The Structure of the Mass

What is the Mass?

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council brought together three mysteries in a multifaceted description of the Mass: "At the Last Supper, on the night when he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of his body and blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until he should come again and in this way to entrust to his beloved Bride, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet 'in which Christ is eaten, the heart is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us'" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #42).
This "walk-through" explanation of the Mass will shed light on why we do what we do at Mass. On our walk through the Mass we will follow this same map:
order of mass
PART I: COME Coming together, assembling, is at the heart of our Sunday worship. The reason behind each of the ritual actions of the first part of the Mass can be found in this word: gathering. The purpose of these rites is to bring us together into one body, ready to listen and to break bread together.
THE ENTRANCE
After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers (GIRM #47).
GREETING
When the Entrance chant is concluded, the priest stands at the chair and, together with the whole gathering, makes the Sign of the Cross. Then he signifies the presence of the Lord to the community gathered there by means of the Greeting. By this Greeting and the people's response, the mystery of the Church gathered together is made manifest (GIRM #50).
It is an ancient biblical greeting: Boaz returned from Bethlehem (we read in the Book of Ruth 2:4) and said to the reapers, "The Lord be with you!" The ritual response to this greeting is always the formula, "And also with you," by which we return the hello, the good wishes, the statement of faith.
THE ACT OF PENITENCE
Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the priest's absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance. 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 (GIRM #51).
THE KYRIE ELEISON
After the Act of Penitence, the Kyrie is always begun, unless it has already been included as part of the Act of Penitence. Since it is a chant by which the faithful acclaim the Lord and implore his mercy, it is ordinarily done by all, that is, by the people and with the choir or cantor having a part in it (GIRM #52).
THE GLORIA
The Gloria is a very ancient and venerable hymn in which the Church, gathered together in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other text. The Gloria is intoned by the priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by all together or by two parts of the congregation responding one to the other. (GIRM #53).
THE COLLECT or OPENING PRAYER
The priest invites the people to pray. The priest says the prayer which is customarily known as the Collect and through which the character of the celebration is expressed. In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, the collect prayer is usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and is concluded with a Trinitarian.
The assembly respond "Amen," a Hebrew word for "So be it."
PART II: LISTEN The main part of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of the readings from Sacred Scripture together with the chants occurring between them. The homily, Profession of Faith, and Prayer of the Faithful, however, develop and conclude this part of the Mass.
SILENCE
Silence is a part of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation, and so any sort of haste that hinders recollection must clearly be avoided.
THE BIBLICAL READINGS
On Sundays, there are three biblical readings: One from the Old Testament [in the Easter Season, this first reading is usually from the Acts of the Apostle]; the second reading will usually be from one of the letters of Paul or another apostolic writing. The third reading will be taken from one of the four Gospels. The reading of the Gospel is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word. The faithful stand when they listen to the Gospel; through the acclamations we acknowledge and confess Christ present and speaking to us.
THE RESPONSORIAL PSALM
After the first reading comes the responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and holds great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it fosters meditation on the word of God (GIRM #61).
ALLELUIAH
After the reading that immediately precedes the Gospel, the Alleluia or another chant indicated by the rubrics is sung, as required by the liturgical season. An acclamation of this kind constitutes a rite or act in itself, by which the assembly of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to them in the Gospel and professes their faith by means of the chant. It is sung by all while standing and is led by the choir or a cantor, being repeated if this is appropriate. The verse, however, is sung either by the choir or by the cantor. The Alleluia is sung in every season other than Lent (GIRM #62).
THE HOMILY
The homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. Homily (which replaced the word sermon for many) is a new word for Catholics. It means more than just a sermon or a talk about how we are to live or what we are to believe. It is an act of worship rooted in the texts of the Mass and especially in the readings from Scripture which have just been proclaimed. The homily takes that word and brings it to our life situation today.
