"If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy." (St. John Vianney)
"The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross" (St. Thomas Aquinas)
"Man should tremble, the world should vibrate, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the alter in the hands of the priest" (St. Francis of Assisi)
The Mass is the form of worship given to us by Christ at the Last Supper. During the Mass we pray not only through our soul but our body, which is why we bow, kneel, and stand at certain points. At every single Mass the greatest miracle on earth occurs when bread and wine become Christ at the consecration by the power of God. The bread and wine become the Eucharist. The Mass may be confusing to some, but I'd like to explain.
The Mass as a Sacrifice:
First and foremost, the Mass is a Sacrifice and second it is a Sacred Meal. In the Old Testament, people would frequently offer sacrifices to God include animals in atonement for their sins as was prescribed by the law of Moses. This was done by the priests of the Old Testament. However, as children of the New Testament, we offer to God the only true Sacrifice - Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lamb of God because He was the sacrifice that paid the price for all of our sins; it is written "Through one man sin entered the world and through sin death." Christ came and died for all of our sin and rose victoriously over death in order to restore us to new life. Because of Jesus' death and Resurrection, all of us may have the chance to enter Heaven. We remember this at every Mass. Jesus, though, spoke about His Body and Blood many times before His death as in John chapter 6, but the people there didn't understand Him.
Look to John 6:40-69 for this dialog. Through that dialog thousands and thousands left Jesus because they believed He was speaking literally about receiving His Body and Blood, and Jesus was speaking that way. If He was speaking symbolically He could have said, "No wait. I'm speaking of a symbol," but He didn't because the Eucharist (Christ's Body and Blood) is truly, literally true.
As the Council of Trent as affirmed, the Mass is the "true and proper sacrifice." As with any sacrifice, there are four necessary components: a sacrificial gift (res oblata), a sacrificing minister (minister legitimus), a sacrificial action (actio sacrificica), and a sacrificial end or object (finis sacrificii). First, the res obltata, or sacrificial gift, must be physical and real. In the Old Testament it consisted of animals offered up to God. Today at the Mass we offer to the Father one sacrifice - His Son. Second, only a qualified person can offer the sacrifice, and that is a priest. In the Old Testament priests were to come only from the Tribe of Levi, in particular from the House of Aaron. Similarly, priests of the Holy Catholic Church must be males. The priest not only offers the Sacrifice of Jesus truly present, but the priest acts in the person of Christ. Thus, he acts in persona Christi, so when the priest says the words of Consecration, it is not the priest speaking but rather Jesus speaking through the priest. And because Jesus was male, all priests must be males. Third, the sacrificial action of the Old Testament was the spilling of the blood of animals. In the New Testament, it is Jesus' voluntary surrender of His Blood and the offering of His life. Finally, the object of Sacrifice is to be offered solely to God for His honor and glory. Such an offering is lifted into the realms of the Divine.
Just as Melchizadek brought forth bread and wine ("bringing forth bread and wine, for he was a priest of the Most High God..."), Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a Sacrifice at the Last Supper. Thus, we again see the importance of the continuity of the Old and New Testaments. Jesus did not come to destroy the Old Covenant but instead, to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17) and establish a new and greater one with His Body as the true and lasting Sacrifice.
The tearing of the temple veil is the final sign of the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. The veil in Old Testament was of thick linen that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. In particular, it was so holy that a priest could only walk in the temple one day a year. And he would even have a rope tied around his ankle. If the priest died in the temple, he was pulled from the temple using the rope because if someone were to enter the temple, he would die. The tearing of the veil (Matthew 27:51) signified a new Sacrifice and the completion of the redemptive work of Christ. Now mankind could enter in God's presence and offer to God their sufferings, prayers, etc if they were united spiritually with the Cross.
"The Mass in fact truly makes present the sacrifice of the Cross. Under the species of bread and wine, upon which has been invoked the outpouring of the Spirit who works with absolutely unique power in the words of consecration, Christ offers Himself to the Father in the same act of sacrifice by which He offered Himself on the Cross. 'In this divine sacrifice which is accomplished in the Mass, the same Christ who offered Himself once and for all in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner'. To His sacrifice, Christ unites the sacrifice of the Church: 'In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value'. The truth that the whole community shares in Christ's sacrifice is especially evident in the Sunday gathering, which makes it possible to bring to the altar the week that has passed, with all its human burdens" (Pope John Paul II)
The Mass as a Sacred Meal:
Second, the Mass is a sacred Meal, where we actually receive Christ's Body and Blood. Look back to John 6:52-59, and I will specifically show the last verse:
"For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed" (John 6:59). This shows that we are entirely dependent on Christ. Without taking part in His Sacrifice and consuming it, He said, "You shall have no life within you." (John 6:53). Jesus even said "I am the Bread of Life" (John 6:48). As we live in Communion with Christ, we live as part of the larger Church, which is referred to as the Body of Christ. However, in early Christianity the Romans persecuted the Christians believing them to be cannibals and not understanding the meaning of the sacrifice. Yet, this new Sacrifice is the mixing of the Old and New, where the body and blood of an animal are replaced by the bread and wine, which mystically become Christ's Body and Blood.
