Catholic Classroom: Understanding the Mass
Question: What do we do at Mass?
Last week, we talked about the reasons we go to Mass every week. This week, we will explore what we actually do at Mass by looking at four main components. The four parts combine to form the Mass, which Blessed Pope Paul VI called “the most perfect form of prayer.”
1. Introductory Rites
The Introductory Rites mark the beginning of the Mass. After the entrance hymn, everyone begins the Mass with the sign of the cross. Then, the priest greets the congregation and invites everyone to gather together with the Penitential Rite and the Gloria. Finally, he offers an opening prayer known as the collect. These Introductory Rites help us to enter the right frame of mind to fully participate in the Mass, to recall God’s goodness, and to join together as the Body of Christ.
2. Liturgy of the Word
Following the Introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word begins. During this part of the Mass, we listen to God’s Word in sacred Scripture. As Catholics, we believe that Scripture is inspired and that God is present in his Word, and so the reading of Scripture at Mass is very important. On Sundays, we have three readings: one from the Old Testament (or from the Acts of the Apostles, during the Easter season), one from the apostolic letters or writings of the New Testament, and one from the four Gospels. In addition, we sing or recite a psalm and a Gospel acclamation. The readings relate in particular ways to one another, and they follow a cycle based on the liturgical calendar.
After the readings, the celebrant gives a homily that helps connect the readings to our lives today. The homily is followed by the recitation of the Creed, in which we affirm our beliefs, and by the offering of prayer intentions.
3. Liturgy of the Eucharist
Once we have listened to the Word, we prepare to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324). This begins with the preparation of the gifts, during which the bread and wine are offered and the priest prepares the altar. Following this is the Eucharistic Prayer, which includes a prayer of thanksgiving and the consecration of the bread and wine. During this prayer, the priest acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) and asks God to send the Holy Spirit so that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.
After the Eucharistic Prayer, the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer and exchanges a sign of peace. Then, the Agnus Dei is recited or sung as the priest breaks the consecrated bread. The celebrant then receives Communion. The celebrant, along with the Eucharistic ministers, distributes Communion to the congregation while a hymn is sung and communicants offer a silent prayer. The Liturgy of the Eucharist ends with the Prayer After Communion.
4. Concluding Rites
If there are any announcements, such as parish events, they are made at this time. Then, the priest offers a final blessing and a dismissal, sending the people forth to do God’s work.
The Mass is a beautiful prayer in which we remember and re-present the eternal sacrifice of Jesus. By breaking bread with one another and following Jesus' command to "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19), we give thanks, enter into communion with one another, and build up the Body of Christ.