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What happens at Mass?

txt-10mass-usccaSince the second century, the Mass (or the Eucharistic Liturgy) has had a structure that is common to all Catholics. While there can be different emphases during the celebration of Mass in Eastern Churches, they maintain the fundamental twofold structure with which members of the Latin Church are familiar. Thus, the Mass unfolds in two major parts that form a single act of worship. First, there is the Liturgy of the Word, with Scripture readings, homily, Profession of Faith, and General Intercessions. Second, there is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with the presentation of the bread and wine, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the reception of Holy Communion. The essential elements of Eucharistic celebrations may be summarized in the following four points.

1. The Introductory Rites

The Christian community, united by the Holy Spirit, gathers for worship in response to God’s call. Jesus, our High Priest, is the principal agent of our celebration. The bishop or priest acts in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church. All the worshipers participate actively with interior devout attention and with external reverence shown by singing the hymns and giving the responses and, when appropriate, observing silence. There are also the deacon, the lectors, those who present the offerings, the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the altar servers, the musicians, and other ministers. This first movement contains the Introductory Rites, which begin the celebration of the Mass. These include the Penitential Rite, the Gloria, and the Opening Prayer.

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Pt 2:9, 4-5) have a right and obligation by reason of their baptism. (SC, no. 14)

2. Liturgy of the Word

Over the course of the liturgical year, readings from Scripture, especially the Gospels, provide the heart of this part of the celebration. The proclamation of God’s Word and its explanation are meant to arouse our faith and prepare us for an ever deeper participation in the mystery of the Eucharist. The readings are followed by a homily from a bishop, priest, or deacon; the Profession of Faith in the recitation of the Creed; and intercessory prayers.

3. Liturgy of the Eucharist

a. The Preparation of the Gifts (Jesus took bread and wine). The offerings of bread and wine are received by the priest, who may be assisted by a deacon. “They will be offered by the priest in the name of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice in which they will become his Body and Blood” (CCC, no. 1350). From the earliest days of the Church, there was also an offering of gifts for the poor and needy. This has become the customary place and time for the parish collection.

b. The Eucharistic Prayer (Jesus blessed and gave thanks). This is the heart of the Eucharistic Liturgy, which unfolds in the following manner.

Thanksgiving (expressed especially in the Preface): In this prayer, we thank God the Father, through Christ in the Spirit, for the gifts of creation, salvation, and sanctification.

Acclamation: The whole congregation joins with the angels and saints in singing or saying the Sanctus (Holy, Holy).

Epiclesis (Invocation): The Church implores the power of the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine offered by human hands into Christ’s Body and Blood.

Institution Narrative and Consecration: The priest proclaims Jesus’ words at the Last Supper over the bread and wine. “The power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present, under the species of bread and wine, Christ’s Body and Blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross for all” (CCC, no. 1353).

Anamnesis (The Remembrance): We recall the death and Resurrection of Christ and look forward to his glorious return.

Second Epiclesis: The Holy Spirit is invoked upon the gathered community, to bring unity to the worshippers who will receive Holy Communion.

Intercessions: With the whole Communion of Saints and all God’s people on earth, we pray for the needs of all the members of the Church, living and dead.

Doxology and Great Amen: We conclude the Eucharistic Prayer with praise of God the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. This glorification is confirmed and concluded by the people’s acclamation “Amen.”

c. Communion Rite (Jesus broke the bread and gave his Body and Blood). After the Lord’s Prayer, the Lamb of God is sung or said during the breaking of the Body of Christ, or fraction, then we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. The Communion Rite concludes with a closing prayer.

4. Concluding Rite

Following the prayer after Holy Communion, the priest blesses the people and dismisses the assembly.

Centuries of reflection on the Eucharist have left us a spiritual heritage that continues to deepen and grow. Three key truths about the Eucharist draw our attention: it is a Sacrifice, a Holy Meal, and the Real Presence of Christ.

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

Copyright © 2006, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder.