The Mass is the sacrifice of Christ. He offered Himself once and forever on the cross. The Mass is the center of our Christian life and the thanks offering we present to God for His great love toward us. It is not another sacrifice. It is not a repetition. It is the sacrifice of Jesus made present. It is a re-presentation of Calvary, memorial, and application of the merits of Christ.
The Mass has two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is an offering to the Father by Jesus and by us because we are also children of God.
To take advantage of the great spiritual fruits God gives us through the Eucharistic celebration, we should know it, understand the gestures and symbols, and participate in it with reverence.
Here we have the first installment of a very good explanation that will help you to better participate in this sacrifice.
The Catholic Mass Explained: The Liturgy of the Word
1.) Introductory Rites
We prepare to begin the Mass with the entrance procession. It is a song that unites all of us because people come to Mass from different places, cultures, ages and together sing with one voice, as the Body of Christ. We unite to celebrate one of the greatest gifts that Jesus left us: the Eucharist.
The Mass itself begins with the sign of the cross and will also end in the same way, when we receive the final blessing. Making the sign of the cross reminds us we belong to Christ. There is great power in this short prayer. We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit not only to mention the name of God, but to also to put us in His holy presence.
In the presence of God, the Church invites us to recognize with humility that we are sinners. Because as Saint Paul says: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” (Rm. 7:15). We can all echo the words of Paul in our own lives … Therefore, at the beginning of the Eucharist we humbly recognize along with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, that we are sinners. To ask for God’s forgiveness, we use the words of the blind man who heard that Jesus passed by and knew he could not be cured himself, but needed the help of God as he began to shout in the middle of the crowd: “Lord, have mercy on me.” Thus, with trust in God’s mercy, we pray also “Lord have mercy.”
On Sundays and solemnities, we sing this hymn of praise that truly gives glory to God: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God, and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
The opening prayer is the moment in which the priest invites the community to pray. At the beginning of the prayer, the priest says: “Let us pray” and extends his hands as a sign of appeal. This is a time to gather us all in silence and ask the Lord to help us. At the end of the prayer, all join what the priest asked, responding together: Amen! As the Lord tells us in the Gospel: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” (Mt. 18:19-20). The opening prayer unites us with the universal Church, reminding us that in every corner of the world in which Mass is said, our brothers and sisters in Christ will be doing the same thing.
2. Liturgy of the Word
The Lord Jesus, before feeding us with His Body and His Blood at the table of the sacrifice, feeds us first with the Word of God. Through the readings, we hear directly from God who speaks to us.
The first reading is taken from one of the books of the Old Testament. It is important to meditate on these books because by these words, God was preparing His people for the coming of Christ, as well as preparing us to listen to Jesus. The first reading is always directly related to the Gospel reading.
After the first reading, we read the psalm. The psalms have always been very important in the history of the Church. When we pray with the psalms, we pray with the words of God. These are the words He puts in our mouths so we know how to express ourselves in prayer. With the psalms we learn to pray, we learn to speak with God.
The second reading is taken from the New Testament: the letters of Saint Paul, or the Catholic Epistles or the book of Hebrews, or the Apocalypse. They are the writings of the Apostles. We hear the preaching and writings of the men Jesus instructed to minister to us when He left. These men were filled with the Holy Spirit and committed to spreading the Good News. There is much insight and wisdom to be gained from these books of the Bible.
In the first reading, God speaks through His prophets, in the second through His Apostles, and now in the Gospel, He speaks directly through His Son Jesus Christ. It is the most important aspect of the liturgy of the word. We hear directly from Jesus’ speaking, teaching, and healing. The word gospel means “good news” and this good news is not just a message, it is Jesus Himself! The best news that ever existed! It is a very important moment, which is why we stand and we sing with joy the Alleluia. The Gospel is proclaimed by the priest. To begin, we trace a cross on our forehead, mouth, and chest to symbolize that we receive the Word of God in our mind, we confess it with our mouth, and we keep it in our heart.
It is not enough to hear the Word of God, but that we also need to adequately understand what has been said to us. Homily comes from a Greek word that means “dialogue,” “conversation.” It is the moment in which the priest explains the proclaimed Scripture readings and we are able to delve into them.
The Mass Explained: The Liturgy of the Eucharist
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the most important moment of the Mass. There are three parts to the Liturgy of the Eucharist: the Offertory Rite, the Eucharistic Prayer (which is the nucleus of the whole celebration), and the Rite of Communion. We hope this explanation will be useful in your apostolate!
Presentation of the Gifts
This is the moment in which the bread and wine are brought to the altar; two very simple foods the priest will offer to God in order that Christ makes Himself present in the Eucharist. The simplicity of these foods reminds us of the child who brought Jesus his offerings, five loaves and two fish. It was everything he had, but this smallness, placed in the hands of Jesus, was converted into abundance and sufficed to feed an immense multitude, there were even leftovers.
In this way, our simple offerings of bread and wine, placed in the hands of the Lord, will also be converted into the greatest abundance, into the Body and Blood of Christ to feed a great multitude who are hungry for God. In every Mass, we are this multitude. Together with this bread and wine, we also present ourselves to God. We offer him our efforts, sacrifices, joys, and sufferings. We offer him our frailty so that he may do great things with us. When God converts the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, he also converts us, making us better, more like him.
