Monday, December 29, 2008

The Mass as Exchange (Part I)

In the Mass, the Church offers proper worship to Holy Trinity through Her prayers, and supremely through the offering of the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Son to the Father through the Holy Spirit. But we receive something through the Mass as well, and our offering is not simply the Eucharist. At Mass, there is an exchange between heaven and earth, between God and man, and this exchange gives to us the graces necessary to carry out the Church's mission on earth. Through weekly (or even daily) experiences of Pentecost in our own lives, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit.

In this series, we will look at the Mass in detail — in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms — to understand who is coming near to whom, what is being exchanged, and how it is we are equipped for this most important mission: the salvation of souls.

[Note: the "Ordinary Form" (OF) of the Mass is the missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969 and most recently revised by Pope John Paul II in 2002. The "Extraordinary Form" (EF) of the Mass is the missal promulgated by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962, which was a revision of the missal of Pope Pius V from 1570, the so-called "Tridentine" Mass.]

In this first installment, we will look at the Introductory Rites (from the Entrance Procession through to the Collect).

The Sign of the Cross

The Mass begins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as we trace the Sign of Cross over our own bodies. Christ was once placed upon the cross; today we willingly place a sign of that cross upon ourselves. The Lord said to his Apostles, "he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:38), and then to the crowds who followed him, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30)

This is the first exchange that takes place in the Mass, and it brings us back some 2000 years. We accept the gentle yoke of Christ and take up our own crosses, all the while proclaiming Christ crucified, as Paul reminded the Church in Corinth. (1 Corinthians 1:23)

Introibo ad altare Dei

Before the Sign of the Cross, however, the priest and other ministers process to the sanctuary. The EF of the Mass uses Psalm 43 (numbered 42 in the Latin Vulgate and the Douay-Rheims), Judica me, to express the spiritual disposition of the priest as he stands at the foot of the altar. The fourth verse of this psalm is used as its antiphon ("anchoring" the psalm at its beginning and end); in Latin, the verse begins : Et introibo ad altare Dei, "And I will go in to the altar of God".

This procession (one of three) is an important part of the liturgy. It reminds us that the Church on earth is a pilgrim on its way to heaven. (GIRM 318) The Mass begins with us approaching the living God: we speak to God, we come to God in prayer.

Penitential Rite and Kyrie

In the EF of the Mass, the Penitential Rite consists of the Confiteor ("I confess to Almighty God...") and a short dialogue. After this comes the Kyrie, which is a triple invocation in Greek: Kyrie eleison means "Lord have mercy" and Christe eleison is "Christ have mercy".

In the OF, this Rite has three forms: 1) the Confiteor, 2) a dialogue based on the one found in the EF, or 3) a set of three invocations combined with the Kyrie. If forms 1 or 2 are used, the Kyrie then follows.

This rite is a necessary prerequisite for offering our prayer and sacrifice of praise to God. (CCC 2631) Of this need for a penitent heart, King David wrote, "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17) As the priest in the OF introduces the Rite, he reminds us that we must "acknowledge our sins, that we may prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries". (Introductory Rites, OM 4)

The Gospel we are to preach contains a message of repentance; St. Mark says that Jesus began his preaching with this message: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) God welcomes us back us the father welcomed back his prodigal son. (Luke 15) Here we receive the first gift of the Mass: the mercy of God. We receive forgiveness for our venial sins, although we still need a sacramental confession to be absolved of mortal sins. This exchange is made possible because of we have accepted the cross of Christ and bear it upon our bodies, as we attest to at the beginning of Mass.

In the words of St. Peter, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." (1 Peter 2:24) St. Paul says the same: "Our Lord Jesus Christ ... gave himself for our sins" (Galatians 1:3-4); and again: "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Scripture clearly links the crucifixion of Christ to our being forgiven of our sins. By identifying ourselves with Christ through baptism, we are given access to a new life where we can be freed from the slavery of sin (see Romans 6).


In response to God's gratuitous forgiveness, we glorify Him with the song of the angels and the ancient hymn of the Church, the Gloria. In return for mercy, we give glory. (Psalm 115:1)


At the conclusion of the Introductory Rites (and crowning the entrance procession) is the Collect. This prayer (one in the OF, potentially more in the EF) "collects" the intentions of the Mass as well as the private prayers of the faithful; it directs and focuses them on the reason for the celebration of the Mass that day, such as honoring a saint or remembering a particular mystery of the life of Christ.


In the Introductory Rites, we remind ourselves of Christ's crucifixion, which gives us access to God's mercy and the forgiveness of our sins, the first grace received in the Mass. This mercy is not just a grace for us, but it is part of the gospel we are charged with preaching by the Lord. We are pilgrims on our way to the God who meets us in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Father who welcomes back His wayward children: we are told to share this indescribable gift and hope with all the world.

In the next installment, we will look at the Liturgy of the Word (the "Mass of the Catechumens" as it is known in the EF) to continue examining the exchange between God and man, and to see how God responds to our approaching Him.

May the Lord bless us +, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

  • GIRM - General Instruction of the Roman Missal [USCCB]
  • CCC - Catechism of the Catholic Church [The Cross Reference]
  • OM - Ordo Missae I (English Translation) [USCCB]

No comments: