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The following is an explanation of the Mass from beginning to end.  Why do we do the things we do?  What does the symbolism mean?  Where do the words come from?  Are they from Scripture?  This page explains in detail the hows and the whys of the Mass.

             THE COLORS


      The color Green represents "Everlasting Life."  This is the most common color used in the church.  Like an evergreen tree which does not die, because of Jesus Christ, we now have everlasting life.  Green is the color that is used during "Ordinary Time."


      The color Violet or Purple is used during Advent and Lent.  It is a penitential color and reminds us of these two seasons.  Additionally, it is a royal color.  During the time of Jesus, Violet or Purple was only allowed to be worn by royalties such as Kings, Queens, Princes, etc.  If any other person used it, it was punishable by death.  We use it during Advent to prepare for the birth of our King and during Lent to prepare for the death and resurrection of our King of Kings.


      The color Red represents two things.  First, Red represents "blood."  It is used for days in which blood is recalled such as Passion/Palm Sunday when we read the passion narrative, Good Friday when our Lord died, and Triumph of the Cross.  It is also used to remember the blood of Martyrs who died for the faith.  This includes feast days such as "Peter and Paul," St. Stephen, St. Agnes, St. Lucy and so forth.  On a mass celebrating a saint, if the presider wears red, it indicates that they suffered a martyr's death.

      Red also reminds us of the fire of the Holy Spirit.  So it is used on days that represent the Holy Spirit such as Pentecost or Confirmation.


      The color White is used for days of purity.  These days include Christmas, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord, Easter and the  Easter season, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi and the Transfiguration.  It is also used at Weddings and Funerals.


      The color Gold is used for special "White" days -- special days of purity.  These might include Christmas and Easter Sunday.  Gold is the color of the King of Kings.

      PINK or ROSE

      The color Pink or Rose is used twice a year.  The colors represent "Joy" or "Rejoicing."  The color is used during the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudet--which means "Joy"--Sunday) or the fourth Sunday of Lent (Lataere--which means "Rejoice"-- Sunday).


      The color Blue is a newer color in the church.  It represents the Blessed Mother.  It is used on her feast days such as Assumption, Immaculate Conception, Mary Mother of God, the Annunciation and so forth.  Some priests use this color a weddings.


The color Black is no longer used.  In the past, it was used for funerals and for All Souls Day.  Occasionally, a priest may use it for All Souls Day, but generally it has been replaced by White.


      Prior to Vatican II, there were only five approved colors of vestments for use in the liturgy.  Additionally, they had somewhat different meanings.  They were White=Joy, Red=Love, Green=Hope, Violet=Penance and Black=Mourning.


THE VESTMENTS - Many people think that Jewish priestly dress was the prototype of Christian vestments.  The Christian vestments did not, however, originate in the priestly dress of the Old Testament but rather developed from the secular or non-priestly dress of the Graeco-Roman world.  Furthermore, people think that mystical considerations were the cause of the introduction of liturgical vestments and consequently of their existence.  People interpreted the vestments as symbolizing the instruments of Christ's Passion and Death.  But that is absolutely wrong.  The mystical interpretations did not create the dress, but they were a result of the dress

There were basically six items that the well-dressed priest sported (today there are generally four or possibly five).  Let's take a look at them.

AMICE -- The priest says a prayer as he puts on each item of clothes.  He starts with an item known as an Amice.  This is a short linen cloth, square or oblong in shape and needing to be blessed before use.  It has a little cross sewn to the middle and the priest is directed to kiss it before putting it on.  The original purpose seems to have been to protect the rich outer garments from contact with the perspiration from the head and shoulder during those hot Southern Mediterranean days.  It may have also been used as a muffler to protect the throat of those who in the interest of church music, had to take care of their voices in the winter.  But it is actually derived from a scarf worn by the secular class.  That's right, it was a "scarf" or "shawl."  Today, it is a symbol of purity of soul and body. It  also symbolizes the helm of salvation and recalls the cloth with which Jesus was blindfolded while soldiers struck him.  While putting on the Amice, the priest prays: "Lord, give me strength to conquer the temptations of the devil." Today, the Amice is unnecessary because of the way the Albs are now made. Therefore, fewer than 10% of priests use the Amice. It is used, however, as an apron on Holy Thursday for the washing of the feet.

ALB --  Next, the priest adorns the Alb.  This garment derives from the long white tunic worn in the Graeco-Roman world and it was simply retained by the clergy as the styles changed in the 6th century.  It is made of white linen to symbolize spiritual purity, self-denial and chastity befitting a priest.  It hangs down to the ankles to remind him that he is bound to practice good works to the end of his life.  In putting on the Alb, the priest prays: "Purify me, O Lord, from all stain, and cleanse my heart, that washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy eternal delights.  Remember, the people wore the clothes of the time and people at that time wore tunics.  The Alb was the dress of the common person.


CINCTURE -- Next is the Cincture.  It is also called the girdle.  It is used to hold the loose-fitting Alb.  Sometimes priest do not wear it either because a cloth belt is built into the Alb or because of their extra poundage they would rather see it free flowing.  But generally, it is commonly worn.  Since it girds the loins, it is considered a symbol of chastity.  The prayer recited by the priest in putting on the Cincture is: "Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity," or "Give me, O Lord, the grace to keep myself pure." The Franciscans wear this rope with three knots symbolizing their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

MANIPLE -- The Maniple is rarely seen.  It is a long piece of cloth worn on the left arm, representing the rewards for good works involving suffering and labor.  Symbolically, it represents the bonds which held the hands of the Savior.  But let's face it, it was originally a cloth or napkin used to wipe away the perspiration, a sort of ornamental handkerchief; but later as it became more adorned and elaborate, it was seldom used for that purpose.  After Vatican II, it is rarely seen.


