A Journey Through the Mass

What follows is a compilation of a series of bulletin articles attempting to “explain” the
Mass. (The series began in Advent 2015 and ended on the 2nd Sunday of Easter 2016.)
To make this one continuous text some editorial adjustments have been made to make
the flow smoother. There are references to the source documents that were used in
writing the bulletin articles, and for convenience, the most commonly used references
will be made with abbreviations of the source documents. Those are:
CCC refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
GIRM refers to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal
The number following the CCC or GIRM refers to the paragraph in the source
document where the information is found, so you can reference and check them out.
Another source document that was utilized extensively, and occasionally quoted from is
The Mystery of Faith: A Study of the Structural Elements of the Order of the Mass by
Lawrence J. Johnson, 2011 (5th edition)
I hope this journeying through the Mass helps all of us to know and practice our Catholic
faith more authentically, and to pray the Mass in the way the Church, guided by the Holy
Spirit, wishes us to pray.
Please note: what is presented here regarding the Mass is not a matter of personal
opinion, but what the Catholic Church holds and teaches. If you disagree, or feel
something is not presented correctly, I ask and encourage you to prayerfully investigate
the official documents of the Catholic Church (available on the web at www.vatican.va)
before publicly expressing any misguided discontent which may lead to confusion and
upset of others, or for yourself.
“A Journey through the Mass”. Why? Since the Mass (aka the celebration of the
Eucharist) is the source and summit of the Christian life (Catechism of the Catholic
Church [CCC] 1324), it would be good to know more about this particular liturgical
action we call “Mass”. (FYI, “liturgy” comes from a Greek word leitourgia meaning “work
of the people”) We do, or participate in, the actions of Mass often enough (hopefully)
that we at times experience them on “auto-pilot”, and we miss the significance of what is
happening. [The “hopefully” is not that we are on “auto-pilot”, but that we come to Mass
regularly.] An old saying goes: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Another way of saying
this is that familiarity breeds a misplaced certainty that we understand something or
have exhausted all its possibilities.
There are two things that need to be addressed before delving through the various parts
of the Mass. Addressing them now will provide a framework for understanding the
various parts of the Mass, and why particular actions are, or are not, allowed.
The first of these two to be addressed is the realization, and acknowledgment, that the
Mass is not our own as individuals, as a parish, as a diocese, or even as a country, to
do as we please with. Since the Eucharist (Mass) is the source and summit of the
Christian life [CCC 1324], and the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his
Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life [CCC 2177], it is something that belongs to
the universal Church. As such:
(1) Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church,
that is, on the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
(2) In virtue of the power conceded by law, the regulation of the liturgy within
certain limits belongs also to various kinds of bishops’ conferences,
legitimately established, with competence in given territories.
(3) Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change
anything in the liturgy on his own authority.
(Paragraph 22 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document on The Constitution on the
Sacred Liturgy, from Vatican II)
Within the Catholic Church there are eight recognized Rites, of which the “Roman Rite
constitutes a notable and precious part of the liturgical treasure and patrimony [heritage]
of the Catholic Church; its riches are conducive to the good of the universal Church, so
that their loss would gravely harm her.” (GIRM 397) (The broad meaning of “rite” is to
be understood not only in the external, ritual sense of repetitive ceremonial activity with
fixed rules, but also in the distinctive character that sustains the rite, and which the rite
What does this have to do with us as we celebrate Mass in our parishes? We treasure
the Mass so much, and rightfully so, that we should safeguard it from anything that
would harm it. This doesn’t mean that the Mass is so untouchable that changes can
never occur – there have been obvious adaptations in the celebration of the Mass
throughout the Church’s 2000 year history – but those changes are never introduced on
the whim of someone who thinks “it’s a good idea” or because “I (we) like it”. As the
Church grows and encompasses more and more peoples, some with distinctive cultural
identities, at times certain cultural innovations do occur in the Mass; however, these
“liturgical renewal innovations should not be made unless required by true and certain
usefulness to the Church, nor without exercising caution to ensure that new forms grow
in some sense organically from forms already existing, … Inculturation, moreover,
requires a necessary length of time, lest the authentic liturgical tradition suffer hasty and
incautious contamination.” (GIRM 398) What it comes down to is this: any innovations
in the Church’s sacred liturgy, no matter how well intended, can only take place with the
recognitio [approval] of the Apostolic See (i.e. Rome).
The second thing to be addressed before we proceed through the Mass is the
recognition that the people at Mass have different roles, or functions, during Mass, and
those different roles/functions have, at times, words and gestures (body positions and
actions) particular to them. The most basic and obvious distinction of roles at Mass is
that of the ordained clergy and the laity. (For simplicity of explanation, for Catholics at
Mass it is the distinctive roles of the priest and the laity [i.e. those not ordained].) It is
the role, or function, that the person has during Mass that determines the words and
gestures used, not the worthiness of the person. That the role of the ministerial
priesthood has distinctive functions with corresponding words and actions particular to
it, and different from the laity, isn’t something new for the Church. The Church grew
and developed from the traditions of our older brothers and sisters in faith – the Jews.
In the Old Testament, there are many examples of the specific roles of the priests (e.g.
the Book of Leviticus). Clearly, Catholic priests are not the same as the priests of the
temple in Jerusalem in ancient times, but they do have a similar function. They do not
offer animal sacrifices as was done in the temple, but they do offer the sacrifice of the
Mass on our altars. This special priestly function has special words and actions specific
to it. The following examples might be helpful:
In the dialogue prayers at Mass, the priest introduces and leads the dialogue, but
doesn’t finish it. When the priest says: “The Lord be with you.”, the people respond:
“And with your spirit.” Someone leads the prayer (the priest), and someone responds
(the people). The priest does not respond to himself, so it would not be proper for him
to join the people in the response “And with your spirit.” (This may seem obvious, but is
an important, albeit simple, distinction.) Another instance regards the Eucharistic
Prayer, the main body of which is prayed audibly by the priest, but the people (not the
priest) pray the acclamation after the priest says “The mystery of faith”; and the people
(not the priest) have the final word of the Eucharistic Prayer as they give their assent in
the recited or sung “AMEN”.
With gestures there are similar distinctions as to what gestures are appropriate for the
roles of the ordained and those of the laity. Who does what during Mass is determined
by the rubrics (instructions) of the Roman Missal. The rubrics are integral to the Mass
and, therefore, are not optional. (If you look at a Missal, the rubrics are the words in
red.) For example, during certain prayers or parts of prayers the rubrics will say: “Then,
with hands extended, the Priest says ……” There are times when the rubrics say:
“The people acclaim”, meaning not the priest. And there are yet other times when the
rubrics say: “He, together with the people …”, indicating everyone.
Another example: the orans position (hands and arms outstretched) during liturgies is a
gesture of prayer reserved for the ordained, and is not to be used by the laity either along with the priest or in response to the priest (e.g. as the people respond, “And with
your spirit.”). The rubrics indicate that the Priest extends his hands; it does not say that
the people do. Some may be thinking that since the rubrics don’t specifically say the
people can’t extend their hands, then they can use that gesture. In the Missal, just
because a rubric doesn’t say you can’t do something doesn’t mean you can do it.
The assumption is that you would not do something you are not supposed to do in the
first place. (This would be similar to a child saying to a parent, “Well, you didn’t say I
couldn’t do that”, when the “that” is something the parent would never have expected
their child would do.) Again, this is not about the worthiness of the person, but of their
liturgical role at Mass. In order to safeguard the integrity of the Mass, what this comes
down to is that no one, neither the priest nor the people, should be using words or
gestures which are not called for or allowed in the Roman Missal.
If this reality regarding the instructions of the Roman Missal can be kept in mind as we
venture through the Mass, it will help to clarify the appropriate use of the various words
and gestures, and help us to more faithfully celebrate the source and summit of our
Christian life – the Mass.
