Do we truly understand the Mass and what it truly signifies or are we mindlessly going through a ritual and calling ourselves “Catholics?”

August 18, 2013 under Syllabus 2013-2014


The Mass is called the “source and summit” of our Catholic Faith, yet most of us Catholics know very little as to what is really going on during the Mass…or even why.


The Catholic Mass is the most sacred act of worship a person can participate in upon earth. At the Last Supper, Jesus Christ, sat down with his chosen Apostles for what He knew would be their last meal together. At that supper, Jesus does something new, something never done before, which now continues until the end of time.

For some, the Mass may not be as exhilarating or heartfelt as it once was. Lifelong Catholics may have grown so used to the ritual that they aimlessly go through the motions and find that their minds often wander. Many are often seen gathering their jackets or leaving early before the last song has ended. By understanding what is happening in the Mass we can learn to appreciate this most sacred gift, this miracle from our Lord Jesus Christ. We can come to appreciate its beauty, its rhythm, even why many in history have faced death rather than be deprived of the opportunity to participate in the Mass. With a better understanding, we can more readily do as the Deacon or Priest commands at the end of Mass…”GO IN PEACE TO LOVE AND SERVE THE LORD.”

Bible Readings

1. 1 Cor. 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant of my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”

2. Matthew 5:23–24

Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice.

3. Luke 22:19

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’.

Catechism Readings

1. Paragraph 1382

The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.

2. Paragraph 1378

Worship of the Eucharist.

In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. “The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.

3. Paragraph 1345

As early as the second century we have the witness of St. Justin Martyr for the basic lines of the order of the Eucharistic celebration. They have stayed the same until our own day for all the great liturgical families. St. Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) around the year 155, explaining what Christians did:

On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.

The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.

When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.

Then we all rise together and offer prayers* for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.

When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.

Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.

He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.

When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: ‘Amen.’

When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.

Small Group Questions

1. What parts of the Mass leave you a bit confused and Why? Any that make you uncomfortable?

2. What parts of the Mass do you wish you understood better?

3. How does even a small improvement in your understanding of the history and meaning of the Mass affect how you approach coming to Church? What can it do for your involvement during the Mass?

4. What are ways you can truly participate in the Mass moving forward? Why is this important?

5. What are some compelling ways in which you can explain even some of what is going on in the Mass to your children?

Recommended Resources

1. Explaining the Catholic Mass

2. “The Lamb’s Supper” – book by Dr. Scott Haun

3. A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (Book): Understanding What We Say and Do In The Liturgy

– Dr. Edward Sri

4. Explaining the Mass

5. Youtube video – (a nice explanation!)


1. Pray to God for the desire to participate more fully in the Mass.

2. Pray to the Holy Spirit for the gifts of Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge with regard to the Mass.

3. Read and article this week that discusses or explains simply one part of the Mass and make it a goal within the following week to have a casual conversation or even try to explain that one part to a family member.


Graham Galloway

Included Resources

1. The Mass

The Catholic Worship Service: The Mass

The Mass, the formal, official worship service of Catholicism, is the most important and sacred act of worship in the Catholic Church. Going to Mass is the only way a Catholic can fulfill the Third Commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day and the only regular opportunity to receive the Holy Eucharist.

The Mass incorporates the Bible (Sacred Scripture), prayer, sacrifice, hymns, symbols, gestures, sacred food for the soul, and directions on how to live a Catholic life — all in one ceremony.

The first part of the Mass in the Western (Latin) Church is the Liturgy of the Word, and its main focus is on Bible readings as an integral part of daily and weekly worship. The second part is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and its main focus is the holiest and most sacred part of the Mass — Holy Eucharist.

Eastern Rite Catholics call their Mass the Divine Liturgy, but it’s essentially the same. Eastern Catholics also use the two-fold division of Liturgy of the Catechumens and Liturgy of the Faithful, which coincide with the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The differences are merely from the fact that in the West, the Mass follows the tradition of the Roman liturgy, but in the East, it’s the liturgical tradition of Constantinople.

