Over the past several
weeks, we've talked about the roles of priest, deacon and lay people at
Mass. Now we'll begin to look at specific elements of the Mass and how we
as members of the body of Christ take part in the celebration.
At every Mass, the
priest and the assembly share a dialogue: The priest prays to God in the
name of the assembly, and members of the assembly join their hearts and
minds to that prayer. We show this interior union of prayer through outward
gestures and words. That's why unity of word and gesture in our worship
is so important. In addition, the priest and assembly share directly in
a prayerful dialogue at times.
As the General Instruction
on the Roman Missal points out: "Outward signs foster, strengthen,
and express faith. There must be the utmost care, therefore . . . to make
wise use of those forms and elements provided by the Church which . . .
will best foster active and full participation, and properly serve the spiritual
well being of the faithful."
The Mass consists
of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. These begin
with the Introductory Rites of the Mass and close with the Concluding Rite.
The Introductory Rites include the opening liturgical song, greeting, act
of penitence, Kyrie, Gloria, and opening prayer. Each of these elements
has a long history.
As the General Instruction
reminds us, the Mass begins after the assembly has already gathered. This
is important. The opening liturgical song usually occurs along with the
procession of the celebrant and ministers of the Mass. In recent years,
people have tended to call this moment a "gathering," or to sing
a "gathering song" at this time. That's not quite accurate. A
gathering song may help an assembly dispose themselves for the celebration
of the Eucharistic mysteries, but it should be sung before the beginning
of Mass itself.
Instead, the opening
song should be either biblical or relate to the current liturgical season
or feast, and it should help to deepen the unity of those assembled. In
the opening song, we acknowledge that we've come together to praise our
God. As the assembly members all stand we affirm our unity and our desire
to take part in the act of worship.
The priest and other
ministers usually enter in procession. We may see flickering candles and
a display of color as members of the procession move in harmony, often entering
the assembly from the back of the church, with the crucifix leading the
way. The crucifix reminds us that Christ has brought us together through
his sacrifice, and that he desires that, together, we should "do this
in memory of me."
The procession may
also include the Book of the Gospels. Entering thus and richly decorated,
this most sacred part of the Word of God for Christians receives special
veneration. This is why the Lectionary is never carried in procession, but
only the Book of the Gospels. The deacon normally carries the book but another
may do so in his absence. The book is placed on the altar to show the unity
of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist
The priest and deacon
dress in appropriately colored liturgical vestments to remind us that during
the eucharistic sacrifice we celebrate a particular liturgical feast or
mystery. Last in procession comes the celebrant, who stands among us as
Christ. In joining our attention to these opening moments of the celebration,
we take part in the dignity of the procession as the priest who brings Christ
within our midst, and all those with him, move toward the altar.
From beginning to
end, every word and gesture of the Mass has meaning. The more deeply we
understand those meanings, the more deeply we take part in the worship of
God, and in God's presence among us in the Eucharist.
Next week: more on
the Introductory Rites.