STOLE -- The next item is the Stole.  It is a strip of material about 2-4 inches wide and 80 inches long.  There is a cross in the middle of this item, too, which the priest kisses before putting it on.  It is worn around the neck.  It represents the spiritual powers and dignity of the priest.  It is also a symbol of immortality.  At the ordination of the priests, the bishop may draw the part of the Stole that rests on the back of the candidate's neck forward over the breast and lay the two ends crosswise saying: "Receive the yoke of the Lord, for His yoke is sweet and His burden is light."  While putting on the Stole, the priest kisses the cross and prays: "Give me, O Lord, the help to be able to come to you in heaven."  The Stole is actually derived from a secular scarf and was probably intended for wiping the mouth.

CHASUBLE -- As I said, all historians now agree that the liturgical costume was simply an adaptation of the secular attire commonly worn throughout the Roman Empire in early Christian centuries.  The priest in discharging his sacred functions at the altar was dressed as the people in civilian life.  The Chasuble seems to have been identical with the ordinary outer garments of the lower classes of Greeks and Romans and worn by both laity and clergy.  It consisted of a square or circular piece of cloth in the center of which a hole was made and the head was passed -- sort of like a poncho.  The garment covered the whole body.

         The Chasuble is now thought of as the symbol of God's charity to men as well as the priest's own charity.  In ordination, the bishop may say: "Receive the priestly vestment, by which is signified Charity."  When the priest uses the Chasuble, he makes reference in a prayer of the "Yoke of Christ."  It is also supposed to be symbolic of the purple robe Jesus was forced to wear when he was crowned with thorns.  It comes in all of the colors mentioned above.  While putting the Chasuble on, the priest prays: "Give me, O Lord, the grace to serve You faithfully."

         So as you can see, the vestments were simply a tunic, shawl, belt, scarf, handkerchief, and poncho -- the clothes of the people of that time.  They became more and more elaborate as the peoples' styles continued to change.  The only reason they seem different today is because the fashions of the Church never changed.

                                 THE MASS

The word “Mass” comes from Latin missa, “emissary,” from the verb mittere, “to send.” Missa est literally means “It is the sending forth.” Missa later came to mean the totality of the liturgical celebration preceding the sending forth. So Mass means that we prepare for the “sending forth” of the community into the world to spread the good news and to share what we have received through Christ.

                              THE GATHERING

The Entrance Song
When the evangelists were speaking about the Paschal meal, Matthew (26:30) and Mark (14:26) note that Jesus sang hymns with his apostles. They were singing songs of the “Hallel,” or, in other words, Psalms 113 and 118.

The Entrance Song in the liturgy goes back to the middle of the sixth century. At that time it consisted of an antiphon which was alternated with the verses of a psalm, similar to the Responsorial Psalm.

The purpose of the Entrance Song in our liturgy is:

1. Singing is an element of solemnization.
2. It clothes the celebration with beauty.
3. It expresses the unity of the celebrating community.

The principal function of the Entrance Song is unification. 

The Carrying in of the Cross

The cross is carried in at the beginning of the procession. It is a sign that Jesus is coming among his people to join with them in the celebration of the Mass. We also remember that Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”

The First Gesture of the Priest

The first gesture of the priest is the veneration of the altar. He bows before the altar and kisses it. The altar is not only “the center of thanksgiving,” the table where the “Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20) is celebrated, but at the same time the sign of Jesus Christ in the midst of the community. Church tradition says, “Altare Christus est.” The altar IS Christ. Kissing the altar is a gesture of veneration and tender respect. In the early church, before tabernacles, when people entered the church, they genuflected to the altar which is Christ, before taking their seat. Today, some people bow to the altar like the priest. Remember, tabernacles were created as a storage place for the bread which was consecrated on Sunday so that the same bread could be taken to the sick and elderly who could not come to mass. The idea we now hold of the tabernacle came a thousand years later.

The Sign of the Cross

The mass begins with the sign of the cross and ends with the sign of the cross. Any other signs of the cross are personal devotions within the mass. The sign of the cross is a reminder to Christians of who they are and what their life means, a sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ – a symbol of Christ’s victory over death. It also reminds us of our baptism when we were baptized in the Trinitarian formula. Not all religions are baptized in the Trinitarian formula. For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons do not use the formula. They do not believe in the Trinity, nor of Christ and God as we know them, although they use the same words. Most non-Catholic religions are Trinitarian and so we do not re-baptize a person when they come into the Catholic faith from those traditions. However, if they come from a non-Trinitarian tradition, we must baptize them in the faith.

In the Eastern Church, the sign of the cross is made in the reverse.

The First Words of the Priest

The priest greets the congregation with the words or similar words: “The Lord be with you.” You will hear this greeting frequently. It means many things. Like “good day” it can mean both “hello” and “good-bye.” It is both a wish (may the Lord be with you) and a profound statement of faith (the Lord is with you).

It is an ancient biblical greeting: Boaz returned from Bethlehem (Ruth 2:4) and said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” The final response to this greeting is always the formula “And also with you” by which we return the hello, the good wishes, the statement of faith. At some point, the Church may return to the original translation: "And with your spirit" which more accurately reflects the response.

There are several variations of this formula that we say at Mass:

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 
         2 Corinthians 13:14

The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

         Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 3.

“The Lord be with you.”

Ruth 2:4; Judges 6:12; Luke 1:28

At the beginning of his gospel, Matthew underlined the mystery of Christ: “They will call him Emmanuel, which is translated: ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23)

At the end of his gospel, Matthew affirms this mystery once again: Jesus says, “I am with you all the days until the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20).

