A Walk through the Mass: Part one of two

By Todd Williamson | Office for Divine Worship
Sunday, April 14, 2013

Editor’s note: The following is the first part of “Walk Through the Mass,” a resource developed for the archdiocese’s Year of Sunday Mass to help the faithful better understand the meaning behind the celebration of the Eucharist each week. This week we will focus upon the first half of Mass and cover the second part in the next issue of the Catholic New World. The entire resource, including a handout, is available under the “Resources” section of

During this Year of Sunday Mass, many people (priests and laypeople) have asked for a tool that will help the faithful understand what it is that we do, and why we do it, when we gather for the celebration of the Mass. Those parishes that have planned and facilitated gatherings in which the Mass is actually gone through and its various parts are broken open for those who are gathered have reported it very beneficial for the participants.

This “Walk Through the Mass” has been developed with that request in mind. It was designed to be user-friendly and developed in such a way that it could be led by various staff members or parish leaders.

It is offered to parishes as a way to help provide a formative, reflective and interactive opportunity for Catholics to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Sunday Mass.


This first part of the Mass is meant to gather all the individual people in the church into the Body of Christ. The rite takes each of us out of our individual thoughts and gathers us all into the prayer of the church. This is a transition that gets us ready for the awesome mystery of the Eucharist where we can meet God and God can meet us.

As we sing the Opening Song, which helps to unify us as one voice, think about the prayer that you bring to church this day; a prayer for yourself and a prayer for this faith community.

Stand for Opening Song.

Veneration of the Altar

As the priest approaches the altar he bends forward in reverence and kisses it. This ritual goes back to the earliest followers of Jesus who were persecuted, even killed because their faith was contrary to that of the Romans. The early Christians would gather in hidden places to pray and share their Eucharistic meal, often in the underground catacombs, and the “table” they used was the coffin of one who was martyred.

The gesture of kissing the burial site was one of reverence for those who gave their life for the faith. Many of our altars today contain relics of a saint, maintaining that tradition.

Another reason that the priest reverences the altar with a kiss is because, for us, the altar — a table of sacrifice — is an image of Christ, who made the ultimate sacrifice, offering his very self to the Father.

Greeting and Sign of the Cross

When each one of us was baptized, we were signed with the cross of Jesus Christ. In that moment, the church claimed us for Christ — we belong to him. As we gather for Mass, the very first thing we do is, once again, mark ourselves with the sign of Christ’s cross, reminding us of whose we are and to whom we belong.

This also reminds us that the Mass, though it has many parts, is one great prayer. All the different pieces help to form this one most perfect prayer that we, as Catholics, have.

Penitential Act

We have transitioned from everyday life to the Sacred Liturgy through procession and song, a kiss and the sign of the Cross. As we begin, we recognize our sinfulness and our need for and our dependence on the mercy and forgiveness of God.


After we have remembered God’s mercy and forgiveness given to us in Christ, the only appropriate response is to praise God. We do that in the Gloria that follows. This ancient hymn comes from the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus.

The Introductory Rite concludes with the Opening Prayer, or the Collect. Here the priest gathers all our prayers. Notice the hands and how they hold and lift up the prayers of the whole church. What prayer did you bring with you this day? Your prayer, all our prayers are gathered together and joined with the prayer of the church around the world. Every nation and in every language the same words are said.

The Introductory Rite gives us the time and preparation so that we have the right stance for participating in the Eucharist.


Once we have been gathered as the Body of Christ, remembered our need for God’s love and mercy and given praise to God, we enter into the Word of God. Once again the Mass of today reaches back to the earliest Christians. Our Liturgy of the Word follows the pattern of a Jewish synagogue service with its procession of the Torah to a place of honor so it can be read and God’s Word proclaimed.

Our posture changes in response to the readings, though we remain active listeners because in the Liturgy of the Word we enter into an actual dialogue — a conversation — with God.

First Reading

In this reading, usually taken from the Old Testament, we are reminded of all the things that God has done throughout history to save us. As we remember his greatness it gives us hope. In this reading you get a “sneak preview” of the Gospel because the reading was chosen to match the “theme” of the Gospel.


We respond to all that God has done for us, using words from the Old Testament as we sing the Responsorial Psalm. The Psalms have been called the “church’s first prayerbook.” These are words that Jesus himself used in prayer. As we sing the psalm, we are responding to God’s greatness using the very Word of God.

Second Reading

This reading comes from the New Testament; most often one of the epistles. These are instructional letters written by the apostles to the earliest Christian communities, offering spiritual advice on how to live as a disciple. In these letters are advice and counsel that help us, too, live out our faith.

In response to this second reading and in preparation for the Gospel, we stand and sing Alleluia, which is a Hebrew word, meaning “Praise God.” Just as in the Introductory Rite there was a procession that helped us transition from the outside world to Mass, now there is a procession so that we might prepare our hearts and minds to hear from Jesus himself.

We stand out of respect, prepared to hear the very words and life of Jesus.

Reading of the Gospel

(All stand for the procession and reading of the Gospel)

Presider: The Lord be with you.

All: And with your spirit.

Presider: A reading from the holy Gospel according to _____

All: Glory to you, O Lord.

With these words we sign ourselves with the sign of Christ — the cross. Tracing the cross on our foreheads, lips and heart, so that these words of Christ fill our mind, be on our tongue and in our heart.

When the Word of Christ has been proclaimed, the priest or deacon shows reverence with a kiss. The priest or deacon shows reverence to symbols of Christ: book of Gospels, the altar. We show reverence through our posture: standing for the Gospel.


The Liturgy of the Word continues with the homily, where the priest or deacon helps us make connections between the Scripture readings and how we live out a life of faith. The homily helps us understand the Scriptures and leads us to Eucharist.


After the readings and the homily, we respond to the Lord, who has spoken through the readings: We proclaim “I believe.” This is the Creed.

Universal Prayer / Intercessions

From there we actually ask God for more of his divine presence and action, which we have just heard proclaimed in the readings. And so we stand and present before him our needs and the needs of the church, usually following a similar pattern: prayers for the church, those in authority, for the sick and the poor, finally for those in our community.