Detail from “Last Supper,” Daniel Mitsui (2012). Used with permission. All rights reserved. www.danielmitsui.com
As part of implementing the Archdiocesan Synod, we are reaching out to help people understand and appreciate the Sunday Mass. In July of 2015, we had an in-Mass series that sought not only to explain the different parts of the Mass but also to root them in theology and history. Below you will find the resources we produced as part of this series.
In the Passover meal, the liberation of the Israelites in Egypt and the establishment of the Mosaic covenant are commemorated with prayer and ritual food. Through this celebration, the past is brought into the present allowing those who share the meal to experience the closeness of God and the meaning of their salvation.
When he gathered to share a meal with his disciples for the last time, Jesus fulfilled the Passover using the same pattern of prayer and ritual food. He gave of himself in bread and wine, an act completed when he laid down his life on the Cross. Through this sacrifice, once and for all, he liberated us from sin and death and established the New Covenant.
Jesus also commanded his disciples to perpetuate this remembrance of him. Paul documents the continued celebration of the Lord’s Supper by the early Christian community, and by 155 A.D., St. Justin Martyr gives witness to a Eucharistic celebration that we would recognize as the Mass we know today:
- Liturgy of the Word: readings from scripture, a homily, and general intercessions
- Liturgy of the Eucharist: the presentation of the gifts, a consecratory prayer of thanksgiving, and communion
From the shared meals of the early Christians to the Mass of today, we continue to gather to offer God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and to participate in Christ’s Passover, the Paschal Mystery. In word and food and in each other, Christ is made present. United with Christ and with each other, renewed in the spirit of hope and love, we are sent into the world to share the Good News.
Videos of Fr. Bill’s commentary on the Mass
Printable pamphlet with a summary of the parts of the Mass
- Introductory Rites
- Liturgy of the Word
- Liturgy of the Eucharist
- Concluding Rites
- Links and References
From the time of the first Pentecost onwards, “the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things “which were in all the scriptures concerning him” (Luke 24:27), celebrating the eucharist in which “the victory and triumph of his death are again made present,” and at the same time giving thanks “to God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15) in Christ Jesus, “in praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12), through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
–Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 6
We gather as one and prepare ourselves to listen to the word of God and celebrate the Eucharist.
As united the Body of Christ we rise to our feet and lift our voices in sung prayer.
We take the sign of Christ’s death and resurrection to our own bodies and mark the beginning of our sacred time of prayer. Our greeting acknowledges and evokes the presence of Christ in our midst.
In preparation for worship, we recognize our sinfulness and call upon God’s love.
A song of praise based on the hymn of the angels in Luke 2:14 sung each Sunday (except for the Sunday’s of Advent and Lent). It’s earliest usage dates to the 4th century.
The prayer of the day that gathers the prayers that have gone before into one and that prepares us to hear the Word of God in the context of the readings for the day.
“The Mass is made up of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which are so closely connected as to form one act of worship. In the word of God, the divine covenant is announced; in the Eucharist, the new and everlasting covenant is embodied and renewed.”
–Introduction to the Order of the Mass, no. 78
A dialogue with the Lord, in which “people listen to the word, reflect on it in silence, respond to it in song, assimilate it, and apply it to their lives. Moved by it, they profess their faith and intercede for the needs of the Church and the world.” (IOM, no. 80)
Sundays and solemnities present the most important biblical passages spread over a three-year cycle. The readings either follow semi-continuously through books of the Bible, relate to the liturgical season (Lent, Easter, etc.), or are associated with a particular solemnity.
The first reading comes from the Old Testament. It usually correlates with the doctrine or events of New Testament texts read in the same Mass, especially the Gospel. In this way, we hear the entire history of salvation.
Following a period of silence to reflect on what we have heard, we internalize God’s words, making them our own as we respond by singing a psalm.
“In their prayed poetry, the Psalms display the whole range of human experiences, which become prayer and song in the presence of God.”
-Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy
This reading is drawn from the writings of the Apostles and usually follows sem-continuously from a Letter or the Book of Revelation.
We rise to our feet and greet the Lord with song as the Book of the Gospels is processed to the ambo where it is proclaimed by a deacon or priest.
“When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel.” (GIRM, no. 29)
The deacon or priest provides a living explanation of the word of God for the day. It is intended “to stir the hearts of our people, to deepen their knowledge of the faith, and to renew their living the faith in the world and participation in the Church and her sacraments.” (PMF, p. 4)
We respond and assent to the word of God heard in the readings and homily. The Nicene Creed, which was first developed in 325 by the Council of Nicea, is the typical form used at Mass. It may be replaced by the Apostles’ Creed, an earlier creed associated with the profession of faith in the rite of Baptism. It is often used during the Easter season when the sacraments of initiation are celebrated.
We exercise our baptismal priesthood through Christ to pray for all humanity. The prayer follows a general pattern of intentions for the Church, the world, those who are suffering, and the local community. Each intention is prayed for in the silence of our hearts and in a common petition.
Our attention shifts from the ambo where God is present to us in his Word to the altar where God is present with us in the Eucharist. While this liturgy can be broken down into several steps, it can be viewed more simply in terms of Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper: Take, Bless, and Give.
The “bread and wine with water are brought to the altar, the same elements … Christ took into his hands.” (GIRM, no. 72)
We offer the simple elements of bread and wine brought forth in procession. We also make an offering of money to support our Church and the poor.
The priest praises God with blessings over the bread and wine, expressing God’s great goodness through which every gift is bestowed upon us. Usually, the assembly is singing an offertory song, but if there is no music, the assembly responds to these blessings with, “Blessed be God for ever.”
