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The Priest and the Mass

© Anna Mae McCallam


Brief Explanation of the Mass


       The Mass, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord - in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated over the centuries - is the summit and source of all Christian worship and life; it signifies and effects the unity of the people of God and achieves the building up of the body of Christ. It is an action of Christ himself and the Church; in it Christ the Lord, by the ministry of the priest, offers himself, substantially present under the forms of bread and wine, to God the Father and gives himself as spiritual food to the faithful who are associated with this offering.   

    As a sacrifice, the Mass achieves four purposes: (1) to adore God, by acknowledging His infinite majesty and supreme dominion over creatures; (2) to be thankful for all God’s benefits, hence the term Eucharist; (3) to atone for the sins of the human race, an act of expiation; (4) to beg new favors from His generosity in accordance with the many needs of the congregation.


Introductory Rite


There are two major sections in the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The Introductory Rites is the section of the Mass preceding the Liturgy of the Word that confers the quality of preparation and introduction on the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The intent is that the assembly unites as a community properly prepared to hear God’s Word and celebrate the Eucharist. The rite comprises the following parts: Entrance Antiphon (or Entrance Song), Greeting, Penitential Rite (or Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water), Lord have Mercy, Glory to God, and Opening Prayer.

The priest begins by kissing the altar as soon as he has approached it. There are two reasons for this action. 1) In the early Church the altar was not only a martyr's grave, but also the symbol of Christ, in fact it was, as it is today, honored as Christ Himself. 2) Each altar also contains relics of the martyrs who gave their lives for Christ, and the priest is venerating the relics contained in the altar.

Because we belong to God we begin every Mass by signing ourselves with the cross in the name of the Trinity. It is also a reminder that Christ, our Savior, is with us in the Mass which is Calvary revisited.


Entrance Antiphon


The Entrance Song opens the celebration of the Mass, and is fitting that the people assembled sing together as the priest celebrant and ministers walk to the altar. Besides deepening the unity among the congregation, the song should introduce them to the feast or the Mystery of the season.




The priest celebrant greets the assembly by expressing the presence of the Lord to the community. Since the Lord is present in the community and in its members, the greeting and the people’s response manifests the mystery of the Church that is gathered together. The traditional formula is “The Lord be with you.” The response from the assembly is “And also with you.”


Penitential Rite


Next comes the penitential rite. This is the part of the Mass wherein the congregation joins with the priest to ask God for mercy, forgiveness, and healing. This rite prepares the community to listen to God’s Word, profess its faith, join in the act of thanksgiving and share His graces and Communion. The Penitential Rite begins with the presiding priest recalling the fact that we are sinners and invites us to ponder our faults so as to be sorry for them and seek pardon. After a reasonable pause, there is a common confession, by which we proclaim that we are sinners before God and the Church. We approach God with a humble, contrite heart and with a confession of unworthiness upon our lips.


Lord Have Mercy


The Lord Have Mercy is the translation of the Greek invocation Kyrie eleison, which is on the lips of those unfortunate people in the Gospel who begged Jesus to cure their child.




Having been forgiven by God it is natural to give thanks. The Gloria is sung or said in the Mass, except in Lent and Advent. It is a translation from an old Greek hymn sung in the early centuries in praise of the Trinity. Let us, then, sing this song of praise, as we give our minds, our hearts, and our voices to welcome the coming Savior. It is also referred to as the Angelic Hymn because the words come from the angels at Christ’s birth in the Biblical narrative. 


Collect or Opening Prayer


The opening prayer is called the Collect. The word Collecta means people gathered or assembled for worship. The Collect begins with the priest saying, ‘Let us pray…’ followed by a pause for the peoples’ silent prayer. All of these silent prayers of the people are then offered to God in the prayer offered by the priest. The priest offers this prayer with outstretched arms symbolizing the new person freed by Jesus dying on the cross and rising for us. The people answer "Amen" to this opening prayer. Amen is a Hebrew word which means "really and truly," "so be it" or "I agree". When you say Amen, you are sealing the request, making the priest's prayer yours, and asking God to count it is if your had said it.  