THE PROFESSION OF FAITH
The Creed is to be sung or said by the priest together with the people on Sundays and Solemnities. It 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. Originally the creed was the profession of faith of those about to be baptized at this point in the Mass.
THE PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
In the Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in a certain way to the word of God which they have welcomed in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is fitting that such a prayer be included, as a rule, in Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the whole world (GIRM #69).
The Liturgy of the Word comes to an end with the prayer of the faithful.
PART III: DO At the Last Supper Christ instituted the Paschal Sacrifice and banquet by which the Sacrifice of the Cross is continuously made present in the Church whenever the priest, representing Christ the Lord, carries out what the Lord himself did and handed over to his disciples to be done in his memory (GIRM #72).
THE PREPARATION OF THE GIFTS
At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist the gifts, which will become Christ's Body and Blood, are brought to the altar.
Members of the parish will take up a collection from the assembly and bring it to the priest at the altar with the bread and wine to be used for the sacrifice. 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. 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 PRAYER OVER THE OFFERINGS
Once the offerings have been placed on the altar and the accompanying rites completed, the invitation to pray with the priest and the prayer over the offerings conclude the preparation of the gifts and prepare for the Eucharistic Prayer.
THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER
Now the center and summit of the entire celebration begins: namely, the Eucharistic Prayer, that is, the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. The priest invites the people to lift up their hearts to the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving; he unites the congregation with himself in the prayer that he addresses in the name of the entire community to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the meaning of the Prayer is that the entire congregation of the faithful should join itself with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of Sacrifice. The Eucharistic Prayer demands that all listen to it with reverence and in silence (GIRM #78).
The chief elements making up the Eucharistic Prayer may be distinguished in this way:
a.Thanksgiving
b.Acclamation
c.Epiclesis:
d.Institution narrative and consecration:
e.Anamnesis
f.Offering
g.Intercessions
h.Final doxology
THE COMMUNION RITE
Since the Eucharistic Celebration is the Paschal Banquet, it is desirable that in keeping with the Lord's command, his Body and Blood should be received by the faithful who are properly disposed as spiritual food. This is the sense of the fraction and the other preparatory rites by which the faithful are led directly to Communion.
THE LORD'S PRAYER
In the Lord's Prayer a petition is made for daily food, which for Christians means preeminently the eucharistic bread, and also for purification from sin, so that what is holy may, in fact, be given to those who are holy.
THE RITE OF PEACE
The Rite of Peace follows, by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament.
THE FRACTION
The priest breaks the Eucharistic Bread, assisted, if the case calls for it, by the deacon or a concelebrant. Christ's gesture of breaking bread at the Last Supper, which gave the entire Eucharistic Action its name in apostolic times, signifies that the many faithful are made one body (1 Cor 10:17) by receiving Communion from the one Bread of Life which is Christ, who died and rose for the salvation of the world (GIRM #83)
COMMUNION
As God fed our ancestors in the desert on their pilgrimage, so God gives us food for our journey. We approach the minister who gives us the eucharistic bread with the words "The Body of Christ," and we respond, "Amen." We then go to the minister with the cup who gives it to us with the words "The Blood of Christ," to which we again profess our "Amen." During this procession we usually sing a hymn which unites our voices, minds and thoughts, even as the Body and Blood of Christ unites our bodies. Then we pray silently in our hearts, thanking and praising God and asking for all that this sacrament promises.
To bring to completion the prayer of the People of God, and also to conclude the entire Communion Rite, the priest says the Prayer after Communion, in which he prays for the fruits of the mystery just celebrated, and faithful respond, "Amen."
PART IV: GO THE CONCLUDING RITES
The concluding rites consist of
a. Announcement
b. The priest's greeting and blessing. We bow our heads to receive a blessing. As the priest names the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—we make the sign of the cross.
c. The dismissal of the people. The priest or deacon then dismisses the assembly: "Go in peace…" and we give our liturgical "yes" by saying, "Thanks be to God."
d. The kissing of the altar by the priest and the deacon, followed by a profound bow to the altar by the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers.

 


The contents of this page are based on General Instruction of the Roman Missal