THE MASS - About the words, the practices, the symbols and the images
An on-going series presented by Fr. Joe MacKenzie


i. The Mass ends with the Latin words “Ite missa est” which means “Go, it is sent” and the pronoun “it" refers to the Church. Mass is an English rendering of the term “missa” which means “dismissal,” and the celebration takes its name from the sending forth (the dismissal) that occurs at the end of Mass—“Go forth and proclaim the Word of the Lord.” There were 2 dismissals in the celebration of the Mass—one when catechumens were dismissed after the homily, and the other at the end.

ii. Any public acts that the Church celebrates, including the Mass, are referred to as “Liturgy.” The Mass of catechumens is now called the Liturgy of the Word, and the Mass of the Faithful is now called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Eucharist— a Greek word—means “thanksgiving.”


“The Sign of the Cross” is a manual recalling of your baptism. You were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Then the priest immersed you or poured water over you. Today when you enter the Church you bring the water to your body and once again claim that you are Christ’s by making His sign over your body with the waters of baptism. We must recall our baptism when we sign ourselves with the sign of the cross.


Other names for the Mass—(1.) “The Breaking of the Bread” refers to what Jesus did at the Last Supper and while on the road to Emmaus, and when He multiplied the loaves and fishes. (2.) “The Lord’s Supper” refers to the meal He shared with His apostles on the night before He died, when the Mass was instituted. (3.) “The Eucharist” refers to another central act that Jesus did before He broke bread—He gave thanks! (4.) “The Offering” refers to what Jesus did upon the cross when He offered Himself for our salvation, and what He did at the Last Supper when He offered His body and blood under the species of bread and wine. (5.) “The Holy Sacrifice” refers to the sacrifice of our Lord at Calvary, which the Mass makes present. (6.) “The Holy” refers to the activity of God in all that happens during the Mass.


The altar may resemble a table which calls to mind the “banquet” or it may resemble a tomb which would reflect the early Church’s practice of celebrating the Mass on the tombs of martyrs and calling to mind the entombment of the Lord, who died and was resurrected. The tabernacle is a “box” shaped in the form of a temple where the Blessed Sacrament is kept. The sanctuary lamp burns either near the tabernacle or hangs from the ceiling. The lit lamp indicates that the tabernacle contains the Blessed Sacrament.


The appropriate gesture before entering the pew (if the tabernacle which contains the Blessed Sacrament —the Real Presence of Jesus Christ—is at the front of the Church) is to genuflect toward our King, honouring Him, or a reverential bow, (profound or slight) while making the sign of the cross is also proper.


When one sings at Mass, one becomes more aware of the fact that he/she is a member of the Church community. The Mass is communal prayer and therefore we should all sing. The goal of the opening prayer is to bring the Body of Christ together, not to tear it asunder. While the gathering hymn is being sung those with an official ministry enter the Church in solemn procession. CCC #1140 “It is the whole community, the Body of Christ united with its Head that celebrates.” We give evidence of our love for God by raising our voices in song at the beginning of Mass.
St Jerome said, “He/She who sings prays twice.


Music is an integral part of every Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. We are invited to sing together: "The principal form of music in the liturgy is the song that arises from the entire assembly. By uniting their voices in a single song, the members of the assembly exercise the right and duty which is theirs by virtue of their baptism to participate fully, consciously and actively in the sacred liturgy of the Church.” "Two primary moments when the song of the assembly is required are during the entrance procession and during the communion procession. During the entrance procession, the song expresses the unity of the assembly gathered to give praise and thanks. During the communion procession, the song expresses the deep unity in Christ that is experienced in the act of sharing the sacrament of his Body and Blood." www.cccb.ca.


Relationship: By increasing our capacity to love we grow in holiness and we also grow in awareness of the fact that our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. By being members of the Church we are in fact the “Body of Christ,” and we are in relationship with the Father because we are His adopted children.


