The word “Mass” comes from the Latin missa which means to be “sent”. The Mass sends us on a mission into the world, to spread the love of Christ to all. In the Mass, the community gathers in the worship of God. This is for our own spiritual edification, but more importantly the Mass prepares us to respond to the needs of others. This idea is reinforced in the word “liturgy” which in ancient Greek (leitourgia) referred to a public work, some duty performed for the good of the community. The Mass is not a navel-gazing, self-indulgent spiritual experience. If you want to do good in the world, start by going to Mass!
The Mass has two principal parts: The Liturgy of the Word focuses on the Scripture readings and the priest’s homily. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the actual Sacrament and is the main part of the Mass.
Some parts of the Mass are “ordinary” in that we see them (with some variation) every day. Other parts are “proper” to the specific day.
The Order of the Mass
Introductory Rites: The community gathers, makes a collective confession, and an initial prayer.
Entrance: The celebrant and others enter and reverence the altar.
Greeting: The celebrant greets the people who make the Sign of the Cross.
Penitential Act: The celebrant leads the people in a collective confession of sin.
Glory to God: On Sundays and other solemnities, the people recite or sing the Gloria.
Collect: The celebrant “collects” the prayers of the people into a single prayer.
Liturgy of the Word
First Reading: Usually from the Old Testament.
Responsorial Psalm: The people sing a response between the stanzas of the Psalm.
Second Reading: On Sundays and solemnities, from the New Testament letters.
Gospel Acclamation: The people stand and greet the Gospel reading with an acclamation of praise.
Gospel: From one of the four Gospels.
Profession of Faith: On Sundays and solemnities, the people recite the Creed, normally the Nicene Creed.
Christ invites us to receive him in the Eucharist. This is a most serious invitation that requires self-examination and preparation, each time before we receive Communion. We should never approach Communion thoughtlessly, as simply something we do out of habit.
If we are aware of having committed a grave sin, we must seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving Communion. Otherwise, we risk committing sacrilege: “Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (CCC, 1385).
An Assenting “Amen”
When we receive the host, we respond, “Amen”—which means “So be it” or “I agree”. By receiving Communion and saying “Amen” we assent to all that the Church proclaims and teaches. If we cannot in good conscience give that assent, we should not receive Communion.
We ordinarily receive Communion when we participate in the Mass—if we have the right disposition and attitude. The Church requires that we participate in Mass every Sunday and day of obligation. It requires that we receive Communion at least once a year.
We must observe the required fast, normally one hour. Our clothing and demeanor should be appropriate. Silent prayer before Mass helps us to focus. During the Mass, we should be actively engaged. This includes not just our external engagement with such things as the congregational responses. More importantly, it means our interior and prayerful engagement with the Liturgy.
An Act of Worship
Since Christ is really present in the Eucharistic species, we approach Communion in an attitude of worship and adoration. We imitate the humility of the Centurion who said to Christ: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” (Matthew 8). In approaching the species, it is appropriate to bow deeply or genuflect.
In the Latin Church, Communion may be received on the tongue or in the hand. If receiving on the tongue, we should stand squarely in front of the minister, head erect, mouth open and tongue extended—enable the minister to put the host on your tongue reverently and safely. If receiving in the hand, put one hand under the other, and elevate toward the minister, providing a secure throne for the host—consume the host immediately. One may choose to kneel.
After receiving Communion is an important opportunity for prayer. If physically able, it is appropriate and respectful to kneel in the pew, at least until the Blessed Sacrament has been reserved in the Tabernacle.