Now let us consider the Mass as a meal -- as the essential nourishment of our spiritual life. We all know how basic and necessary nourishment is, not seldom or occassionally, but every single day if we are to survive. Anthropologists identify primative cultures by the manner in which they procured nourishment. Roles were assigned in families based on their responsibilities regarding nourishment. From the earliest times people have incorporated the taking of nourishment with forms of celebration and worship. They thought of themselves as sharing life with friends by sharing nourishment. They thought a meal shared with God gave them intimacy and an opportunityto acknowledge God as the giver of all things.
So it is with the Mass. The Church teaches us the Mass is the table of God's word and Christ's body. God spreads his table in our midst and invites us to come and be nourished daily, if we so choose. The feast is plentiful and available. What a great tragedy if people starve in the midst of plenty!
The mass is made up of two main parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. There also are certain rights to open and conclude the celebration. The opening provides a beginning, an introduction and a preparation for the Liturgy of the Word. The ENTRANCE SONG opens the celebration. It is chosen to suggest the theme of the season or the feast. It is intended to intensify our unity as a people gathered, just as group singing at a secular celebration does, When the priest reaches the altar, there is a VENERATION OF THE ALTAR (kissing the altar, sometimes incensing it) because the altar represents the body of Christ and is the table from which the Lord feeds us.
A PENETENTIAL RITE follows in which we acknopwledge our sinfulness and ask God's forgiveness so that we might be worthy to pray. The GLORIA is an ancient hymn of the Church whose purpose is to gice praise to God. Praise is one of four purposes of prayer; the others are: to give thanks, to ask forgiveness, and to ask for things we need. After the Gloria, the priest stands and stretches out his arms and invites us to pray (Let us pray). This is the first of the Presidential prayers, second only in importance to the Eucharistic Prayers. There is a moment of silence following the invitation to pray so that we may remember that we are in the presence of God and think of our needs. The priest then prays for the whole Church and for those present. It is most important that we make this prayer our own by answering, "Amen."
After the opening rite, we come to the first main part of the Mass: the LITURGY OF THE WORD. There are one or two readings from the Old and New Testaments and a Gospel reading. when the Scriptures are proclaimed in church, God himself is speaking to His people since the Scriptures were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is Christ himself who proclaims the Gospel. After the HOMILY, whic expands on the theme of the readings, we affirm our belief in what we have heard in the PROFESSION OF FAITH, and confidently present our needs to God in the GENERAL
The second principal part of the Mass us the Liturgy of the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Christ instituted the Sacrifice of the Paschal Meal that makes the Sacrifice of the Cross continuously present for us in the Church. What did Jesus do? The Scripture tells us that he took bread and wine, changed them into his body and blood and gave those consecrated elements to his apostles to eat and drink. What does the Church do? The Church, following the example of Christ, does the same thing.
The first step is the Preparation of Gifts. The Sacramentary (book of prayers) abd the Chalice are placed on the altar. the bread and wife are brought to the altar by members of the congregation. The ushers bring the collection which represents part of our offering of ourselves. A drop of water is added to the wine to represent the human nature of Christ -- the wine represents the divine nature -- and then the bread and wine are set apart to be consecrated by the prayers that begin "Blessed be God . . ." The priest then invites us to pray with him and recites the second of the presidential prayers and we respond, "Amen."
The Eucharistic Prayer begins with a prayer of thanksgiving (Preface) for the whole work of salvation of which this is a part. The preface concludes with an acclamation of god's holiness. the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine and then recites the institution narrative and the words of consecration. Next we remember His passion, death and resurrection, an offering not only of Jesus, but of ourselves, to the Father. there are intercessions for the living and the dead to show that this is the action of the whole Church, We conclude with a prayer that brings Christ, ourselves and all creation together as an offering to the Father. "Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever. Amen."
The Liturgy of the Eucharist continues with the Communion Rite. Since the whole celebration is a Paschal Meal, it is only proper that the people partake -- eat and drink. we can see from the words of Scripture that this is more than an invitation from Jesus, it is a command.
We start with the most familiar of prayers, the Our Father. This is a petition for daily bread, both natural food and the Eucharist and a petition for forgiveness. we need God's pardon to be worthy to approach Him in the eucharist. The petition belongs in a special way to ALL the people and should always be recited or sung by the entire congregation. Next we exchange a sign of peace to show our unity with each other and the peace which exists (or should exist) among those who share a common faith. The priest then breaks the large host as a sign we are fed by the one bread. In apostolic times, "the breaking of the bread" was the name by which the entire Eucharistic Action was known.
After we have received the Eucharist, the priest recites the third and final Presidential prayer, asking God for all of us that the Eucharist be effective in our lives. We know that it has the power; do we have the will to allow it to work within us.?
The concluding rite consists of a blessing and dismissal encouraging us to go out and practice what we pray.
In this look at the Mass, certain overall themes emerge. The Mass is to created and express unity with Christ and among the individual members of the faith community. It provides us with a way to give praise and thanks to god. It is the primary source of our spiritual nourishment.
To go to the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, click here.