Okay, so we made it into church, and it's time for Mass to begin. For people that are used to casual worship with coffee and worship songs and fellowship, the contrast of the Mass can make it seem formal and stiff. I submit to you that that is one of the things that I love the most about the Mass. Not that it is "stiff", because I don't see it that way. But because it is reverent, and the more reverent (formal, whatever you want to call it) that it is, the more I like it. Jesus isn't just my buddy, my friend, my Beloved. Though He is all of those things, He is also my God. As I approach God in this holy place of the Mass, the Holy of holies fulfilled, I need above all to approach Him with reverence.
(Oh, man. I got sidetracked again! Imagine that. Okay, we really are going to start on the actual Mass, I promise!)
As Mass starts, we all stand together, and often on weekends we will sing an opening song. The priest comes in, usually in procession with a crucifix and the altar servers and often one of the lectors (readers) will be carrying the Scripture in. The deep, spiritual meaning behind all this? Don't really know if there is any, to be honest. We have to start some way, and I like that we all begin by standing. I don't know how other people feel, but it brings me to attention. Mass is starting.
Once the priest gets to the altar, he genuflects toward the tabernacle, then kisses the altar. Again, genuflects to Jesus in the tabernacle, and kisses with reverence the table where Jesus will be made present later in the Mass. It all leads to and centers around the Eucharist. That is the point. He is the point.
Then the Mass really gets kicked off with a bang:
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Oh, yeah. We start with the Sign of the Cross. In unison, we express the core beliefs of the faith that we profess and that bring us together to celebrate.
Then we move on to the Confiteor (it means "I confess"). Confession is good for the soul, and here we publicly acknowledge that we have sinned. It is one of the things that changes with the new translation:
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault.
In those last two lines, we will beat our breast (left side, over the heart) with our right fist. It is a sign of our penitence, a recognition that our sin is through our own fault. Some people shy away, feeling that these types of displays lead to that old "Catholic guilt complex". Not me. My best friends are the ones that are willing to call me on my crap, because they are more concerned with what is best for me rather than coddling my feelings. So is the Church. In this small act, I join the ancient Jewish tradition of striking one's breast over my sorrow for my sinfulness: (Jeremiah 31:19) "I turn in repentance; I have come to myself, I strike my breast; I blush with shame, I bear the disgrace of my youth." I also join the tax collector whose prayer was heard: (Luke 18:13) "But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.'" (See here for more about the Confiteor.)
We face full on the weight of our sins, and we cry out for mercy in the Kyrie. However, those that are concerned about any deep rooted guilt, should also remember that the very next thing is that we glorify God, knowing that He is hearing our prayer and forgiving our sins. The Gloria will also be different in the new translation:
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give your thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
I'm going to make an example of this prayer. So much of what we say and do in the Mass is direct quotes of Scripture, but so much more recalls Scripture. This prayer directly quotes Luke 2:14 at the very beginning. In a very real way, the Mass is the marriage supper of the Lamb, so like the multitude in Revelation 19, we bless and glorify our King, God the almighty. Not necessarily using the exact words of 19:6, but certainly the same concept.
Speaking of concepts, let's talk about some of the phrases that bring to mind concepts in Scripture: -take away sins of the world-2 Cor 5:19, 1 Jn 2:2, -only Begotten Son- Psalm 2:7, Acts 13:33, Heb 1:5, 5:5, -Lamb of God- John 1:29, 36, Rev 5:6, 7:10, 14:4, 15:3, -seated at the right hand of the Father- Mt 26:64, Mk 14:62, Eph 1:20, Col 3:1, Heb 8:1, 12:2, -have mercy on us- Jb 8:5, Ps 25:6, 28:2, 30:8, 51:1, 119:77, Is 19:22, 30:18, so many cries to Jesus for mercy and healing in the Gospels, and really so much more, but I have to stop somewhere. So many parts of the Mass are like this. Simple, but encapsulating so much of the Scripture message that you really cannot quote all the places that it draws from before you throw up your hands and just quote Gen 1:1- Rev 22:21. Or maybe that's just me again.
Following that there is usually a little opening prayer. Next, we have the readings. The first reading is from the Old Testament, then a Psalm is sung. I love that we sing the Psalms at the weekend Masses, because that is really how the Psalms are meant to be prayed. Next there is the second reading, usually from the epistles, and finally the Gospel. (By the way, when the priest says, "The Lord be with you," our new response is "And with your spirit." The readings follow a schedule and go together in some way. Sometimes it's easy to see why they are together, sometimes not so much.
I love that the readings follow the liturgical calender. That is yet another way that we are allowed to not just hear, but live the Mass. With Mary and all the Israelites through all time, we wait for the coming of the Messiah, and on Christmas we celebrate His arrival. During Ordinary time, we get to follow Jesus on the day to day of His ministry, seeing how he lives and teaches. In Lent, we join Jesus on His forty days in the desert, not to mention the Israelites' 40 years in the desert. During Holy Week, we live the fulfillment of the Passover, and relive the Last Supper, just as Jesus commanded (which, of course, we do at every Mass). We relive His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His death, and His Resurrection.
This is all the reason that I laughed when my friend said that the Mass is just from the book and leaves no room for the Holy Spirit to work. For me, it is about a book, but that book is the Bible. The Mass is no mere reading of the Scripture, but living it out in the here and now in our own lives.
Whew! Long post, but thanks for sticking with it. Next up is the Liturgy of the Eucharist.