Second in a seven-part series
The celebration of the Lord’s great love for us in the Eucharist begins with the Introductory Rites. As the name implies, these rites help to introduce the Mass and set a tone for the celebration. The Opening Song provides a strong and beautiful reminder that we are not merely a group of individuals in the same place doing the same thing at the same time. Indeed, gathered together by the Lord, we are the Church, the Body of Christ, disparate voices joined into the one voice of the Body of Christ.
The first spoken words of the Mass are the Sign of the Cross. These words recall that we were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In Baptism, we died with Christ and rose with Him. The Mass represents the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the Mass, here and now, we participate in this timeless act of God’s love.
The Sign of the Cross also recalls the promise of Jesus to his disciples. As he ascended, Jesus gave the commission to teach and baptize all nations. He added “I am with you always until the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19-20). There is no more profound way than the Eucharist that Jesus is with us. The sign of the cross also reminds us from the very beginning of the Trinitarian nature of the Mass. We offer our thanksgiving in the Spirit through the Son to the Father.
The Sign of the Cross is followed by the Apostolic Greeting. Here the priest, who represents Christ the great high priest as head of the body gathered for this celebration, uses words of the great apostle, Paul – such as “The Lord be with you.” This is more than a friendly greeting offered in passing. It is a recognition and celebration of the presence of the Lord in the people and a reminder that the Eucharist come to us from Christ through the apostles and their successors, the bishops.
In the new translation of the Roman Missal the people will return the greeting: “And with your spirit.” This may seem odd to us but it recognizes that the man before the community is not a priest in his own right but only shares in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Returning the greeting “to his spirit” reminds all, including the priest, that he is able to celebrate Mass only because he was configured to Christ with the gift of the Holy Spirit at his ordination. This greeting asks God to strengthen this Spirit in this particular priest as he celebrates this Mass.
The Apostolic Greeting is followed by the Penitential Rite. Aware now of God’s presence and his love, we should become very aware of our own sinfulness. We are not worthy of God’s love in the Eucharist so we ask God’s mercy and forgiveness. This does not take the place of the Sacrament of Reconciliation which is required for any serious sin before the reception of Communion but helps to prepare us to celebrate with deeper appreciation.
On most Sundays and on great feasts, the Penitential Rite is followed by the Gloria. This ancient hymn of joy begins with the words of the angels who sang out when Jesus Christ was born. We sing for the very same reason. God so loves us that he sent his Son to us as we celebrate the Mass. The words of the Gloria will change in the new translation to underline the praise and adoration we owe to God.
Following the Gloria is the Collect Prayer. The priest instructs, “Let us pray,” and then offers time for silent prayer. The Collect Prayer collects the prayers, the hearts and minds of all those gathered and directs them to a particular aspect of salvation based on the feast being celebrated or the life of Christ. In the new translation, these prayers have been significantly revised to replicate the depth and rich imagery of the prayers in Latin.
See the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Nos. 27–55) (http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/current/revmissalisromanien.shtml) and Chapters 1 and 2 in Father Jeremy Driscoll’s book, “What Happens at Mass.”