This overview of the Sunday Mass is to update what a lot of us learned as children and what has become part of what we do. This is one of the basic characteristics of ritual, that we do the same thing so often that our response is automatic. When the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” without any thought or hesitation we respond, “And with your Spirit.” When the priest says, “Let us pray,” we all stand up.
This commentary, on behalf of the Parish Adult Education Ministry, is to explain the main parts of the Sunday Mass so we can take a greater, more informed part in the ceremony.
A good way to describe the Mass is to say that it is Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday made present today in ritual. This ritual will follow the usual practice for those who gather for a meal. This means the four main parts of the Mass are:
1) gathering, 2) storytelling, 3) meal sharing and 4) commissioning.
Part 1: GATHERING
Even before Mass starts we perform Gathering Rites. These include the greeters at the front door, making the sign of the Cross (which reminds us of Baptism), genuflecting or bowing to the altar to show our reverence and respect for the presence of Christ in the tabernacle before entering the pew.
When the Mass begins everyone stands up. Standing is the traditional way Christians prayed. Often we begin by singing together. St Augustine said: When we sing we pray twice, so please stand and join in our Entrance Hymn.
The priest will ask us to begin with the sign of the cross, reminding us of Baptism, and will greet us, saying, “The Lord be with you.” This is both a wish (may the Lord be with you) and a profound statement of faith (as we assemble for worship, the Lord is with you). lt is an ancient biblical greeting. The ritual response to this greeting is always the formula, “And with your spirit,” by which we return the hello, the good wishes, the statement of faith.
Penitential Rite, Gloria
The Penitential Rite asks us to pause and remember our common need for salvation. During Lent we don’t sing the hymn of praise during Mass that we know as the Gloria.
At the close of this first part of the Mass the priest will ask us to join our minds in prayer, and after a few moments of silence he will collect our intentions into one prayer to which we all respond “Amen,” a Hebrew word for “So be it. ”
Part 2: STORY TELLING
Liturgy of the Word
ln today’s Mass there are three readings from the Bible. The first reading will be from the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. lt will relate to the Gospel and will give background and an insight into the meaning of what Jesus will do in the Gospel. Then we will sing or recite a psalm. The second reading will usually be from one of the letters to the early Christians. The third reading will be taken from one of the four Gospels.
We stand to listen to the Gospel because of the unique presence of Christ in its proclamation. The priest again greets us with “The Lord be with you” and then introduces the Gospel reading while marking a small cross on his forehead, lips and heart with his thumb while praying silently that God cleans his mind and his heart so that his lips may worthily proclaim the Gospel. We attendees also make a small cross with our thumb on our forehead, our lips and on our chest to signify our desire that the word of God that we are about to hear will be on our mind, our lips & in our heart. The Gospel reading concludes with the ritual formula “The Gospel of the Lord” and we respond, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,” again proclaiming our faith in the presence of Christ in the Word.
The homily takes what we’ve just heard in the Readings and brings it to our life situation today.
After the homily we stand and together recite the creed. The creed is a statement of our faith in the Word we have heard proclaimed in the Scripture and the homily and a profession of the faith that leads us to give our lives for one another as Christ gave his life for us.
The Liturgy of the Word (our “storytelling” part of the Mass) comes to an end with the Prayers of the Faithful. Our intercessions usually include the Church, nations and their leaders, people in special need and the local needs of our parish.
Part 3: MEAL SHARING
After the readings, we move to the table, the altar. As at a meal in the home of a friend, we 1) set the table, 2) say grace and 3) share the food (we eat and drink). At Mass these ritual actions are called 1) the Preparation of the Gifts, 2) the Eucharistic Prayer,3) the Communion Rite.
The Preparation of the Gifts
The early Christians each brought some bread and wine from their homes to the church to be used for the Mass and to be given to the clergy and the poor. Today a similar offering for the parish and the poor is made with our monetary contributions. Members of the parish will take up a collection and bring it to the priest at the altar with the bread and wine. The priest places the bread and wine on the table. He then mixes water with the wine and washes his hands to help us think of the Last Supper. (Mixing water with wine and washing hands are things all Jews did at meals in Jesus” day.) Finally, he invites us to pray that the sacrifice be acceptable to God. We respond “Amen” to the Prayer Over the Gifts and stand to participate in the central prayer of the Mass.
The Eucharistic Prayer
The Eucharistic Prayer brings us to the very centre of the Mass and the heart of our faith. While the words of the prayer may vary from Sunday to Sunday, the prayer always has this structure: 1) We ask God to remember all the wonderful saving, deeds of our history. 2) We recall the central event in our history, Jesus Christ, and in particular the memorial he left us on the night before he died. We recall his passion, death and resurrection. 3) After gratefully calling to mind all the wonderful saving acts God has done for us in the past, we petition God to continue those deeds of Christ in the present: We pray that we may become one body, one spirit in Christ.
The lnvitation prayer begins with a dialogue when the priest greets us with “The Lord be,with you.” He then asks if we are ready and willing to approach the table and to renew our baptismal commitment, offering ourselves to God: “Lift up your heafts.” And we say that we are prepared to do so: “We lift them up to the Lord.” We are . invited to give thanks to the Lord our God. And we respond: “lt is right and just.”
To “give thanks” translates the traditional Greek verb which now names the whole action: Eucharist.
Preface and Acclamation. The Preface is a prayer which prepares us to come before the face of God and speak of how wonderful God has been to us. We acclaim our God by saying “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts. / Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
The prayer Continues, giving praise and thanks, and calling upon the Holy Spirit to change our gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Consecration. At this important moment in the prayer, we proclaim the mystery of faith.
Prayer for unity and intercessions. When we say Amen at the end of this prayer we are indicating our participation in the entire Eucharistic Prayer.
The Communion Rite
Our Father and Sign of Peace. We prepare to share the meal with the Our Father, the prayer taught to us by Jesus. Keenly aware that communion (the word means “union with”) is the sign and source of our reconciliation and union with God and with one another; we make a gesture of union and forgiveness with those around us and offer them a sign of peace.
The priest then shows us the Body of Christ and invites us to come to the table and we approach the altar to receive communion.
After we receive communion we pray silently, thanking and praising God and asking for all that this sacrament promises. The priest unites our prayers in the Prayer After Communion, to which we respond, “Amen.”
Part 4: The Commissioning
In the final part of Mass we prepare to go back to that world in which we will live for the coming week strengthened by this Eucharist and this community. The announcements that are such a part of our Mass here at St Patrick’s remind us of important activities that are happening in the Parish. Then The priest will say, “The Lord be with you”-the ritual phrase is now a farewell.
The final part of the Mass is the Blessing and Dismissal. We bow our heads to receive a blessing and make the sign of the cross. The priest or deacon then dismisses the assembly: “Go in peace.” And we give our liturgical “yes” by saying, “Thanks be to God”