That is why the Mass is unlike any other form of worship because we literally receive Jesus Christ. Only an ordained priest, through the power of God, can preside at the consecration when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood. Therefore, we should make every attempt to attend the Holy Mass.
The Parts of the Mass:
Note: This is an overview of the Traditional Latin Mass (aka Tridentine Mass). All quotations in this section, unless otherwise stated, are from the 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal (Angelus Press Publishing).
The pictures below show the Mass celebrated in the Tridentine Mass according to the Rite of 1962, also called the Tridentine Latin Mass or the Mass of Blessed John XXIII, with the priest facing East in an ad orientem posture. Traditionally priests face East, which is the direction from which Christ shall return in the Second Coming. In addition, each part of the priest's vestment is symbolic of Jesus' Passion and Suffering. Genuflecting and bowing are also important in the Mass.
The Mass starts with the priest processing in. In this way, the Mass begins with the procession symbolizing Jesus' triumphant ride into Jerusalem. "The Mass begins with the sign of the cross, the sign of Redemption." The priest says, "Introibo ad altare Dei" (I will go up to the altar of God) to which the servers respond "Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem mean" (To God who giveth joy to my youth). Next, the priest and servers pray in dialogue Psalm 42. "The celebrant longs to ascend to the altar of God, there to perform his holy office and to draw near to the Lord God, even to union with Him in the Eucharist. He confides himself to the mercy of God, source of light, salvation, and peace". As the priest and servers repeat the "Introibo...", which preceded Psalm 42, the priest then says, "Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini" (Our Help is the name of the Lord) to which the servers respond "Qui fecit caelum et terram" (Who made Heaven and Earth), directly quoting from the Psalms.
The priest alone then prays the Confiteor, admitting his own sinfulness. "The Confiteor creates an interior silence from the beginning of the Mass, as Priest and faithful turn away from their temporal concerns to face the reality of Calvary, for which their sins are responsible. It is the first expression of that humility which will accompany us through the Sacrifice of the Mass". After the priest's prayers the servers then similarly pray the Confiteor. After a brief dialogue of prayers between the priest and the servers, the priest ascends to the altar. "With the priest, we enter into the silence of Christ in His permanent sacrifice. The Mass does not divide sins into categories: we ask God to take away all of our sins and imperfections because they are an an obstacle to love of Him." As the priest ascends, he prays that he be worthy to enter the holy of holies. The priest then beseeches the Lord to forgive his sins through the merits of the saints, whose relics are in the altar.
Next the priest prays the Introit. "The Introit is part of the preparation for the sacrifice; we begin by praising God. The chants of the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Commuion harmonize with the variable prayers and instructions, so that the idea of the feast or the though of the day pervades the whole Mass." Next the Kyrie is prayed. The words "Kyrie, eleison (thrice repeated); Chrite, eleison (thrice repeated); Kyrie eleison (thrice repeated)" translate in English to "Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy". Each set of three is addressed to a separate person of the Blessed Trinity, and these prayers are said in dialogue between the priest and the servers. Next, the Gloria is prayed. "The Gloria is also part of our preparation, reminding us of the heavenly glory to which, after this vale of tears, we are tending." After the ending of the Gloria, the priest will address the people "Dominus vobiscum" (the Lord be with you). "The Priest's kiss of the altar, which represents Christ, immediately precedes the Dominus vobiscum. The Priest breathes in, so to speak, the love and spirit of Jesus Christ which he in turn bestows upon the people using the words of the Angel Gabriel to our Lady." Next, is the Collect. "The final part of the preparation is the prayer which the Priest makes for the people, that they may be made worthy of such great mysteries."
Following this, the priest will read the Epistle, usually from the Epistles of St. Peter or St. Paul, on the Epistle side of the altar. Following this, the priest prays a variable prayer, the Gradual and Alleluia, which reflect the nature of the celebration of the day. In times of morning, the tract is prayed instead. "The Gradual signifies our progress in life; the Alleluia, spiritual joy; and the Tract, in mournful offices, expresses the sighing of the soul." Praying that he may be made worthy to proclaim the Gospel. As the priest prays, the Missal is moved by the server to the Gospel side. Following this, the Faithful stand to hear the words of the Holy Gospel proclaimed in Latin. These reading are usually repeated at the beginning of the sermon, which immediately follows the Gospel but is only required to take place on Sunday and high holy days.
Next, the Nicene Creed is prayed on certain holy days, always including Sundays. At the words, "by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . made man," all the faithful kneel, in which we humble ourselves at the memory of the Incarnation of our Lord. "After the Gospel has been read, the Creed is sung, in which the people show that they assent by faith to Christ's doctrine... It forms a link between the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful: it is at once the blossom and fruit of the preceding Scriptural readings, and the foundation stone and basis for the sacrifice which is about to begin. The Creed is for Catholics our great Act of Faith in which is contained the twelves articles of our Holy Religion."
