Mass, religious service of the Roman Catholic Church, which has as its central act the performance of the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is based on the ancient Latin liturgy of the city of Rome, now used in most, but not all, Roman Catholic churches. The term Mass [Lat. missa, dismissed] probably derives from the practice of dismissing the catechumens—those not yet initiated into the mystery of the Eucharist—before the offertory and from the words ‘Ite, missaest’ [Go, you are dismissed] spoken to the faithful at the end of the Mass. The term is also used among Anglo-Catholics; in the Eastern churches the Mass is generally called the Holy Liturgy or the Offering.
In the Roman Catholic Church, except for the altogether distinct Ambrosian rite (see Ambrose, Saint) and for some variant forms among religious orders, especially that of the Dominicans, the service is the same everywhere, under regulation of the Holy See. The language of the liturgy is typically terse. The celebrant, who must be a priest, follows a prescribed missal and wears certain vestments. Mass is said at an altar containing relics; two candles must be burning. A congregation is not essential, but solitary Mass is discouraged. A High (solemn) Mass requires a priest, deacon, and choir. Low Mass, much more common, is the same service said by one priest. Normally at Low Mass a server or acolyte, traditionally called an altar boy but now often a girl, helps the celebrant. Most of the text is invariable, or “ordinary,” but certain parts, called “proper,” change with the occasion or day. Mass may be offered with a special intention, as in thanksgiving or for peace. A requiem is a proper Mass for the dead. Most priests say Mass daily. Sunday Mass is an important sociocultural factor in Roman Catholic life. All members are required to attend Mass on Sunday as a minimum participation in public worship.
The Mass begins with an entrance hymn, a greeting, and a brief penitential rite that includes the Kyrie eleison, the Gloria in excelsis (not always), a collect or collects, the proper epistle, an anthem and the proper Gospel (usually chanted and with all standing), and a homily on the texts. This ends the part of the Mass known in earlier times as the Mass of the Catechumens. Mass continues with the creed (sometimes), the offertory (anthem with offering of bread and wine), offering of incense (sometimes), washing of the celebrant’s hands, and proper prayers called “secrets.” Then there is a chanted or spoken dialogue and proper preface of thanksgiving, ending in the Sanctus. That opens the long eucharistic prayer, or canon. It begins with prayers for the living.
The consecration of the bread and wine follows; then the celebrant raises Host and chalice above his head for all to see and adore. The canon ends with prayers for the dead and a doxology, which is the solemn climax of the eucharistic prayer. After the canon the Mass consists of the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer amplifying the supplication “Deliver us from evil,” the symbolic breaking of the Host and putting a piece into the cup, the kiss of peace (shared by the members of the congregation), the Agnus Dei, the communion, the ablution of vessels, the communion anthem, post communion prayers, the dismissal, and the blessing. There are ceremonial adjuncts such as processions, blessings, censings, and in some places, the ringing of a handbell at the consecration.
Of the portions of the Mass that may be sung, some are chanted solo at the altar with choral response; there are also nine hymns for the choir. Four of these are proper and related in theme, with texts usually from the Psalms: introit, anthem after the epistle (alleluia, gradual, tract, or sequence), offertory, and communion. The five ordinary choral pieces are Kyrie eleison, Gloria in excelsis, Credo (see creed), Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Plainsong is prescribed for all texts, but latitude is permitted the choir. A musical setting for the five ordinary hymns, called a Mass, has been a major musical form. The principal period of Mass composition lasted from 1400 to 1700. It came to an end with shift of interest to instrumental music, although later composers did use the form. Among the many composers who produced Masses are Josquin des Prés, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, and Stravinsky.
The basic structure of the Mass is largely unchanged since the 6th cent. In the Counter Reformation the forms were restricted, and local variants eliminated. As a result of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Mass liturgy has undergone extensive reformation. The revisions include the use of the vernacular languages in the place of Latin, an emphasis on congregational singing, latitude for modifications that may be introduced by local bishops, additional eucharistic prayers, and communion in both bread and wine. In 2011, however, a new English translation of the Mass was put into effect. The changes were designed to align the English text more literally with the Latin, and revised much of the wording adopted after Vatican II.