In ancient times, wine was usually mixed down with water. In the Eucharist, it is understood mystically to represent the union of Christ’s divinity and humanity or the union of Christ and the Church.
A practical action that has taken on the expression of the need for inner purity before beginning a sacred action.
This communal prayer completes the reception of the gifts in the spirit of Christ and moves us into the Eucharistic Prayer.
The “center and summit” of our celebration. “In this prayer, the celebrant acts in the person of Christ as head of his body, the Church. He gathers not only the bread and the wine, but the substance of our lives and joins them to Christ’s perfect sacrifice, offering them to the Father (“The Order of the Mass,” USCCB).” There are four principal Eucharistic Prayers that may be chosen from for regular Masses, as well as Prayers for special purposes.
The dialogue establishes the communal nature of the Eucharistic Prayer, which is offered in the person of Christ, in the name of the assembly, and with the whole Church in heaven and on earth.
An introductory thanksgiving to God that leads into an acclamation of praise by all present. It is typically proper to the day, feast, season, or occasion being celebrated and stresses the aspect of God’s saving work evoked in that Mass.
We join our voices giving glory to God in the eternal liturgy offered by the communion of saints, the heavenly powers, and all of creation.
The Church calls upon the Holy Spirit to consecrate the gifts offered by human hands so that they may become Christ’s Body and Blood and through our partaking in them, make us the body of Christ in the world. The gesture of the celebrant (hands extended, palms down) is the same one used when the Holy Spirit is invoked during Confirmation, Ordination, and other times.
We hear again the words of Christ at the Last Supper, in which he gave of himself for the salvation of the world. “In the power of the Spirit, these words achieve what they promise and express: the presence of Christ and his sacrifice among his people assembled in his name.” (IOM, no. 119)
We acclaim the “mystery of faith”–the saving death and resurrection of Christ.
From the Greek for “remembrance.” As called for by Christ, we celebrate the memorial of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. We offer ourselves and our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving with the sacrifice made once and for all by Christ.
We pray in union with Christ and the saints of the Church for our sake and for all the world.
The celebrant raises the consecrated elements as “the offering of the Church through Christ the High Priest; with Christ, who is really present in the Church; and in Christ, who has incorporated his people into himself by the action of the Holy Spirit (IOM, no. 124).” We respond with the “great Amen,” affirming the glory of God and the entirety of the Eucharistic Prayer.
We prepare to receive our present Lord in Holy Communion.
This prayer, taught by Jesus to his disciples, puts us into right relationship with God the Father. We ask for our “daily bread” in the Eucharist and a clean heart ready to receive it. The priest continues with the embolism (from the Greek for “an insertion”), which expands on the final petition. The assembly responds responds with a doxology (a short hymn of praise).
In peace of Christ we find wholeness and total well-being. We share that peace with each other recognizing that communion with God in Christ is found in communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Christ broke bread at the Last Supper, giving of himself. Today, we continue to be made one body in the one bread of life that is Christ. The assembly sings the “Lamb of God” litany praising Christ as the new Passover lamb, sacrificed for the salvation of all people.
The priest calls us to “behold the Lamb of God” in words drawn from the Book of Revelation. The “supper of the lamb” is not just a Passover meal, or the Last Supper, but the wedding feast between Christ the bridegroom and the Church, his bride.
The Eucharistic action is completed by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. It is appropriate to make a bow of the head in reverence to the Blessed Sacrament before receiving the bread and wine. A strong “Amen!” affirms our belief in the real presence of Christ. During the communion procession, we sing a hymn “to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the “communitarian” character of the procession to receive the Eucharist.” (GIRM, no. 86)
Following the distribution of Communion, we share a time of silent reflection or a hymn of praise. The communion rite is closed by a final prayer asking that the effects of the Eucharist will continue to active in our lives.
The concluding rite is intended “to send the people forth to put into effect in their daily lives the Paschal Mystery and unity in Christ that they have celebrated.” (IOM, no. 141)
The priest blesses the assembly and we mark ourselves with the Sign of the Cross, as we did at the beginning of the liturgy. The deacon or priest then dismisses the people. The name for our celebration (“Mass”) comes from the Latin “Ite, missa est,” which literally means: “Go, she (meaning the Church–including you!) has been sent.” We go forth singing, united in praise for God and in our mission to share the Gospel with the world.
To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,” but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20).”
–Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 7
- A detailed overview of parts of the Mass. The U.S. Catholic Bishops also have a webpage about the Mass that includes information on participating in the Mass; praying with mind, body, and voice; and other topics.
The Mass Broken Open
Produced by three priests of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Mill Valley, CA (2011)
- An accessible summary of the parts of the Mass and how we can best participate in worship.
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy
Second Vatican Council
- The document describing the reform and promotion of liturgy approved at Vatican II.
“Sacred Signs and Active Participation at Mass:
What Do These Actions Mean and Why Are They So Important?”
Rev. Cassian Folsom, OSB
- Reflections on the actions we make at Mass (standing, kneeling, etc.) and how they relate to worship.
- Produced by Ascension Press
Further reading (including references)
United States Catholic Catechism for Adults
Ch. 14: “The Celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ”
Ch. 17: “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Christian Life”
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (2011)
A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy
Edward Sri, Ascension Press (2011)
General Instruction of the Roman Missal
Chapter II: The Structure Of The Mass, Its Elements, And Its Parts
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (2011)
Introduction to the Order of the Mass
Bishops’ Committee On the Liturgy, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (2003)
Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (2012)