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What We Do at Mass and Why

Priest Celebrating Mass

Marquette University-CC

Fr. Henry Vargas Holguín - published on 12/23/14

Brushing up for Christmas

The Mass is divided into Introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Communion Rite and the Concluding Rites.

I. Introductory Rites
We arrive at the church and prepare ourselves to celebrate the greatest mystery of our faith. The faithful stand during these rites.

A. Entrance Hymn and Procession
We joyfully sing an appropriate hymn. The entrance hymn became a part of the Roman liturgy in the fifth century. The procession symbolizes the Pilgrim Church’s path towards the heavenly Jerusalem.

The priest arrives at the altar, kisses it, and according to the situation, may incense it. Incensing is a symbol of honor, purification and sanctification. Then, he makes the sign of the cross.

B. Greeting by the Presiding Priest
The greeting harkens back to the words with which St. Paul greeted the first Christian communities in his epistles.

C. Penitential Act
We recognize before God that we are sinners and that we are weak. It is an act of humility. We ask him to forgive our sins. (This does not replace the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation, in the case of mortal sin.)  

This act consists of four parts:

1. Inviting the faithful to examine their consciences and recognize that they are sinners, during a moment of silence. This moment of silence is important and forms an essential part of this act.

2. Asking for forgiveness, using the prayer, “I confess to almighty God…”, and striking our breast when we say, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” In the form of the rite before Vatican II, we struck our breast three times; now once is enough.

3. Absolution, which in this case is not a sacrament, but expresses a desire for God’s forgiveness. The priest prays, “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”  The people respond, saying, “Amen.”

4. Singing “Lord, have mercy.”

D. Gloria
(On feast days — whether or not they are holy days of obligation — and solemnities.) The Gloria is an ancient and venerable hymn with which the Church glorifies God the Father and glorifies and prays to the Lamb. The text to this hymn cannot be changed for another. We praise God and we acknowledge in his presence how much we need him.

E. Collect Prayer (prayed only by the priest)
This is a prayer that expresses the character of the celebration.
It is a prayer that the priest, in the name of all, offers to the Father. This prayer collects or brings together the needs of the whole congregation.

II. Liturgy of the Word
The faithful are seated. During the readings (which are also spiritual food), God speaks to his people, revealing to them the mysteries of redemption and salvation.

According to tradition, the service of proclaiming the readings does not fall to the presiding priest, but to ministers of the Word.

The readings at Mass vary throughout the year depending on the liturgical season (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ordinary Time) and are divided into three cycles, one per year: A,B,C; therefore if every Catholic goes to Mass every day, after three years, he will have heard almost the whole Bible.

At this moment, God speaks to us and wants us to keep this daily message in our hearts, meditate on it and apply it during the day.

How are the readings proclaimed? The reader goes to the lectern and the faithful sit down. The readings are begun immediately, without first saying, “First Reading” or “Second Reading.” They end with the phrase, “The word of the Lord” (not “This is the word of the Lord”), which is not an explanation, but rather a profession of faith.

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