By affirming the mystery of Emmanuel (God is with us) at the beginning and at the end of Mass, the liturgy affirms that the entire Eucharistic celebration is founded on Emmanuel (God is with us), and that the community, transfigured into the Body of Christ, becomes in its turn "Emmanuel" for the world.

The Penitential Rite

The Penitential Rite is the most misunderstood part of the mass. Many people think it is designed to make us pure so that we can worthily celebrate the Eucharist. Others view it as a modern substitute for the sacrament of penance, a time to summon up feelings of guilt and repentance and be forgiven. Actually it is a simple rite that is supposed to remind us of God’s great mercy and the fact that we are already forgiven.

The rite reminds us of another reason we have to give thanks, since we are all sinners who gather through the gracious gift of God’s forgiveness. People confuse the words: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life” as absolution. This is not absolution.

Many people, some priests included, make the sign of the cross at this point as you would during absolution. While there is nothing wrong with that, remember it is a personal devotion and not part of the celebration. The priest or participant who does not sign themselves are liturgically correct, although people mistakenly think they are simply less reverent.

The heart of the celebration is not the penitential preparation but the celebration of the Eucharist itself. Minor sins are forgiven by open-heartedly hearing the Word of God and partaking in the Eucharistic banquet – not at the Penitential Rite. It is in the words of consecration that Jesus declares to us his forgiveness and gives it to us: “this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. ...” Emphasizing the Penitential Rite instead of the Eucharist is like emphasizing hor d’oeuvres while overlooking that the primary nourishment (our reconciliation) comes later.

Glory to God in the Highest

The Gloria is a song of praise which comes from Greek and Syrian sources in the very early centuries of the church. The two lines are from Scripture (Luke 2:14) and the rest is modeled on the psalm and canticles of the Bible and contains much biblical material. It reminds us of the angels’ Christmas greeting to the shepherds. It was originally an Easter hymn of dawn. It then found a place at the end of morning prayer in the East, and by the sixth century it found its way into the Roman Mass.

Opening Prayer

The opening prayer is the oldest and most important part of the entrance rites. In the earliest centuries, the Mass began with just a period of silent prayer before the reading of the Word of God. Then a sort opening prayer was added.

First, there is an invitation to prayer: “Let us pray.”
Then a time of short silence during which all present their intentions to God.
Then the presider collects the prayers of all people into one prayer.

The structure is:
The invocation: “God . . .”
The anamnesis or thanksgiving: “Who . . .”
The request: “Give . . .”
The affirmation of the mediation of Christ: “Through Christ our Lord.”

Through Christ our Lord

We are Trinitarian: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is three persons. The first person we call “Father” because Christ used the word “Abba” which we translate to “Father.” But the word actually means “Daddy” or “Papa” – a term of endearment. There are feminine images of the first person as “Mother” in Song of Songs and elsewhere in Scripture. The first person is actually “Creator.” And the Creator communicates through the second person, the “Logos or Word”, the “Sophia or Wisdom.” That “Communication” incarnated as a man named Joshua (we call Jesus) and walked the earth. Jesus came to communicate who God is. He walked with us, taught us, healed us, loved us, and allowed us to commit the worst sin we could commit – to kill our own God – and then forgave us. If you want to know who the God is, look at God’s communication, Jesus. God walks with us, teaches us, heals us, loves us and forgives us no matter what we do. Finally, God sent his love on Pentecost which descends like a dove called the Holy Spirit. God has three persons: Creator, Communicator, Love.

Remember in John 14:6-7 when Jesus said to Thomas: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

So to know the Creator, we go through the Communicator. The Creator communicates through Jesus. We communicate through Jesus. “Through Christ our Lord.” That’s why we always say “Through Christ our Lord” in the mass. We go to the Father, through the Son, Jesus.


Amen is the transcription of a Hebrew word whose roots evoke that which is solid, stable, true, and faithful. As an adverb (the way we use it), Amen means “It is so” or “May it be so” or quite simply, “That’s my prayer.” 

                                      THE LISTENING

We now enter the Liturgy of the Word. After our entrance rites, the mass is in two parts: Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The Readings

The readings are introduced in a three-year cycle called Cycle A, Cycle B and Cycle C. Cycle A is the year we use the gospel of Matthew, Cycle B is the year we use the gospel of Mark and Cycle C is the year we use the gospel of Luke. The Gospel is John is read during Lent and the Easter season because the cycles are not used during Lent and Easter. John is also used in the summer of Mark’s year – Cycle B. The cycles change at the first week of Advent.
So we have Matthew the first year, Mark and John the second year, and Luke the third year. This year is the cycle of Luke. If you come to church every Sunday for three years, you’ve heard most of the New Testament and a large part of the Old Testament. There is a pattern in the readings which takes place.

The first reading is taken from the Old Testament. It is chosen in relationship to the gospel on that particular day. It illustrates what tradition liked to call the ecclesial symphony of two choirs of the Old and New Testaments. During Easter, the first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles instead of the Old Testament.
The Responsorial Psalm is the community’s response to that reading. It is simply the Psalms – the prayers and songs of the Jewish people which comprise the Books of Psalms in the Old Testament.

The second reading presents the Letters of the New Testament. Like the gospel, it is spread out in a three year cycle.

After the second reading we have the Gospel acclamation is sung. It is actually recommended that if it is not sung, it should be omitted rather than simply read, although most churches read it anyway.

Alleluia is from a Hebrew word which means “Praise Yahweh.” (Psalms 146-150; Revelation 19:1, 3, 4, 5). A substitute for the Alleluia is used during Lent because we do not say the Alleluia during Lent.

