Note: This is the third installment of a series Fr. Joe is writing on the history of the Mass and what's going on when we do what we do as Catholics. Some of these things you will already know. Some will be new. We invite you to read all of them, because, even if you have heard them before, it's a good refresher as we start a new liturgical year. These will be posted and archived here.
When the time has come for Mass to begin, we, at Saint Rose, hear the Entrance Antiphon from the Missal then participate in the entrance chant or hymn. The entrance procession is led by the cross since Jesus is meant to lead all Christians through life. If we use incense at the Mass, the incense prepares the way for Jesus by going before him. Usually, there will be two candles flanking the processional crucifix symbolizing Christ as the light of the world. The other ministers who are to serve at the altar follow the Crucifix.
The deacon enters next, carrying the Book of the Gospels. No other book in Christian tradition holds the same honor as the Gospels, the texts that are the very words and actions of our Lord and Savior. Finally, the priest who is to celebrate the Mass enters. As each person approaches the sanctuary, he genuflects to the tabernacle (or bows to the altar if no tabernacle is present in the sanctuary). You will notice that, after this, all reverences during the Mass are made to the altar in the form of a bow rather than to the tabernacle. That is because, once the ministers enter the sanctuary and the Mass begins, our focus shifts to the altar where the sacrifice of Christ is to be made present. The priest and deacon kiss the altar to show reverence for the sacrifice to take place there and prepare for the Introductory Rites of the Mass. If incense is being used at the Mass, the priest will usually incense the altar, now, too. As he passes in front of the crucifix in front of the altar, he will stop and incense the crucifix.
The priest begins the Mass with the sign of the cross. As Christians, everything we do is under the sign of the cross. The priest will then greet the gathered congregation with one of the formulas inspired by the greetings in Paul's letters (see 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; 2 Thes 1:2 and more). The people respond "And with your spirit." You might remember that the English version of this response was changed in 2011 with the revised translation of the Roman Missal. This wording more closely follows the Latin from which it comes, and it is meant to acknowledge the priest as filling his role in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the head). The greeting is far more thanthe priest and the people saying, "hi." It is, itself, a liturgical act.
Then, the priest will call on those gathered to acknowledge their sins "and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries." We all must remember that no one is worthy to stand at God's altar. It is because of his infinite mercy and love that he invites us to do so. We then perform one of three options for a penitential act. After that, the priest gives an absolution. This absolution servesto forgive venial sins (we still must go to confession for mortal sins).
After the Penitential Act, on feast days, solemnities, and Sundays (except in Advent and Lent) we sing the Gloria. The Gloria originally made its way into the Mass of the Nativity (Christmas) under Pope Telesphorus (r. 125-136), the eighth pope. This hymn echoes the hymn sung by the angels after the birth of Christ was announced to the shepherds (Luke 2:14).
Finally, the priest invites all to pray and, after a brief silence, he says the Collect, the opening prayer. This moment of silence is not just a pause for the priest to find his place or for the altar server to arrive with the book. Rather, it is our chance to all bring our intentions and prayers to mind and offer them to God. After the Collect, everyone sits to hear the Word of God.
Throughout these articles, I will cite a few different Church documents. I will do my best to let you know what those documents are, but I will be using the commonly used abbreviations for each. CCC - Catechism of the Catholic Church GIRM - General Instruction of the Roman Missal (This is the document that gives us instructions for how to say the Mass).BACK TO LIST