The Mass follows a set liturgical formula which, in itself, is filled with meaning. The many meanings within this ritual action of the Mass can easily be missed. Let’s walk through the entire Mass and briefly touch on its meaning. Understanding what we do, why we do it and what it all means will help us to celebrate the Mass with much deeper faith and devotion.
THE INTRODUCTORY RITES
This beginning part of the Mass can be broken up into four parts:
1) Procession (with entrance antiphon)
2) Act of Penance
4) The Collect
ENTRANCE ANTIPHON (SONG): The purpose of this chant is to begin the celebration of the holy Mass, to foster unity among all those present, to draw their thoughts into the wondrous mystery of the particular liturgical season or celebration, and to accompany the liturgical procession of the priest celebrant and the ministers who will assist with the Mass. This is done through the beautiful act of singing.
PROCESSION: As the song is sung, the procession takes place. It is led by the Cross which symbolizes that our journey through this world toward Heaven is made possible only by the Cross. The Mass servers and the ordained ministers participate in the procession. They, together, represent all the faithful on this journey toward Heaven.
1) The Sign of the Cross begins the greeting. This is a powerful gesture. We call on God’s Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which should always be the beginning of prayer.
2) The priest then says, “The Lord be with you.” This initial greeting is a reassurance of God’s love and fidelity to be with each person who approaches the Holy Mass and offers a promise of His presence in their lives so as to fulfill the mission He is giving them as Christians.
3) The congregation then responds, “And with your spirit.” This is not simply a friendly gesture as if to say “greetings and blessings to you, too, father!” Rather, the reference to the Priest’s “spirit” is a reference to his ordination. Thus, it is an acknowledgment on the part of the faithful that the priest is there in the person of Christ by virtue of his ordination. So they are actually acknowledging Christ’s presence as the Liturgy begins. This should also remind us that the role of the priest, at that moment, is to be a sacramental minister and instrument of Christ.
ACT OF PENANCE: The act of penance is all about preparation. The best way we can prepare for the Mass is to seek the mercy of God through the forgiveness of our sins. Of course, seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness is something we must do every day, all day.
One option for this act of penance is to pray the Confiteor (I confess to almighty God…). In this prayer, we make a triple acknowledgment of our sins by saying, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” While speaking this, we are to strike our breast as a sign of our sorrow.
We also speak the Greek Kyrie at this moment. The Greek ties us to ancient Christians since this was the language they spoke. It is the only Greek we use in the Liturgy in the Latin Rite. We say, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy). Again, we have a triple plea for mercy. Three is the number of perfection and fullness and, therefore, is a way of saying, “Lord, please shower the perfection and fullness of your mercy upon us.”
GLORIA: The Gloria is a response to the Kyrie. Just as Advent prepares for Christmas, so also begging for mercy prepares us to receive it. Therefore, upon asking for mercy we immediately rejoice with the Gloria as a way of acknowledging that the mercy we have asked for is given to us.
THE COLLECT: The priest then says or sings, “Let us pray.” He takes a moment of silence and then prays the prayer called the “Collect.” This prayer gathers all the prayers of the faithful into one and offers them to the Father. This prayer concludes the Introductory Rites.
The ultimate purpose of this entire rite is to ensure that the faithful, who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves to listen properly to God’s Word and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily.
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