We believe that Christ “is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the church (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #7).


The priest or deacon greets the people with "The Lord Be With You," a quote from Ruth, Judges and Luke. He then says, "A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to ..." as he crosses the book with his thumb. The then crosses his forehead, lips and heart with his thumb praying silently that God cleans his mind and his heart so that his lips may worthily proclaim the Gospel. In many places, the congregation performs this ritual as well.

The proclamation of the Gospel constitutes the summit of the Liturgy of the Word. Until the ninth and tenth centuries, only the Gospel Book and the Eucharist could be placed on the altar. The reading of the Gospel is a celebration of Christ. It is Christ we acclaim, not the book, when at the beginning of the reading of the Gospel we say: "Glory to you, O Lord." and at the end: "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ."

Now in the older books, we see the words: "This is the gospel of the Lord." Unfortunately, because the priest or deacon would hold up the book, people were confused at this point. They thought the reverence was on the book, instead of on the person of Christ and the words just spoken. So, the church changed the words from: "This is the word of the Lord," to simply "Word of the Lord." Raising the book in the air is not recommended precisely because it confuses people as to the action which is taking place. It is not the actual book, but Christ we are acclaiming. Kissing the book began in the eighth century.

The oldest celebration of the Word, according to the Bible, coincides precisely with the first celebration of the Covenant of Sinai according to Exodus 24:1-11. Moses took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people who declared: "Everything that Yahweh has said, we will put into practice and we will obey." (Exodus 24:7).

Notice that the structure of the Liturgy of the Word connects the Word that comes from God with the word that comes from the community:

Word of God: Old Testament (First Reading)

– The Community responds: Responsorial Psalm

Word of God: Letters from New Testament (Second Reading)

– The Community responds: Acclamation to the Gospel

Word of God: Gospel

– The Community responds: Prayer of the Faithful

The purpose of the missalette is not to read along with the presider like a classroom exercise. That is a time of listening. The purpose of the missalette is to read the readings before Mass begins, and then to listen to the proclamation and let the Word strike us as God wills. Listening is an act of receptivity, a sign of openness and submissiveness to God. In contrast, "reading along" is, in a sense, controlling the Word. We can speed up, slow down, reread, or skip over sections. We are in charge. That is not the attitude of reception of to the Word.

Our Lectionary is so good that other religious groups use it. Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, some Baptist are hearing the same readings, put together in the same way as you are.


After the readings, the priest or deacon seeks to break open the Word we have heard through a homily.

Preaching and explaining God’s Word has been a source of faith growth since New Testament times. St. Paul in Romans 10:14-15 gives us and the homilist the clearest reason for preaching: "How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!’"

Unlike a sermon which simply means a talk on how we are to live and what we are to believe, the homily takes the word that is read at that Mass and brings it to our life situation today. Just as a large piece of bread is broken to feed individual person, the word of God must be broken open so it can be received and digested by the congregation.

The word Homily is from a Greek word homilia which means reunion, company, or familiar conversation. It refers to a form of preaching that is based on the Word, not on a topic the preacher would like to expound – which is a sermon. The homily continues the process by which God speaks to us, applying the ancient scriptural word to the situations of our own time and place. That Word speaks to us both as individuals and as a community. The homilist’s task is to help us understand both dimensions of what God says to us.

After reading from the Book of Isaiah, Jesus him began his homily with these words: "Today is fulfilled this word that you have just heard." (Luke 4:21).

Vatican II documents say that the homily is the most important role of the priest. Unlike the Eucharist which is a collective event participated in by the entire Body of Christ in calling down the Holy Spirit, the breaking open of the Word depends solely on the homilist for its substance. Its importance cannot be taken for granted.

Just as the spirit of God can transform the bread of the earth into bread of heaven, thus only the grace of the Holy Spirit can transfigure familiar human words into true words of God. The homilist must call upon the Holy Spirit to open his heart and his mind both in the preparation and in the delivery of the homily. The renewal of our Christian community depends in large part on the quality of our homilies.

Profession of Faith

The Nicene Creed is called that because it comes form the Council of Nicaea which was held in 325 AD, and then it was modified by the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. The profession of faith is to express the assent and response of the people to the scripture readings and homily that they have just heard. It is also to recall the main truths of faith before we begin to celebrate the Eucharist. In Rome, the Creed was introduced into the Mass at the beginning of the eleventh century, or in other words, shortly after the year 1,000.

If you notice, it is basically the creed that you are reciting when you say your baptismal promise at a baptism or renew those promises on Easter. An interesting side note is the word "catholic." Notice that when you say, "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church," that the word "catholic" is not capitalized. Catholic means universal and this creed is used by many non-Roman Catholic churches. It is not a Roman Catholic profession, it is a universal profession. When we refer to Roman Catholics we capitalize "catholic." So you are actually saying, "We believe in one holy universal and apostolic Church."

There is a time when it is capitalized "Catholic." That is at your confirmation where you are confirming your faith but also confirming your faith in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Prayers of the Faithful

The Liturgy of the Word (our "story-telling" part of the Mass) comes to an end with the General Intercessions or Prayers of the Faithful. It is sort of like before you leave home and go out to eat. You might take a look in the mirror to see if you look the way you want to look – hair in place, coat buttoned correctly – and perhaps make a few last minute adjustments so that your mind’s image of yourself matches that of the mirror.

The General Intercessions serve a similar purpose at Mass. We are the Body of Christ by baptism. Now, as we prepare to approach the table for the Eucharist, we look into the readings, like a mirror, and ask: Is that who we are? Does the Body of Christ present in this assembly resemble that Body of Christ pictured in Scripture readings? The answer is usually not. And so we make some adjustments: we pray that our assembly really come back to look like the Body of Christ, a body of peace, with shelter for the homeless, healing for the sick, food for the hungry.

In the prayers of the faithful, the people exercise their priestly function by praying for all humanity. We pray for the Church, nations and their leaders, people in special need and the local needs of our parish, as well as things in our heart.

The Prayers of the Faithful is a direct legacy of the Jewish traditions which liked to add prayers of request to its benedictions. In Rome, the Prayers of the Faithful disappeared from the Mass toward the sixth century and was not restored to the Mass until Vatican II in the 1960s.



The word Eucharist is from the Greek word eucharistia, which means "thanksgiving." It refers first to the prayer of thanksgiving which is said over the bread and the wine, then in the middle of the second century, it came to mean the bread and wine themselves over which the prayer is said.


The Collection

The early Christians each brought some bread and wine from their homes to the church to be used for the Mass and to be given to the clergy and the poor. Today, similar offering for the parish and the poor is made with our monetary contributions. Members of the parish take up a collection from the assembly and bring it to the priest at the altar with the bread and wine used for the sacrifice.

Bringing up the Gifts

The procession with the gifts and placing them on the altar is the oldest part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The church recommends that the bread and wine be presented by the faithful.

At the Last Supper, Jesus used unleavened bread, according to the Passover ritual. The early Christian community which celebrated the Lord’s Supper not once a year – like the feast of the Passover – but every Sunday and even during the week, quite naturally used homemade bread.

This bread was sometimes in the form of a crown (like a round braid) or in the form of a round bread. Toward the ninth century, unleavened bread was progressively substituted for ordinary bread. This practice finally became imperative in the eleventh century. The round hosts that we know appeared in the twelfth century when they were cut from unleavened dough in the form of coins. The use of these wafers of bread stopped the baking of the Eucharistic bread by the faithful and its presentation at the altar by the congregation.

Mixing Water and Wine

A bit of water is mixed with the wine. We know it was a custom in ancient times, both in religious rites and in ordinary usage, to dilute wine with water to make it less strong. In other words, it was not common practice to drink wine straight, but to dilute it with water. In fact, for some, the water was simply being purified by the alcohol of the wine. Christ, at the Last Supper, mixed water with the wine before serving it.

Early Christians continued this custom, but it soon developed a symbolic meaning. It came to represent the union of Christ with the faithful; just as wine receives the water, so Christ takes us into himself and we are one with him. In the East, the wine and water represent the divine and the human natures of Christ. Just as one cannot separate the water and the wine, so Jesus is fully human and fully divine at one and the same time. The prayer is said which combines both interpretations by the priest or deacon:

"By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

So mixing water with wine has three meanings. First, the practical one of diluting the wine or by purifying the water with the alcohol from the wine; the second is the symbolic meaning of Jesus in union with his faithful -- us; and third, mixing the divinity and the humanity of Jesus.

So there are three meanings – both practical and symbolic.

Preparation of the Gifts

In the first description of the Mass by Justin in about 150, he notes that after the Prayers and the Kiss of Peace, "one brought bread and a cup of wine to the one who presided over the assembly of the faithful." This custom was very dear to the Christian piety. The people recognized in practice the exercise of their own priesthood.

The word Kiddush means "sanctification" and it is the name of the blessing pronounced at the beginning of each Sabbath and feast day. It is accompanied by a prayer over the wine and over the bread in Jewish tradition, Therefore, the prayer that accompanies the presentation of the bread is noteworthy for its antiquity and noble beauty because it is inspired directly by the Jewish blessing that the father of the family said over the bread at the beginning of the meal. It was therefore, recited by Jesus as the Last Supper.

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this bread to offer,
which earth has given and human hands have made.
It will become for us the bread of life.

Response: "Blessed be God forever."

This prayer is, in fact inspired by the Jewish blessing that the father of the family said over the bread at the beginning of the meal. Therefore, it was recited by Jesus at the Last Supper. So we are remembering Jesus and by saying it, the priest continues the very praise of Jesus.

At the Last Supper, Jesus used red wine. Tradition kept this practice until the sixteenth century when a linen napkin (called a purificator) was used to clean the chalice. White wine as then preferred as it is in many church today, because it stains less than the red wine.

The prayer for the wine, like the one for the bread, is inspired by the ancient Jewish blessing that Jesus pronounced over the cup:

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this wine to offer,
fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
It will become our spiritual drink.

Response: "Blessed be God forever."

A prayer is then said inaudibly which is a reminder of the ancient prayer In spiritu humilitatis. It recalls the prayers of apology. Bowing before the altar the priest says: "Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts."

Washing of Hands

After the bread and cup are prepared, the presider washes his hands. Like the mixing of the water and wine, this may have originally been a practical action, following the presentation of the gifts when those gifts included various foods for the poor – often livestock such as ducks, chicken and so forth. It was not, however, for sanitary reasons, inasmuch as they knew nothing about germs or hygiene.

In Judaism, washing hands was highly ritualistic. Remember the criticism that the apostles received for not washing. It was a ritual that was done precisely a certain way for purification – but only in the spiritual sense. The early church used it as a reminder of our need to be cleansed from sins. That is why the priest says this prayer:

"Lord, wash away my iniquities and cleanse me from my sins." The prayer is called the Lavabo. The phrase is a quote taken from Psalm 51, verse 2.

The priest then invites the congregation to participate in offering the gifts to God by saying:

"Pray, brethren [or brothers and sisters], that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father."

The people respond:

"May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church."