Prayer Over the Offerings
After the presentation of the gifts, the priest bows toward the altar and says an inaudible prayer. There are various moments when the priest says inaudible prayers during the Mass. On this occasion he says, “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” It is an important moment because it manifests that when the priest celebrates the Mass, he is praying, not just repeating mechanical gestures, but rather he is speaking with God.
This word comes from two Latin words “pre” and “factum,” which literally means “before the act”. It is called this because it is immediately before the most important act of the whole Mass: the Eucharistic Prayer, all the prayers which surround the moment of consecration. In the preface, there is a dialogue with the priest, “Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them up to the Lord.” In the preface, we give thanks to God, we recognize His acts of love and we praise him. All of this truly elevates our hearts. That is the interior attitude to which the liturgy guides us, elevating the heart to be ready for the most important moment: when Christ makes Himself present with His Body and Blood. This is why Pope Benedict said: “We ought to lift our hearts up to the Lord not just as a ritual response, but rather as an expression of that which succeeds in a heart which lifts itself and draws others with it.”
The Preface ends with this song of praise to God. The lyrics are taken entirely from the Sacred Scriptures. The first part is a song which we heard from the choir of angels the prophet Isaiah heard singing to God beside His throne. Repeating “Holy” three times reminds us of the three divine persons in the Holy Trinity. The second part is the acclamation of the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey on Palm Sunday: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” They happily greeted Jesus, the long-awaited king entering His city. In the Mass, we also greet Christ who is about to make Himself present before us. Because of this, we can say the Sanctus is a song of men and angels, which unites us in praise of God.
This is the moment in which the Holy Spirit is invoked to sanctify the offerings of bread and wine which we have presented. At this moment, the priest extends his hands over the offerings. Just as the Holy Spirit descended over the Virgin Mary so that she would conceive and Jesus would be made present in her womb, now the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to descend over these gifts and make Christ present in our midst.
The Institution Narrative and Consecration:
We have reached the heart of the Eucharistic Prayers, the most important moment of the Mass. Following the mandate which Jesus gave to his apostles: “Do this in memory of me;” the priest, acting in the person of Christ, says the words of the institution of the Eucharist, the same which Jesus spoke the day of the Last Supper. These words have the power to transform reality. Just as when God said, “Let there be earth,” and the earth was made. When Jesus told the paralytic, “Take your mat, rise up, and walk,” the paralytic who had never been able to walk, rose to his feet and began to walk. Or when He said to His friend Lazarus after four days in the tomb, “Lazarus come out!” and Lazarus returned to life and left the tomb. As God, when He speaks His Word, creation obeys. In the Mass, God speaks His Word through the priest: “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT OF IT, FOR THIS IS MY BODY … ”, “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT, FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD … ” His word, which is efficacious, transforms reality and the offerings of bread and wine cease to be such and are truly converted into the Body and Blood of Christ; truly his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Before receiving Communion, the Church invites us to recite the prayer which Christ taught us. Saint Cyprian said, “What prayer would the Father hear more gladly than that in which he hears the voice of his only Son, Jesus Christ?” When we pray the Our Father, the Father recognizes the voice of his Only-Begotten Son in us. When we pray the Our Father, we are not praying with our words, but rather with the words of God, with the same words with which Jesus taught us to pray. The prayer is not my Father, but OUR Father. It is an invitation to love between us, to brotherhood, to sisterhood, to reconciliation. Pope Francis has said it very clearly: “This is a prayer which cannot be recited with enemies in one’s heart, with hatred for another.” It is a prayer that prepares our hearts because it invites us to communion.
How many times have we said, “I am dying of hunger!” Our body rejects the experience of having an empty stomach so strongly we express ourselves this way. But we have an even more profound hunger: the hunger for God. Christ makes Himself food because He does not want to leave us empty. He has come that we might have life and have it abundantly. It is the moment of communion. It is when the priest comes forward to distribute the Eucharistic food. It is also called Communion because upon receiving the Body of Christ, we enter into an intimate and profound communion with Him. When someone eats something, that which is eaten becomes part of the body and becomes one with the person and no one can separate the two. When we receive the Body of Christ, something different occurs, not only does the Eucharist become part of us, but above all, we become what we eat, we become Christ-like, we become more like Jesus. This is true food, the food of eternal life, he who receives it will live forever.
Final Blessing and Dismissal
The Mass ends as we begin it, with the sign of the cross. We are able to go in peace because we have seen God, we have encountered Him and we are renewed to continue with the mission which God has given us. At the end of Mass, the priest gives us the Final Blessing, the Benediction. The word “Benediction” comes from two Latin words “bene” and “dicere” which mean “to speak well” of someone. Generally, when someone speaks well of us, it neither makes us better nor worse persons. But when God speaks well of us, His Word does change us distinctly. It gives us the grace to fight the good fight. Thus ends the Mass, and we are ready to continue forward in our Christian lives.
More Resources On The Catholic Mass