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The Lord has done great things, and leaving us with the Holy Mass ranks up there with creating the universe, creating life and writing the scriptures. In each Mass offered in the world, Jesus comes down from Heaven to be present in us. As mere mortals we partake in the Mass, knowing a mystery is occurring but our soul probably sees what our minds cannot.
There is a lot going on in the Mass. If you look at the source of who’s talking, the direction or target of the communication, it covers a large number of people and heavenly spirits. There’s thanksgiving, offerings, prayers, statements of purpose and addresses. My focus is on the parts of the Mass that standout for me personally, not trying to set one part of the liturgy above the others. It’s actually quite complex when analyzed.
Of course with 2,000 years of edits, clarification and tender loving inputs, it truly is Gods gift to mankind. With the thrones of angels and saints present and God speaking through the bible readings, the Mass is a celebration of epic spiritual proportions.
1. The Seen and Partly Seen are Present
We enter the Mass in the company of others all around us; saints, souls, God and of course . . . people. Maybe the non visible participants are tougher to acknowledge, but over time you can tell they are there, we are told they are there and if we listen, we know God is there, for he said “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I” (Matthew 18:20). And the people you see face to face with the newly design churches, they are our neighbors and friends.
Entering the Mass with an open mind and heart, you sense there is something special going on here, there is an order involved and there is a story being told and a certain spiritual presence felt. By acknowledging those participating in the Mass, seen and unseen, we are in essence communicating and praying with them to God.
2. Sacred Art Abounds: God Speaks, Artist Listens, We Benefit and Engage
When entering the Church, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge those beings represented in the icons, stained glass windows and sculptures of the physical space. Acknowledging and praying with the patrons of the church is the courteous thing to do. We are in their spiritual space. So we can acknowledge the saints we see in the art; and the saints we don’t see, but want to invite to participate. Asking these heavenly bodies to bring our offering requests to the front of the altar personalizes and maximizes the benefits we receive from the Holy Mass.
The Holy Mass at a small country chapel is where we begin. Shown are two Guardian Angels (St. Raphael and St. Michael) guarding the Tabernacle; above is a YHVH window “I Am” in Byzantine style based on a 4th century icon. Saint Basil and Saint Macrina, the patrons, are on each side.
St. Basil the Great Church and Chapel, Fr. Gary Pacitti; presider and pastor; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, ninth Archbishop of Philadelphia. Wall icons in the chapel by Russian iconographer Niko Chocheli .
Sacred art in a sacred place; Santa Rosa Catholic Church, San Fernando CA. Top: This is my body… this is my blood by Lalo Garcia.
3. The Bible Embedded in the Mass: God Talking to Us
The Mass does not change in structure yet the content of the readings changes by religious calendar, including Holy Days, saint feast days and memorials. At each Mass, the Old Testament and the associated New Testament is read aloud, or in Eastern Catholic rite’s Divine Liturgy sung aloud, making the Mass invigorating, slipstream new and one of God’s ways of talking to us.
The variety of teachings we get from the Liturgy of the Word readings makes us think, meditate, ponder and witness the Last Supper. Mass readings can be found at USCCB and/or the free app Laudate.
Scott Hahn, in his book, Reasons to Believe, says that the Mass is the Church’s fulfillment of an explicit command of Jesus, recorded in the Gospel and in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (11:23-25):
“For I received from the Lord what I handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in memory of me.’
In the same way, he took the cup saying, ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
4. Ringing the Bells: Signal to the Faithful (a miracle is taking place)
The ringing of the bells at consecration is steeped in centuries of tradition. The bell ringing is optional today, yet in the middle ages when one could not hear or see parts of the Mass, the bells signified the consecration, the raising of the host and the raising of the chalice to the congregation. In a large cathedral, the bell ringing would have been a functional necessity. Also, the bells signified the larger tower bells be rung, signifying to the world, a miracle is taking place!
In today’s world, the ringing of the bells shows reverence to that part of the Mass. It’s a special feeling with the gifts raised and a good place to shift to an adulation prayer, like the Jesus Prayer.
The first ringing of the bells is during the The Eucharistic Prayer with the Epiclesis, an invocation calling upon the Holy Spirit to bless the offerings of bread and wine. This section was modified in 2011 and the new updated Roman Missal, and now packs a powerhouse prayer with “send down your spirit like the dewfall”. Sacred poetry at it’s best. The full verse the priest says at consecration with hands extended over the chalice and paten are:
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The process of the Mass is such that water and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ, or consecrated, so he is truly present in the Eucharist. This substance change process is key and is called transubstantiation.
