Now on to the Mass!
The Mass usually begins with a verse from the Psalms, or a hymn (optional). Hymn is just a Greek word for “song of praise.” Psalms are ancient Hebrew Songs of Praise called “Tehillim” in Hebrew, in Greek “Psalmoi”, meaning “instrumental music” or “song lyrics.” There are 150 psalms in the Bible, some of which were possibly written by King David three thousand years ago. The traditional chant melodies by which these songs are sung are very ancient, some of them actually seem to go back to the melodies by which they were sung in the temple.
Then we have the greeting. We begin with the sign of the cross saying, “In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We are here not in our own name, but in the name of - for the sake of - by the authority of - GOD, and not for our own purposes. Then the priest greets us by saying, “The Lord be with you” or some variant of that. We always respond “and with your Spirit.” The word “Spirit” has already been mentioned twice and we’ve hardly begun. This is to remind us that we are entering into something that is real but can’t be seen with the eyes of the body alone. We are entering the spiritual world by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are going back to the timeless sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, and forward to the great Marriage Banquet of heaven.
1. Next we admit our sins, and ask the Lord for mercy. There are a few variations of this part of the Mass.
2. Then we sing hymn of praise called the “Gloria.” This is sung or said on Sundays and important feast days except during Lent and Advent. It is a sort of “private” psalm that doesn’t come from the Bible but was composed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries after Christ. It was originally part of the morning prayer services. In the West it became part of the Mass. The western version of the song is usually attributed to St. Hilary of Poitiers, who lived around 350 AD. It starts with the song of the Angels at the birth of Christ and then moves on to the praise of the Holy Trinity.
3. From there we move on to the first prayer of the Mass, usually called the “Collect.” It also called the opening prayer. It is called the Collect (accent first syllable), because it gathers the people and all their prayers into one voice. It was probably the original opening to Mass in the first centuries, the confession of sin and the Gloria being a sort of preparation for Mass. The collect is not a spontaneous prayer. It is mandated in the Missal and it is a beautiful thing that one billion people throughout the world are lifting their voices to God in the same words. Humanity is collected, gathered together in way that no political organization can come close to matching.
4. Then we move on to Bible study. On Sundays and important feast days there are two readings, usually one from the Old Testament, then a psalm and then one from the New Testament other than the Gospels. This is followed by another verse from a psalm. Last, a section of one of the Gospels is read. On weekdays there is just one non-Gospel reading — Old or New Testament — a psalm, then psalm verse followed by a Gospel reading. The readings all come from a fairly strict calendar of readings, thought there may be some variance. No reading is allowed at Mass except for those taken from the Bible. In fact, the Bible was probably formed from those books read at Mass by the early Christians.
The Mass is, in a certain sense, the mother of the Bible! If you go to Mass for three years running you will hear most of the Bible read out loud. (Tell that to someone who says the Catholic Church doesn’t read the Bible!) The readings are usually followed by a homily or sermon. Homily is a Greek word for “comparison.” Sermon is a Latin word for “a speech.” So here you have the “Liturgy of the Word.”
a) Old Testament reading
b) Psalm and response
c) New Testament reading
d) Psalm verse and response
— Six parts or less to the Liturgy of the Word. Easy Peasy!5. After this we move on to the Creed. Before we move into “second gear” we make sure that we all agree with each other on the basic points of the faith, especially that Jesus is both God and man, that He became flesh in the womb of the blessed Virgin and that He died and rose from the dead for our salvation, because in a few minutes that flesh, born of the virgin Mary, will become present on the altar in the form of bread and wine and we will be transported back to His crucifixion and His resurrection in the timeless spiritual realm.
6. After this we offer bread and wine to the Lord. This section of the Mass usually begins with a psalm verse or a hymn and if there is a collection taken up it is usually taken up here. The Mass was modernized in the 1960's and this is the part of the Mass that changed most. The prayers now used are essentially the same ancient prayers that Jews still use for the blessing of bread and wine. This takes us way back, 4,000 years ago. The high priest Melchizedek offered bread and wine to the Lord when Abraham, the ancestor of Jesus and our spiritual ancestor, defeated his enemies. This offering of bread and wine has never stopped since then. Often incense is burned during this part of the Mass as was done in the Temple in Jerusalem. This part of the Mass ends with a prayer prayed by the priest.
7. After the sacrifice of bread and wine, the priest again greets the people and invites them to “lift up their hearts” to the Lord. There is a prayer called the Preface. It is a variable introduction to the most important parts of the Mass. The congregation responds by singing or saying a very ancient prayer that comes to us from the temple liturgy. The first part of the Sanctus comes from Isaiah 6:3. It is the song of the six-winged, fiery angels (seraphim) who stand before the throne of God. It is similar to the vision of angels in the Apocalypse (4:8). In synagogues, a similar prayer is said during the Kedusha, (sanctification prayer) which is a part of the Amidah (18 Blessings or the “standing prayer”). We repeat the words of the angels because we are about to enter into their presence and stand in the court of God in heaven. So, fasten your seat belts you are about to be rocketed beyond space and time.
(To be continued)