Liturgy of the Word


The Liturgy of the Word is the major part of the Mass between the Opening Prayer and the Preparation of the Gifts, during which the Word of God is proclaimed (Readings), responded to (Responsorial Psalm), authoritatively explained (Homily), accepted and held fast (Profession of Faith), and appealed to (General Intercessions). This liturgical proclamation is not simply a reading but an event, a happening — even more, it is a salvific event. It brings before the assembly the Word that God wants to speak to us today. It enables us to encounter Christ Who “is present in His Word… when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church.”


The Liturgy of the Word, which takes place at the Lectern. Because God speaks to us in his Word in the Bible we listen to these readings with great attention and it would be better to have prepared at home to understand them better. Vatican II told us that when the Scriptures are proclaimed in Church Christ himself is speaking to us (Sacrosanctum Concilium 7). Vatican II says "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body." (Dei Verbum 21). Like a silken thread drawn through cloth of gold, the prayer idea of the Collect runs through the Liturgy of the Word. In days of old, this was called the Lesson. During the Scripture readings the congregation sits, after the custom of the ancients.




The Readings are taken from the Scriptures according to a definite pattern. To allow the faithful to become familiar with more of the Bible during the Mass, cycles were instituted so that the worshipers can hear more of the Scriptures and the celebrant has a greater variety on which to preach.

Sundays therefore have a three-year cycle —one for each of the synoptic Gospels, A: Matthew; B” Mark; C: Luke. Year C is always divided into three parts. John’s Gospel is used to supplement the year of Mark since the latter’s Gospel is so brief. In Lent and Easter, parts of John fit into all three cycles. 

Weekdays have a two-year cycle of First Readings. Thus on weekdays the Gospel selection is the same each year.

During the Jewish synagogue service, the books of Moses (the Law) were read continuously from one session to another, and the Prophets were also read “at will.” The early Church made use of this tradition by inserting at least one Old Testament reading in the Liturgy of the Word. 

There are always three readings on Sundays and major feasts. The first is usually from the Old Testament. Generally the Old Testament readings were selected to prepare for the Gospel. In line with ancient tradition, the First Reading during the Easter Season is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, a Book that shows how the early Christians bore witness to the Paschal Mystery.

The Church wants us to recall that the proclamation of God’s word is always centered on Christ, present in His Word. Old Testament writings prepare for Him; New Testament books speak of Him directly. All of Scripture calls us to believe once more and to follow.


(1)        The First Reading is always from the Old Testament except during Easter when it is from the New Testament.

(2)        Following the First Reading is the Responsorial Psalm. This has pastoral significance and is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word. If possible it should be sung; otherwise it is recited.

(3)        Acclamation. This is an introductory verse to the Gospel and should be sung.

(4)        Homily. Ordinarily the one who presides at the celebration of the Word is responsible for a carefully prepared explanation of the Scriptures proclaimed, which should be highly suited to the audience present.

(5)         Silence. The Sacred Scriptures tend toward meditation, so intervals of silence can readily intersperse the Readings and certainly follow the Homily.

(6)        Profession of Faith. The recitation of the symbol allows the faithful to give assent to the Word of God they have just heard and had explained to them.

(7)        General Intercessions. This is an opportunity for the people to pray for the universal needs of the Church, the local community, and the special intentions that they may have.


 God speaks to us in the First Reading and we respond using the words of a Psalm. The Psalms are sacred hymns or songs of praise chanted or sung during worship. There is a link between the First Reading and the Psalm, the Psalm is our prayerful response to what we heard in the First Reading. God spoke to us in the First Reading and we praise God in the Psalm. Jesus used the Psalms for prayer every day and would have known most of them by heart, which is an added reason for paying attention to the Psalm.

The Second Reading is from the Apostles, that is, the New Testament, and is an excerpt from a letter by St. Paul or another Sacred writer to give encouragement to an individual or a church. When we begin reading one of these letters we read an excerpt every Sunday until we finish and then we start with another letter. The Second Reading is not linked with the First Reading or Psalm.

As a sign of reverence for the Gospel Acclamation we all stand. The Gospel Acclamation consists of one verse taken from the Gospel to follow. The verse is the one that could be said to sum up the Gospel. It is preceded and followed by “Alleluia” which means "Praise God" or "Praise the Lord". The Alleluia shows us that this is a joyful part of the Mass. It is joyful because the time for the Gospel has arrived. To make sure that we catch the main point of the Gospel we are told beforehand in the Gospel Acclamation what to look for.

