THE STRUCTURE AND MEANING OF THE MASS (PART I)-Source: USCCB, Submitted by Fr Ed Fialkowski, Pastor
The Mass begins with the entrance song. The celebrant and other ministers enter in procession and reverence the altar with a bow and/or a kiss. The altar is a symbol of Christ at the heart of the assembly and so deserves this special reverence.
All make the Sign of the Cross and the celebrant extends a greeting to the gathered people in words taken from Scripture.
The Act of Penitence follows the greeting. At the very beginning of the Mass, the faithful recall their sins and place their trust in God’s abiding mercy. The Act of Penitence includes the Kyrie Eleison, a Greek phrase meaning, “Lord, have mercy.” This litany recalls God’s merciful actions throughout history. On Sundays, especially in the Season of Easter, in place of the customary Act of Penitence, from time to time the blessing and sprinkling of water to recall Baptism may take place.
On Sundays and solemnities, the Gloria follows the Act of Penitence. The Gloria begins by echoing the song of the angels at the birth of Christ: “Glory to God in the highest!” In this ancient hymn, the gathered assembly joins the heavenly choirs in offering praise and adoration to the Father and Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
The Introductory Rites conclude with the Opening Prayer, also called the Collect. The celebrant invites the gathered assembly to pray and, after a brief silence, proclaims the prayer of the day. The Opening Prayer gives a context for the celebration.
Liturgy of the Word
Most of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of readings from Scripture. On Sundays and solemnities, there are three Scripture readings. During most of the year, the first reading is from the Old Testament and the second reading is from one of the New Testament letters. During the Easter season, the first reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles which tells the story of the Church in its earliest days. The last reading is always taken from one of the four Gospels.
In the Liturgy of the Word, the Church feeds the people of God from the table of his Word (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 51). The Scriptures are the word of God, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the Scriptures, God speaks to us, leading us along the path to salvation.
The Responsorial Psalm is sung between the readings. The psalm helps us to meditate on the word of God.
The high point of the Liturgy of the Word is the reading of the Gospel. Because the Gospels tell of the life, ministry, and preaching of Christ, it receives several special signs of honor and reverence. The gathered assembly stands to hear the Gospel and it is introduced by an acclamation of praise. During most of the year, that acclamation is “Alleluia!” derived from a Hebrew phrase meaning “Praise the Lord!” A deacon (or, if no deacon is present, a priest) reads the Gospel.
After the Scripture readings, the celebrant preaches the homily. In the homily, the preacher focuses on the Scripture texts or some other texts from the liturgy, drawing from them lessons that may help us to live better lives, more faithful to Christ’s call to grow in holiness.
In many Masses, the Nicene Creed follows the homily. The Nicene Creed is a statement of faith dating from the fourth century. In certain instances, the Nicene Creed may be replaced by the Apostles’ Creed (the ancient baptismal creed of the Church in Rome) or by a renewal of baptismal promises, based on the Apostles’ Creed.
The Liturgy of the Word concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful or the General Intercessions. The gathered assembly intercedes with God on behalf of the Church, the world, and themselves, entrusting their needs to the faithful and loving God.
(continued next week with the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Concluding Rite)