Prayer over the Gifts

The priest then says a brief prayer over the gifts, dedicating them for the sacrifice. The prayer is called the Secreta which means "secret." The word secreta comes from the word secernere which means "to separate" or "to set apart." The prayer sets the gifts apart for the celebration of the Eucharist.


After the prayer over the gifts, we begin the Eucharistic Prayer, the core of the Mass. This prayer derives from an ancient Jewish prayer form called berakah. The word berakah means "blessing," and it occurred in two forms. In the informal berakah, one pleases (praises and thanks) God with a fairly standard invocation (for example, "Blessed are you, Lord of creation") and then adds the reason ("for you have given us us. . .") The formal berakah begins the same way, but now the reason is expanded to include the whole history of salvation. Intercessions are added that God will continue to bless us, and the prayer concludes with a final doxology or blessing of God.

The Eucharistic Prayer has the same structure as the formal berakah, beginning with standard opening invocations of praise and thanks ("Let us give thanks to the Lord our God," recalling God’s wondrous works, especially in Jesus, offering petitions and concluding with the doxology "Through him, with him, in him. . .")


The Preface

The priest prepares the spirit of the people by saying in the preface "Let us lift up our hearts!" The preface used to be considered as sort of an introduction, like the preface of a book. But it is not really something you say before the Eucharistic prayer, but more fittingly, it is a thanksgiving that one proclaims before the community. It is the song of the world discovering its salvation.

Your missalettes show only four standard Sunday prefaces, but the preface section of the sacramentary contains 84 and there are additional ones as well.

The preface is introduced with:

"The Lord be with you."

        Ruth 2:4; Judges 6:12, Luke 1:28

        also Exo. 10:10, 1 Sam. 17:37, 1 Sam 20:13,
        1 Chr. 22:11, 1 Chr. 22:16

"And also with you." 

            Ruth 2:4 ("The Lord bless you! they 
       called back.")

"Lift up your hearts."

Psalm 32:11 ("Rejoice in the Lord 
        and be glad.")

Psalm 31:24 ("Be strong and take heart, 
        all who hope in the Lord.")

"We lift them up to the Lord."

Psalm 13:5 ("My heart rejoices in your

Psalm 138:1 ("O Lord, with all my heart 
        I will sing your praise.")

Psalm 28:7 ("My heart trusts in him, 
        and I am helped.")

"Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God."

("Let us give thanks to the Lord.")
Psalm 107:8, 107:15, 107:21, 107:31

(Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name.")

Psalm 105:1, 1 Chr. 16:8, 1 Chr. 16:34, 
        Isa. 12:4

("Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.")

Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 118:29, 136:1,
        Jer. 33:11

"It is right to give him thanks and praise."

Chr. 29:13 ("Now our God, we 
         give you thanks and praise.")

Holy, Holy, Holy (Sanctus)

After the preface which begins the Eucharistic Prayer, the congregation responds to this initial praise with the Holy, Holy, Holy. This hymn is drawn from Isaiah 6:2-3, which describes Isaiah’s vision in the Temple around the year 740 BC. It was used in the Jewish liturgy even before its use in Christian worship, so it is one of the most ancient elements in the Eucharist. The second half of the text ("Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest." is the acclamation used by the people during Christ’s entry into Jerusalem when his crowds of disciples held palms as he entered the city. (Matthew 21:9).

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord    
God of power and might 

        Isa. 6:13, Rev. 4:8

Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.

        Isa 6:3, 1 Chr. 29:11

Hosanna in the highest. 

        Matt. 21:9, Mark 11:10

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

        Psalm 117:26, Matt. 21:9; 23:39, Mark 11:9,
        Luke 13:35, 19:38, John 12:13

Hosanna in the highest

        Matt. 21:9, Mark 11:10

Hosanna comes from the Hebrew Hosiahna and literally means "Give salvation." In the highest is a Hebrew expression which means Hosanna to God who lives in the highest of heavens. In Latin, Hosanna is Sanctus. The Sanctus is a symphony of unity, which gathers together into one praise the cosmic universe, the angelic world, the saints of heaven, and the Church of the earth.


After the "Holy, Holy, Holy," the Eucharistic Prayer continues with its memorial. In Greek it is called the Anamnesis. The memorial is of what God has done, focusing especially on the redemptive work of Jesus, including the account of the Last Supper. More than a mere remembering, the anamnesis involves the actual presence of God’s saving deeds. This is the key to a proper understanding of the Mass as sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ consists fundamentally in his total submission to the Father’s will. That was expressed historically in his death and resurrection, but he remains forever in union with the Father’s will. Thus, he is forever priest and victim; his sacrifice is eternal. We can share in that one eternal sacrifice by uniting our wills with him in the Eucharist, since he is present among us, always offering himself to the Father. Christ’s sacrifice becomes ours as well, as we are conformed to his image and committed to living out that sacrificial attitude in our daily lives as he did.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our anamnesis (remembering or memorial) is effective. As we recall Christ’s gift of himself at the Last Supper, he is present with us, offering himself again. Thus, we believe that bread and wine are transformed into his Body and Blood, the fullest form of his presence among us.


The Epiclesis literally means "invocation upon." The epiclesis is the invocation of the Holy Spirit either upon the offerings "so that they may become the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ" (Eucharistic Prayer II) or upon the community itself so that it may share in the fruits of the Eucharist, "so that it may be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit" (Eucharistic Prayer II). The first epiclesis is called "the Epiclesis of Consecration" and the second is "the Epiclesis of Communion.

According to Eastern tradition, it is the epiclesis which consecrates the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. According to Western tradition, it is the narration of the Institution that performs the consecration.

The Eucharistic prayer forms a unity of praise, blessing, thanksgiving and request. It is the entirety of this prayer which is consecratory. Eucharistic Prayer I, which was the standard for fourteen centuries, does not even have an explicit epiclesis, yet it is perfectly valid.

