The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Guidance by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

(When listening to Archbishop Sheen, remember that this Audio Clip was made prior to the Mass changes of Vatican II)

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General Structure of the Mass

At Mass or the Lord's Supper, the people of God are called sacerdos.jpg (5502 bytes)together, with a priest presiding and acting in the person of Christ, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord or eucharistic sacrifice. For this reason Christ's promise applies supremely to such a local gathering together of the Church: "Where two or three come together in My name, there am I in their midst" (Matthew 18:20). For at the celebration of Mass, which perpetuates the sacrifice of the cross, Christ is really present to the assembly gathered in His name; He is present in the person of the minister, in His own word, and indeed substantially and permanently under the eucharistic elements.

The Mass is made up as it were of the
liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist, two parts so closely connected that they form but one single act of worship. For in the Mass the table of God's word and of Christ's body is laid for the people of God to receive from it instruction and food. There are also certain rites to open and conclude the celebration.


Different Elements of the Mass

(1)Reading and Explaining the Word of God

When the Scriptures are read in the Church, God Himself is speaking to His people; and Christ, present in His own word, is proclaiming the Gospel.

The readings must therefore be listened to by all with reverence; they make up a principal element of the liturgy. In the biblical readings God's word addresses all people of every era and is understandable to them, but a living commentary on the word, that is, the
homily, as an integral part of the liturgy, increases the word's effectiveness.

(2)Prayers and other Parts Assigned to the Priest

Among the parts assigned to the priest, the Eucharistic prayer is preeminent; it is the high point of the entire celebration. Next are the prayers: the opening prayer or collect, the prayer over the gifts, and the prayer after communion. The priest, presiding over the assembly in the person of Christ, addresses these prayers to God in the name of the entire holy people and all present. But the priest does not only pray in the name of the whole community as its president, he also prays at times in his own name, that he may exercise his ministry with attention and devotion. Such prayers are said inaudibly.


Individual Parts of the Mass

(1) Introductory Rites
(2) Liturgy of the Word
(3) Liturgy of the Eucharist


(1)Introductory Rites

The six parts preceding the liturgy of the word, namely, the entrance song, greeting, penitential rite, <Kyrie>, <Gloria>, and opening prayer or collect, have the character of a beginning, introduction, and preparation. The purpose of these rites is that the faithful coming together take on the form of a community and prepare themselves to listen to God's word and celebrate the Eucharist properly.

(a)Entrance Song: After the people have assembled, the entrance song begins as the priest and the ministers come in. The purpose of this song is to open the celebration, intensify the unity of the gathered people, lead their thoughts to the mystery of the season or feast, and accompany the procession of priest and ministers. If there is no singing for the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited by the faithful.
When the priest and the ministers enter the sanctuary, they
reverence the altar. As a sign of veneration, the priest and deacon kiss the altar

(b)Greeting: After the entrance song, the priest and the whole assembly make the sign of the cross. Then through his greeting the priest declares to the assembled community that the Lord is present. This greeting and the congregation's response express the mystery of the gathered Church.

(c)Penitential Rite: After greeting the congregation, the priest may very briefly introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day. Then the priest invites them to take part in the penitential rite, which the entire community carries out through a communal confession and which the priest's absolution brings to an end.

(d)Kyrie Eleison: Then the <Kyrie> begins, unless it has already been included as part of the penitential rite. Since it is a song by which the faithful praise the Lord and implore his mercy, it is ordinarily prayed by all, that is, alternately by the congregation and the choir or cantor. As a rule each of the acclamations is said twice.

(e)Gloria: The <Gloria> is an ancient hymn in which the Church, assembled in the Holy Spirit, praises and entreats the Father and the Lamb. It is sung by the congregation, or by the congregation alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by all together or in alternation.

(f)Opening Prayer or Collect: Next the priest invites the people to pray, and together with him they observe a brief silence so that they may realize they are in God's presence and may call their petitions to mind. The priest then says the opening prayer, which custom has named the "collect." This expresses the theme of the celebration and the priest's words address a petition to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

The people make the prayer their own and give their assent by the acclamation, <Amen>.

bible.gif (1625 bytes) (2) Liturgy of the Word

Readings from Scripture and the chants between the readings form the main part of the liturgy of the word. The homily, profession of faith, and general intercessions or prayer of the faithful expand and complete this part of the Mass. In the readings, explained by the homily, God is speaking to His people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and nourishing their spirit; Christ is present to the faithful through His own word. Through the chants the people make God's word their own and through the profession of faith affirm their adherence to it. Finally, having been fed by this word, they make their petitions in the general intercessions for the needs of the Church and for the salvation of the whole world.

(a) Scripture Readings: The readings lay the table of God's word for the faithful and open up the riches of the Bible to them. Since by tradition the reading of the Scriptures is a ministerial, not a presidential function, it is proper that as a rule a deacon or, in his absence, a priest other than the one presiding read the gospel. A reader proclaims the other readings. In the absence of a deacon or another priest, the celebrant reads the gospel.

The liturgy itself inculcates the great reverence to be shown toward the reading of the gospel, setting it off from the other readings by special marks of honor. A special minister is appointed to proclaim it and prepares himself by a blessing or prayer. The people, who by their acclamations acknowledge and confess Christ present, and speaking to them, stand as they listen to it. Marks of reverence are given to the Book of the Gospels itself.

(b) Chants Between The Readings: After the first reading comes the responsorial psalm or gradual, an integral part of the liturgy of the word. The psalm, as a rule, is drawn from the Lectionary because the individual psalm texts are directly connected with the individual readings: the choice of psalm depends therefore on the readings. Nevertheless, in order that the people may be able to join in the responsorial psalm more readily, some texts of responses and psalms have been chosen, according to the different seasons of the year and classes of saints, for optional use, whenever the psalm is sung, in place of the text corresponding to the reading.

(c) Homily: The homily is an integral part of the liturgy and is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It develops some point of the readings or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day, and takes into account the mystery being celebrated and the needs proper to the listeners.

(d) Profession of Faith: The symbol or profession of faith in the celebration of Mass serves as a way for the people to respond and to give their assent to the word of God heard in the readings and through the homily, and for them to call to mind the truths of faith before they begin to celebrate the Eucharist.

(e) General Intercessions: In the general intercessions or prayer of the faithful, the people, exercising their priestly function, intercede for all humanity. It is appropriate that this prayer be included in all Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the Church, for civil authorities, for those oppressed by various needs, for all people, and for the salvation of the world.

host.jpg (3278 bytes)(3) Liturgy of the Eucharist

(a) Preparation of the Gifts; (b) Eucharistic Prayer; (c) Communion Rite; (d) Concluding Rite

At the last supper Christ instituted the sacrifice and paschal meal that make the sacrifice of the cross to be continuously present in the Church, when the priest, representing Christ the Lord, carries out what the Lord did and handed over to his disciples to do in His memory.

Christ took the bread and the cup and gave thanks; He broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: "Take and eat, this is My body." Giving the cup, He said: "Take and drink, this is the cup of My blood. Do this in memory of Me." Accordingly, the Church has planned the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy around the parts corresponding to these words and actions of Christ:

In the preparation of the gifts, the bread and the wine with water are brought to the altar, that is, the same elements that Christ used.

In the
Eucharistic prayer thanks is given to God for the whole work of salvation, and the gifts of bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

Through the breaking of the one bread the unity of the faithful is expressed and through
communion they receive the Lord's body and blood in the same way the apostles received them from Christ's own hands.

(a) Preparation of the Gifts: At the beginning of the liturgy of the Eucharist the gifts, which will become Christ's body and blood, are brought to the altar.

First the altar, the Lord's table, which is the center of the whole Eucharistic liturgy, is prepared: the corporal, purificator, missal, and chalice are placed on it.

The gifts are then brought forward. It is desirable for the faithful to present the bread and wine, which are accepted by the priest or deacon at a convenient place. The gifts are placed on the altar to the accompaniment of the prescribed texts. Even though the faithful no longer, as in the past, bring the bread and wine for the liturgy from their homes, the rite of carrying up the gifts retains the same spiritual value and meaning.

This is also the time to receive money or other gifts for the church or the poor brought by the faithful or collected at the Mass. These are to be put in a suitable place, but not on the altar.

The procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the presentation song, which continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar.

The priest then washes his hands as an expression of his desire to be cleansed within.

Once the gifts have been placed on the altar and the accompanying rites completed, the preparation of the gifts comes to an end through the invitation to pray with the priest and the prayer over the gifts, which are a preparation for the Eucharistic prayer.

(b) Eucharistic Prayer: Now the center and summit of the entire celebration begins: the Eucharistic prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. The priest invites the people to lift up their hearts to the Lord in prayer and thanks; he unites them with himself in the prayer he addresses in their name to the Father, through Jesus Christ. The meaning of the prayer is that the entire congregation joins itself to Christ in acknowledging the great things God has done, and in offering the sacrifice.

The chief elements making up the Eucharistic prayer are these:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Thanksgiving (expressed especially in the preface): in the name of
the entire people of God, the priest praises the Father and gives thanks to Him for the whole work of salvation or for some special aspect of it that corresponds to the day, feast, or season.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Acclamation: joining with the angels, the congregation sings or recites the <Sanctus> This acclamation is an intrinsic part of the Eucharistic prayer and all the people join with the priest in singing or reciting it.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Epiclesis: in special invocations the Church calls on God's power and asks that the gifts offered by human hands be consecrated, that is, become Christ's body and blood, and that the victim to be received in communion be the source of salvation for those who will partake.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Institution narrative and consecration: in the words and actions of Christ, that sacrifice is celebrated which He himself instituted at the Last Supper, when, under the appearances of bread and wine, He offered His body and blood, gave them to His apostles to eat and drink, then commanded that they carry on this mystery.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Anamnesis: in fulfillment of the command received from Christ through the apostles, the Church keeps His memorial by recalling especially His passion, resurrection, and ascension.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Offering: in this memorial, the Church-and in particular the Church here and now assembled-offers the spotless victim to the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Church's intention is that the faithful not only offer this victim but also learn to offer themselves and so to surrender themselves, through Christ the Mediator, to an ever more complete union with the Father and with each other, so that at last God may be all in all.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Intercessions: the intercessions make it clear that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the entire Church of heaven and earth and that the offering is made for the Church and all its members, living and dead, who are called to share in the salvation and redemption purchased by Christ's body and blood.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Final doxology: the praise of God is expressed in the doxology, to which the people's acclamation is an assent and a conclusion.

eucharistic prayer calls for all to listen in silent reverence, but also to take part through the acclamations for which the rite makes provision.

(c) Communion Rite

Since the Eucharistic celebration is the paschal meal, it is right that the faithful who are properly disposed receive the Lord's body and blood as spiritual food as He commanded. This is the purpose of the breaking of bread and the other preparatory rites that lead directly to the communion of the people:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Lord's Prayer: this is a petition both for daily food, which for Christians means also the Eucharistic bread, and for the forgiveness of sin, so that what is holy may be given to those who are holy. The priest offers the invitation to pray, but all the faithful say the prayer with him; he alone adds the embolism, <Deliver us>, which the people conclude with a doxology. The embolism, developing the last petition of the Lord's Prayer, begs on behalf of the entire community of the faithful deliverance from the power of evil. The invitation, the prayer itself, the embolism, and the people's doxology are sung or are recited aloud.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Rite of peace: before they share in the same bread, the faithful implore peace and unity for the Church and for the whole human family and offer some sign of their love for one another.

The form the sign of peace should take is left to the conference of bishops to determine, in accord with the culture and customs of the people.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Breaking of the bread: in apostolic times this gesture of Christ at the last supper gave the entire eucharistic action its name. This rite is not simply functional, but is a sign that in sharing in the one bread of life which is Christ we who are many are made one body (see 1 Cor 10:17).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Commingling: the celebrant drops a part of the host into the chalice.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)<Agnus Dei>: during the breaking of the bread and the commingling, the <Agnus Dei> is as a rule sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; otherwise it is recited aloud. This invocation may be repeated as often as necessary to accompany the breaking of the bread. The final reprise concludes with the words, <grant us peace>.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Personal preparation of the priest: the priest prepares himself by
the prayer, said softly, that he may receive Christ's body and blood to good effect. The faithful do the same by silent prayer.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)The priest then shows the Eucharistic bread for communion to the
faithful and with them recites the prayer of humility in words from the Gospels.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)It is most desirable that the faithful receive the Lord's body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and that, in the instances when it is permitted, they share in the chalice. Then even through the signs, communion will stand out more clearly as a sharing in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)During the priest's and the faithful's reception of the sacrament the communion song is sung. Its function is to express outwardly the communicants' union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to give evidence of joy of heart, and to make the procession to receive Christ's body more fully an act of community.

If there is no singing, the communion antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the people, by some of them, or by a reader. Otherwise the priest himself says it after he has received communion and before he gives communion to the faithful.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)After communion, the priest and people may spend some time in silent prayer.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)In the prayer after communion, the priest petitions for the effects of the mystery just celebrated, and by their acclamation, Amen, the people make the prayer their own.

(D) Concluding Rite

concluding rite consists of:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)The priest's greeting and blessing, which on certain days and occasions is expanded and expressed in the prayer over the people or another more solemn formulary;

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)The dismissal of the assembly, which sends each member back to doing good works, while praising and blessing the Lord.