The bible reference: “truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink “(John 6:53-55).
With the elevation of the host is the second ringing of the bells:
Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.
I like this prayer since the priest starts in the third person, “At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his passion…”, and then the priest switches into the first person, “take this all of you and eat of it…” representing Jesus Christ.
As Ray Takacs of St. Agnes Church in Irwin PA says, “When I first realized this shift in speaking from third to first person, I was utterly amazed to realize that Jesus is speaking to us through the priest, just as he spoke to the Apostles at the Last Supper over 2000 years ago!”
Walking with them Jesus explained the Scriptures; sitting with them at table “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Christ is present in each Mass.
The third ringing of the bells is the raising of the chalice:
Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Blood, the blood of the new and everlasting convent, which will be given up for you.
St. John Chrysostom declares:
It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.
A side note: an opportunity exists to be an adult alter server in the mass, especially when no school is involved and it’s a daily Mass. I remember being asked to serve one morning, after an initial hesitation, I accepted. It was a day of significant realization of the power and glory of the Mass, and the day I became an altar server. It does take some getting used to, but being close to the altar and ringing the bells is enlightening. As the Eastern Catholics say in the Mass, “be attentive”, you never know when you will be asked to serve.
5. Sacred Poetry in the Oration Prayers
The Oration Prayers are some my favorite prayers in the Mass and include: The Collect, The Prayer over Offerings, The Prayer after Communion.
An oration prayer is said by the priest alone. The collect or opening prayer is part of the Introductory rite. Here is a collect from St. Mark’s feast day:
“O God, who raised up Saint Mark, your Evangelist,
and endowed him with the grace to preach the Gospel,
grant, we pray,
that we may so profit from his teaching
as to follow faithfully in the footsteps of Christ.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.”
The collect is a unique short prayer, referencing the first reading and the Saint of the Day or an event. It is found in the Roman Missal, which is the sacred book used by the priest during The Holy Mass at the altar. Some of the nicest prayers in the world are there.
The Oration Prayers in the Roman Missal.
During a seminar, the monks at our local Abbey showed us how the collect is created based on the first reading, typically from the Old Testament. We then created our own collect and shared with the classmates! What a great experience to delve into how the Mass verbiage is created. So much depth and so beautiful. Here is a short collect I created in this class:
O Most High,
Dwell in our hearts so that we
May answer “yes” to
Your Call to Holiness.
An entire blog of collects was created by BlueStone blogger. For each day of the year she created a collect. She shares her method, “the verses are arranged in trios, all in harmony with an image of Christ, followed by a prayer consisting of five elements found in church liturgy known as “collects”: the address, the doctrine, the petition, the aspiration and the pleading.” What a site by this collect writer!
Prayer Over the Offerings
“Adoration of the Lamb” by Jan Van Eyck 1432 Ghent Alterpiece. Detail: The red altar where the lamb stands reads, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world” and “Jesus the way, the truth, and the life”, both quotes from Gospel of John. In this image and in the book of Revelation the Lamb is Jesus. Directly around the Lamb on the altar are angels who are carrying the instruments in the Passion scenes, like the cross and crown of thorns. More detail here.
The Prayer over the Offerings from the Liturgy of the Eucharist changes daily and is intoned by the priest over the offerings of bread and wine usually brought to the altar by the people. The prayer is sung (or read) by the priest after the people say “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for our good and the good of all His Holy Church”. Here is the unique Prayer over Offerings from the May 11th Mass taken from the Roman Missal. (Sample)
May our prayers rise up to you, O Lord,
together with your sacrificial offerings,
so that purified by your graciousness,
we may be conformed by the mysteries of your mighty love.
Through Christ our Lord.
At the Offertory, our petitions for families and friends, living and passed, and offerings for peace in the world are carried by angels to the Altar of the Lord. (Catalina Rivas)
Prayer After Communion
The Prayer after Communion is from the Communion rite of the Mass after the people have received Holy Communion. The priest starts, saying “Let us pray”, and then says the Prayer after Communion.
An example of the Prayer after Communion from the Roman Missal for May 11th (Sample):
Almighty ever-living God
who restore us to eternal life
in the Resurrection of Christ,
increase in us, we pray, the fruits of this paschal Sacrament
and pour into our hearts the strength of this saving food.
Through Christ our Lord.
6. The Power Statement
“For the kingdom, power and glory are yours now and forever.” (MT6:13)
My favorite statement, “kingdom, power and glory…” said by the congregation after the Our Father in the Communion Rite is so powerful it resonates in each Mass as a way to praise God. By the power of the Holy Spirit and by the power of the words of Christ, the bread and wine have become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is really and mysteriously made present.
Rituals and symbols abound in the Mass, and in the Church. Try to look for an icon, or stained glass window and sing praise to the meaning behind the image.
The angels surround and help the priest when he is celebrating Mass. ~ St. Augustine
The Invitation to Communion prayer became part of the Mass dogma very recently, in 2011 when the Roman Missal was revised. In Church history timeline it’s brand new! It is the last prayer before receiving communion.
The priest says, “…Blessed are those that are called to the supper of the Lamb”. We are lucky, we are being called by God.
The next words are spoken by the congregation in preparation for the Divine encounter and are stunning, filled with meaning.
Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
This Invitation to Communion prayer is actually a scriptural response spoken by a Roman centurion when he asked Jesus to heal his sick servant in Matthew 8:8. The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Mystic Saint Theresa of Jesus (Avila) in her book Interior Castle talks about the different kinds of rooms inside our souls. “Under my roof” is where the soul resides with God, within our soul and being.
When we receive Holy Communion, Heaven is opened to us and we are in the presence of God in all His magnificence. And because God is present, all of Heaven – Mary, the angels and all the saints – are present as well. I like to think that for a brief moment, a window has opened up to heaven and all present at Mass are united with each other and with everyone in heaven.
– from Unraveling the Mysteries of Holy Mass: Part 6 – St. Agnes Church
What miracles of miracles! If the angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason – Holy Communion!
– Quote from St. Maximillian Kolbe
At the time to receive Communion, Jesus spoke to Catalina, “The Last Supper was the moment of the greatest intimacy with my own. In establishing the Eucharist, I made myself a prisoner of love, to remain with you until the end of the world and not leave you as orphans.” As the priest prayed the Prayer after Communion, Jesus continued, “I have died for love and I am risen. For love, I await each of you, and for love I remain with you.”
8. What the Angels Say
There are many references to Angels and what they have said, and one of their renowned statements is captured in the Mass known as the Sanctus:
Holy Holy Holy Lord God of Hosts,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
We find this Angelic song in the bible:
“Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts.” Isaiah 6:3
8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” Revelation 4:8
9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Matthew 21:9
“The Sanctus reminds us that all creatures in Heaven and on earth owe thanksgiving to God.” – Ray Takacs, St Agnes Catholic Church, N. Huntingdon, PA
Thousands of Angels are present at the Mass. Inviting favorite saints and angels to participate in the Mass may sound uncommon, but is a polite and forward gesture.
As St. John Chrysostom says, “the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim immolated on the altar.”
Per Catalina Rivas vision: At the preface as the assembly sang “Holy, Holy, Holy”, everything behind the priest disappeared. Then, at the moment of the Consecration, thousands of angels appeared to the priest’s right, dressed in brilliant white robes. On his left, a multitude of the people appeared dressed in multicolored robes. All were singing together with the people. Mary said, “These are the saints of Heaven, among them are the souls of your relatives who already enjoy the presence of God.” Then, Mary appeared to the right and slightly behind the priest. She was suspended above the floor, kneeling with hands folded in prayer. She said, “It surprises you to see me behind the priest. This is how it should be. I have not been given the gift of the priests to be able to perform the Miracle of bringing my Son to the world.”
Catalina said of her vision, “As the priest prayed the words of the Consecration, he grew in stature and became enveloped in brilliant light. Then as he raised the large host the priest took on the features of Jesus, Himself. At that moment, the host began to grow and upon it was the face of Jesus, smiling at all present”. The Virgin Mary said, “This is the miracles of miracles. At the moment of the Consecration, all here are taken to Calvary, at the instant of the Crucifixion.”
Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s goodness and asked Our Lord “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “Attend one Mass.”
The power of the Mass is that a group of people are praising God, giving thanks and asking for favors and spiritual gifts. The Gospel passage, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” really stands out here. Matthew 18:20
They say the Mass doesn’t change but people change in their spirituality over the course of a lifetime. I happen to believe this. In the coming years, my favorite sections may be different, as well as yours. Many come back to the Mass. They see the value. They are influenced by the Holy Spirit.
As mentioned, this post is not meant to be all inclusive of the sections of the Mass, and has no relation to importance of each part. It’s only my favorite parts where I get extra feeling and happiness out of the Mass in singing the praises to God. I am sure if you go to Mass or plan on going, or have gone in the past, you may have favorite parts as well.
Quite possibly, when our time is done, we will be rewarded by witnessing every Mass we attended and actually seeing the Angels and Saints around the priest giving praise to God!
USCCB United States Conference of Catholic Bishops