Called Forth to learn about the Mass

December 1, 2022
Dear Parishioners and Friends of St. John’s,
The Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word 

Here at St. John the Baptist, we print programs to help you fully engage in the celebration of the Mass. It is one way we try to be welcoming and help people feel comfortable throughout the Mass. We begin with the Introit, which is the prayer that is chanted at the very beginning of the Mass. It is meant to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, turn their thoughts to the mystery of the celebration, and accompany the procession. Culturally, we are accustomed to an opening hymn and so we do both here at SJB to raise our hearts and minds to God. 

You will notice that we genuflect at the beginning of Mass to the tabernacle, acknowledging the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ there in the Eucharist. For the remainder of the Mass except for the consecration and before “Behold the Lamb of God,” we bow to the altar when entering or moving about the sanctuary (the raised area in the front of the church). That is because the altar is the place of sacrifice and the center of attention within the Mass.   

You also notice that the clergy also kiss the altar at the beginning and end of Mass. They also kiss the Gospel after it is proclaimed. This is to show reverence towards the presence of God in those two places. Personally, I always say internally, “Love you, Jesus!” when reverencing the altar or Gospel. It is a reminder to me, of whom I am dedicated to.  

The sign of the cross bookends the Mass as it is a reminder that in the Mass, we are in communion with the Trinity. We pray prayers to the Father, we honor the Son and participate in His Sacrifice, and we call the Holy Spirit to strengthen us throughout the Liturgy. Also, the presider offers you the peace of God right after the sign of the cross as well as right before the blessing at the end. The Church desires the peace of Christ to remain throughout the Mass and hence “The Lord be with you” is stated throughout the liturgy. After the greeting, the priest is given the opportunity to introduce the Mass of the day. Often, I will give a preview of one of the readings or the focus of the homily. Following the introduction is the Penitential Rite. At times, this rite is omitted when there is some other form of penance during the rite or if it is not prescribed, for example at a celebration of marriage. During the Sundays of Easter, we do the sprinkling rite which takes the place of the Penitential Rite. There are three forms of the Penitential Rite which you can find on the inside cover of our hymnals. We most often recite the “I confess prayer” and then sing the kyrie eleison. Did you know that you pray in Greek when you pray that? Kyrie eleison means “Lord, have mercy.” Christe eleison means “Christ have mercy.” As part of the Penitential Rite, you are forgiven of your venial sins. Next, we pray the Gloria on Solemnities except for Sundays during Advent and Lent. The Gloria is the prayer that begins with the prayer of the Angels at Bethlehem and is meant to remind us of the Saints and Angels that are present around the altar. It is also to remind us that Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” is here. Christ is powerfully present in the Mass and thus we give Him glory. Next, the priest chants or says “Let us pray.” There is to be a brief moment of silence where we call to mind what we want to pray for in the Mass. Then united in the priest’s prayer, we bring those prayers to God. Typically, this prayer is addressed to God the Father and on occasion, it is to Jesus Christ. This “collect” or opening prayer is the end of the Introductory Rites and then we begin the Liturgy of the Word. 

Next, we listen to the Word of God. We have up to 5 spiritual passages proclaimed within the Mass. The First reading is typically from the Old Testament, the Responsorial Psalm is typically a Psalm, the Second reading is typically from the New Testament, the Gospel acclamation typically from the Gospel, and the Gospel passage itself. These 5 readings rotate based on a routine established by the Church. For Sundays, there is a 3-year rotation and for weekdays there is a 2-year rotation. The Homily follows the readings and is required on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation. The Homily should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Mass of the day. It should consider the mystery being celebrated, specifically the Eucharist, within the given occasion.  The homily may be given only by a member of the clergy. Here at SJB, Fr. Joseph and I rotate Masses and we typically preach at the Mass where we preside. Approximately, once a month we have one of our assigned Deacons deliver the homily. The homily is to be relevant to the needs of the people and thus I sometimes try to build on an established theme from week to week, like we are currently with the series on the Mass.    

Following the Homily, either the Nicene or Apostle’s creed is prayed together. Then the Liturgy of the Word concludes with the intercessions or petitions. One thing that is unique at SJB is the different responses we have to the petitions. This is permissible and the programs make it easier as the various responses are communicated through them. We vary them with the liturgical reason as a way to help us remember something is different. If you want to read more on the Mass, you can read the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, also known as the GIRM.

As the Father loves me, so I also love you,

Father Paul Shovelain