The principal areas of the church with which you should be aware of are: The sanctuary is the area in the center and toward the front of the church where the altar, the ambo, and the priest’s and deacon’s chairs are located. The sacristy is the room where the priest, deacon and altar servers vest and prepare for Mass. Many of the items used in the celebration of the Mass are stored there. Other areas include the baptistry, where the baptismal font is located and where baptisms may be celebrated; the chapel of reservation, where the consecrated Holy Eucharist is kept outside of Mass; and one or more reconciliation chapels, where the sacrament of penance is celebrated.
Special books that are used during the celebration: The Lectionary is the large book containing the Bible readings. There may be a separate Book of the Gospels, called the Evangeliary. The Roman Missal is the large book used by the priest when standing at his chair and at the altar during Mass (the former name for this book was the Sacramentary). Other books may be used too in the sanctuary, including a hymnal, a book containing general intercessions, ritual books for the various sacraments, and a book of announcements.
Special vessels used in Mass: The chalice is the cup that holds the wine for consecration and communion. The paten is a plate that holds the breads for consecration and communion. The ciborium is a special vessel used to hold the breads for communion of the people. It has a lid or cover. The cruet is the small jar that contains the water to be used at Mass. Cruets are usually made of glass or ceramic, with a handle. The decanter is a large jar that contains the wine to be used at Mass. A decanter is usually made of glass or ceramic.
The vestments and linens used in Mass: The alb is a long white robe worn by the priest, and (in some parishes) by other ministers too, including altar servers. The cincture is a rope or cord worn around the waist over the alb. The stole is a garment in the form of a long, narrow band of cloth which the priest wears draped over his shoulders and hanging down in front, or a deacon wears draped over one shoulder and fastened at his side. It may be white or colored. The chasuble is the outer garment worn by the priest at Mass. It may be white or another liturgical color and usually matches the color of the stole. The dalmatic is the outer garment worn by the deacon. The corporal is a white cloth that is spread upon the altar during Mass to hold the chalice, paten and ciboria. The pall is a small, square, protective cover of stiffened cloth placed on the chalice during Mass.
The purificator is a white linen cloth which the priest or deacon used to wipe out the chalice during Mass. The chalice veil is a cloth that covers the chalice during the Mass when the chalice is not being used. The finger towel, or hand towel, is a cloth napkin used to dry the priest’s hands. Other vestments which may be worn in certain circumstances include the following: The amice is an oblong white linen cloth worn about the neck and shoulders, under the alb, by a priest or deacon. The cassock is a robe (usually black) worn in some parishes by the priest and other ministers during liturgical functions. The surplice is worn over it. The surplice is a white garment, shorter than an alb, worn over the cassock. The miter is a ceremonial hat sometimes worn by a bishop on special occasions. The crosier (more often referred to as staff) is the shepherd’s staff carried by the bishop.
The following furniture items may be found in the sanctuary: The presidential chair is the chair from which the priest presides during the liturgy of the word and during the concluding prayers of the Mass. The lectern is a stand from which the priest or another minister reads or speaks to the congregation. The stand used for the scripture readings and the homily is also called the pulpit or an ambo. The altar is the holy table from which the priest presides over the liturgy of the Eucharist. It is covered with an altar cloth. The credence table is another name for the side table in the sanctuary where the wine and water cruets, communion patens, etc., are kept during Mass when they are not being used. The gifts table is the table that holds the bread and wine before it is presented to the altar (this is also called the offertory table).
Some other items with which to be aware of: The ambry is the cabinet that holds the holy oils, usually near the font. The tabernacle is the large, ornate safe in which consecrated Eucharistic Bread is kept for the communion of the sick and for adoration by the people outside of Mass. It is usually located in an area apart from the sanctuary. The tabernacle key, when not in use, is kept in a safe place, usually locked in a safe place in the sacristy. The censer (or thurible) is a metal container on a chain in which incense is burned on a piece of charcoal. The incense boat is a covered container, with a spoon, for the incense that will be burned in the censer. The funeral pall is a large decorated cloth that covers the casket during a funeral Mass.