It is sometimes said that the priest consecrates. Strictly speaking, that is not the case. The epiclesis reveals exactly what the priest does: he says the prayer through which the celebrating community asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit over the bread and wine that it may become the body and blood of Jesus. He says explicitly (Eucharistic Prayer III):

Father, we bring you these gifts.
We ask you to make them holy
by the power of your Spirit,
that they may become the body and blood
of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, it is the Father who consecrates through his Spirit. The priest merely says the prayer, in the name of the community.

INSTITUTION ( . . . on the night he was betrayed . . . )

The Institutional Narratives are the biblical texts which recount the action of Jesus at the last Supper, when he instituted the Eucharist saying, "Do this in memory of me."

"On the night he was betrayed, he took bread and gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:

Take this all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.

When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again, he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples and said:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me."

In the beginning of the thirteenth century, a practice began of elevating the host after consecration, and at the end of the thirteenth century, one elevated the chalice. At a time when people were receiving communion less and less, popular belief attached a great importance to this elevation. It was thought that whoever looked at the host during the elevation was preserved on that day from sudden death, and his house and barn were sheltered from fire. When the priest did not raise the host high enough, the most fervent groaned or called out "Higher! Higher!"

Today the elevation offers the Christian people the opportunity to express their faith in Christ by worshiping him silently in the words of Thomas: "My Lord and my God."

Notice that the priest genuflects twice during the Institution Narratives. There are three times that the priest genuflects – the third being after the Lamb of God. This is a reverence of the Eucharist. It is supposed to be a genuflect. Some priest because of health reasons might bow instead of genuflect. But if the priest is able to do it, he genuflects. At the same time, the concelebrating priests will bow. It is a time of showing reverence to the Eucharist.


The prayer of the anamnesis (or remembering) responds to the request of Christ to "Do this in memory of me." (Luke 22:19).

Memorial Acclamation

After the institution narrative, the congregation sings the memorial acclamation, which responds to the whole anamnesis or memorial or remembering that has just been proclaimed. Then the prayer continues, summing up the memorial and moving into the petitions.

Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

We now begin the Epiclesis of Communion which is an invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the celebrating community so that it may share the fruits of the Eucharist. It is then that we say something like "Grant that we who are nourished by his Body and Blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ."

We pray the words or similar words of "Remember, Lord . . ." We pray for the Church, we name the Pope, the bishops, the priests and deacons and in a general way, all those who have the care of the people of God, including the dead who have preceded us in faith and now live next to God.

The prayer continues, summing up the memorial and moving into petitions for God’s continued blessings. It is noteworthy that the first petition is always for the unity of the Church usually mentioning the Holy Spirit as the source of that unity. This reminds us that the whole purpose of the Eucharist is unity: unity between us and Christ and unity with one another. After prayers for the living and the dead, the Eucharistic Prayers includes a remembrance of the saints and prays that we might share with them in the Glory of Christ.

Final Doxology - Trinitarian formula:

Here we get into a confusing part of the mass – confusing because different churches are doing different things for different reasons. It is called the "Final Doxology" or what some refer to as the "Through him, with him, in him." We call it the Doxology because the entire Eucharistic Prayer is doxological – meaning "word of praise to God." Word is logos, and God is doxa.

The formula for the doxology underlines the relationship of the divine Persons among themselves. It is our response to 1 Corinthians 8:6 which read: "There is only one God and Father, from whom everything comes, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom everything exists." Therefore, it is right that all praise goes up to the Father through Christ.

By adding "in the unity of the Holy Spirit," the liturgy affirms the unifying power of the spirit. Just as the Spirit is the bond of the Trinity, as the Spirit unites the Father and the Son in Love, thus likewise, the Spirit knits everything that is for God in the world into a doxology ("a word of praise to God").

The liturgy is affirming the unifying power of the Spirit. The bread and wine are lifted up in a gesture signifying the history of the world and its ultimate destiny. All of creation is born in the heart of the Father, the fruit of his love. All creation is established in existence through Christ, "the firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15). All of creation is indwelt by the Spirit who fills it with his love. Having become the body of Christ in the bread and wine, changed into Eucharist, that is, into thanks and praise, creation now goes up to the Father. It is this movement of the universe toward the eternity of God that is found our own history, that we give glory TO the Father, THROUGH the Son, IN the Spirit.


The final doxology is followed by the Great Amen. Amen means "so be it" or "May it be so," or simply, "that’s my prayer." It is our acceptance of Jesus’ way of life as our own, including his death and resurrection. For such a short word, it carries a lot of meaning and demands much of us who say it.

Some churches stand for the Great Amen. The Eucharistic Prayer is one prayer. It is confusing and disruptive to change prayer positions before the prayer is over. Standing does not give any more force than kneeling. It is what is in our hearts that count. Recently, Rome asked people to stop standing for the Great Amen.

The Great Amen is a high point of the mass. You are giving agreement to everything that has been said. We should not mumble that Amen, but we should shout it out with excitement. That is why it is called the "Great" Amen. Many people do not bother to respond with "Amen." Yet this is one of the most important responses in the Mass because the people of God are giving agreement with what was just prayed. It should be said with gusto and excitement – not mumbled.


The Lord’s Prayer comes to us from Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. The liturgy uses the Matthean version. The Lord’s prayer is not a request of a servant to a master, but the prayer of children to their Father. Jesus uses the word "Abba" which means Daddy or Papa, as term of endearment. This was very new for the Jews of Jesus’ time – to have such intimacy with God. They were unfamiliar with addressing God in such a casual manner.

