Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What do you do at "Mass"?

While we’re on our way to Mass, let me give you a “heads up” on what to expect. I’m explaining now, because during Mass I can’t. I’ll be focused on prayer, and can’t answer your questions satisfactorily. After Mass, we’ll go to Dunkin Donuts for coffee, and you can ask me anything you want.

Let’s go through the front door up the long, wide steps. I’ve heard that every church has five doors, for the five wounds of Christ, but my parish church has seven. It’s a nice symbolism, though.

Every Mass will have two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Word is first. Let’s choose a pew. Yes, that’s called a kneeler. We Catholics pray with our bodies. (Let me tell you about St. Dominic’s Nine Ways of Prayer, sometime.) We genuflect before entering the pew. Genuflecting is kneeling on one knee—as if you’re meeting Queen Elizabeth. However, when you genuflect to God, and we are, you kneel on the right knee. And when you meet the Queen, you genuflect on the left knee, because God is God, and she’s not.

The Mass begins with a Procession of altar servers, the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, the Lectors, and a priest will bring up the rear. One of the altar servers will carry the crucifix. He will lead. The others follow. You’ll see one person processing with a big book, held high. This book is God’s Word; called the Gospel. Without the Gospel we wouldn’t know that God sent His Son to us out of His love for us. It’s very important. In fact, you’ll see the priest kiss the Book of Gospels.

First, the Mass celebrant, the priest, will greet us. After the greeting comes the Penitential Rite. If we are sincere about worshipping our God, then we want to be worthy of Him. So we take a few moments to ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoing.

The Gloria is sung, next. No matter how beautiful the choir sings, or the congregation belts it out, nothing, (nothing!) can compare to the way my “cloistered brothers” do it. It really is a glorious affirmation of the wonder of God.

The Readings are next. Lay people read. One reading will be from the Old Testament, and one from the New Testament. That means one is from before Jesus was born, and one after. Between the two Readings a Psalm will be sung. The last part of the Liturgy of the Word will be the priest, or the deacon, reading a Gospel. (Watch him kiss the Book.) Then he will give a sermon, or a homily.

What can I tell you? Expect the worse; pray for the best. Priests are human. Some give good homilies. The homily should tie in all the Readings together into something that is relevant. I’m sure most homilies do. However, it’s the delivery that doesn’t get the message across. I think all priests should go to Toastmasters. I think they all should have yearly public speaker refresher courses. I think they should constantly strive to be better speakers. I’m not asking to be entertained. I’m asking for a homilist to deliver God’s message in a worthy manner.

Oh well…thank God for our ears to hear what He wants us to hear. I’ll try to listen better.

After the Gospel is proclaimed, we profess our faith with a prayer known as the Nicene Creed. This prayer is followed by the Lector asking us to pray for certain intentions.
When the Lector sits, you’ll notice the altar servers going back and forth with dishes, linens, and a book. You could think of this as the servers setting the table, with dishes, cups, napkins, and a book of recipes. We Catholics call this the preparation of the gifts. The book contains prayers, the dishes and cups are for the bread and wine. The linens will be used like napkins. People from the congregation will carry up to the priest, the bread, and the wine.


OK. The best is yet to come. The high point of this part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, is the Eucharistic Prayer, which is introduced by a Preface, and a prayer called the Sanctus. The priest is doing what he became a priest for. He is not acting as a mere human being; we Catholics believe that the priest, standing at the altar is Christ, Himself. This is known as in persona Christi capitis. This means that priests do not merely act in Christ’s place, or at his command; but are ordained, Christ, Himself. Christ acts through them.

We have many names for what the Mass celebrant is doing: the Sacrifice of the Mass, Holy Sacrifice, Holy Mass, the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of the Bread, the Eucharistic assembly, the Memorial of the Lord’s Passion, death, and Resurrection, the Holy and Divine Liturgy, the Sacred Mystery, Communion, Holy Communion. We have so many names and terms because this transsubstantiation of ordinary bread and wine into God, is so unfathomable, that we have difficulty giving it a name. Through the actions of the priest, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

That’s it. That’s the Sacred Mystery. This is what keeps me Catholic. My belief in this transsubstantiation keeps me Catholic. Thank you Jesus. It is a blessing.

The Eucharistic Prayer concludes with the Doxology, and then the Lord’s Prayer. The Doxology is praising the Trinity. The prayer will begin with “Through Him, with Him, and in Him…” and leads into the Lord ’s Prayer. Following is the Kiss of Peace. Now, you’re not politicking for Mayor, so just nod to those around you. Don’t glad hand everybody in the surrounding pews.

We will pray for peace, and the priest will break the bread, and afterwards, we faithful go up to receive these holy Gifts. Not you, not yet. It doesn’t mean to you, what it means for Catholics. So please don’t offend us by taking what we consider so sacred. It would be like giving a family heirloom to children, who don’t understand its value, to play with. If by the grace of God, you do become Catholic…well, then you’ll understand.

The Mass ends with meditation, thanksgiving, a concluding prayer, and a blessing by the priest.

Thanks be to God.

I’ll answer your questions in the next post.

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