Understanding the Liturgy of the Mass: Part I - The Introductory Rites

By Deacon Tony Russo

For this season of Advent, Father Chester and your deacons would like to help you make the Mass come to life for you in a new and personal way. Our homilies in the next four weeks will be based on the book by Mark Hart, entitled Behold the Mystery: A Deeper Understanding of the Catholic Mass. We highly recommend that you order a copy for yourself and read it. Mark Hart is a layperson, who is an executive vice president for Life Teen International, and hosts a SiriusXM Catholic radio show called "Fired Up!"

Mark Hart states that the Mass is a cataclysmic event because it brings Heaven and Earth together. It requires that we put our gifts and talents in the hands of God, allowing him to take something simple and transform it into something majestic. Christ is present in the liturgy, not like you and I are present, but deeper than that. We encounter Christ in four places at every Mass. At the community gathering through our Baptism, in our priest, in Sacred Scriptures, and finally most importantly in his Eucharistic Body and Blood. The Mass is made up of movements and content and the better we know what the movements and flow of the Mass mean, the more we will understand the why the Catholic Mass is, first and foremost, a sacrifice.

This weekend allow me to walk you through the first part of the Mass: Introductory Rites.

Procession: Why do we process in? Consider what the procession signifies. We are all gathered here in the church, and Christ (in the person of the priest) enters last, while we are all standing and singing God's praises. as the priest joins the gathered family, our collective prayer and attention are drawn to the sanctuary, where all the action happens.

Bow: Prior to entering the sanctuary, we make a deep reverent bow, signifying that we are about to enter into sacred space. The sanctuary mirrors the old Holy of Holies in Scripture, which only the high priest could enter only once a year to offer sacrifice to God. Prior to Christ's passion, a large veil separated the people from the inner sanctuary. It was during Christ's crucifixion, the veil was torn, and with it -- through Jesus' blood -- the separation between God and us was destroyed. The sanctuary now, usually marked with steps, historically with a rail, offers us a visible reminder that this is far more than a "stage" for the priest but an offering place for the Lord.

Altar Kiss: When the priest and/or deacon arrive and depart the altar, we kiss it. The altar itself is a symbol for Christ, and we are venerating Christ. When we bend to kiss the altar we are looking down into over 2,000 years of history!

Sign of the Cross: "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." What do those words mean to you? It becomes almost instinct for us. We are marking ourselves with the greatest sign and act of love that the world has ever witnessed. Without the cross, we would have no hope of salvation. We would die, our past would dictate our future, which, to be clear, wouldn't be any future at all. No afterlife, no heaven my friends! The Church begins with the sign of Christ's love because she wants to ensure that we never, ever forget its importance. When we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross, we proclaim to the world and to ourselves who we are by demonstrating whose we are, thanking Christ for his ultimate sacrifice and example of love.

Greeting: When the priest says, "The Lord be with You," we automatically respond, "And with your Spirit." This opening greeting from Father, is far from a "Good morning" or "How you doin'." This greeting is reserved for epic moments in salvation history, times in scripture when God is warning and reminding those he loves that there is a dangerous mission before them. The greeting is both a reminder that God is with us, personally and communally, and is a plea for his divine grace and strength to remain with us, because we're going to need it for what we are about to experience. And why is it so important to say, "and with your Spirit"? First, because its more than an informal "What's up Father?" It's a formal response, because throughout the history of the Church, such a response has been directed to the very core of who that person is. The importance of the priest, who stands in the person of Christ as the leader of the people, is emphasized in this more formal and faithful response. As you say it, pray for Father, that he might continue to live his priesthood with faith and enthusiasm for us. Consider it like a return blessing when you respond, but to his spirit, the core of who he is as a priest.

Penitential Act: When we come to Mass, we often bring our burdens and things we have done throughout the week -- either sins against God or one another. At the Penitential Act, we humbly announce our fault and our need for forgiveness of any sins that we might have committed. To be "penitential" means to be sincerely sorry, and mean it. There are three forms of this prayer, and we usually use form "C", but realize no matter what form is used, it's not just about being sorry and asking for forgiveness; we are also admitting that it's our fault, and we need God's forgiveness and prayers of our community to avoid sin again. One important thing to remember, the priest doesn't give absolution at the end of this rite! Rather, he asks that God will have mercy on us. When you come up for Eucharist, that will forgive any venial sins, but we need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to be forgiven for serious and habitual sin.

Kyrie (kee-ree-ay) (Lord have Mercy): The deacon or priest says a prayer, you respond "Lord, have mercy," then "Christ, have mercy," then once again, "Lord, have mercy." It can become dangerously automatic...do you desire divine mercy from God? Do you need Christ's mercy....do we yearn for our Lord's mercy? Yes...more than the air we breathe! The Church in her wisdom not only recognizes our need; she pauses and encourages us to collectively pray for God's mercy before we go any further into the sacrifice of the Mass.

Gloria: Ok, name the point in the Bible when we hear these words sung: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to his people of good will." Here's a hint: one silent and holy night. Luke's gospel...the voice of angels, erupting in praise of God's incarnate presence in this world. How fitting, since the Mass is not only a celebration of Chris's sacrifice, but also, of Christmas. At every Mass, we celebrate Jesus' enduring presence among us and within us. During Advent and Lent we refrain from the Gloria because they are penitential seasons. For the same reason the Alleluia is not said at Mass, whether with the Psalms, the Gospel acclamation or in hymns. But the Gloria adds a "celebratory character" to the Introductory Rites that is better expressed sung than in recitation, and increased in collaboration with a full choir -- reminding us of the glory of God.

Collect: When the priest says, "Let us pray," it's actually an invitation to us to offer a prayer in our hearts to God to prepare for Mass. The Collect "collects" all those silent prayers from us and offers them to God in one universal prayer of the Church.

The Collect ends the Introductory Rites and sets us up spiritually to listen to Sacred Scriptures for the next part of mass - The Liturgy of the Word, which Deacon Stephen will present at mass next weekend.

May the Mass this coming year come alive for you and bring joy to your life -- God Bless.

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