“The Procession” While the hymn is being sung, those with an official ministry enter the Church in solemn procession, and according to CCC #1140 —“It is the whole community, the Body of Christ, with its Head that celebrates the Mass.” In the early Church the people gathered outside and then all processed into the Church.


“The Bow and the Kiss” When the priest and the deacon arrive at the sanctuary steps they make a solemn bow to the altar and then they venerate the altar by kissing the altar. Remember the altar is a symbol of Christ within the Church building.


The priest and the entire congregation once again make the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross reminds us of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and how He died on the wood of the cross. It is a sign of God’s love for us, that while we were sinners, He sent His Son to save us from sin.


“The Greeting” is “The Lord be with you,” and our reply to the celebrant is “and with your spirit.” Why should a greeting of peace be the way that the Mass begins? At times we can be locked in our own “little room” with a thousand dreads; therefore, we should listen to the greeting of peace and accept it into the core of our being and respond to it. It is hard to accept peace in our heart when our heart is troubled.


“The Penitential Act” is a way of acknowledging our sins before entering into the Eucharist. Often before participating in a great work of the Lord, people cleansed themselves. In scripture we see that a servant of God might have fasted, journeyed into the wilderness to pray, or even had his lips cleansed with hot coals by an angel (Isaiah 6:6) to prepare him for his work for the Lord. Although fasting before Mass is still our practice today, properly conforming our heart and soul to Christ also requires contrition for our sins. Through the penitential act we fittingly offer contrition to God for our sins and prepare for our participation in the Divine Mystery of the Eucharist.


Striking our breast —At the words “through my fault” we strike our breast. Why? In the ancient world, striking one’s breast was a sign of mourning. At the death of Jesus, the Gospel of Luke recounts that the crowd returned to their homes “beating their breast” (Luke 23:48). We beat our breast as we declare our sinfulness in the Confiteor as did the tax collector when he said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13)


When we pray in the Mass we ask the angels and the saints to pray for us — we do not pray to them but we ask them to pray for us.
Kyrie —When praying the “Kyrie” [(Greek for “Lord”) “Eleison” for “have mercy”)] we are acknowledging that Jesus is Lord. At times in the history of the Mass the threefold repetition of “Lord, Have Mercy” has been a way of asking the Triune God for mercy. The 1st “Lord Have Mercy” refers to the Father; the “Christ Have Mercy” refers to the Son; and the final “Lord Have Mercy” refers to the Holy Spirit.”


Gloria (Latin for “glory”) in Excelsis — It is an ancient hymn in three parts. The 1st part is the song that the shepherds heard sung by the heavenly choir of angels at the birth of Christ. The 2nd part praises God by recalling some of His attributes. The 3rd part prays to Jesus, asking Him to save us from sins. The focus is turned to God in praise of Him sending His Son to save us.

Sometimes the Gloria is referred to as the great doxology—a word that means to give glory/praise/honour to someone. The prayer “Glory Be To the Father” is also a doxology. The Apostolic Constitution, a document that survived from A.D. 400, records the Gloria as a morning prayer in use already at the time. The Book of Revelation records that in Heaven they sing God’s praises day and night.


Oremus can be translated as “Let Us Pray”— or “Let Us Ask.” When Catholics pray they are requesting the saints to ask God for their intentions. The very act of petitioning God is 1st an act of faith that God is listening to us—He is present. The 2nd is an act of faith that He is able to fulfill our petition. The 3rd is an act of faith that He wishes to answer our plea(s). “Ask…seek…knock” (Luke 11:9-10).

Silence —It is a time for us to compose ourselves before God and to open our hearts to Him and His presence. Whatever is on our mind, we present to God. The presider will say a prayer that is meant “to collect” the prayers of the congregation and offer them to God the Father on our behalf.


The Collecta (Latin for Collect) —It is called the opening prayer because it takes all of the prayers that we have offered and formally presents them before God the Father, although there are occasions when the prayer is addressed to Jesus. There are four parts to the prayer: the calling upon God (Father/Son), the recalling of some deed that God has done a request, and finally the prayer. In conclusion we acknowledge that we make our prayer through Christ in the Holy Spirit.