Before beginning with the Mass’ Introductory Rites, what about when we enter church
for Mass (hopefully before Mass begins)? For Catholics, we have the practice of
dipping some fingers into holy water from the holy water stoups placed near the doors
of the church or from the baptismal font, and signing ourselves with the sign of the cross
as a remembrance of our Baptism, which is the first sacrament we receive and which
brings us into the life of the Church. The inside of a Catholic church is a holy place, and
it should look, feel, and be treated differently than other buildings we go into. While we
believe that God is present everywhere, in a very real and special way God is tangibly
present as the Body of Christ in the form of consecrated hosts in the tabernacle.
Therefore, a silent (or at least quiet) sense of reverential awe should be observed.
(What about hospitality and greeting those coming to Mass? That fittingly takes place in
the Narthex, aka gathering space.) Here in Alpena, with all of our churches having the
tabernacle behind the altar, a genuflection (if physically able) toward the tabernacle is
an appropriate gesture before entering the pews. A time of quietude (It’s a real word;
look it up.) is a wonderful way to get ready for Mass to begin.
We just covered the actions we do when we first come into church and our demeanor
before Mass begins. What about the way we cover ourselves—yes, how we clothe
ourselves for Mass? Have you ever noticed how people act differently when they are
“dressed up”? Whether it is school children going to a dignified place for a field trip,
school athletes dressed up for “game day”, adults at a job interview, or a wedding—
there is a sense of something “special”. If you’re thinking that clothes shouldn’t affect the way we behave, you’re right, they shouldn’t, but they do. Am I talking about an
enforced “dress code” for Mass? No (though some would like that). We are blessed to
live in an area where many people like to vacation (including ourselves), and vacation
time is often casual. There is something nice and friendly about being casual, but
casual can still be neat and clean and modest. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the
parable of a wedding feast to which everyone is invited, yet one guest “not properly
dress for a wedding feast” is thrown out (Matthew 22:1-14). It’s interesting that “the
wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) is a way of referring to the Mass. Sometimes I
wonder if we really believe what we say we do: that Jesus is truly present in our midst at
Mass. How would you dress in the presence of God? But remember, in the parable it is
the “king” (God) who orders the improperly dressed guest to be thrown out. We are not
the “king”; so while we graciously welcome all who enter our doors for Mass let each of
us also be good examples of being properly dressed for the wedding feast of the
Lamb—the Mass.
The obvious first thing that we notice when Mass begins is the Entrance Procession.
When the procession begins “A common bodily posture, to be observed by all those
taking part [if physically able], is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian
community gathered together for the Sacred Liturgy, for it expresses the intentions and
spiritual attitude of the participants and also fosters them.” (GIRM 43)
“The faithful should stand from the beginning of the Entrance Chant, or while the Priest
approaches the altar, until the end of the Collect [aka the Opening Prayer]. For the
sake of uniformity in gestures and postures during one and the same celebration, the
faithful should follow the directions which the Deacon, a lay minister, or the Priest gives,
according to what is laid down in the Missal.” (GIRM 43) [underlining is my
The entrance procession and gathering hymn are the first liturgical actions that all
participate in as Mass begins. For the assembly, that usually involves just standing in
place and singing as the altar servers with a Processional Cross adorned with a figure
of Christ crucified (see GIRM 122), lector or deacon with Book of the Gospels, and
priest process down the aisle toward the altar. (On occasion the procession may be in
silence.) When those processing have arrived at the sanctuary — the area around the
altar, presider’s chair, and ambo [the stand where the scriptures are proclaimed],
usually elevated by one or more steps — the priest and other ministers genuflect as
they approach the altar (GIRM 274) unless carrying a substantial object (e.g.
Processional Cross, Book of the Gospels, candles). (In churches where the tabernacle
is not located behind the altar, they reverence the altar with a profound bow – i.e. a bow
from the waist vs a simple bow of the head – instead of genuflecting.) After the genuflection (or bow when appropriate), the priest goes up to the altar and venerates it
with a kiss. If there is a deacon or any concelebrating priest(s), they also venerate the
altar with a kiss. (Kissing the altar is one of the gestures reserved for the ordained
When the entrance hymn is concluded, the Priest stands at the Presider’s chair, and
along with those present, all sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross. The Sign of
the Cross is a traditional prelude to prayer for Catholics, and so is very appropriate for
the beginning of Mass: the Eucharistic celebration which is “the source and summit of
the Christian life” (CCC 1324). It is a form of self-blessing with strong baptismal
overtones, since in the rite of Christian initiation a person (whether an infant or adult) is
signed with the cross, for it is from the victorious Cross of Jesus Christ that salvation
comes to us. Also, every Christian has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit. This Sign of the Cross should be a large, unhurried sign, from forehead
to breast, from shoulder to shoulder, symbolically encompassing the whole of us. We
are not ashamed of the cross; we are proud of it.
After the Sign of the Cross, the priest greets the people in a specific ritualistic way. It is
more than a friendly “Good morning” or “What a lovely day”, etc. There are three
greetings for the priest to choose from, the simplest being: “The Lord be with you”.
Whichever greeting is used by the priest, he says it while (per the rubrics), “extending
his hands” (Remember, the gesture of extending hands is reserved for bishops and
priests, not because of particular worthiness on their part, but because of their liturgical
role at Mass.) To whichever of the three greetings the priest uses, the rubrics of the
Missal state, “The people reply: And with your spirit” (There is no mention of hand
gestures by the people, because none should be given. Again, outstretched, raised
hands during Church liturgies, of which the Mass is foremost, is reserved for the role of
ordained clergy.) If a bishop is presiding at Mass, he uses the greeting: “Peace be
with you.” (Even a bishop has to follow the rubrics.)
The priest, or a Deacon or another minister may then give a very brief introduction to
the Mass of the day. [With ‘rubrics’ what is stated, or not stated, is important. If the
rubrics state that something is to be done, then it is done; if they state that something
may be done, then it is an option that can be done, but not required; if there is no
mention of something, the assumption is the ‘something’ should not be done or added.
Again, except for the Pope, or by decree of the local bishop with approval of the
Apostolic See, “no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change
anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” (# 22 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, The
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the very first document from Vatican II)]
Some wonder why the people now say “And with your spirit” instead of the response
they had been saying, “And also with you.” Briefly, it is a closer translation of the Latin
(Et cum spiritu tuo), which Pope John Paul II (now St. John Paul) called for in the 3rd
Edition of the Roman Missal. It matches the response that had already existed in most
other major languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, and German. Additionally,
the response “And with your spirit” is inspired by passages that conclude several of St.
Paul’s letters (e.g., Gal 6:18; 2 Tim 4:22). This response is more than a simple
expression of good will – the minister is the one whose spirit has received the Spirit of
God in Ordination and who thereby is a special “servant of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:1)
Following the greeting is the Penitential Act, a simple penitential rite reflecting both
Scripture and tradition. In Matthew 5:23-25 Christ calls for reconciliation with others
before offering sacrifice. And in the Didache, an ancient document dating from the 1st
century, it states that on the Lord’s Day people are to come together to break bread and
give thanks “after first confessing their sins” so that the sacrifice will be pure. The
Penitential Act is not the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka: Confession), but an
acknowledgement of our sins and guilt, and that we are a community ever in need of
conversion, of being reconciled with God and others. It is a proclamation of faith in a
God who is loving, kind, and the source of all healing and reconciliation. There are
three forms of the Penitential Act to choose from, of which a set of three invocations
addressed to Christ (with the assembly’s response), and the Confiteor, are the most
common. The Kyrie, eleison (Lord, have mercy) invocations follow unless they have
just been part of the Penitential Act. (A sprinkling rite, a reminder of the life-giving
waters of Baptism, may replace the usual Penitential Act. While most often used during
the Easter season, the sprinkling rite may be celebrated during any season of the year.)
On Sundays outside Advent and Lent, and on Solemnities and Feasts, and at particular
celebrations of a more solemn character, the Gloria is then either sung or recited. The
Gloria has been called by some the “Angelic Hymn” since its first words are those of the
angels at Bethlehem. “The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most
ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies
and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced
by any other.” (GIRM 53)
The Collect comes after the Gloria and begins with the priest saying “Let us pray”. 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. . .The people, joining in this petition, make the prayer their own
by means of the acclamation Amen.” (GIRM 54) The word “Collect” comes from the
Latin meaning “to bring together” or “to collect”. The purpose of this prayer, which the
priest prays aloud on behalf of the assembly, is to bring together – to collect – our
thoughts and minds and all that we as individuals bring to this Mass. So there should
be a period of silence between the “Let us pray” and the Collect prayer. During this
quiet pause, each person – in silence – presents the intentions they want to bring to this
Mass, and the priest brings them all together in the Collect prayer. It is during the quiet
before the Collect that the priest – in silence – prays for the intention of that Mass for
which an offering was made. The Collect concludes the Introductory Rites of Mass, and
we then move into the Liturgy of the Word. [FYI – in some parishes you may hear an
intercession in the General Intercessions (aka Prayers of the Faithful) something like,
“For those things we hold in the silence of our hearts.” The appropriate time to mention
those things is during the silence following the “Let us pray” just before the Collect.]
“When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people,
and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel. Therefore, the readings from the
Word of God are to be listened to reverently by everyone, for they are an element of
greatest importance in the Liturgy.”(GIRM 29)
“The main part of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of the readings from Sacred
Scripture. . . As for the Homily, the Profession of Faith and the Universal Prayer, they
develop and conclude it.”(GIRM #55)
The Liturgy of the Word should be celebrated meditatively and to help in this periods of
silence should be observed, e.g. before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the
First and Second Reading, and after the Homily. (GIRM #56). The “readings are always
read from the ambo.” (GIRM #58) (The ambo is one of three pieces of furniture in the
sanctuary, which are: the altar, presider’s chair, and ambo.)
“The function of proclaiming the readings is by tradition not presidential but ministerial.
Therefore the readings are to be read by a reader, but the Gospel by the Deacon or, in
his absence, by another Priest. If, however, a Deacon or another Priest is not present,
the Priest Celebrant himself should read the Gospel”. (GIRM #59)
The Lectionary arranges the Sunday readings in a three-year cycle, the characteristic
feature of each year being the Gospel: year A is based on Matthew, year B on Mark,
and year C on Luke. St. John’s Gospel occurs on the first Sundays of Lent, during the
Easter season, and on certain Sundays during year B. For weekdays there is a twoyear Lectionary cycle: the Gospels remain the same each year but the first reading
varies. Each cycle (the three-year Sunday cycle and the two-year weekday cycle)
begins with the first Sunday of Advent.
Each reading is concluded by the people’s exclamation Thanks be to God or Praise to
you, Lord Jesus Christ (after the Gospel) a custom which goes far back into the history
of the Roman Missal. These replies of the assembled people “give honor to the Word of
God that they have received in faith and with gratitude (GIRM #59)
“The faithful should stand … for the Alleluia Chant before the Gospel; while the Gospel
itself is proclaimed; during the Profession of Faith and the Universal Prayer … The
faithful should sit, on the other hand, during the readings before the Gospel and the
Responsorial Psalm and for the Homily” (GIRM #43)
While all Scripture is sacred, the Gospels are given special consideration and signs of
respect and honor. One way that specialness is shown is that we stand when the
Gospel is proclaimed. And while the other readings may be proclaimed by any lector,
the Gospel is read by a deacon, or if a deacon is not present, then by a priest. Other
signs of honor for the Gospels are: there may be a separate Book of the Gospels (the
lectionary contains all the scriptures proclaimed at Mass, including the Gospels); if part
of the entrance procession, the Book of the Gospels is carried in the procession, not the
lectionary; if the Book of the Gospels is on the altar, when it is processed to the ambo
by the deacon or priest, it may be preceded by lay ministers with a thurible (aka a
censor) and candles; before the Gospel is proclaimed the book may be incensed
(incense may be used at any Mass, but is usually reserved for special occasions). “At
the ambo, the Priest opens the book and, with hands joined, say The Lord be with you,
to which the people reply, And with your spirit. Then he says, A reading from the holy
Gospel, making the Sign of the Cross with his thumb on the book and on his forehead,
mouth, and breast, which everyone else does as well. [This expresses readiness to
open one’s mind to the word, to confess it with the mouth, and to safeguard it in the
heart.] The people acclaim, Glory to you, O Lord. The Priest incenses the book, if
incense is being used. Then he proclaims the Gospel and at the end pronounces the
acclamation The Gospel of the Lord, to which all reply, Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
The Priest kisses the book,” (GIRM 134). As the priest kisses the Book of the Gospel,
he says quietly (so you won’t hear this), Through the words of the Gospel may our sins
be wiped away.
After the Gospel, comes the homily. “On Sundays and Holydays of Obligation there is to
be a Homily at every Mass that is celebrated with the people attending and it may not
be omitted without a grave reason.” (GIRM 66) The Homily has long been part of the
Mass, as attested to by one of the oldest descriptions of the Eucharist, written about the
year 150, by an early Church Father, Justin the Martyr. Most often the homily relates to
the scripture readings from the day, but could also be about some other sacred text
(e.g. some aspect of the Roman Missal, or the Rite of a sacrament being celebrated at
that Mass).
On Sundays and Solemnities, and other particular solemn celebrations, the Creed is
recited after the homily. “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 in a formula
approved for liturgical use and before the celebration of these mysteries in the Eucharist
begins.” (GIRM 67). The approved formulas are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’
Creed. The Creed Americans usually proclaim is the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed
was originally formulated by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, which was called to
address, in part, the heresy of Arianism which denied the true divinity of Christ and
distorted the true relationship of Jesus and God the Father. It is longer than the
Apostles’ Creed partly due to additional statements clarifying that relationship (e.g.
“born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true
God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”) Of all the words of the
revised translation of the Roman Missal, which we started using in 2011,
“consubstantial” has probably been the hardest to get used to. It replaced the
expression “one in Being”. It is closer to the Latin equivalent, consubstantialis, which
means having the same substance, which is even more fundamental than “one in
Being.” Yes, “consubstantial” is a very unusual word, not one we use in everyday
language. But when describing the unique relationship of the Son and the Father, why
not use a unique word — a word that, when you hear it, will take your thoughts to God,
and not something mundane.
The Creed is recited by the priest together with the people with everyone standing. At
the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” all
make a profound bow [my emphasis] (GIRM 137). A profound bow is not just a simple
nod of the head, but a bow of the body, from the waist. Why do we do this? Think
about it, God chose to become a human being (incarnate), changed the history of the
world, and gave humanity a dignity it never had before, and we, as Church, are called to
honor that with the action of a bow. On the Solemnities of the Annunciation (Jesus’
conception by the Holy Spirit) and the Nativity of the Lord (Jesus’ birth), we are all to
genuflect at those words. (GIRM 137) It amazes me that many people still do not bow
during these words of the Creed even though the Church’s instructions clearly state to
do so. Yet, some of these same people will persistently do actions not called for (e.g.
certain hand gestures). I wonder, do we actually believe what we say we believe?
Something to ponder not just as we take this journey through the Mass, but every time
we celebrate Mass, is that what we take for granted and so often just glibly go through the motions of (e.g. stating the Creed, being reverently attentive during the Eucharistic
Prayer, or receiving Holy Communion) so many people suffered and died for – possibly
even some of your relatives! It wasn’t that long ago, that it was illegal and punishable
by death to celebrate Mass in Ireland; French Catholics were persecuted and executed
during the French Revolution; Catholics in Poland were persecuted and suppressed
under communism. Violent persecutions continue in our day, particularly in parts of the
Middle East and Africa. And we just don’t feel like singing, praying, bowing, … ,
during Mass?
Regarding the Creed, the following is a reflection on the Creed:
When we believe that God is our Father and that he is the Creator of all things
visible and invisible, we can live as brothers and sisters who treasure one
another and all creation. We can live as people who recognize that we are not
the ones in control, but that we depend on God, our Creator, for all things. We
can get up and go to work each day knowing that, as children of the Creator of
the universe, made in his image, we bear a striking family resemblance….
