The Mass explained: the priest breaks down the parts of the liturgy
ARLINGTON, Va. — As part of a two-year preparatory period leading up to its Golden Jubilee in 2024, the Diocese of Arlington has embarked on a spiritual and intellectual renewal in the fundamental truths of the Catholic faith.
For the first year of preparation, the emphasis is on the Eucharist and the priests of the diocese give lectures explaining the mass.
Father Noah C. Morey, chaplain of Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, recently gave the first presentation at St. Agnes Church in Arlington.
Where does the mass come from?
The origins of the Mass come from the Bible and the early church. Church documents that explain how the early Church worshiped and prayed include the Didache, which dates back to AD 80; the first Apology of Saint Justin the Martyr, written around AD 155; and the Apostolic Tradition, written by Saint Hippolytus around 215 AD. “In the first three centuries of the Church, we have all the roots of the Catholic Mass,” Morey said. Much of the language of the Mass is taken directly from Scripture.
A Monday Mass, a Sunday Mass and a Christmas Mass all look a little different. That’s because larger solemnities are celebrated with “increasing flourish and ritual,” Morey said, which could include more chanting or the use of incense.
Sunday Mass begins with a procession, led either by an altar server carrying a cross or by a censer, which contains burning incense. The congregation stands out out of respect for the priest, who represents Christ. The procession leads to the sanctuary, which recalls the holy place of the Jewish temple.
The priest then approaches the altar and kisses it to show his reverence to the relics of the saints which are locked in the altar. In the early church of Rome, mass was celebrated underground and the tombs of Christians served as altars.
The priest begins with the sign of the cross and the words “In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, invoking the Trinity and signifying the presence of God among his people. He continues with, “May the Lord be with you,” and the congregation responds, “And with your spirit.
“The Lord be with you” is an ancient exhortation found throughout the Bible, such as when an angel appeared to the prophet Gideon or the Virgin Mary. “(The message) was to encourage them and strengthen them for the task that God was going to ask them to do,” Morey said. “It shows us that we cannot do this alone. The Lord is with us and he is the source of our strength. He always wants to greet us and inspire us to do good things through him.
The next part is the penitential act. “In the early church this involved an examination of conscience followed by a public confession of sins,” Fr. Morey said. “Fortunately, today we don’t have that part, but we do have an acknowledgment of our own unworthiness as well as a public acknowledgment of our sins.”
The Kyrie Eleison, the only part of the liturgy still in Greek, means “Lord, have mercy”. The Gloria is a hymn of praise, echoing the song of angels to shepherds on Christmas Eve. The Collect concludes the opening prayers, and the words change from day to day.
At this time the priest stands in the orans position – Latin for praying – extending his hands outward. “Whenever the priest prays on behalf of the people, he reaches out,” Morey said. “It goes back to the psalm which speaks of raising our hands as an evening oblation, our prayers being lifted up to God. But since the priest stands upright in the person of Christ, he also takes on the cruciform gaze.
Liturgy of the Word
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the lectionary cycle, or readings, were the same each year. But after Vatican II, in order to bring more Scripture into the Mass, a three-year lectionary cycle was instituted for Sunday Masses. Usually in year A the main Gospel readings are from Matthew, year B they are from Mark and year C they are from Luke; John is scattered everywhere, especially during the Easter season. Weekday Masses follow a two-year lectionary cycle.
The first reading is taken from the Old Testament, except during Easter time when it comes from the Acts of the Apostles. The first reading corresponds to the Gospel, often showing how an Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled by Christ. Next, a passage from the Psalms is sung. Many psalms were written by King David for temple worship. The second reading comes from the New Testament. During “Hallelujah,” the congregation stands and praises God before the Gospel is read by the priest or deacon.
The homily helps congregants understand the readings and makes God’s Word relevant for today. Next, the priest will move from the ambo, or podium, to his chair where he will lead the Nicene Creed, a statement of teachings that come from the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. of the Word ends with the prayer of the faithful, in which the congregation presents its requests for the good of the community and the world.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
Once the priest has erected the altar, he receives the offerings, usually a receptacle called a ciborium containing the Communion hosts and a cruet of wine. Monetary donations are often collected at the same time.
“In the early church, when (Christians) attended liturgy, they brought whatever was their trade or harvest,” Morey said. “It reminds us that just as bread comes from many grains and wine comes from grapes, so our collective sacrifices are lifted up and presented to the Lord. It was around the 11th century that a monetary collection was undertaken and c It was the people’s symbolic way of bringing their gifts to be presented to God.
A splash of water is added to the wine, called the mixture of water and wine. In the early church it was made to dilute strong wine, but it also symbolizes the humanity and divinity of Christ. The priest prays silently: “Through the mystery of this water and this wine, may we share the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share our humanity.
The priest then washes his hands with water from a basin called the sink, which means “I am going to wash” in Latin, recalling the moment when God asked Aaron, the brother of Moses, to wash his hands and feet before making an offering to God. . The priest then invites the people to pray that their sacrifice will be pleasing to God before beginning the Eucharistic prayer. The words of the Sanctus, which begins with “Holy, holy, holy,” echo what the prophet Isaiah heard the angels sing and what the people cried out to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The congregation then kneels in reverence.
The priest continues with a prayer of adoration then extends his hands over the bread and wine and calls upon the Holy Spirit in the part of the eucharistic prayer called the epiclesis. During the consecration, the priest pronounces the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ through the mystery of transubstantiation.
After the end of the Eucharistic prayer, the whole congregation rises and prays the Our Father, which was added to the liturgy by Saint Gregory the Great around the year 600. The sign of peace, which is often exchanged between the faithful, is a reminder of Jesus. commands to be reconciled with his brother before making an offering to God. Then the clergy and the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion distribute the Eucharist. When a person says “Amen” to the words “Body of Christ,” they are affirming not only their belief in the Eucharist, but in the totality of the teachings of the Church. After Communion, the priest returns to the altar for ablutions, or cleansing.
The Mass ends with a prayer, a blessing and the dismissal — the missionary mandate to go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.
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Maraist is an editor for the Arlington Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.