What is a Catholic Mass?
Mass is the central act of worship in the life of a Catholic. Going to Mass is about spending time with God, but also receiving his graces. The name ‘Mass’ comes from the final blessing said by the priest in Latin ‘Ite missa est’ meaning “to send out” as Jesus Christ sent his disciples out to the world to take his teaching and love with them.
The Mass has four basic parts or ‘rites’. The beginning is called the ‘Introductory Rite’. In the beginning, the priest processes in, accompanied by altar servers. Often the congregation sings a hymn. Once the priest reaches the sanctuary he begins Mass with the sign of the cross - ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ This short prayer reminds everyone of their baptism into the One God in three persons and so focuses their minds on whom they are worshipping.
The second part of Mass is called the ‘Liturgy of the Word.’ The word “liturgy” is derived from the ancient Greek word meaning ‘official work’ or ‘public work’, so Mass is part of the official prayer of the Church and offered for the benefit of all. In the Liturgy of the Word, everyone listens to readings from the Sacred Scriptures. First, there is a reading from the Old Testament except during Easter when it is from the Acts of the Apostles. Then a Psalm is prayed or sung. The second reading is from the New Testament and is followed by an Alleluia (except during Lent) to prepare for the Gospel. The Gospel and first reading are usually chosen in a way that shows how Jesus Christ has fulfilled the promises made in the Old Testament. A homily follows the proclamation of the Gospel. Then on Sundays, everyone recites the Creed, which expresses and reaffirms our Christian faith, and the General Intercessions follow, interceding for the church, public leaders, those suffering, and any other needs in the world.
The third part of the Mass is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. ‘Eucharist’ means to give thanks, so it begins by the ‘offertory’ when we offer ourselves to God along with bread and wine. As the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we pray that we also will be transformed by our union with Him in the Eucharist. During the Eucharistic prayer, everyone kneels to express our reverence, adoration, and worship of Jesus Christ who becomes present under the appearance of bread and wine when the Priest prays the consecration. The change of the bread and wine is not ‘done’ by the Priest himself, but by Christ working through him. While by all appearances, nothing seems to have changed about the bread and wine, the change is one of substance, of what it is. Those who are able to receive Holy Communion then walk in procession to receive Holy Communion.
The final part of Mass, the concluding rite, is quite short. After some time to offer thanksgiving for the gifts God has given us, especially Himself in the Eucharist, we then stand and the priest says a final short prayer, asking God for help to use the graces we have received in Mass to help us in our daily lives. He then blesses everyone in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and sends us into the world. To the priest’s final words, whether “Go in peace,” “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” or “Go in peace, glorifying God by your life,” the congregation replies ‘Thanks be to God!’