With references to "our daily bread" and for the forgiveness that is necessary for "communion" with all our brothers and sisters in assembly, the Lord’s Prayer is especially appropriate.


The part that the priest says after the main prayer is called the embolism. The Greek word embolism means a piece added to a garment." The embolism added is the part that the priest recites, "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil . . ." It goes back to the epoch of St. Gregory in the sixth century.


The final part that the congregation adds, "For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever," is called the doxology.

This is found in an abridged form in the prayer of the Didache (pp. 63-64). It is a very old liturgical creation from the first or second century. It is used by Catholics as well as Protestants.


In Matthew 5:23-24 we read:

"If you present your offering at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering at the altar and go first to reconcile yourself with your brother."

The sign of peace signifies our willingness to be united in love and peace with one another, an essential attitude of those who share the one bread and one cup.


The breaking of bread follows the sign of peace. This action, preparatory to sharing the one loaf, gave its name to the whole Eucharist in early times ("they gathered for the breaking of bread"). It is a sign of our communion in the one Christ. As congregations grew larger, the breaking took some time, and the Lamb of God was sung to accompany this action. It symbolizes the sign of unity and charity, since the one bread is being distributed among the members of one family.


The title Lamb of God comes no doubt from the fourth song of the Servant of Yahweh according to Deutero-Isaiah. John the Baptist rendered to Jesus the title Lamb of God (John 1:29):

"Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

While the words Lamb of God are repeated three times, it can be repeated as many times as necessary in order to accompany the breaking of the bread.

The priest drops a part of the host into the chalice. The bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood. They appear separated on the altar: which represents the death of Christ. By uniting them in the cup, we signify the resurrection that has reunited forever, for eternal life, the soul and body of Christ. So the priest says inaudibly:

"May the mingling of the body of blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to all who receive it."

At his point there is also a special prayer for the priest himself. This is a special time because this prayer is for the priest himself. It goes like this:

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death has brought life to the world. By your holy body and blood free me from all my sins, and from every evil. Keep me faithful to your teaching, and never let me be parted from you."

Then the priest holds up the host and quotes from the bible:

"This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

John 1:29

Happy are those who are called to his supper."

Revelation 19:9

The people respond:

"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed."

Words of the Centurion said to Jesus in Luke 7:7


Sharing in Communion is the climax of the Eucharist. Before we come to the table, we acknowledged our unworthiness ("Lord, I am not worthy . . .") and rejoice in the fact that God does not require us to be worthy but heals us by his Word. Jesus scandalized the religious leaders of ancient Palestine by eating and drinking with sinners. He continues to do the same today. None of us are worthy of this meal; we all share in it by God’s gracious invitation.

When we receive the bread the minister says: "The Body of Christ" (from 1 Cor. 10:16) and we respond "Amen." When we receive the cup we also say "Amen" to the words "The Blood of Chirst."

Our Amen at this point in the Mass is similar to the Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. It signifies our willingness to BE the Body of Christ today, broken and shared with all, our willingness to BE the Blood of Christ, poured out for the salvation of the world. To share in this sacrificial meal means to accept the mission of Christ in its fullness. So if you are willing, do not mumble that Amen. Speak it with conviction.

At communion, we make a slight bow as the person before us is receiving communion. This is a gesture of respect.

The reception of the host on the tongue was established in the ninth century. Previously the general rule was to receive it in the hand. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (in 387) explained it this way: ". . . with your left hand make a throne for the right hand, which will receive the King." For eight hundred years it was received in the hand before anyone received it on the tongue. So it is certainly not any less reverent to receive in the hand. The same with kneeling. Kneeling for communion did not begin until the eleventh century and did not come into general use until the sixteenth century. Before that time, for one thousand years, Christians did not kneel at communion. So, once again, standing is not any less reverent than kneeling.

So there are two acceptable ways to receive communion. In the hands with the left hand making a throne over the right, or to pillow our Lord on your tongue. Everything else is inappropriate. We do not receive communion like a crawfish, or like we are receiving a five dollar bill with the palm of one hand up. We say "Amen" and not "Thank You."

The communion song accompanies the reception of Communion. The singing of a song at this time expresses, once again, unity of the assembly as it shares in the sacrament of unity. The communion rite concludes with a prayer after communion.

                    THE SENDING FORTH


Before sending his disciples into the world to bear witness to his resurrection before all the nations, Jesus Christ, and I am quoting Luke 24:50-51:

"lifting up his hands, blessed them. And while he was blessing them, he was taken into heaven."

Before sending the faithful back into the world to announce the resurrection of Christ to their brothers and sisters, the priest likewise lifts up his hand over them, marks them with the sign of the cross, and invokes the blessing of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit upon them. They are now to carry to their brothers and sisters in the world the cross of light with which they have been marked.

The priest is not ordained to dominate his brothers and sisters, but to bring them the blessing on the part of God by marking them with the cross of Jesus. To tell the truth, he does not bless them himself, rather he says the prayer that asks God to bless them: "May Almighty God bless you . . . " That is the humility of the priestly ministry. That is also its eminent dignity. The priest, like Jesus, came to serve.


The early Church saw the Mass as extending into daily lives. Strengthened by the Word of God and nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, they were sent to proclaim the Word and be the Body of Christ in the world. There are several versions of "Go in Peace." It is that sending forth that we joyfully respond, "Thanks be to God."

Then the presider again reverences the altar with a kiss as a sign of honor to Christ, and the ministers leave the sanctuary, often with the recessional hymn to accompany the movement.

The celebration ends, though its meaning and its effects are to continue through our daily lives until the next time we gather around the table of the Lord to share the Word and the Body and Blood of Christ.