At the closing of the Collect the congregation replies with an "Amen". It is our seal of approval, and it is a way of saying that we agree with the prayer. In Hebrew it signifies ‘so be it,’ but it can also mean ‘truly’ as when Jesus says, “Amen, amen I say to you…”


There are two major parts to the Mass – the Mass of Catechumens (Pre-Vatican II term) – now called Liturgy of the Word and the Mass of the Faithful which is now called Liturgy of the Eucharist. Catechumens would leave before the Creed was prayed because they had not reached the point of giving full assent to the faith. When we arrive at the Liturgy of the Word we listen attentively as a reader proclaims the sacred scriptures to us from the ambo/lectern.


Liturgical music notes: Music is an integral part of every Sunday celebration of the Eucharist, and we are invited to sing together. “The principal form of music in the liturgy is the song that arises from the entire assembly. By uniting their voices in a single song, the members of the assembly exercise the right and duty which is theirs by virtue of their baptism to participate fully, consciously and actively in the sacred liturgy of the Church.” Two primary moments when the song of the assembly is required are during the entrance procession and during the communion procession. During the entrance procession, the song expresses the unity of the assembly gathered to give praise and thanks. During the communion procession, the song expresses the deep unity in Christ that is experienced in the act of sharing the sacrament of His Body and Blood.


The Ambo – the pulpit or lectern from which the readings are proclaimed is called the “ambo”. Usually this is made in a design similar to the altar, so that the readings might be proclaimed from a dignified spot. The Lectionary – a sacred book containing readings from the Holy Bible arranged in segments. The Book of Gospels – a sacred book containing the Sunday Masses and other solemnities of the Church calendar such as Christmas.


Most of the prayers and responses of the Mass are taken directly from Sacred Scripture. There is never a celebration of the Mass in which the Bible is not read, and the readings we hear in the Liturgy of the Word are all from the Bible.


The first reading is always from the Old Testament (OT) except during the Easter season. When our Lord taught the apostles all that Sacred Scripture (SS) had taught about Him, He was referring to the OT. The term “Testament” is another name for “Covenant” a term coined by Jesus. Later Christians referred to SS that existed before Jesus as the OT, and sacred writings that existed after Him as the NT. The OT prophesises are unlocked in the NT, and Jesus is the fulfillment of what had been written in the OT. The 1st reading is chosen because it somehow relates to the Gospel reading, except during the Easter season. Beginning with Easter Sunday the 1st reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, and it so continues until Pentecost Sunday. At the end of the 1st reading the reader says, “The Word of the Lord,” and our response is, “Thanks be to God,” and we rejoice because of the grace of Jesus Christ.


The Book of Psalms found in the OT is a collection of poems, hymns, and prayers. Jesus quotes from the Book of Psalms more than from any other book of SS. Jesus told His disciples that the Psalms referred to Him (Luke 24:44-45). When we pray the Psalms we do so mindful that we belong to Christ. The Psalm is a response to the 1st reading and relates to some aspect of it. We respond to the Psalm with the response of the day — usually the 1st line of the Psalm.


The second reading is always from the New Testament and, unlike the 1st reading and the Responsorial psalm, it is not in concert with the Gospel reading each Sunday, but rather is a continuation of the previous Sunday’s reading.


When the Gospel is being proclaimed we stand in great solemnity, beginning with the singing of the Alleluia verse.  The minister of the Gospel moves towards the ambo joined by two candle bearers called “acolytes” (a Greek word that means attendants,”) and another acolyte who bears the incense (in Masses during which incense is being used.) As we sing the Alleluia the Gospel is held aloft and carried in procession to the ambo. During the Lenten season the Alleluia is not sung or said, but unlike the Gloria, which is omitted during Advent and Lent, the Alleluia is replaced with another verse that gives praise to the Lord.  On Easter Sunday the Alleluia returns to the Mass with great solemnity.


