Understanding the Mass

The Mass, or celebration of the Eucharist, is the principal liturgical action in the Roman Catholic Church. It is the central action and aspect of our lives of faith and the primary way Catholics worship God as a community.

The word “Mass” comes from the Latin word, missa meaning “mission” or “sending” because the liturgy is to send forth the faithful to bring forth the Good News of Jesus and to be His sacramental presence in the world. It can also be referred to as “Liturgy” which means “work of the people.” It is also a time to give God thanks and praise, as the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.”

Catholics gather for Mass on Sundays, Holy Days, and sometimes on a daily basis in order to honor and praise God and unite in prayer with fellow believers in Christ. The celebration of Mass is the foundation for the universal Church and for the individual believer. Participation in the gift of the Eucharist feeds, transforms, and heals us in our spiritual journey. We are empowered to go forth and continue the saving ministry of Jesus in our daily lives. We are centered on God and on the mystery of God’s love for us through the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

In celebrating the Mass, we continue to follow the example of the early Christians who gathered together to witness the belief that Christ lives on through our liturgical worship and the lives of the faithful. In the Mass, we gather together as a community of believers, many parts of the one body of Christ. We remember all that Christ has done and sacrificed for us and that Jesus truly remains with us. We celebrate Christ’s active presence among us when Christ becomes truly present in the Eucharist. We participate in the sacrifice of Jesus and are nourished and healed through the presence of Christ in His body and blood. Therefore, the mass calls for true participation of all worshippers together. It is not the priest “performing” for the people, but it is the community of faith, priest and people alike, worshipping, praising, and celebrating together as One Body and Blood of Christ. In the Mass, we are transformed and renewed in faith and prepared to meet the demands of discipleship in our changing, challenging world with the strength of God’s support and one another in Holy Communion. The Mass was established by the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper on the night before He died for us. In this celebration, we participate in the mystery of salvation by remembering the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Lord.

There are two major parts of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word is the first major component of the Mass during which selections from the Scriptures are proclaimed. A teaching, known as the “homily,” is given using the Scriptures of the day to explain the Christian life to the faithful. On Sundays and major feasts of the Church, the faithful profess their faith using the formula known as the “Nicene Creed.” The Liturgy of the Word concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful during which the people pray for the needs of the community and the world.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist forms the second major part of the Mass. It begins with preparing the altar and culminates with the Eucharistic Prayer. During this prayer, the priest invokes the action of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The faithful are then invited to receive Holy Communion.


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