What is the Mass? There are many different terms to describe the Mass. One term is liturgy which means “work of the people.” Since it is a work of the people, we need to be engaged in it. We are not meant to sit back and observe. Rather we are called forth to full conscious active participation in the liturgy. Our goal in this Advent series is to pray the Mass more fully as a parish as each one of us grows in our understanding of its parts and significance. Christ is the one who most fully completed this work through His gift of self and His perfect prayer. In the liturgy, work of the people calls us forth to imitate the work of God.
In the Mass, we use many signs and symbols. We must look at creation, human culture, the Old Testament, and the New Testament to understand them. In human culture as well as the Old and New Testament, washing shows the need for cleansing. We use Holy Water to cleanse us from sin during our Baptism. We use Holy Water again as we enter the church to recall our own Baptism and ask for mercy. Human culture reveals that we use language differently, for example, I speak to Kindergarteners differently than 8th graders. In the Mass, we change the way we speak by chanting and singing parts of the Mass. It helps us to remember that what we are doing is not ordinary. Chanting various parts of the Mass is meant to help us elevate our attention to the Lord. For me, personally, chanting is hard to do and sometimes words get lost in the chant so I prefer to often speak rather than chant. However, at times, I try to chant the opening prayer or the dialogues during the Eucharistic Prayer. Any singing or chanting within the Mass is not to be a performance but meant to unite our hearts and minds in praise and love of God. This is a work in progress, but I encourage you to utilize the programs that we print or the hymnals and join us in song or chant throughout the Mass.
In order to enter more fully into the Mass, we are encouraged to dress up as we are going to a celebration. By dressing up, it puts us in a mindset that something important is happening. On the part of the priest, he wears an alb which covers his clerics, his ordinary clothes. The alb is white which reflects the grace of God that makes us worthy. The priest then puts on a rope or cincture which reminds him of his commitment to chastity in being dedicated totally to the Lord. Next, the priest puts on the stole, which represents his authority shared with him by Christ. The priest then puts on the chasuble, which represents charity. The priest is always called to lead with love, and that is why it the chasuble is on the outside, to be most visible to the people.
Having reflected on a few elements that set up the context of the Mass, we now look at an element within the Mass, processions. Throughout the Mass, there are four processions, the Opening procession, the Gospel procession, the Offertory procession, and the Communion procession. A procession means an assembly on the move who are united in their purpose and their destination. The movement reminds us that we are on a pilgrimage on Earth. Even though we like comfort on Earth, we are made for Heaven. We are actually exiles on Earth and the scriptures speak to that. The processions are meant to help us remember we are called to go toward God. In each procession, we are invited to go together to God, even if we are not the one moving. Visualize in your mind that you are going to God in the first two processions. In the offertory procession, reflect on what you are offering to God from your past week or upcoming week. In the Communion procession, call to mind what you desire from the Lord and bring that to Him as you receive Him in Holy Communion.
This was just a brief overview to help us understand some of the context of the Mass. Next week we will break open the Liturgy of the Word. For more resources stop by our parish library by the display case in the back of the church or check out formed.org and watch the “Elements of Catholic Mass” series.