When we believe that Jesus, the Son of God, became one of us, we can live
with respect for our own dignity and the dignity of others, knowing that our God
has a human face. When we believe that Jesus suffered, died, and rose from
the dead, we can live with confidence, knowing that nothing can separate us
from the love of God – not even death. When we believe that Jesus will come
again, we can live with hope, knowing that we indeed have a future.
When we believe that the Holy Spirit is the Lord, the giver of life, we can live
without fear, knowing that we are not alone but that the spirit of the risen Christ
is with us at all times.
When we believe that the church is “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,”
we can live as people who seek unity, who seek to do God’s will, who embrace
diversity, and who are sent to carry on a mission that has been handed on to us
by those who walked with Jesus.
When we believe in everlasting life, we can live with perspective and without
anxiety, knowing that God has a plan for us to live with him through eternity.
There’s one one way to respond to all of the above, and it’s the last word of
the creed: Amen!
(Living the Mass: How One Hour a Week Can Change Your Life by Fr. Dominic
Grassi and Joe Paprocki, Loyola Press, Chicago, 2011 pp.67-68)
After the Creed (or after the homily if the Creed is not recited), are prayers of
intercession offered up for the needs of the Church and the world in which we live.
There are several titles used for these prayers: the Universal Prayer, or more
traditionally, the Prayer of the Faithful since in ancient times the catechumens (the
non-baptized who were preparing to become part of the Church) were often dismissed
before these prayers; and the title General Intercessions, since they extend beyond
the needs and concerns of the local community. (This is also the reason why the
intention of a particular Mass is not mentioned during these intercessions. The proper
place for the particular Mass intention, if there is one, to be prayed for is by the priest
celebrant during the time of silence prior to the Collect, aka “Opening Prayer”)
These intercessory prayers are an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word. Having
heard the word, the assembled people, confident that God will act today as he has in
the past, offer “petitions, prayers, intercessions … for all” (1 Timothy 2:1), thus
exercising the office of a priestly people, which they received through baptism. “It is for
the Priest Celebrant to regulate this prayer from the chair. He himself begins it with a
brief introduction, by which he calls upon the faithful to pray, and likewise he concludes
it with an oration. The intentions announced should be sober, be composed with a wise
liberty and in few words, and they should be expressive of the prayer of the entire
community. They are announced from the ambo or from another suitable place, by the
Deacon or by a cantor, a reader, or one of the lay faithful. The people, for their part,
stand and give expression to their prayer … by an invocation said in common after each
intention.” (GIRM 71)
Since the Church is both universal and local, at least one intention is usually taken from
each of the following categories: (GIRM 70)
a) for the needs of the Church
b) for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world
c) for those burdened by any kind of difficulty
d) for the local community.
“At the very end, the Priest, with hands extended [my emphasis], concludes the
petitions with a prayer.” (GIRM 138)
The Prayer of the Faithful concludes the Liturgy of the Word, which prepares us for and
leads us to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The ambo was the focal point during the Liturgy
of the Word, for from the ambo the Sacred Scriptures were proclaimed. Now, as the
Mass continues with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the altar is the focal point.
“The Christian altar is by its very nature a table of sacrifice and at the same time a table
of the paschal banquet: a unique altar on which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated
in mystery throughout the ages until Christ comes; a table at which the Church’s
children assemble and give thanks to God and receive the body and blood of Christ.”
(from Dedication of a Church and an Altar, Ch. IV, no. 4) Because of this the altar itself
is a symbol of Christ and has such a central role in the Mass that it is given particular
reverence with a bow when approaching or crossing in front of the sanctuary, and with a
kiss by any priests and deacons as they enter the sanctuary at the beginning of Mass,
and before leaving the sanctuary at the end of Mass.
The first action of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is the preparation of the altar, which
consists of the placing of the corporal, purificator, chalice and Missal on the altar. Since
this is a ministerial task, it is carried out by someone other than the presiding priest —
i.e. a deacon or altar server.
(FYI: the corporal is a white linen cloth placed on top of the altar cloth, on which are
placed the chalice and paten—the plate or bowl which holds the hosts to be
consecrated. Later, during the Communion Rite, the large consecrated host is broken
into smaller pieces and the corporal is there to catch any small fragments of the Body of
Christ which may fall. The purificator is a white linen cloth used to wipe the edge of the
While we have seen this action at every Mass we have participated in, and probably
take no special notice of it, the preparation of the altar at this time and in this way
makes it clear that, at this Mass, something new is beginning — the Liturgy of the
One of the reasons that you might not notice the preparation of the altar is, at Sunday
Masses at least, that is usually the same time that the gifts that the faithful bring (e.g.
their monetary offerings) are being collected, often with the help of the ushers. “Even
money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in
the church, are acceptable.” (GIRM 73). These monetary gifts, or other gifts, represent
the fruits of the labor of the faithful—what they personally offer to God in gratitude for
how God has blessed them. These, along with bread and wine, are brought forward.
After the altar has been prepared, the presentation of the gifts is made (another term
often associated with this part of the Mass is the “Offertory”, though the actual ‘offering’
of the bread and wine takes place within the Eucharistic Prayer). The “gifts which will
become Christ’s Body and Blood are brought to the altar. . . It is a praiseworthy practice
for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. . . Even money or other gifts for
the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, are
acceptable; given their purpose, they are to be put in a suitable place away from the
Eucharistic table.” (GIRM 73) It is not that we are ashamed of the monetary offerings,
or other gifts, that they are placed away from altar (after all, they are a representation of
the fruits of our labor), but that we will not be asking God to change them into Christ’s
Body and Blood, as we do the bread and wine, which are, thus, placed on the altar.
“The bread for celebrating the Eucharist must be made only from wheat, must be
recently made, and, according to the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, must be
unleavened.” (GIRM 320)
“The wine for the celebration of the Eucharist must be from the fruit of the vine, natural,
and unadulterated, that is, without admixture of extraneous substances.” (GIRM 322)
(A little later, water will be mixed with the wine, but the wine as presented by the faithful
is just wine.)
The procession of the gifts (bread and wine, and—if there was a collection—monetary
offerings) “is a symbolic expression of the gathered assembly’s participation in the
Eucharist and the social mission of the Church.” (The Mystery of Faith, p.60) These
gifts are accepted by the priest or a deacon, and the bread and wine are placed on the
altar. “The Priest raises the bread a little above the altar and prays a formula, modeled
on a Jewish table prayer said by the father of the family, which blesses or praises God
as the creator of the world for the gift of bread. After the cup has been prepared, the
Priest says a similar prayer praising the Father for the gift of wine. . .Bread and wine,
being the God-given fruits of the earth, symbolize our world, our life, and our labor.
They are presented in view of what they will become, i.e., our bread of life and our
spiritual drink.” (The Mystery of Faith, p.62) When the prayer formula is prayed aloud
by the priest (an option if any singing for this part of the Mass is finished, otherwise it is
prayed quietly), the people respond by acclaiming, Blessed be God, for ever.
“There is something special about Christ choosing food and drink to be the symbols of
his self-giving, because food and drink exist not for themselves but for other living
creatures. . .That is how Jesus identified himself: under the forms of bread and wine, as
the man who lived not for himself, but for others, that through his self-sacrifice others
might live.” (Liturgy Made Simple, by Mark Searle, 1981, p. 58)
Backing up a little: before the chalice is presented and the prayer praising the Father for
the gift of wine is said, the wine is mixed with a little bit of water. Why? The mixing of
water and wine is an ancient liturgical practice that grew from the custom of diluting the
wine with water to make it less heavily textured and strong (which it tended to be ) —
this was a practice that sober people did. Early Christians continued this practical
action when they celebrated Mass, but it soon took on dual symbolic meanings. In the
west it represented:
the union of Christ with the faithful: just as wine receives water, so Christ takes us
and our sins to himself. St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200/210-258) in a letter against
those who would use only water in the eucharistic celebration wrote: “we see that
the water stands for the people whereas the wine stands for the blood of Christ.
When water is united with the wine in the cup, the people are made one with
Christ; the believing people are joined and united with him in whom they believe”
(Letter 63). The eastern interpretation was that the wine and water represent the
divine and human natures in Christ. (The Mystery of Faith, p. 64)
In Rome the rite eventually expressed both symbolic meanings: the wine, representing
Christ and his divine nature; the water, correspondingly representing the faithful (you
and I) and Christ’s human nature. The mingling of wine with water is a beautiful
expression with either paired meaning, because once the water is mixed with the wine,
they cannot be separated. The words the priest, or deacon, says when pouring the
water into the wine are: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in
the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” (The Order of
Mass, # 24 in the Roman Missal) Through the Eucharist we share in the divine dignity
of Christ who became incarnate for us.
After the bread and wine are prepared and the prayer praising God the Father for the
gifts of bread and wine is prayed by the priest (Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation
. . .), the priest celebrant alone makes a profound bow while saying the following prayer
asking God to favorably receive the bread and wine which will soon be offered up in the
Eucharistic Prayer. The prayer is said quietly, though when there is no music and a
microphone is used you may hear the words: “With humble spirit and contrite heart may
we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing
to you, Lord God.” (Liturgy of the Eucharist, #26, in the Roman Missal)
Incense is a traditional symbol of prayer rising up to God (see Psalm 141:2; Revelation
8:3-4). If incense is going to be used over the bread and wine, it occurs at this time.
(The use of incense is optional, but it may be used at any Mass.) The “Priest may
incense the gifts placed on the altar and then incense the cross and the altar itself, so
as to signify the Church’s offering and prayer rising like incense in the sight of God.
Next, the Priest, because of his sacred ministry, and the people, by reason of their
baptismal dignity, may now be incensed by the Deacon or by another minister.” (GIRM
75) When incense is used at this part of Mass, the priest and the people are incensed
along with the bread and wine, since they are to unite themselves and their prayers with
the gifts which will be offered in the Eucharistic Prayer.
Then the priest washes his hands. Some have the notion that this washing is
associated with Pontius Pilate’s washing of his hands after condemning Jesus to death.
The hand washing of the priest is not a connection with Pilate, but is a connection with
the ceremonial washing of hands that the high priest did in Jesus’ time “before making
the sacrifice of killing an unblemished, spotless lamb in the Temple of Jerusalem on the
day of Passover. So, too, celebrating Mass today, the priest prepares to offer up the
Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) to God the Father, so he ceremonially washes his hands to
offer a spotless sacrifice.” (Catholicism for Dummies, p.158)
This ‘offering up the Lamb of God’ at Mass is a function of the ordained priesthood, so
only the priest celebrant does this ceremonial washing of hands, while saying quietly:
“Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
Just as the celebration of Mass is the center of the whole of Christian life for the Church
universally and locally, and for each of the faithful individually [this statement can be
made because within the Mass 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 and in the Holy Spirit (GIRM 16)], the center and
high point of the Mass itself begins with the Eucharistic Prayer, that is, the prayer of
thanksgiving and sanctification. The meaning of this Prayer is that the whole
congregation of the faithful joins with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in
the offering of Sacrifice. It requires that everyone listens to it with reverence and in
silence. (GIRM 78) The Eucharistic Prayer is one of the “presidential prayers”, meaning
it is “Addressed to God by the Priest who presides over the assembly in the person of
Christ, in the name of the entire holy people and of all present.” (GIRM 30)
In the early Church the Eucharistic Prayer was closely connected to a series of table
prayers required at every Jewish meal, however, even during apostolic times, a process
of simplification and unification occurred, perhaps in conjunction with the separation of
the Eucharist from a regular meal. That being said, in the first few centuries the early
Eucharistic Prayers were extemporaneous and improvised. From about the 4th century
until 1968, there was only the one Eucharistic Prayer used in the Roman Rite, called the
Roman Canon (from Latin/Greek for “rule” or “law”).
In 1968, following Vatican II (1963-1965), a slightly revised version of the Canon was
published, now known as Eucharistic Prayer I, together with three other prayers
designated as Eucharistic Prayer II, III, and IV. Eucharistic Prayer II is extremely brief
and simple, and based on a model given in the Apostolic Tradition (c.215), attributed to
St. Hippolytus, one of the early Church Fathers.
In 1974 three Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children were approved, but their use
is strictly limited to Masses celebrated with children (i.e. they are the majority of the
assembled faithful). Now, there are also two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation and
four for Various Needs and Occasions, for a total of 13 approved Eucharistic Prayers for
use in the Roman Rite. Priests rely heavily on the Missal even if they usually use just a
few of the available Eucharistic Prayers, because they are “not permitted, on [their] own
initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.” (GIRM
Let’s further delve into this most important prayer which is the central action of the entire
celebration of the Mass. But first it should be stated that “by its very nature, the
Eucharistic Prayer requires that only the Priest say it, in virtue of his Ordination. The
people, for their part, should associate themselves with the Priest in faith and in silence,
as well as by means of their interventions as prescribed in the course of the Eucharistic
Prayer: namely, the responses in the Preface dialogue, the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy),
the acclamation after the Consecration, the acclamation Amen after the concluding
doxology”. (GIRM 147)
The Eucharistic Prayer has several structural parts: 1) thanksgiving; 2) acclamation;
3) epiclesis; 4) institution narrative and consecration; 5) anamnesis; 6) offering;
7) intercessions; 8) final doxology. (see GIRM 79) (Some of these parts have strange
names, but we’ll discuss these as we get to them.)
Thanksgiving — though giving thanks and praise are evident through the whole
Eucharistic Prayer, they are particularly present in the Preface, which is a term meaning
“proclamation” or “speaking out” in the presence of God and God’s people. The Missal
contains over 80 approved individual Prefaces for feast days, liturgical seasons, votive
Masses, and special occasions. Some Masses have a “Proper“ Preface (meaning it is
mandatory for Mass on that day/feast/occasion), while others are optional, with the
selection of which Preface is used being up to the presiding celebrant.
The beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer is a dialogue prayer, “the Priest extends his
hands and sings or says, The Lord be with you. The people reply, And with your spirit.
As he continues, saying, Lift up your hearts, he raises his hands. The people reply, we
lift them up to the Lord. Then the Priest, with hands extended, adds, Let us give thanks
to the Lord our God, and the people reply, It is right and just. After this, the Priest, with
hands extended, continues the Preface. At its conclusion, he joins his hands and,
together with all those present, sings or says aloud the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy).
(GIRM 148) (The underlining is my emphasis to stress that these hand gestures are
those of the priest, not the assembly. You still see people extending and raising their
hands during this dialogue prayer. In the Missal, just because a rubric doesn’t say you
can’t do something, does not mean you can do it. The assumption is that you would
not do something you are not supposed to do in the first place.)
As stated above, the Preface, prayed by the priest, concludes with the people, together
with the priest, pronouncing (preferably by singing) the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). With
this acclamation the assembly responds to the celebrant’s invitation to join all creation in
giving praise to the Father through Christ. With one voice the whole communion of
saints gives glory to God. The next structural part of the Eucharistic Prayer is the
epiclesis (a Greek word meaning “calling upon”), “in which, by means of particular
invocations, the Church implores the power of the Holy Spirit that the gifts offered by
human hands be consecrated, that is, become Christ’s Body and Blood, and that the
unblemished sacrificial Victim to be consumed in Communion may be for the salvation
of those who partake of it.” (GIRM 79) As the priest makes this petition, he extends his
hands over the bread and wine in the ancient gesture signifying the giving of the Spirit.
The following is a reflection on the epiclesis, from “The Mystery of Faith” prepared by
the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions in cooperation with the Bishop’s
Committee on the Liturgy, 2011, p. 79:
“To sanctify is the role properly attributed to the Holy Spirit who completes and
brings to fullness the work of the Father and the Son. Although the prayer for the
consecration is addressed to the Father, it is through the power of the Spirit, who
integrates the gifts of the people into the offering of Christ, that the Church
presents to the Father the memorial of the Son and efficaciously repeats the words
of institution. It is also through the Holy Spirit that the Church constantly becomes
the body of Christ, nourished and fortified by his presence in the Eucharist. Both
gifts and people are transformed by the power of the Spirit: the gifts of bread and
wine become the signs of Christ’s sacramental presence as food; the people enter
into communion with Christ and with each other; they are unified, given life and
sanctification. In other words, just as the bread and wine are transformed into the
body and blood of Christ, so by sharing the loaf and the chalice we also are to be
transformed, we are to become the body of Christ, paradoxically something we
already are through Baptism.”
