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What We Do at Mass

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After hearing God’s word proclaimed in the First Reading, we respond not with mere human words, but with God’s inspired words of praise and thanksgiving from the Book of Psalms. The recitation —or, better, the singing— of the psalms helps create a prayerful atmosphere conducive to meditation. And just as the First Reading relates to the Gospel, the Psalm is connected to the First Reading.

This week we will look closely at the First Reading which is always—except during the Easter Season—taken from the Old Testament. When the Lord taught His disciples all that Scripture had proclaimed about Him, He was referring to what we call the Old Testament. When we hear these stories, we hear about how God called and formed His people. And although they are not always faithful, God sends prophets, judges, and other leaders to call them back to Himself.

Most Catholics are unaware of a little fact that is not a secret, but might as well be. The First Reading is chosen because it somehow relates to the GospelReading of the day. They always have some connection and, if we listen carefully, we will catch the connection.

After the Collect, we all sit down for the part of the Mass called the Liturgy of the Word, which includes readings from the Old and New Testament, the singing of a Psalm, the Allelluia and the proclamation of the Gospel, followed by the Homily, the Profession of Faith (Creed), and the Prayer of the Faithful.

Readings are contained in the Lectionary, where they arranged in segments for ease of reading, and they are proclaimed from the ambo, a pulpit or lectern designed to be similar to an altar. The Book of the Gospels contains the Gospel readings for Sunday Masses and other solemnities.

After the Gloria, the celebrant asks us to pray — Oremus in Latin. To “pray” means to ask, and here the celebrant is inviting us to ask together as the Body of Christ.

During the Collect and other prayers in the Mass, the priest extends his hands and arms outward in what is called the “orans” position, a position used by our Jewish ancestors and adapted for Christian prayer. The priest uses this gesture to indicate that we are all praying together; he is collecting all our prayers and offering them up to the Father.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” Many of us may recognize these words from St. Luke’s Gospel as the song the angels sing in praise announcing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Lk 2:14).

As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates, “The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn cannot be replaced by any other” (GIRM, no. 53). Full of phrases and titles from the Bible, the Gloria is sung every Sunday except in the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. It is also sung in solemnities and feasts and at particular celebrations of a more solemn character (GIRM, no. 53).

The Mass continues with the Penitential Rite, calling us to prepare ourselves for a sacred encounter with the Lord. We are truly not worthy to participate in all this, and so the priest calls us to “prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries” by confessing our sins. The Confiteor (I confess) is the prayer we all say together, for all of us —priest, deacon, congregation— are sinners, and we admit that we are in need of a Savior. At the words “through my fault”, we strike our breast, which in ancient times was a sign of mourning. Make a fist with your right hand and bring it to your chest, and remember we do this for symbolism, not for show.

The Mass is a communal prayer. It is not just the priest who is celebrating, but the whole community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates (CCC 1140). It begins with the procession: priest, deacons and other servers enter the church while the opening hymn is sung. Our voices are gifts from the Lord, so sing along with the cantor, remembering that St. Augustine said “He who sings prays twice.”