What to Expect at Mass

“The Liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1074).

First, the Mass is absolutely full of Scripture, Tradition, and symbolism. It would take an entire book to fully explain the Mass, and many have been written on the subject. See the sidebar at right for more in-depth resources to take you as deep into the Mass as you’d like to go. For now, though, this very brief explanation will at least give you some idea of what’s going on.

Holy Mass is divided into two main parts:

The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Mass begins as the priest and those involved in serving during the liturgy enter into the sanctuary. The Penitential Rite, followed by an ancient prayer called the Kyrie, acknowledge our brokenness and invite the mercy of God. Durning the first part of the Mass (Liturgy of the Word), we hear readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament and the Gospel. The readings are usually followed by the homily which is a time for the congregation to hear a short sermon from the priest. After the homily, we stand and profess the faith that we believe by reciting the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed together. We also spend time in intercessory prayer, as we pray together with the saints in heaven and on earth.

The latter half of the service is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. During this time, we come to the altar and offer bread and wine. The priest consecrates the elements (from the Latin consecratio meaning “hallowing” or “sanctification”), transforming bread and wine into the true Body and Blood of Jesus, which are then distributed to the faithful during Holy Communion Because we believe in transubstantiation, the true transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, we kneel during this time to venerate His presence. All Catholics who are prepared to receive Jesus are invited to partake in the Eucharist (Holy Communion). Being “properly disposed” to receive Jesus means being in a state of grace and at peace with one’s current relationship with God and with others. If a person is not Catholic or is in a state of mortal sin, then he or she is invited to reconcile with the Father through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) before receiving the Eucharist. If you are not Catholic, or if you are not yet prepared to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, you are invited (but not obligated) to come up to the altar and receive a blessing, indicated by placing a hand across your opposite shoulder. After some time for prayer and silent meditation, the priest ends in thanksgiving and gives a blessing to the congregation, sending us all with joy and love to proclaim the Good News of Jesus.

Resources

Walk through the Liturgy with Bishop Barron and be transformed through insights on this most privileged and intimate encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ. See how the Mass brings us out of the fallen world and into the heavenly realm, how it resonates with a call from God and a response from his people, the Church, and, most importantly, how we are intimately jointed with the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus through the Holy Eucharist. The Mass will help you understand how to fully, consciously, and actively participate in the source and summit of the Christian life.

A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (Book): Understanding What We Say and Do In The Liturgy by Edward Sri