The Gospel is the highpoint of the Liturgy of the Word, the first part of the Mass. It marks the end of the old law, and the beginning of the new. It is linked with the First Reading and Psalm so hopefully you can find a link each Sunday between the First Reading, Psalm and Gospel. The Sunday readings follow three-year cycle so it will be three years before you hear these readings proclaimed in Church again. Before proclaiming the Gospel the priest or deacon bows towards the Book of the Gospels, which symbolizes Jesus, and prays silently, ‘Almighty God, cleanse my heart and my lips that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel’. The priest and people sign themselves on the forehead, lips and chest before the Gospel is proclaimed. This is a prayer that the holy Gospel may be first in our minds, that we may know about our Lord, and understand and believe all his Gospel teaches. The cross on our lips means that we must be able to speak the words of the Gospel. It is our duty to spread the good news. The cross on the breast means the life of Christ should be lived in one's heart. as a sign that we belong to Jesus in thought, word and deed. The Gospel is the clear and definite teaching of Jesus Christ to each one of us. The words of our Lord are most precious. The pictures, parables, examples He shows should be the visions carried next to our heart. They tell us of His love, mercy, gentleness, patience, longsuffering and charity. The miracles He performed, every action as well as every word, have their special meaning. The Gospel ended, the priest or deacon raises the Book of the Gospels,  with both hands and inclines a little, while kissing it where he signed it in the beginning. 

There is a Gospel reading assigned to be read every Sunday and Holy Day. The Church wants us, week in and week out, year after year, to come back again to those scenes in our Lord's life, so that knowing Him better, we may love Him more dearly. Only the Catholic Church has retained every line of the Gospel. Our Church teaches the truths that is in Jesus Christ, all the truth, and nothing but the truth. Catholic means universal, which means all in one. It means the exact opposite of a sect. The Catholic Church is the religion of the entire Gospel.




    The homily follows the Gospel reading. The homily is an integral part of the liturgy, and develops its message from Scriptural and liturgical sources to show God's wonderful action in the history of Salvation, particularly as it relates to the specific community being addressed. This is a short, informal type of instruction, which should make practical applications to the spiritual life. The homily is based upon the usual practice in a synagogue, such as was followed by Jesus at Nazareth. The homily is generally reserved to priests and deacons.




    The Nicene Creed marks the end of the Liturgy of the Word, of the first part of the Mass. The Creed is a summary of the chief truths, which Christ taught; saying it is a confession of our Christian faith. Up to now the Liturgy of the Word has deepened our faith. The Creed is our opportunity to respond in faith to God’s Word to us. God has communicated with us and now we communicate with God. When we stand to say the Creed, we should feel proud of all the witnesses and martyrs, who have gone before us, and pray to them to make our faith firm; that is, to obtain for us the grace to always believe and never forget about our faith, to be ready and willing to die rather than deny what Jesus taught.

    The Liturgy of the Word concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful or General Intercessions. These are a series of petitions for all people by which the faithful exercise their priestly function. The sequence of intentions is usually: the needs of the Church, civil authorities, salvation of the world, those in need, and the local community. On a special occasion, such as a marriage or funeral, the intentions may relate more closely to the particular celebration. The priest or deacon will invite the people to pray, while he proclaims the intentions, to which the people reply with a common response such as "Lord, hear our prayer." The celebrant concludes with a prayer, seconded by the faithful's, "Amen." In these simple prayers we pray to God for all our needs. The ideal is that they are composed by members of the congregation and prayed by them. We call them the Prayer of the Faithful because all our prayers are united and offered to the Father as one prayer.

In the Liturgy of the Word God spoke to us in the readings and we spoke to God in the Psalm and Creed.


Liturgy of the Eucharist


Preparation of the Gifts


We begin the second main part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the preparation of the gifts. The Liturgy of the Eucharist takes place at the altar. We call it the altar because a sacrifice will take place here, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross will be made present to us. Bread and wine will be offered to God. Both the bread and wine are the ‘work of human hands’ so in presenting the bread and wine to God we are presenting something of ourselves. As the priest presents the bread and wine to God let each member of the congregation offer themselves to God and surrender themselves to God. While the gifts are being prepared the collection is taken up. What people give is expressive of themselves and is used for the upkeep for the parish and for the charitable needs of the community.

When the priest mingles the water and wine in the chalice he prays, By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity." Christ became human, one of us, and we ask him to help us become more like him, more Christ-like. The mingling of the water and wine symbolize the mingling of Jesus and the Church, that Jesus and the Church are one.

The priest washes his hands as an expression of his desire for inward purification. When washing his hands the priest prays, "Lord wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins."

The prayer over the gifts concludes the introduction the Liturgy of the Eucharist.


Eucharistic Prayer


The Eucharistic Prayer follows with its variable preface. The Preface begins with "The Lord be with you" and concludes with the Holy, Holy.

The Eucharistic Prayer is a great prayer of thanksgiving. Each Eucharistic Prayer contains the following elements:  


1.      The priest prays with both hands stretched over the gifts. At this time he prays the Holy Spirit may come upon the gifts and make them holy. The bread and wine now begins changing into the Body and Blood of Jesus, and not only at the consecration. 

2.      The priest raises the consecrated host and chalice of wine to the people so that they can adore Jesus truly present in the bread and wine. I invite you to look and Jesus and adore him as he is elevated in the bread and chalice.

3.      After the Institution Narrative (consecration) the prayer remembers the actions of Jesus to save us. 

4.      The priest offers Jesus, the victim, to the Father. 

5.      There is a prayer once more to the Holy Spirit, this time to come down on the people and unite them.

6.      This is followed by many petitions. 

7.      At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer the priest raises up the Body and Blood of Christ as a reminder that it is through Christ, with him and in him that everything is made holy.   


Communion Rite


After the Eucharistic Prayer we begin our preparation for Holy Communion.  The Communion Rite begins with the "Our Father" in which we ask God to forgive our sins and cleanse our souls in order to make it a fit dwelling place for Him. The "Our Father" is followed by a prayer to protect us from evil. This is in turn followed by a prayer for peace. During the Eucharistic Prayer we asked the Holy Spirit to come upon us to make us one. As a sign of that oneness and to prepare for receiving Jesus in Holy Communion we offer each other a sign of peace.

Since none of us is worthy to receive Jesus in Holy Communion once again we ask Jesus for his mercy by praying the "Lamb of God." While the people pray the ‘Lamb of God’ the priest breaks the Host (From the word hostage). The ideal would be to have a one large piece loaf of consecrated Bread and break it into sufficient pieces for everyone to show that we are all united in the Eucharist. The priest mingles a small piece of the Host with the Blood of Christ in the chalice to show that the Body and Blood of Jesus are One. The people prepare for Holy Communion by praying ‘Lamb of God’. The priest says a private prayer to prepare himself for Holy Communion.

Then the priest shows the Host to the people and invites them to humbly confess their unworthiness. Their response is "Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed." This is based on the reply of the centurion to Jesus in Matt 8:8.

The symbolism was as follows:


1.     The breaking of the Host is the death of Jesus. 

2.     The mingling of the Host in the chalice symbolizes Jesus descending to the dead to free souls (Apostles’ Creed and originally in Eph 4:9, see also 1 Peter 3:19; 4:6).

3.     The joining of the Host again symbolizes the resurrection. 


We come in procession to the sanctuary to receive Holy Communion which reminds us that we are on a pilgrimage in this life, a journey from birth to death, a pilgrimage to our Father in heaven.

After Holy Communion the priest asks God that the mystery celebrated may have an effect on our lives. Thus ends the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In the Liturgy of the Word God spoke to us in the readings and we spoke to God in the Psalm and Creed. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we offered bread and wine to the Father and in return we received Jesus in the form of His sacred Body and Blood. In both the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist there is a two-way communication between God and us.


Concluding Rite


Immediately after the Communion Rite should there be any announcements, these are made, but they should be kept brief. Then just as the people were greeted at the beginning of the Mass, so now the priest greets the people again and blesses them in one of three forms, the simple one, or at his discretion a more Solemn Blessing, particularly at various seasons or on specific feast days, or a Prayer over the People. In the latter two cases the deacon or the priest asks the community to, "Bow your heads and pray for God's blessing." After this they, having received the blessing, answer "Amen." They sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, concluding the ceremony in the same way that they began. Then the Dismissal pleads with the congregation to do good works and leave praising and blessing the Lord.




Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved