What is the Roman Missal?

The Roman Missal is (mostly) the big red book that the priest uses at the altar and at his chair when celebrating Mass. I say “mostly” because the Lectionary (which contains the readings) and the liturgical books containing the rites for the various sacraments, are also part of the Roman Missal.

After the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical revisions, the huge amount of Sacred Scripture included in the yearly cycle of readings could not possibly fit in one book. So, there is one big, red book and several other smaller books that deacons, priests, and bishops need to navigate.

The Roman Missal contains all the words needed for the priest or bishop to offer Mass. Contained in between the words to say are also the things to do (the rubrics – so called because they are ruby red). There is an adage that a priest is to “say the black, do the red.” Rightly so!

Hand Missal for the Laity

Ever since the laity were able to read, generally, there have been handheld versions of the Missal for the lay people to pray along as the Mass progresses. Certain Missals today, like the St. Joseph’s Sunday Missal come out each year with the specific dates and readings for every Sunday and Solemnity that year. There are also Daily Roman Missals available for the laity which contain everything for the weekday Masses, including the two-year cycle of readings.

The readings at Mass are proclaimed and most of the prayers are audible; so, a hand Missal is not necessary. However, they are helpful for following along. By reading the words of the Mass or the readings being proclaimed, it can be a great help to focus one’s mind and heart on the Holy Mass by using a handheld Missal.

How to Use the Handheld Sunday Missal

For purposes of demonstration, I will be walking us through how to use the St. Joseph’s Sunday Missal because of its ubiquity and popularity. Once you have yours in hand, feel free to follow along.

On the very first page (a red color) is the Mass Calendar for the given year with the corresponding page numbers. A few pages later, there is a helpful outline of the Mass, just after the Preface, entitled “The Order of Mass Titles.” It would be good to familiarize yourself with the flow and names of things before jumping in!

For any given Sunday or Solemnity there are three main things to mark: 1) the Order of Mass, 2) the “Today’s Mass”, and 3) the Eucharistic Prayer.

The Order of Mass

The first page to mark is the “Order of Mass” which is the page after the “Order of Mass Titles.” This section walks you through the Mass from start to finish. Along the way, it will alert you of the choices that a priest can make. For example, after the Sign of the Cross, you can see that the priest has three options (A, B, or C) for the greeting. There are also a few options for the Penitential Act on the following pages.

After the Gloria, you will come to the first red block with white lettering telling you where to turn next. Once the Gloria is finished (outside of Advent and Lent), you will turn to “Today’s Mass” for the Collect and Readings.

Today’s Mass

For sake of demonstration, I will be using the very first Mass in the Missal, which is the First Sunday of Advent. On the page for the 1st Sunday of Advent, there is the Entrance Antiphon (a chant which is in the Missal which can sometimes be replaced by another chant or hymn) and then the Collect. The Collect is the prayer to which the “Order of Mass” section had referred you to “Today’s Mass.”

Next, you will see the First Reading, the Responsorial Psalm, the Second Reading, the Alleluia, and the Gospel. The “Prayer Over the Offerings” will come soon, but this is why you need to keep “Today’s Mass” marked with bookmark. Now, it is time to flip back to the “Order of Mass.”

Eucharistic Prayer

After the Homily, flip back to the “Order of Mass” section of the Missal for the recitation of the Creed. After the Creed (and the Universal Prayer) begins the Liturgy of the Eucharist. During a Sunday Mass, if there is music, you will likely not be able to hear the prayers of the priest that begin “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation…”

Next comes the “Invitation to Prayer” where the priest commands the people to pray, and we respond to the priest. For the “Prayer Over the Offerings” it is time to flip back to the marked page under “Today’s Mass.” Do not lose your place in the “Order of Mass” section though!

On the next page of the “Order of Mass” is a very important page that has the header “Eucharistic Prayer”, then the “Preface Dialogue”, “Preface,” and so forth. Some of the Masses of the Day have a specific Preface. These can be found on the table on these two pages. Until you are comfortable with the Missal, just listen to the Preface (unless you have it marked before Mass).

What will be very helpful to us for following along is the table (encircled in a red box) called “Eucharistic Prayer … Choice of ten.” This section has the ten options for the Eucharistic Prayer. You will know which page to turn to (in the table on the right hand side) by listening to the first words of the Eucharistic Prayer form the priest (listed in this table). The most common options are numbers 2 or 3. Fun fact: the oldest Eucharistic Prayer at Mass goes back to St. Peter and is the first option, usually called the First Eucharistic Prayer or “Roman Canon.”

From there, just follow the promptings written into the text in red ink. All the Eucharistic Prayers will end directing us to the “The Communion Rite” which starts with the Lord’s Prayer. After distribution of Holy Communion, the “Prayer After Communion” is in “Today’s Mass.”

So, there is a lot of flipping around, but you will get the hang of it with practice! Do not give up!

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