The Liturgy of the Word

The first part of the Mass is built around hearing the word of God. After the priest and his attendants process to the altar, the priest and congregation participate in the Penitential Rite, which is simply an acknowledgement that everyone is a sinner and has sinned to some degree during the week. This Confiteor is followed by the kyrie, which expresses public guilt and shame for any sins against God.

The Gloria, a prayer or hymn of adoration of God, is followed by a prayer that addresses all three persons of the Holy Trinity, and that usually sets the tone for the rest of the prayers and Bible readings at Mass. Every day has its own unique prayers and readings chosen by the Church, not the individual parish.

A qualified lector then reads the designated passages of the day. Following these readings, the congregation, which has been sitting, stands while the priest or deacon reads the holy Gospel, which contain the very words and deeds of Christ and require the respect shown by standing.

The congregation sits and listens to the homily, which is different than a sermon in that it’s an explanation and reflection on the Word of God read only by clergy. The priest or deacon connects the Scripture readings to the daily lives of the people, the teachings of the Church, or the particular celebration at hand.

On Sundays and holy days, the homily is followed by the Profession of Faith, or Creed, which succinctly sums up all the teachings of the Church. Then comes the Prayers of the Faithful, which are petitions are for the pope, the Church, the civil authorities, current concerns, and so on, to which the people respond with “Lord, hear our prayer” or “Hear us, O Lord.”

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

As the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins, everyone sits down and baskets are passed to collect monetary offerings. These are then brought to the altar along with a cruet of plain drinking water, a cruet of grape wine, and a container of unconsecrated hosts during the offertory.

The deacon or priest pours wine into the chalice and adds a few drops of water to symbolize the union of the divinity and humanity of Christ. The priest lifts the hosts above the altar as an offering to God, then does the same with the wine-filled chalice. The priest then ceremonially washes his hands as priests and rabbis did before ritual slaughters. It’s a reenactment of the real sacrifice of Jesus.

After the Sanctus (Latin for Holy) is prayed, or, more often sung, the congregation kneels for the first time for the holiest part of the Mass, the Consecration. Catholicism professes that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, it becomes the body and blood of Christ in the miracle of transubstantiation. It still looks, feels, and tastes like bread and wine, but it’s not.

The ringing of bells at the Consecration signifies the holiest moment of the Mass, a symbol of reverent rejoicing. Often, bells are rung when the priest elevates the Host, and again, when he elevates the chalice.

After the congregation prays the Our Father, the priest or deacon may say “Let us offer each other a sign of peace,” and each parishioner gives those standing next to and near to her a simple handshake to show solidarity as one family of faith before the real and most intimate sign of unity — Holy Communion.

The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), which asks God for mercy and peace, is said or sung, and then the people kneel in prayer before lining up to receive the Holy Eucharist.

The priest first consumes the consecrated Host and then drinks the consecrated wine from the chalice. Then Catholics who are in a state of grace approach the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister and are given a consecrated Host. Sometimes, they’re also offered a sip of the Precious Blood (the consecrated wine) from the cup. Before actually receiving Holy Communion, a Catholic makes some sign of reverence — a bow of the head, the sign of the cross, a genuflection, kneeling, and so on.

When presenting the consecrated Host, the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister says “the Body of Christ” to which the recipient replies “Amen,” signifying, “Yes, I do believe it is Jesus.” If the Precious Blood is offered, the communicant may go to the person holding it who says, “the Blood of Christ,” and she replies again, “Amen.” Then she takes the cup and drinks a few sips of the consecrated wine and hands the cup back.

After receiving Holy Communion, the faithful go back to their pews and pray silently for a few minutes before sitting down.

The Mass ends with the priest blessing the congregation and sending them forth to spread the Word of God and put it into practice.

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