What is the Mass? …a Continuing Series

What Is The Mass? A good way to describe the Mass is to say that it is Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday made present today in ritual. It is not merely a meal which reminds us of the Last Supper, or a Passion Play which helps recall Good Friday, or a Sunrise Service which celebrates the Lord’s Resurrection. It is Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The basic “shape” of the ritual of the Mass can be described as a meal. This is not to say it is “just an-other meal” or that we are ignoring the Mass as a sacrifice. Not at all. The point is, the shape of the Mass, even when viewed as sacrifice, is that of a meal. For our purposes, we can be greatly helped in our “walk through” the Mass if we remember this basic “meal shape.”

When friends gather for a meal, they sit and talk; eventually they move to the table, say grace, pass the food and eat and drink, and finally take their leave and go home. On our walk through the Mass we will follow this same map: we will see ritual acts of 1) gathering 2) storytelling 3) meal sharing & 4)commissioning.

Gathering Rites

Coming together, assembling, is at the heart of our Sunday worship.  The reason behind each of the ritual actions of the first part of the Mass can be found in this word: “Gathering.”  The [purpose of these rites is to bring us together into one body, ready to listen and to break bread together.


The priest will ask us to begin the Mass with the sign of the cross. again reminding us of Baptism, and will greet us saying, “The Lord be with you.”  You will hear this greeting frequently.  It means many things. Like “goof day” It can also mean both “hello” and “good bye.”  It is both a wish (MAY the Lord be with you) and a profound statement (as you assemble for worship, the Lord IS with you).  It is an ancient biblical greeting.  Boaz returned from Bethlehem (we read in the Book of Ruth 2:4) and said to the reapers, ” And with your spirit!”  The ritual response to this greeting is always the formula “and with your spirit.” by which we return the hello, the good wishes, the statement of faith.


In Our Lady of the Mountains today, there will be someone at the door to gret you as you arrive for Sunday Mass.  We all like to be greeted and welcomed when we gather for a celebration.  If the greeters ( and we all should serve this function for one another) recognize you are new to the Parish, they will give you a special hello and be sure that you have the missalette or hymnal and participation aids necessary to pray well with the assembly.

Use of Water

One of the first things Catholics do when they come to church is dip their right hand in water and make the sign of the cross.  This ritual is a reminder of our baptism:  we are baptized with water and signed with the cross.  At every Mass, we renew the promises of our baptism.  It is baptism that brings us to the Church.


In Medieval Europe. it was a custom to go down on one knee (to genuflect) before a king or person of rank.  This secular mark of honor gradually entered the Church and people began to genuflect to honor the altar and the presence of Christ in the tabernacle before entering the pew.  Today, many people express their reverence with an even older custom and bow to the altar before taking their place.

Posture and Song

When the Mass begins, everyone stands up.  Standing is the traditional posture of the Christian at prayer.  I expresses our attentiveness to the word fo God and our readiness to carry it out.  Often we begin by signing together.  What better way to gather than to unite out thoughts and our voices in common word, rhythm and melody.

Penitential Rite, Gloria

All the other ritual acts of the first part of the Mass are intended to gather us together into a worshiping assembly.  Sometimes we are asked to pause and recall our common need for salvation (the Penitential Rite).  Sometimes the hymn “Glory to God in the Highest” is sung or recited at this point.  The “Gloria” has been a part of the Mass since about the sixth century!  These longer hymns and responses are found in the missalette at your seat.