon. Any faithful adult Catholic is a veteran of thousands of sermonsand probably has some rather definite ideas on whether sermons are good or bad, in general and also in his or her parish.
A particular problem today is that so many tend to measure sermons according to the standards of TV or radio. Such standards are unrealistic, as most of the people in the pews would admit if they were called upon to deliver a speech before an audience or before a TV camera. Both realism and Christian charity should dispose one to be sympathetic towards the priest or deacon who must preach to others.
This said, however, it is true that there is no substitute for a carefully prepared, practical sermon with a message that inspires and encourages us to live the Christ life with greater courage and spirituality. A good sermon does help much. Even a poor sermon, however, always has good in it if we listen carefully. The sermon is not the most important feature of the Mass. But it is important, and is never to be neglected.
The Eucharistic Prayer
This longer prayer is the "center of the entire celebration." Always introduced with a Preface, it is always concluded with a solemn "Amen." This is a presidential prayer, voiced by the priest alone. He is to try for clear, deliberate and warm delivery, following the exact words. Now the people are to listen attentively and put their "Amen" to it all.
The new Missal has a large number of prefaces approximately 70 new ones. The preface is tailored to the specific liturgy of the Mass being celebrated.
There are four different Eucharistic Prayers. By now the alert Catholic has become acquainted with all of them. The first is the old Roman Canon, developed between the 5th and 7th Centuries and used exclusively in the Western Church from the 11th Century until recently. The longest of the four, it is the most structured. The second Eucharistic Prayer, the shortest, is an enlargement of the 3rd Century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome. It is simple and rich. The third Eucharistic Prayer, a modern work, is a shortened and simplified version of the Roman Canon. The fourth is the longest of the new texts, is perhaps the best of the Canons, and expresses recent biblical and catechetical developments.
The chief elements of the eucharistic prayer are these:
- Thanksgiving (expressed especially in the preface): in the name of the entire people of God, the priest praises the Father and gives him thanks for the work of salvation or for some special aspect of it in keeping with the day, feast, or season.
- Acclamation: united with the angels, the congregation sings or recites the "Sanctus." This acclamation forms part of the eucharistic prayer, and all the people join with the priest in singing or reciting it.
- Epiclesis: in special invocations the Church calls on God''s power and asks that the gifts offered by men may be consecrated, that is, become the body and blood of Christ and that the victim may become a source of salvation for those who are to share in communion.
- Narrative of the institution and consecration: in the words and actions of Christ, the sacrifice he instituted at the Last Supper is celebrated, when under the appearances of bread and wine he offered his body and blood, gave to his Apostles to eat and drink, and commanded them to carry on this mystery.
- Anamnesis: in fulfillment of the command received from Christ through the Apostles, the Church keeps his memorial by recalling especially his passion, resurrection, and ascension.
- Offering: in this memorial, the Church and in particular the Church here and now assembled offers the victim to the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Church''s intention is that the faithful not only offer the spotless victim but also learn to offer themselves and daily to be drawn into ever more perfect union, through Christ the Mediator, with the Father and with each other, so that at last God may be all in all.
- Intercessions: the intercessions make it clear that the eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church of heaven and earth, and that the offering is made for the Church and all its members, living and dead, who are called to share in the salvation and redemption acquired by the body and blood of Christ.
- Final doxology. the praise of God is expressed
in the doxology which is confirmed and concluded by the acclamation of the people.
All should listen to the eucharistic prayer in
silent reverence and share in it by making the acclamations.
--from General Instruction of the Roman Missal