A Quick Journey Through the Mass

I would now like to take you on a quick journey through the various parts of the Mass. In doing so, I hope to unveil some of the meanings that too often remain unknown and hidden, and instruct you about ways you can become more actively engaged throughout the Mass.

Introductory Rites. These essentially consist of the entrance procession and song, a greeting, the Sign of the Cross, the penitential act, the Gloria, and an opening prayer.

Entrance. After the people are assembled the entrance song begins. Like every single part of the Mass, the opening song and procession have intended meaning. This song opens the celebration. It is designed to bind us together as a community, to intensify our unity. The song should also be carefully selected to lead our thoughts to the mystery of the particular feast or season.

Engage: Make an effort to sing. You may not enjoy singing, or you may be unable to sing. In that case, follow the words of the song in your hymnal, reflecting on how they challenge or comfort you.

Penitential Act. This is the moment when we acknowledge that some of our thoughts, words, and actions have not helped us become the-best-version-of-ourselves, have prevented other people from being all God created them to be, and ultimately have created an obstacle between us and the infinite love of God.

Engage: Identify a specific thought, word, or action that created an obstacle between you and God this week and ask forgiveness.

Gloria. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will . . . The Gloria is an ancient hymn that praises God. Our earthly relationships have become very transactional. We tend to speak to people only when we want something or if they have done something wrong. This transactional mentality has overflowed into our spiritual lives, and as a result the practice of praising God has fallen largely into disuse.

Engage: Set yourself and your life aside for a moment, and praise God for something specific. Praise God for his goodness. Praise God for creation. Praise God for his wisdom.

Opening Prayer. This is one of my favorite parts of the Mass. I find the opening prayers to be ever fresh and phenomenally profound. They also provide a prelude to what we are about to hear and experience. The opening prayer is designed to place us in the presence of God and focus our hearts and minds. This is the opening prayer from the twenty-first week of Ordinary Time: Father, help us to seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise, make us one in mind and heart. The opening prayers of the Mass guide us to focus on the themes that will emerge in the readings that day. This is the opening prayer for Friday during the fourth week of Lent: Father, our source of life, you know our weakness. May we reach out with joy to grasp your hand and walk more readily in your ways.

Engage: Get yourself a missal and begin to follow the prayers of the Mass. 

Liturgy of the Word. This essentially consists of the Scripture readings, homily, profession of faith, and the general intercessions.

Scripture Readings. The readings that make up the Liturgy of the Word for Sunday Mass include an Old Testament reading, a responsorial Psalm, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading. The readings are not randomly selected; they are related to each other in some way, and belong to a flow that moves us from the readings last week to the readings next week.

Engage: Take time during the week to read over and reflect upon next Sunday's readings. Find the readings in your Bible and underline them. Over time this will give you a sense of the parts of the Bible you have experienced.

Homily. The average homily lasts approximately seven minutes and for many people this is the only exposure they have to religious education all week. This is the priest's moment to speak to the community-and a singular opportunity to nurture Christian life. The challenge the priest faces is to develop some point from the readings and transform it into a powerful teaching moment. Jesus always met people where they were, and from there he led them to a better life. The homily is the priest's opportunity to convince people that Jesus has answers to the issues and questions they are struggling with, and that the life Jesus invites us to is simply the best way to live.

Engage: As a lay participant in the Mass the homily is largely outside of your control. But more often than not God uses a single phrase to speak to us. Listen. Stay open to what God might be trying to say to you. On many occasions I have attended Mass in foreign countries where I had no know-edge of the language, and yet God has spoken to me powerfully.

Our Profession of Faith. This is where we proclaim our faith as individuals and as a community. If you really reflect on the Creed I suspect you will have questions or doubts almost every time you say it. Those doubts and questions are invitations to explore and study our faith more, but also to place our trust in God and his Church. I used to find it comforting when we pray together, "We believe.." (before they changed it to "I believe") because whatever was lacking in what I believed on any given Sunday (because of doubts and questions that I may have) was made up for by the faith of someone in the pew in front of me or behind me, on the other side of town or the other side of the world. Together we have a complete faith. 

Engage: Whatever you have questions or doubts about in the Creed, begin to explore them vigorously, one at a time. Examine why the Church teaches what she teaches in each instance and allow your questions and doubts to strengthen your faith rather than diminish it.

General Intercessions. The Mass is the most powerful prayer in human his-tory. At every moment of every day, a Mass is taking place somewhere, and we (the Catholic Church) are praying for the entire human family. This is really quite beautiful if you stop and think about it. At this point of the Mass we offer specific intentions to God as a community. These usually include a prayer for the Church, a prayer for world leaders, prayers for those who are oppressed and those in need, prayer for the local community, and others.

Engage: Consider whom and what you are praying for. Immerse yourself for a moment in that person's need, responsibilities, or pain.

The Collection. At this time a basket is passed so that we can contribute financially to the mission of the Church. What we place in the basket we are giving to God and to the needy. It is a real and practical expression of loving God and neighbor. These funds are used to cover the expenses of the Church and the various ministries that the community is involved in.

Engage: Give generously-not because your parish needs the money, not because the priest gave a good homily, and not because others might know what you gave. Give generously because we have a real and present spiritual need to give. We also need to guard against the allure of money. It is easier to trust money than it is to trust God. "In God we trust," it says on our money. But do we? This regular Sunday giving is a sign of letting go, a sign of surrender. Too often in our society we give with lots of strings attached. Often I hear people say, "I don't give to the Church because I don't like how they spend the money." Whether this is true or not in any particular situation, this statement is filled with judgment and generalization, the pride that we know better, and a desire to control. These are all the behaviors that spiritual giving is designed to liberate us from. Give generously. It is hard, I know. You will feel torn; such is the pull of money in our lives.

Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is the "center and the summit of the entire celebration" and consists of the Eucharistic prayer, Consecration, the Our Father and sign of peace, and Communion.

The Offertory. Representatives from the community bring forward the bread and wine, along with our offerings for the Church and the poor. At the same time, the priest and servers are preparing the altar for our offering.

Engage: As the gifts are being brought forward and as the priest is preparing the gifts, in your heart bring the different aspects of your life forward and offer them to God. Offer God your marriage, your family, your career, your business, your friendships. In a special way offer him your successes and failures. Hold up to God a friend who is suffering in some way. Offer him a particular struggle that you are enduring. Offer God everything. Mentally and spiritually place them all on the altar so that God can transform them.

Eucharistic Prayer. The word Eucharist means "thanksgiving." During this sequence of prayers the priest invites us to lift up our hearts to the Lord.

In this way, we are offering ourselves with Jesus to God the Father. This prayer also reminds us of God's goodness and his friendship with humanity throughout history.

Engage: Bring the words to life. Live them out. With your spiritual senses, lift up your heart and offer it to the Lord. Place your heart on the altar and allow God to transform it as he will transform the bread and wine.

The Consecration. Leading up to the consecration, the priest recites the narrative of the Last Supper connecting what we experience in every Mass with Jesus' institution of the Eucharist. The actual consecration is the moment when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This happens when the priest recites the words of Jesus over them: "This is my body which is given up for you; this is the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, do this in memory of me."

Engage: Simply allow yourself to be in the presence of God. Quiet your mind. Imagine yourself close to Jesus at the Last Supper or at the Cruci-fixion. Then as the priest elevates the host and the chalice, say with Thomas in your heart, "My Lord and my God." These mysteries are mysteries, but if we approach them humbly, often, and with reverence, God will give us an ever-increasing love and understanding of them.

The Lord's Prayer. Now we join together as a community to pray in the way that Jesus taught us.

Engage: You have prayed these words a thousand times before, but allow them to be new and fresh. Focus on a particular word or phrase and allow it to permeate your whole being. If you are struggling to cooperate with God's will perhaps you will focus on thy will be done. Or maybe you have real and human needs that are not being met, so your focus may fall on the words give us this day our daily bread. Perhaps you feel the need to be forgiven for something you have said or done: forgive us our trespasses. Maybe you need the grace to forgive someone who has wronged you: as we forgive those who trespass against us. Or perhaps you are struggling with a particular temptation at this time in your life: lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Sign of Peace. The priest has asked God to grant us peace and unity. Nobody needs to be reminded of how fractured our world and Church have become, which makes this an especially powerful moment in the liturgy. Here we embrace the whole world. Jesus has loved us in this Eucharist by sharing his peace with us, and now we share the peace and love of Christ with those around us. This is symbolic of the way we are called to take the peace and love of Jesus out into the world.

Engage: Everybody has had their heart broken by something or someone. Jesus wants to soothe and heal our broken heart. He offers his peace to you to heal your broken heart and invites you to pass that peace on to others.

As you offer the sign of peace to those around you at Mass be mindful that while they may look happy and seem like they have it all together, we all have a broken heart that needs healing.

Communion. This is the moment when we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the form of bread and wine. It is almost beyond belief, and many have left the Church, just as many left Jesus in his own time, because of this single teaching: "This teaching is just too difficult." (John 6:60)

Engage: As you approach the altar to receive Communion be mindful of what is about to take place. I pray this short prayer over and over to allow me to focus on what is happening: I wish, my Lord, to receive you as generously as your holy mother Mary did.

Thanksgiving. These moments of reflection after receiving the Eucharist can be extremely powerful if we make ourselves present to them. The fruits of Holy Communion include unity with Jesus, nourishment for the spiritual life, a hunger for virtue, a desire to do the will of God, cleansing from past sins, a fanning of the flames of Christian love, grace to avoid sin in the future, sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and a desire to know God more intimately.

Engage: For these precious moments when Christ is so mysteriously present in you, kneel or sit, close your eyes, and just thank God in your own words for all the blessings in your life. Name them specifically— people, places, things, and opportunities that you are grateful for. Allow your heart to fill and overflow with gratitude.

Concluding Rites. The concluding rites are made up of the final blessing and the dismissal.

Final Blessing. On the way into church we blessed ourselves with the Sign of the Cross. Before the Gospel we blessed our mind, our lips, and our heart. Now we receive a blessing.

Engage: Bow your head, close your eyes, and allow the words of the final blessing to penetrate the very depths of your being.

The Dismissal. The Mass takes its name from this final statement: "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life." Ite, missa est is a Latin phrase that means "Go, you are sent."

Engage: In this final moment of the Mass we are being sent on a mission to light up the ways of this world with the love of Christ, a love that is willing to sacrifice for others, a love that knows no limits. As you leave Church and return to the world, consider how you might live out your Christian mission this week.

There is incredible genius and beauty in the Mass, but to discover it we need to be constantly delving into it a little deeper. At every moment of the Mass there are rich opportunities to engage personally in the experience, thus transforming it from a monotonous ritual into a deeply relevant and ever-changing experience of God.

I have taken just a few minutes to give you a glimpse of the depth, the beauty, and the relevance of what we knowingly or unknowingly witness at church every Sunday. Now let us make the journey from being mere witnesses and become actively engaged participants.

(Taken from Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly)

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