The Eucharistic Prayer is not only central to the Mass, the source and summit of our
faith as Catholics, because of the transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s Body
and Blood, but also because it is central to who we are called to be—who we were
made to become—the Body of Christ!
When first starting to cover the topic of the Eucharistic Prayer, it was pointed out that
there are currently 13 approved Eucharistic Prayers for use in the Roman Rite, and that
each Eucharistic Prayer has several structural parts—which we are working our way
through now (e.g. thanksgiving, acclamation, epiclesis, etc). While the narratives of the
structural parts of these 13 Eucharistic Prayers differ to varying degrees from each
other, each of the Eucharistic Prayers have the same words for the institution narrative
(aka the words of “consecration”). As the priest holds the bread that is to be
consecrated slightly raised above the altar, he bows slightly and says: “TAKE THIS,
FOR YOU.” He then shows the (usually larger) consecrated host to the people and,
after that, places it on the sacred vessel holding the now consecrated hosts, and
genuflects in adoration. Next, he continues with the chalice of wine, holding it slightly
raised above the altar, and while bowed slightly, says: “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU,
ME.” He then shows the chalice to the people, afterwards placing it on the corporal (a
white linen cloth on top of the altar cloth), and genuflects in adoration.
These genuflections in adoration are because we believe that the hosts and wine, while
still having the appearance of bread and wine, are now the Real Presence of Christ’s
Body and Blood. If they were not, then the genuflections would be an action of idolatry.
(FYI: the proper posture during the Eucharistic Prayer is to kneel or stand. Sitting is not
a proper posture, unless a person is physically unable to kneel or stand.) “In the
Dioceses of the United States of America, they [the people] should kneel beginning after
the singing or recitation of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) until after the Amen of the
Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by ill health, …, or for another
reasonable cause. [e.g. when there are no kneelers, or there are a significant number of
non-Catholics attending for whom kneeling is not their custom, and they would
otherwise sit] However, those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when
the Priest genuflects after the Consecration.” (GIRM 43) [the underlining is my
emphasis] An example of this is when there is more than one priest celebrating Mass.
The presiding priest is the only one who genuflects after the consecration; the
concelebrating priests make a profound bow as the presiding priest genuflects.
The people assembled at Mass participate in whichever Eucharistic Prayer is used by
listening attentively to the words sung or spoken by the priest and joining their hearts
and minds to the actions of the prayers. Their voices should join together in the
acclamations of the Eucharistic Prayer. One of these takes place after the
Consecration, and is called the Memorial Acclamation. The priest initiates the
acclamation by saying or singing, “The mystery of faith”, and the people (not the priest)
respond with one of the three prescribed formulas, which are:
“We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you
come again.”
“When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord,
until you come again.”
“Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set
us free.”
What is this “mystery of faith”? The mystery of faith is the Paschal Mystery, the mystery
of Christ’s dying, rising, and presence among his people, the whole plan of God realized
in Christ’s saving love.
All three of the acclamation formulas are addressed to Christ. The first option recalls
Christ’s death, resurrection, and second coming. The second option almost word for
word echoes 1 Corinthians 11:26. The third option is the only formula that does not
mention the final coming of Christ. Whichever option is used, by joining their voices
together the faithful express and affirm belief that the whole mystery of the Risen Christ
is present and active in the celebration.
After the Memorial Acclamation is the Anamnesis, a Greek word for making “memory”
of the whole saving and liberating action of God in the historical past. While the whole
Eucharistic action is a memorial, a special statement—the anamnesis—expresses the
meaning of the Eucharistic memorial, and normally leads to a statement of offering.
While the precise wording may vary, most Eucharistic Prayers state that the Church
makes memory of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and sometimes
including his burial and future coming. But this is not simply a “remembering” like
recalling something that has happened in the past; it is a “making present”, a reactualizing for today of something that occurred in the past. God is always faithful to his
covenant, so his past deeds become present and accomplish their effects “today” as
they did in the past. This is the context in which Jesus spoke his command “Do this in
memory of me.”
After the Anamnesis, but very closely linked to it, is the “offering” which is an explicit
declaration that the Church is offering the “Body and Blood” of Christ to the Father.
Now, how this declaration is expressed varies depending on the particular Eucharistic
Prayer used. The following are from Eucharistic Prayers I – IV (4 of the 13 approved
EPs in the Roman Rite):
EP I: “we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty from
the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless
victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.”
EP II: “we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation”.
EP III: “we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.”
EP IV: “we offer you his Body and Blood, the sacrifice acceptable to you which
brings salvation to the whole world.”
“The Church’s intention, indeed, is that the faithful not only offer this unblemished
sacrificial Victim but also learn to offer their very selves, and so day by day to be
brought, through the mediation of Christ, into unity with God and with each other, so that
God may at last be all in all.” (GIRM 79f)
After the “offering”, there are some intercessions, which vary depending on which
Eucharistic Prayer is used, but there is always supplication for the Church and her
pastors, for the immediate community and for the dead. (With EP I – aka, the “Roman
Canon” – these intercessions are split into two parts, before and after the institution
narrative. All the other EP’s have the intercessions placed near the end of the prayer.)
“The intercessions; by which expression is given to the fact that the Eucharist is
celebrated in communion with the whole Church, of both heaven and earth, and that the
oblation is made for her and for all her members, living and dead”. (GIRM 79g)
The final doxology summarizes the Eucharistic Prayer which concludes, as it began, on
a clear note of praise. The Church offers praise and honor to the Father through Christ
who is the High Priest, with Christ who is really present in the sacrificial memorial, and
in Christ who gives himself in the Eucharist to the members of his body, and all this in
the unity of the Holy Spirit. (While the priest prays this final doxology, the paten and
chalice with the Body & Blood of Christ are elevated.) While the priest proclaims the
Eucharistic Prayer in the name of the people, the people confirm and approve this
action by their “Amen” given in energetic song or in a loud voice befitting of this primary
acclamation of the Eucharistic celebration.
After the Eucharistic Prayer comes the Communion Rite. “The rites of preparation for
Communion are a structural link between the Eucharistic Prayers and the reception of
the Eucharist. They are rites ‘by which the faithful are led directly to Communion’
(GIRM 80). Their purpose is to prepare the whole congregation for its participation in the
Lord’s Body and Blood.” (The Mystery of Faith, p. 90)
The first of these preparatory rites is the praying of the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father).
The Lord’s Prayer enjoys a unique place in Christian tradition, spirituality, and worship.
“In the Lord’s Prayer a petition is made for daily bread, which for Christians means
principally the Eucharistic Bread, and entreating also purification from sin, so that what
is holy may in truth be given to the holy. The Priest pronounces the invitation to the
prayer, and all the faithful say the prayer with him; then the Priest alone adds the
embolism [Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, . . . , as we await the blessed hope
and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.], which the people conclude by means of
the doxology [For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.].
The embolism, developing the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer itself, asks for
deliverance from the power of evil for the whole community of the faithful. “The
invitation, the Prayer itself, the embolism, and the doxology by which the people
conclude these things are sung or said aloud.” (GIRM 81)
This next segment in the series of “A Journey Through the Mass” may cause some
people to be upset as it regards a gesture that has become common practice for some,
and which they may have even been told to do by a priest. What is presented here
regarding the Mass is not a matter of my personal opinion, but what the Catholic Church
holds and teaches. If you disagree, or feel something is not correct, I ask and
encourage you to prayerfully investigate the official documents of the Catholic Church
(available on the web at www.vatican.va) before publicly expressing any misguided
discontent which may lead to confusion and upset of others, or for yourself.
