Mass, The Sacrament of Sacraments
From the earliest days of Christianity, believers have gathered together to worship God in the way Jesus directed,
“Do this as a remembrance of me.”Luke 22:19
The word Mass means “to be sent forth” and we are sent forth from the Eucharist to live as Jesus did, to share his love with others and to serve others. In order to be more aware of what happens at every Mass, we need to explore the history of the Mass. Like any family who gathers after the death of a loved one, the disciples came together to discuss and to share their grief. Many of them had seen him after the resurrection. Through a common religious experience on Pentecost, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and realized beyond a doubt that Jesus was truly the Messiah. Every part of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday took on a new dimension. They recalled how Jesus had taken bread and wine and blessed it and gave it to them saying, “Take this and eat it… this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26) and “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19). These words took on new meaning. Each Sunday, the disciples gathered to celebrate the resurrection, recall Jesus’ life and share a meal in remembrance of Jesus. It was called the “Breaking of Bread”. These gatherings in faith have continued to this day and have now become the “Mass”, our celebration of the Eucharist.
Every Sunday or Saturday evening the Catholic community gathers as a worshiping assembly. The two major parts of the Mass are the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the Introductory Rites, we begin the Mass with an opening song and a greeting. We ask God and one another for forgiveness in the Penitential Rite. Then we praise God and pray for the strength to live for God’s reign.
Liturgy of the Word
God speaks to us in the Liturgy of the Word. Selections from the Old and New Testaments are read aloud by the reader (lector). The Responsorial Psalm follows the first reading. This psalm helps us make the connection between our lives and the Old Testament reading.
The first New Testament reading is from one of the Letters (Epistles), from the Acts of the Apostles, or the Book of Revelation. We prepare for the proclamation of the gospel by standing and singing the Alleluia. Alleluia is Hebrew for “praise to God”.
The deacon or priest then proclaims the good news of Jesus from one of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. After the gospel, the priest or deacon gives a homily (sermon), relating the word of God to our lives and helping us live God’s word in the world. After the homily, we profess our common faith by saying the creed together.
The Liturgy of the Word concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful. We pray for our needs, the needs of others, the needs of the Church, and the needs of the world.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
The liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the Preparation of the Gifts. Members of the assembled parish family bring our gifts of bread and wine to the altar. These gifts are signs that we are returning to God the gift of our lives. They are also signs of our efforts to care for one another and all of God’s creation. The priest prepares and offers the bread and wine to God.
As we stand, the priest invites us to join in the Eucharistic Prayer. This is our Church’s great prayer of praise and thanks to God for all of creation and for our salvation. We respond with the “Holy, holy, holy, Lord” prayer.
The priest then says and does what Jesus did at the Last Supper. He takes the bread and prays, “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.” He then takes the chalice and continues, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the words and actions of the priest, the bread and wine have become Jesus’ own Body and Blood. This is called the consecration.
After proclaiming the mystery of faith, we prepare for Holy Communion by saying the Our Father. We pray for God’s forgiveness and then share a sign of peace with those around us. While praying the Lamb of God prayer, the priest breaks the consecrated Host. This is a sign that we share in the one Bread of Life.
The priest receives Holy Communion. The members of the community next share Jesus’ Body and Blood in Holy Communion. We may receive the Host in our hand or on our tongue. We may also be invited to receive Communion from the chalice. The priest or extraordinary Eucharistic minister says to us, “the Body of Christ” and if we receive from the chalice, “The Blood of Christ”. We respond “Amen”. This “Amen” means that we believe that Jesus is really present with us in the Eucharist and in our lives. To receive Communion worthily, we must be in a state of grace. A person who has committed a mortal sin must receive absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation before going to Communion.
In the Concluding Rite the priest blesses us. He or the deacon sends us forth and says, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Through the Mass, we receive the grace to lives as true members of the Church, the Body of Christ!