As Catholics, mass is at the center of our faith, which is why we’re required to attend it every Sunday, on other holy days, and whenever possible. However, there are still many non-Catholics and even Catholics that don’t fully recognize the value of this service. So to give light on what it is, what it entails, and why it’s so important to our Church life, here’s everything you need to know about a Catholic mass.
A Catholic mass is a liturgical service celebrating the Eucharist. It’s a holy celebration wherein members of the Church gather and remember Christ’s death and resurrection in an unbloody way. It is also during mass that we can praise God and offer Him our deepest gratitude and sorrow for our sins.
To help you understand the true value of a Catholic mass, let’s discuss its meaning and parts or rites below.
What is the Meaning of Catholic Masses?
The word mass is derived from the Latin word “missa”. Latin masses used to end with the phrase “Ite missa est”, which when translated into English means: “Go, it is sent”. “It” here reflects the Church. That said, the word mass was spoken only after the liturgy of the word and when the priest gives his final blessing.
However, sometime after the papacy of Gregory the Great, the word was then applied to the entire Roman Catholic liturgy. This was very fitting since it is through masses that Jesus Christ send us, his disciples, to go out and proclaim the Gospel. That said, a mass isn’t just a celebration for the members of the Church to come together and worship. It’s also a fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) where Jesus says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
So what exactly is a mass? Well, it’s our form of worship, a liturgical service, and a combination of prayers and rites with the sacrament of Eucharist as its centerpiece. For Catholics, the Eucharist is a representation of the Last Supper and Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Only this time, there’s no bloodshed and the priest acts in the person of Jesus Christ.
That said, when the priest repeats the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper during mass, it is Jesus Christ acting and speaking through him. Likewise, what may look like regular bread and wine are really the blood and body of Jesus Christ. So when we receive Holy Communion, we are actually receiving Jesus Christ himself.
Furthermore, through Communion, we can get closer to Jesus, cleanse ourselves from our venial sins, and receive God’s grace to avoid committing more sins. On the other hand, aside from making the body, blood, and divinity of Jesus apparent through the Holy Eucharist, a mass also commemorates the sacrifice that Christ suffered only to save us. This is why the mass is very important to Catholics.
What Happens at Catholic Mass?
Generally, a mass consists of four parts, also called rites. These are the following:
Every mass starts with the processional of the priest along with altar servers making their way toward the altar. Usually, this is accompanied by the congregation or all those who are present singing a hymn. Once the priest reaches the sanctuary or the part where the altar table is, he opens the mass by saying the sign of the cross.
The priest will then proceed to the Penitential Rite where he gives the congregation a short moment to reflect upon their actions that might have hurt others and offer a prayer to ask for God’s mercy. After, he will conclude the introductory rite with an opening prayer.
Liturgy of the Word
This is one of the principal rites of mass. It is when Scripture is read for all the congregation to hear and should cover the following areas:
- First Reading: This comes from the Old Testament.
- Responsorial Psalm: This is a psalm chosen from the Book of Psalms. The congregation interacts or responds by singing or reciting a song or hymn.
- Second Reading: For this part, one of the letters of Paul or another apostolic writing is read.
- Third Reading: This reading is taken from the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
- Homily: After all the readings from the Bible, the priest will then address the congregation about everything that has been read and relate it to the present. This makes it easier for us to digest the Word of God and apply it to our lives.
- Prayer of the Faithful / Universal Prayer / General Intercessions: The Liturgy of the Word is then closed with the intercessions. During this part, after every short prayer of petition, the congregation shall respond by saying, “Lord, hear our prayer”.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
This, along with the Holy Communion, is the most important and sacred part of a mass. Here’s a brief discussion of what rituals will take place during this rite:
- Preparation and Presentation of the Gifts: The bread and wine are brought to the altar along with the monetary contributions collected from the congregation. The priest then washes his hands and offers a prayer to God for these gifts. After, the priest invites everyone to pray so that their sacrifice is acceptable to God.
- Eucharistic Prayer: In this part, we honor the holiness of God, acknowledge his servants, and recall the Last Supper. It is also when the bread and wine are consecrated and changed into the body and blood of Jesus.
- Communion Rite: This rite starts with the Lord’s Prayer, which is either said or sung. The people are then asked to exchange a sign of peace with one another, signifying that we are one in Christ. This could be through a nod and a handshake while saying “Peace be with your” or something similar.
After, the priest shows the Body of Christ and invites everyone to communion. Those who wish to receive Christ will then approach the altar in procession. The people will then return to their seats upon receiving communion, kneel, and offer a silent prayer to praise, thank, and ask God for everything this sacrament promises. Once everyone is done, the priest unites all these silent prayers through the Prayer After Communion.
To end the mass, the priest offers a final blessing and dismisses the congregation, encouraging everyone to “go in peace” and remember to love and serve the Lord.
When Should You Attend Mass?
Lastly, let’s discuss when we, as Catholics, are required to attend mass. For this, let’s go back to the Third Commandment, which is to “Keep holy the Sabbath day”. This is why it’s stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2180) that: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.”
It further says that: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation unless excused for a serious reason.” (2181)
The same can also be found in the Code of Canon Law (1247), which says: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.”
So unless you’re sick, have to take care of an infant, or are dispensed by the pastor, then you’re committing a grave sin by deliberately failing to attend mass during Sundays and other holy days.
Now, if you can’t attend mass on Sundays, you can attend one on Saturday evenings instead. This still counts since masses on Saturday nights are usually Sunday masses because liturgically speaking, Sundays start on Saturday evenings.