While praying the “Our Father”, it is only the priest (and concelebrating priests, if
present) who extends his hands in the orans position (hands and arms outstretched). In
Catholic tradition and practice, in public liturgies the orans posture of prayer is reserved
for the priest. Even deacons (who are ordained into Holy Orders) do not extend their
hands in orans during Mass or other liturgies. The rubrics (instructions) of the Roman
Missal do not call for the people to extend their hands, and so they should not, in
imitation of the priest’s gesture. (This is particularly evident during the “Our Father”, but
also applies to other parts of the Mass and in other liturgies.) Also, during the embolism
following the Our Father (Deliver us, Lord …) only the main priest celebrant extends his
hands, even concelebrating priests do not.
The same can be said regarding the holding of hands during the Our Father. Some
people like to hold hands as a sign of unity, after all, we are praying to “Our” Father, not
“My”, Father. While it is true that we collectively pray to the Father, it is a prayer
directed to the Father, a vertical direction, not horizontally among ourselves. Holding
hands stresses the horizontal dimension. You may ask: what if we raised our held
hands up toward God? Well, again, the hands in a raised orans position is reserved for
the priest. Please remember, it is the role, or function, that the person has during
Mass that determines the words and gestures used, not the worthiness of the
person. (From the vantage point of a priest facing the people, sometimes people are so
busy gathering the hands of others around them that we are sometimes a third of the
way through the Our Father by the time their hands are all set. Where is their focus?)
Regarding the holding of hands as a sign of unity — the real sign of unity is Communion
to which these preparatory rites are leading us. Might those who are set on holding
hands with all those around them be jumping the gun? And, if unity is the key, then
should we not be holding hands throughout the entire Mass? Those old enough to
remember when holding hands during the Our Father began in the 1970’s and 1980’s,
might also remember how odd, and for some even uncomfortable, that was; maybe
because it was an uncalled for and unapproved innovation. (This does not mean that
spouses or families can’t spontaneously hold each other’s hand as a sign of affection,
but this should not be done with everyone in the assembly, and certainly not with raised
Regarding the rubrics of the Roman Missal, some may be thinking that since the rubrics
don’t specifically say the people can’t extend their hands, then they can use that
gesture. In the Missal, just because a rubric doesn’t say you can’t do something
doesn’t mean you can do it. The assumption is that you would not do something you
are not supposed to do in the first place. (This would be similar to a child saying to a
parent, “Well, you didn’t say I couldn’t do that”, when the “that” is something the
parent would never have expected their child would do.) Again, this is not about the
worthiness of the person, but of their liturgical role at Mass. In order to safeguard the
integrity of the Mass, what this comes down to is that no one, neither the priest nor the
people, should be using words or gestures which are not called for or allowed in the
Roman Missal.
It is strange that some people will do gestures that are not called for (e.g. crossing
themselves during the Penitential Act; or raising arms and/or holding hands), yet often
will not do gestures which the Church directs them to do (i.e. striking their breast at
the words “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” in the
Confiteor, or bowing at the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin
Mary, and became man” in the Creed). Some may be thinking “What’s the big deal?
Aren’t there bigger things to be concerned with?” In Luke 16:10, Jesus says: “Whoever
is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones”. Yes, there are many “big”
things to be concerned about in the Church. To help us be faithful in those larger
matters, let’s be faithful in these smaller ones — beginning now.
After praying the Lord’s Prayer, we share the Sign of Peace. The General Instruction of
the Roman Missal (GIRM) states:
There follows [after the Lord’s Prayer] the Rite of Peace, by which the Church
entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the
faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before
communicating in the Sacrament [i.e. receiving Holy Communion].
As for the actual sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by the
Conference of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples.
However, it is appropriate that each person, in sober manner, offer the sign of
peace only to those who are nearest. (GIRM 82) (underlining is my emphasis)
The Sign of Peace is both a call to reconciliation, unity, and communion, as well as a
seal that ratifies the very meaning of a people gathered for Eucharist who find and pray
for peace in one another. If we can’t express at least the hope for peace for those who
are at Mass with us, maybe we shouldn’t receive Communion.
After the sign of peace, comes the Fraction Rite (the breaking of the larger host). In
Luke’s Gospel there is the post-resurrection account of Jesus walking along the road to
Emmaus with two dejected disciples who didn’t recognize who Jesus was. (see Luke
24:13-35) While journeying with them he enlightened them regarding what referred to
him in the scriptures. When Jesus shared a meal with them, they finally recognized
Jesus and he vanished from their sight. The two disciples returning from Emmaus
recounted “how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” (Luke 24:35)
In fact, the Eucharist itself was once called “the breaking of the bread” (see Acts
2:42). Actually, a few things happen simultaneously or in very close succession, that it
is almost one action. As the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), is begun, the Priest alone, or
with the assistance of a deacon, breaks the Eucharistic bread (at least the larger host).
The gesture of breaking bread done by Christ at the Last Supper signifies that the many
faithful are made one body (1 Cor 10:17) by receiving Communion from the one Bread
of Life, which is Christ, who for the salvation of the world died and rose again. The
Priest breaks the Bread and puts a piece of the host into the chalice [aka: the
“commingling”] to signify the unity of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the work of
salvation, namely, the Body of Jesus Christ, living and glorious. The supplication Agnus
Dei (Lamb of God) is usually sung, or at least recited. There is a beautiful prayer that
the priest prays quietly as he puts the piece of the host into the chalice: May this
mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us
who receive it. (So, if you happen to receive the Precious Blood from the priest’s
chalice during Communion, and see a little piece of a host, it’s okay, it’s not backwash
— the priest put it there.)
It is ironic that the “breaking of the bread” — the tearing apart of the host — is
actually a sign of unity. It brings out “more clearly the force and importance of the sign
of unity of all in the one bread, and of the sign of charity by the fact that the one bread is
distributed among the brothers and sisters” (GIRM 321). Though there are many of us,
we become what we eat — the one Body of Christ.
After the Fraction Rite (breaking of bread), which is accompanied by the Agnus Dei
(Lamb of God), and the Commingling (placing part of the consecrated host into the
chalice with the Precious Blood), the “Priest prepares himself by a prayer, said quietly,
so that he may fruitfully receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The faithful do the same,
praying silently.” (GIRM 84) As the priest is praying this prayer, the faithful — at least in
parishes that have kneelers — kneel after the Agnus Dei. So, even if there is no
conscious prayer of preparation on the part of the people, the kneeling itself is
preparation to receive Christ’s Body and Blood. (As Catholics, we pray not just with
words, but with our actions as well, and using all of our senses. That’s one of the
wonderful things about being Catholic!)
Then what follows is the Invitation to Communion, the words of which are taken from
Scripture. After the priest prays his preparation prayer, he genuflects, and then shows
the Eucharistic bread to the people, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above
the chalice, as he says aloud: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes
away the sins of the world.” (The words John the Baptist said as Jesus approached
him. See John 1:29). Then the priest immediately adds: “Blessed are those called to
the supper of the Lamb.” (Words drawn from those of an angel in Revelation 19:9,
referring to the Mass — the Eucharist — as the wedding feast of the Lamb.) Then the
people, along with the priest, respond: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter
under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” (Derived from
the words spoken with humility by the centurion to Jesus in Matthew 8:8) While these
words of invitation and response are prayed, the people are invited to look at the
Eucharistic Bread and to express reverence, confidence, and faith.
We now come to the part of the Mass that is the real sign of unity — Holy Communion.
(The Body and Blood of Christ are distributed by ordinary ministers — bishops, priests,
deacons — if present and there are enough of them. For simplicity, what follows will
describe the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion—laity trained and
entrusted with this privilege—which is the case with most parishes in our diocese.)
Following the Invitation to Communion (“Behold the Lamb of God …” “Lord, I am not
worthy …”), the priest, and any concelebrants, receive Communion. “After the Priest
has concluded his own Communion, he distributes Communion to the extraordinary
ministers, and then hands the sacred vessels to them for distribution of Holy
Communion to the people.” (GIRM 38) “It is not permitted for the faithful to take the
consecrated Bread or the sacred chalice by themselves. The norm established for the
Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received
standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion
while kneeling. When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her
head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord
from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the
hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under
both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.”