The holy water sprinkler (or aspergill) is a device, usually a metal stick or the branch from a bush, used by the priest to sprinkle holy water on the people or objects that he blesses. The hosts are another term for the breads that are consecrated at Mass for the communion of the priest and the people. Many parishes continue to follow the practice of having a large host for the priest and small individual hosts for the people. Chrism is the holy oil used to anoint people in baptism, confirmation and ordination. It is made from olive oil and a special perfume. The chrism is kept in the ambry. The monstrance is a large, standing vessel used to show people the holy bread that is the body of Christ. The lunette is a small glass container that holds the host and is put inside the monstrance.
When you come into the church building, what is the first thing you do? Don’t you dip your hand into the holy water and make the sign of the cross? Why do you do that? Well, for three reasons:
When you make the sign of the cross, do it deliberately. Not hurriedly, not sloppily—but carefully, and with reverence. The deepest mysteries of our faith are contained here. The Byzantine tradition and recommended way of making the sign of the cross, is as follows: With the thumb, forefinger and middle finger held together and the last two fingers held together against the palm. The three fingers symbolize the Trinity, and the two other fingers symbolize the double nature of Christ: divine and human. Making the sign of the cross then, becomes a mini-catechesis, a self-reminder of the most basic mysteries of our faith.
In the liturgy, there are many occasions where we do make the signs of the cross:
d) In the Divine Office, we make the sign of the cross when we begin the Benedictus and the Magnificat, because they are Gospel canticles, and the Gospel stands for Christ Himself.
What’s the next thing you do as you enter the Church? You walk to your pew, and if the Blessed Sacrament is reserved on the altar, you genuflect; if it’s reserved somewhere else, you make a profound bow to the altar. There’s a traditional distinction that’s very useful: a distinction using three Greek words: latria, hyperdulia, dulia. These three categories indicate different grades of reverence due to God and the saints. Latria means adoration: it is reserved to God alone. Dulia means reverence; it is given to the saints and to sacred objects. Hyperdulia means ‘extra special reverence’. There is only one person in this category: Mary the Mother of God, since she is above all the saints by the glorious design of Divine Providence.
Latria, dulia and hyperdulia. When we reverence the altar—and the altar always represents Christ—we are showing honour to a sacred object. That means dulia. So, we bow. When we reverence the Blessed Sacrament, however, we are adoring God Himself, since the Lord is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. That means latria. So, we genuflect. This gesture is related to kneeling, but you can think of it as a quick kneel, or a ‘half-kneel’, since you only bend one knee, not both, and immediately get up again. One is to put the knee all the way down to the floor, and let it rest there for a moment, while the back is kept straight, and for balance, one can then place both hands on the other knee.
There are three kinds of bows. (We hope all these distinctions aren’t confusing. In fact, they’re rather useful).
c. Then there’s the profound bow, bending the entire body at the waist, touching the knees with the palms of the hand. That bow is used when the deacon asks the priest for a blessing before reading the Gospel, when a monk asks the abbot for a blessing, or in the Liturgy of the Hours, whenever there is a Glory Be. At the doxology after every psalm, all the monks in choir make a profound bow in honour of the Trinity. This comes from the Rule of St. Benedict, where he says: ‘After the third lesson (he’s talking about one of the nocturnes of Vigils) let the cantor intone the Gloria Patri, and as soon as he beings, let all rise in honour and reverence for the Most Holy Trinity.’
After you make your preparation for Mass—whether kneeling or sitting in the pew—the bell rings, and you stand for Mass to begin. What does this gesture of standing mean?
The posture of standing, then, is a sign of respect, reverence before God. In addition, it means that we are to ready respond to Him subito, sempre, e con gioia as Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the Focolari Movement says. That means ‘right away, always, and with joy.’ We stand as Mass begins. We stand for the Gospel. During the Divine Office, we stand for the Benedictus and the Magnificat, because these are Gospel canticles, and we are aware of the Lord’s presence in a more intense way. As many of you are aware, the posture of standing is also a posture typical of the Easter season: as standing is a sign of the Resurrection.