Nextly, the Offertory begins. The priest will offer the bread and then separately, the wine just as Christ did at the Last Supper. "In the Offertory, Christ unites our desires and prayers to His own offering of Himself to the Father. As our intentions are joined to the Passion of Christ, they assume the value of the Passion in the eyes of God." Before the wine is offered to the Father, though, the priest adds a drop of water into the holy chalice. "The wine represents the divine nature, water represents our human nature, so that the mixing of the water and wine signifies the Incarnation of Christ; yet it also points to His Passion, in which water and blood poured from His pierced Heart." At a High Mass, as opposed to a Low Mass, the altar is now incensed. The priest than will wash his hands in holy water, symbolic of Pontius Pilate washing his hands of Jesus, the Innocent Victim. As he washes his hands in water, the priest prays Psalm 25. This is called the Lavabo, coming from the first word of Psalm 25:6.
After a prayer to the Holy Trinity and an appeal to the Faithful to pray that the Sacrifice be worthily accepted by God, the priest prays the Secrets. "The petitions contained in the Secret prayer refer particularly to the gifts that have been presented and the sacrifice which is about to take place."
Next the priest prays the Preface, which varies from celebration to celebration as there are several prefaces, depending upon the Season and Feast in the Church. The Preface will begin with the words "Vere dignum et justum est" (It is truly meet and just). Next is prayed the Sanctus. "The Preface called us to lift up our hearts, and the people now praise the Divinity of Christ alonside the Angels: "Holy, Holy, Holy". These words were addressed to Christ as He once rode triumphantly into Jerusalem.
Then the priest will preside at the Consecration. This Part of the Mass, the Canon is prayed silently and includes many prayers, gestures of reverence, and signs of transubstantiation (i.e. ringing of the bells).
The Eucharistic host, now truly the Body and Blood of Christ, is elevated. Both the consecrated Bread and Wine are equally the Jesus. Both of them are His true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity even though they are under two different forms.
In the Canon of the Mass, the Eucharistic Lord is offered to the Father. For the Sacrifice of the Mass is truly the same Sacrifice of the Cross. It is not a new or different sacrifice. The Canon involves numerous holy prayers, each with great symbolic importance. There are nine occasions on which the Sign of the Cross is made, each symbolic of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is far too symbolically in depth for a sufficient explanation of this holiest part of Mass to be explained here.
Next, the Our Father is prayed. "St. Gregory the Great placed this prayer after the Canon as its completion. In the ancient Church it was considered the only preparation worthy of Holy Communion."
Then the Agnus Dei is prayed as the Lord is exclaimed as the Lamb of God three times. "In the Old Law a lamb was one of the usual animals of sacrifice. Jesus Christ is the one true Lamb, who atoned for and effaced the sins of the world in His blood." The people will quietly approach the altar and receive the Lord in Holy Communion while kneeling, typically at a Commuion Rail. As only consecrated hands may touch the Eucharist, the Faithful may not touch the True Presence of our Lord. The Faithful receive only after the Priest himself receives the Eucharist under both species (bread and wine). For his reception of Holy Commuion, he prays several prayers, some of which are quotations from the Psalms.
The priest will offer the prayer called the Communion and the Post Communion, which guide our prayers of Thanksgiving for the great Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest blesses the Congregation in the name of the Holy Trinity and prays the Last Gospel, coming from John 1:1-14. The priest leaves again in procession, symbolic of the Risen Christ.
After a Low Mass, the priest also prays three Hail Marys, the Salve Regina, and the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. This is a basic overview of the Traditional Latin Mass.
- Why have a Mass for a deceased loved one?
- What graces do I receive at Mass?
- Common questions on the Eucharist and the Mass
- Good Friday Liturgy - Part I
- Good Friday Liturgy - Part II
- Mass from Priory of St. Pius X in Warsaw
- Mass from Church of St. Nicholas in France
- Mass narrated by Archbishop Sheen from 1941
- Mass celebrated on the Feast of the Sacred Heart
- Mass segments from a French priest
- Mass celebrated by Archbishop of Dublin
- Mass celebrated by Franciscans
- Mass celebrated on Easter Sunday 2007
- Mass celebrated by FSSP, white vestments
- Mass on Ascension Thursday 2009
- Mass for Easter Sunday, Sequence
- Mass after the Sacrament of Confirmation 2008
- Sacred Silence of the Low Mass
- Solemn Pontifical High Mass of the Extraordinary Form with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone
- Exploring the Beauty of the Mass
- Find a Tridentine Mass (not a complete list)
- The Rites of the Catholic Church
- A guide to the Tridentine Mass (Sancta Missa)
- A Prayer for Before & After Mass
"The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass gives boundless honor to the Most Blessed Trinity because it represents the passion of Jesus Christ and because through the Mass we offer God the merits of Our Lord's obedience, of His sufferings and of His Precious Blood. The whole of the heavenly court also receives an accidental joy from the Mass.
Several doctors of the Church—together with St. Thomas Aquinas—tell us that, for the same reason, all the blessed in Heaven rejoice in the communion of the faithful because the Blessed Sacrament is a memorial of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and that by means of it men share in its fruits and work out their salvation" (St. Louis de Montfort).