(GIRM 160) When receiving Communion, the minister says “The Body of Christ” or
“The Blood of Christ”, depending on what form they are distributing, and the
communicant replies “Amen” (GIRM 161 & 286 respectively) [“Thank you”, “I believe”
or anything other than “Amen” are not proper responses.]
Regarding receiving the Body of Christ and/or the Precious Blood, “Holy Communion
has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form the
sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clearer expression is given
to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the
Lord,” (GIRM 281) That being said, “the Catholic faith teaches that Christ, whole and
entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under one species, and hence that as
regards the resulting fruits, those who receive under only one species are not deprived
of any grace that is necessary for salvation.” (GIRM 282) “It is the choice of the
communicant, not the minister, to receive from the chalice.” (GIRM 41)
Because Holy Communion is the sign of unity, those who are not in full communion with
the Catholic Church, either by profession of faith or by Catholics who have separated
themselves by their actions (i.e. serious sin), should not receive Holy Communion at
Mass. To ignore these differences would make Holy Communion a false sign of unity
— something we should never do. In the meantime, we hope and pray for the day
when all are living in full communion with the Catholic Church, so that we can share the
ultimate sign of unity — Holy Communion.
Before moving on, a few clarifications should be made in regard to some signs of
reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ. One is that of chewing gum during Mass—
that just should not be happening. It might help to think of it this way: if you were getting
married, hopefully with all of the dignity it deserves, would you want the members of
your wedding party standing up there chomping away? Or, if you were granted a
personal audience with the Pope or the President of the United States, would you greet
them chewing away on a piece of gum? (Hopefully the answer would be: “No, of course
not. That would be disrespectful.”) Then why would you think of being in the presence
of Jesus Christ mindlessly chewing away? But, I like chewing gum; and, it’s just a
nervous habit. So, start a new habit, stop chewing gum in church; and be a model of
appropriate behavior. (FYI: As a priest in the sanctuary looking out among the
assembly, it is disturbing to see how many people chew gum during Mass. I have heard
accounts of some people taking the gum out of their mouths to receive Holy
Communion — apparently as a sign of respect — then putting it right back in
Another clarification regards receiving Holy Communion in the hand. As noted earlier,
the “consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the
discretion of each communicant.” (GIRM 160) If choosing to receive the Body of Christ
in the hand, the communicant should place their hands, one on top of the other as a
throne, “as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care
that nothing is lost.” (GIRM 41) The communicant is not to pick the consecrated host
out of the hand of the Eucharistic minister presenting the Body of Christ. And, if you
receive the Body of Christ in the throne made by your hands, doesn’t it seem only
sensible that an effort would be made that this throne be clean? (Granted, some
people’s hands have work stains that just won’t come off, but others have dirty hands
that simply have not been washed.) The point is, we should be properly reverent and
prepared to receive the most Blessed Sacrament.
When the distribution of Holy Communion is over, any unconsumed Precious Blood is
consumed by the priest or assisting ministers, and any remaining consecrated hosts are
consumed, or gathered and placed in the Tabernacle, primarily for Communion to the
sick, the dying, and homebound, and secondarily, for adoration outside of Mass. Then
there is the functional task of the Purification of the Sacred Vessels. This is not a
thorough washing, but making sure none of the Precious Blood is left as residue in the
chalices, or particles of the Body of Christ are left in the ciboria; after all, we believe
Christ’s continued presence is in any of the unused Precious Blood and even in the
crumbs. (That’s why we treat them, and perform this action, with reverence.) “The
sacred vessels are purified by the Priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte after
Communion or after Mass, in so far as possible at the credence table.” (GIRM 279)
This is often done after Communion, since most parishes don’t have a deacon or
instituted acolyte to assist the priest, and the priest is usually busy after Mass greeting
people, or getting ready to move on to another Mass. (FYI: An instituted acolyte is one
of the steps on the way to holy orders, though the bishop may choose to “institute”
someone as an acolyte to help in a particular parish.)
“After this, the Priest may return to the chair. A sacred silence may now be observed
for some time, or a Psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may be sung.” (GIRM
164) They [the faithful] “may sit or kneel during the period of sacred silence after
Communion.” (GIRM 43) Private prayer after Communion has long been a
recommended practice. If you had been singing the song during the distribution of
Communion (and hopefully you were), take this time of sacred silence for your private
prayer. This is not so much a prayer of thanksgiving (that is the nature of the
Eucharistic Prayer); but a prayer asking for the spiritual effects or fruits of the Eucharist.
“To bring to completion the prayer of the People of God, and also to conclude the entire
Communion Rite, the Priest pronounces the Prayer after Communion, in which he prays
for the fruits of the mystery just celebrated. . .The people make the prayer their own by
means of the acclamation, Amen.” (GIRM 89) (This is similar to the Collect —aka, the
‘Opening Prayer’— near the beginning of Mass, when the priest first said “Let us pray.”
There was a period of silence, during which the priest prayed for the intention of that
Mass and the people pray for the intentions they bring to the Mass. The Collect
“collected” all these prayers together, and the people made it their own with the
acclamation, Amen.)
The Concluding Rites of Mass follow the Prayer after Communion. The General
Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM 90), states:
“To the Concluding Rites belong the following:
a) brief announcements, should they be necessary
b) the Priest’s Greeting and Blessing, which on certain days and occasions is
expanded and expressed by the Prayer over the People or another more solemn
c) the Dismissal of the people by the Deacon or the Priest, so that each may go back
to doing good works, praising and blessing God;
d) the kissing of the altar by the Priest and the Deacon,” followed by a genuflection at
the foot of the sanctuary (or a profound bow when appropriate) by the Priest, the
Deacon, and the other ministers.
Announcements should be short, necessary, and generally of concern to the whole
community. (The issue of announcements can be a contentious one, often involving
pastoral judgement in the face of the reality that many people do not read the bulletin.)
Since the ambo is reserved for the proclamation of God’s word, the announcements are
preferably given elsewhere.
The Greeting and Blessing is another dialogue prayer. The “Priest, extending his
hands, greets the people, saying, The Lord be with you. They reply, And with your spirit.
[Again, the rubrics only call for the priest to extend his hands, not the people when they
respond, since this is a priestly gesture only] The Priest, raises his right hand and adds,
May almighty God bless you and, as he makes the Sign of the Cross over the people,
he continues, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All reply, Amen.
“On certain days and occasions this blessing, in accordance with the rubrics, is
expanded and expressed by a Prayer over the People or another more solemn
formula.” (GIRM 167)
“Immediately after the Blessing, with hands joined, the Priest adds, Ite, missa est (Go
forth, the Mass is ended) [or another optional dismissal] and all reply, Thanks be to
God.” (GIRM 168) Thus, the people are sent forth to carry out the mission of the
Church, a mission of healing, justice, and evangelization.
“Then the Priest venerates the altar as usual with a kiss and, after making a
[genuflection (or a profound bow when appropriate)] with the lay ministers, he
withdraws with them.” (GIRM 169) [The kiss of farewell at the end of the celebration
mirrors the kiss of greeting at the beginning of Mass. Both gestures venerate the altar
as a symbol of Christ.]
A recessional song is ordinarily brief and well-known. Instrumental music, even silence,
especially on occasions of a penitential nature, may also be appropriate.
This journey through the Mass is ended. (Some of you may be thinking, “Thanks be to
God.”) Again, please note: what has been presented here regarding the Mass is not a
matter of personal opinion, but what the Catholic Church holds and teaches. If you
disagree, or feel something is not presented correctly, I ask and encourage you to
prayerfully investigate the official documents of the Catholic Church (available on the
web at www.vatican.va) before publicly expressing any misguided discontent which may
lead to confusion and upset of others, or for yourself.
I hope this “journey” has helped you to know and practice our Catholic faith more
authentically, and to pray the Mass in the way the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit,
wishes us to pray.

Fr. Joe Muszkiewicz