If the Book of Gospels is used, then the book is incensed. Incense is a unique way of showing that something is sacred and worthy of being treated in a special manner. The minister of the Gospel (deacon or priest) then makes the sign of the cross on the Gospel Reading and then all trace the sign of the cross (with the thumb) on their forehead, lips, and heart while saying, “May the Lord purify my understanding, my speech, and my heart, so that I may receive the words of the Gospel.”


The first homily recorded in SS is the one Peter preached to the crowd on the day of Pentecost. Peter in his homily gives witness to the power of God working in their midst. Homilies should whet our appetite to receive the Eucharist, and enkindle in us a desire to be moved to a deeper relationship with God – that is – provided that we expect God will speak to us. Our attitude has a lot to do with whether we are being “fed” at Mass. Remember: The scriptures are the Word of God, and they should take root in fertile soil (us). Think about what has been heard and either then or hopefully later on SS should open for us.


RCIA candidates ~ After the homily, catechumens and candidates for full communion are “dismissed” for further instruction. A catechumen is someone who has not yet been baptized a Christian, and the candidate for full communion is a baptized Christian who is not Catholic. Candidates for full communion are confirmed and receive their First Holy Communion at the end of the RCIA instructional process; whereas, catechumens will be baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist at the end of their RCIA formation. Both groups journey in faith so that they can learn more about Christ in order to fully embrace the Catholic faith. Reflection: How well are we living out our baptism and continuing to grow in our relationship with Christ?


The Creed is a prayer composed at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 in response to supposed Christian teachings of the time (the Arian heresy). The Bishops composed a summary of what Christians truly believed – a creed (from the Latin word, Credo [I believe]). In the Eastern and Orthodox churches, the creed was inserted into the Mass soon after the Council of Nicea, because the Arian heresy had hit that region of the Church hard, but in the Western Church it was used in baptismal preparation, but not in the Mass until the eleventh century.


Liturgical practices for bowing—At the name of Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the feast of the Saint who is being celebrated that particular day a slight bow of the head is in order. A bow is also extended to the altar, by the reader before entrance to the sanctuary floor. A solemn bow is done when bowing toward the altar, during the Creed, and before receiving communion.


The response to the Prayers of the Faithful/ Intentions/ Petitions is —“Lord, hear our prayer.” These prayers bring to mind the last part of the Creed. Our membership in the Body of Christ is not a local or national membership, but rather one that extends across the world. Usually the Prayers of the Faithful follow this order:
1. prayers for the universal Church, the pope, and the bishops;
2. prayers for the salvation of the world and those who govern it;
3. prayers for the afflicted; and
4. prayers for the needs of the local church.
The General Instructions for the Roman Missal (the official guidebook of the Mass) says that in the Prayers of the Faithful, lay people exercise their priestly role in interceding for all of humanity.


Liturgy of the Eucharist (Giving thanks): Now we prepare to join our sacrifice with the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ that is offered at Mass. Our Lord instructed His apostles to, do this in commemoration of Him. The bread is brought to the altar and the priest says the “blessing” over it.


The Collection: In the early Church people would bring the bread and the wine from their homes to the presider (priest) during Mass. One way we offer some part of ourselves in the Mass is by giving in the offertory collection. Giving in the collection is a symbolic but very real way of dying to ourselves because it proclaims that our faith is in God, and not in our material wealth.


Preparation of the Altar: During the collection the altar is prepared. The altar is the center of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in the same way that the ambo was the center of the Liturgy of the Word. A corporal, purificator, Sacramentary , paten, and chalice are all placed on the altar.
Corporal —a square linen cloth upon which the chalice and paten rest.
Purificator—a linen cloth used to clean the chalice.
Sacramentary—the book that contains the various prayers prayed at Mass.
Paten—a sacred plate upon which the bread to be consecrated is placed.
Chalice—a sacred cup used to hold the water and wine that will be consecrated at Mass.


The Procession of the Gifts and the Hymn: A hymn is sung while the altar is being prepared and while the gifts are assembled. The gifts are the bread and the wine to be used at Mass as well as our financial contributions. The gifts represent us, and the people who bring them to the altar are asking the presider to take these gifts and offer them to God in our name. It is important to note that the presider is praying the prayers for all of us who are offering this Mass to God with him.

The presider’s prayer over the water and wine is said when the gifts come to the altar. His prayer requests that we, who participate in the Mass, may come to share in the divinity of Christ (symbolized by the wine) who humbled Himself to share in our humanity (symbolized by the drop of water). If the prayers are said aloud, we respond, at their conclusion, with – “Blessed be God forever.”


Hand Washing: The priest says two silent prayers, but with the use of microphones most people have heard the prayers prayed at Mass. The first is a prayer of contrition; whereas, the second prayer accompanies the “washing of the hands.” This prayer usually calls to mind the Passion of our Lord and the act of Pontius Pilate before the crowd, but it is more an act of ritualizing Psalm 51. The priest silently says, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin!”—Psalm 51:2


Intentions: What if the Mass has an intention? Since most Masses are said for a specific intention, does that mean that the benefit of the Mass goes only to that intention? The answer is no - every Mass benefits those in attendance and the entire Church, as well as the person or group who has requested the special intention.


The Eucharistic Prayer(s): the heart of the Mass, and in Greek it is called anaphora. In our Roman Missal there are 4 Eucharistic prayers. All have a common form—the Preface which includes: the Sanctus (The Holy, Holy, Holy…), the epiclesis, the institutional narrative, the anamnesis, the intercessions, and the great doxology. Note: The Sanctus is a Latin word for “holy.” In the institutional narrative (the consecration) the bread and wine are changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Preface goes back to the early Church when the early Church was a sect of Judaism, and the Preface was prayed every morning in the synagogue. In the 4c. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Lectures, explains how the prayer prepares us for the rest of the Eucharistic prayer.


Lift up your hearts: When the priest prays this prayer, we are to lift our hearts to the Lord and not focus our gaze on earthly things. When we respond, “We have lifted them up to the Lord,” we are stating our agreement to the direction. For this prayer we must set aside all our concerns and focus on God intensely. We then give thanks to God for all He has done for us. The Preface builds up with a joining of all the heavenly hosts.


Intercessions: The members of the Church are in this prayer; some by name—the pope, the bishop of the diocese—are remembered in this prayer. In Eucharistic Prayer One there are two places where people silently remember those for whom they wish to pray. The 1st time occurs before the consecration and the prayer is for those who are living, and the 2nd time is after the consecration and it is prayed for those who have died.


The Great Doxology: A doxology is a Greek word that means “a word of praise.” Most doxologies are short hymns of praise to God in various Christian worship services, often added to the end of canticles, psalms, and hymns.
The Great Amen: It is so important because the prayer that has both made our Lord present and at the same time offered Him in sacrifice to the Father is so great. Every Eucharistic prayer ends with a great doxology singing praise to God. The priest raises the Body and Blood of Christ, presenting them to the Father as he says or sings that “it is through Him, with Him, and in Him.” The “Him” is Jesus, now presented in the consecrated bread and wine. God the Father is offered the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.


The Our Father was prayed by the early Christians of the 2c three times daily as instructed in the Didache. In the petitions that make up the Our Father, we are praying that all obstacles be removed from our lives so that we might have perfect communion with God and with our brothers and sisters. The prayer is also found in the document the Didache, A.D. 110, and in the Gospel of Matthew.

Grant Us Peace: this prayer reflects our need to be reconciled with one another. Being in communion with the Lord means that we accept Jesus, we accept the teachings of the Church, and we are at peace with our brothers and sisters. We cannot be in communion with Jesus if we are not at peace with our brothers and sisters.

My Peace I Give You! The priest offers us the freely given peace of Christ. This peace is stated in Matthew 5:23-24; 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and Romans 16:16; and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. The sharing of the sign of peace must be peaceful while respecting people’s boundaries.


The Breaking of the Bread: Jesus took the bread, gave thanks (blessed), broke it, and gave it to His disciples. In the early Church, one loaf of unleavened bread was broken, and all partook, and while the Eucharistic bread was being broken the Lamb of God was sung or spoken. In the early Church, the Lamb of God was repeated as long as the bread was being broken. Some people beat their breast while this prayer was said, but in the new rite of the Mass (in the 1960’s) this action does not have to be done.

By This Mingling: The priest will break of a small piece of the Eucharist and drop it into the chalice that contains the precious blood (called co-mingling) while he says a prayer silently. This act is rich in symbolism. The Mingling symbolizes the Resurrection of the Lord. At the consecration the Lord came to the bread and wine separately—symbolic of His death on the cross. Now the two are joined.


Preparation to Receive the Eucharist: We should examine our conscience to make sure that we are truly ready to receive Jesus. We must be in a state of grace, and thus not conscious of any unconfessed grave sin.

Receiving the Eucharist: We can receive the Eucharist on the tongue or in the hand. We should place our right hand on top of our left hand so that a throne can be made to receive the King. When receiving the Eucharistic we should ask God to fill us with His graces so that we can do His will.


Concluding Prayer: The priest and the people give thanks to God for what we have received in today’s Eucharist. By answering this prayer with “Amen” we are making it our own.

Final Blessing: We should bow our heads and bless our selves as the priest asks God to bestow His blessing on us.

Go In Peace: The wording of the celebrant is informing us that the Mass is over and that we should go in peace and proclaim the Word of the Lord. The Mass receives its name from the concluding statement of the priest or the deacon: “Ite missa est,” is a Latin phrase that literally means “Go you are dismissed,” or “Go you are sent.” The fact is the Mass takes its name from this final act of the Eucharistic celebration. We are being sent on a mission.

The Closing Procession: At the end of Mass the priest will go to the altar and kiss the altar. The ministers of the liturgy, minus the Book of the Gospels, now exit the Church. When leaving the parking lot we must be mindful of Jesus’ presence within us.


The Church's liturgical norms do prescribe specific vestment colours for various celebrations. The purpose of utilizing different colours for vestments is twofold: first, the colours highlight the particular liturgical season and the faithful's journey through these seasons. Second, the colours punctuate the liturgical season by highlighting a particular event or a particular mystery of faith. The following explanation is based on the norms of The General Instruction on the Roman Missal—GIRM.

White/cream or gold, a colour symbolizing rejoicing and purity of soul, is worn during the liturgical seasons of Christmas and Easter. White vestments are also used for feasts of our Lord (except those pertaining to His passion), the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels, and the saints who were not martyrs. White vestments are also worn on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, and the Feasts of All Saints, St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, the Chair of St. Peter, and the Conversion of St. Paul. White may also be used for Masses of Christian Burial and Masses for the Dead to signify the resurrection of our Lord, when He triumphed over sin and death, sorrow and darkness.


The Church’s liturgical calendar is a graphical representation of the seasons of the church. It details the segments of the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. The Catholic liturgical calendar marks days and seasons that are significant in the Catholic Faith. It begins at the beginning of December, or end of November, and ends on the feast of Christ the King. The calendar also instructs followers about which readings to use for each day. The Liturgical calendar lists the feasts, memorials and solemnities each week. A small colored cross shows which vestments to use for each day. The liturgical calendar had a cycle of three years. During the first cycle, Matthew is the primary source of readings. The second cycle uses Mark, while in the third cycle Luke is used. In addition to the universal liturgical calendar, churches may use regional or national liturgical calendars. These calendars incorporate holidays celebrated in specific areas of the world or regional saints.




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