Catholic Mass is confusing to first time attendees. A friend told me; “I once went to a Catholic Mass, but didn't know when to stand, sit or kneel, so I didn't go back.” I can understand that. I've been to Mass a number of times and still have to watch those around me to figure out exactly what to do. The bottom line is that no one cares.
The word “Mass” comes from the Latin phrase; “ite missa est” which is spoken at the end of the Sacred Liturgy. It literally means “go, [the congregation] is sent” Catholicism asks the congregation for more than just their physical attendance. Mass requires full, conscious, active physical participation – by singing, praying, speaking, kneeling, sitting and etc. One can't just sit in the pew and read the bulletin; every person should be communicating with God during the Mass.
There are those who scoff at the ritual and tradition that fills the Catholic Mass. “Why do we need that? We can just talk directly to Jesus.” Think about it. There are no cultures without ritual and tradition. Our graduation ceremonies, military ceremonies and weddings are filled with ritual. What would you think of a wedding if a couple got together and said, “Okay, now we are married, let’s get on with it.”
A ceremony without ritual does not do justice to the value of the sacrifice involved. We use special words that befit the dignity of what is being celebrated. Our system is hard-wired for ritual. Nowhere is ritual more befitting than when it comes to the worship of God.
The Mass is composed of four main parts; Introductory Rites, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Concluding Rites. It is noteworthy that the Mass follows the same formula and tradition in every Catholic Church, be it in Delta Junction or Milan, Italy.
The Introductory Rites.
The Priest enters and reverences the alter, which is a symbol of Christ at the heart of the assembly. The Priest makes the sign of the cross and greets the assembly in words from scripture. The Act of Penitence follows. The faithful recall their sins and place their trust in the mercy of God. The priest invites all to pray and then proclaims the prayer of the day.
Liturgy of the Word.
The Liturgy of the Word is made up mostly of readings from the Scripture. The first reading is always from the Old Testament. The second reading is taken from the New Testament. A deacon does the gospel readings. A psalm is sung between readings to help us meditate on the word of God.
After the Scripture readings, the Priest gives the homily. In contrast to a Protestant sermon, defined as a piece of admonition, the homily focuses on the Scripture texts and how they can help us live better lives, more faithful to Christ's call to grow in holiness. The Liturgy of the Word concludes with intercessions to God.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist cannot be covered in a single paragraph. The Eucharist is the heart of the Catholic Church. The majority of Protestant churches call the celebration of the Eucharist communion. Having attended numerous non-Catholic churches and participated in communion, I always felt that some crumbled crackers and a paper cup of fruit juice passed across the pews was almost sacrilegious.
The Eucharist is quite different. The Consecrated host and wine are the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, not just a symbolic reference. Matthew 26: 26-28 proclaims; “this is my body…this is my blood.” The Priest asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit on the gifts of bread and wine so that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ. Those who receive Holy Communion should fast one hour before receiving the Eucharist and not be conscious of having committed a serious sin. Only Catholics may receive the Eucharist, though those not received into the Church may still participate by praying for unity with Christ and be blessed by the Priest.
To truly explain the mystery of the Eucharist will take far more space than I have in today's writing.
When necessary, announcements may be made. The Priest blesses the assembly. In every case, the blessing always concludes, “In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” After the blessing, the people are dismissed and sent out to live their lives during the week in faith and to bring the fruits of the Eucharist to the world.
Mass is faith in action; the congregation continually participates in the program. For me, this an important distinction between the Catholic Church ceremony and those of other churches. Also, the same message, other than the homily, is at every Catholic Church in the world. Instead of just church on Sunday, one can attend Catholic Mass any day of the week. In Delta Junction, should one be unable to attend church on Sunday, stop by Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays or at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday and participate in the Mass. All are welcome.
John Schandelmeier is a local resident, and is involved in trapping, mushing, building, writing, tourism, and commercial fishing, and new to the Catholic Church. His writings are being done as part of his discovery of Catholicism.