Understanding the Mass

This is a simple outline of what is going on with each part of the Mass. It can be a great help in reflecting on what we are doing together at the Eucharist. It can help us pray individually and as a community.


What is going on, even before the Eucharist begins, even before we arrive at Church, is that we are being drawn there by the Holy Spirit. 
Church = those called together or gathered:  ecclesia

The Entrance

We all stand together.
The entrance rite is usually accompanied by a procession and a song.  It represents our community’s entrance into the liturgy, including the reverence given to the altar.

The Greeting

Our liturgy begins with the Sign of the Cross together, followed by the greeting of the priest:  The Lord be with you!  And with your spirit!

The Act of Penitence

We begin the liturgy, acknowledging our sinfulness and God’s mercy.
This rite is always led by a deacon, if he is present.  It concludes with the
Lord, Have Mercy.

The Gloria

The Gloria, which echoes the song of the angels in the Nativity account in
Luke’s gospel.
It is part of the Sunday liturgy and is most appropriately sung.

The Collect

This prayer has four parts: 
1) The priest begins with an invitation to all of us to pray quietly, in our hearts, for what we desire, as we begin this Eucharist. 
2)  We all pray quietly. 
3)  The priest “collects” our prayers into a prayer of the whole Church, on our behalf, on this particular day. 
(This is the same prayer as the prayer for this day in the Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours.)
4)  We all affirm that prayer, with our Amen.
We are all seated to listen to the Word of God.


This part of the Eucharist has four movements: 

1)  The Word of God is proclaimed – through readings and a psalm done in song or said back and forth with a reader.
2)  The Word is broken open in the Homily. 
3)  We bring our prayers to God together. 
4)  (On Sundays) We profess our faith by reciting the Creed together.

The Biblical Readings

We are seated, but stand for the reading of the Gospel.

The liturgy of the Word is carefully arranged throughout the liturgical year.  After the Second Vatican Council it was decided to arrange the readings so that we would have a selection from almost the entire Bible, over a three year period.  There is a two year cycle for the Weekday liturgies and a three year cycle for the Sunday readings.

On weekdays, there is a first reading, a psalm and a Gospel.  On Sundays, there is a first reading (usually from the Hebrew scriptures); a psalm; a second reading (usually from one of the Epistles to the Early Church or from the Book of Revelation; and a Gospel.

During Advent and Christmas, and during Lent and Easter seasons of the Church year, the three readings are chosen together to take us through those seasons, carefully arranged to take us through the movements of those seasons.

During Ordinary Time, we have a semi-continuous reading from one of the gospels for the Gospel reading, and the first reading is selected to match or prepare for that Gospel.  The second reading is usually unrelated to those two readings, but is a semi-continuous reading from a series of the letters.

The Homily

The priest or the deacon breaks open the Word of God to help us better hear the Good News and experience its grace for us, as we prepare to celebrate the remainder of the Eucharist and to live the Good News of Jesus in our daily lives.

The Profession of Faith

We stand.
To help us celebrate what we are about to do in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we together profess our faith, based upon the Nicene Creed, or at times, the Apostles Creed. The Creed is always professed when we gather on Sundays and for other solemn feasts.

The Prayer of the Faithful

We remain standing.
Having heard the Word of God and professed our faith together, we now bring our prayers to our God, including those who serve us in the Church, for our civil leaders, and for world and local needs, especially for those with the greatest needs.
We are seated for the Preparation of the Gifts.


The Preparation of the Gifts

On Sundays, we usually sing a hymn while the altar and the gifts are prepared.

Servers assist the Deacon (or the priest, when there is no Deacon present) with arranging the altar to prepare for the Eucharist.
The gifts of bread and wine – along with the offerings of the community – are brought up in procession.  This procession represents our bringing these gifts to the altar together.

We stand for the Prayer Over the Gifts, which has 4 parts:  1) the priest invites us to pray;  2) we respond with a common prayer (rather than one in silence, as in the Collect and Prayer after Communion); 3) the priest prays in our name a prayer related to this day; 4) we affirm that prayer with our Amen.

The Eucharistic Prayer

The Eucharistic Prayer is our great prayer of Thanksgiving:  eucharistia = thanksgiving.
We stand for the opening dialogue and the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer.

There are thirteen Eucharistic Prayers – 3 for Masses about Reconciliation; 2 for Masses with Children; 4 with special themes, in addition to the 4 main Eucharistic Prayers.  The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, like the others, has its own Preface.  The First Eucharistic Prayer (the Roman Canon – for centuries, the only one); the Second Eucharistic Prayer; and the Third Eucharistic Prayer each allow for a Preface which fits the special liturgy of the day, and are therefore reserved for Sunday use.

The Preface introduces our prayer and states the reason for our gratitude and outlines the mystery for which we are expressing our thanksgiving.  The Preface ends with the Holy, in which we acclaim in song our gratitude.

We kneel for the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer, as the priest prays the prayer, addressed to God our Father, on our behalf.

The chief elements making up the Eucharistic Prayer may be distinguished in this way:

The prayer then asks the Father – whom we have just acclaimed to be Holy – to send the Holy Spirit to also make the gifts of bread and wine Holy – “so that they might become for us the Body and Blood of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Then the prayer helps us remember the account of the night before our Lord died, and gathered with his disciples, gave us this sacrificial meal of our redemption.  In this remembering, that sacrifice becomes really present to us at our celebration of it.  The priest uses the same words Jesus used that night and invites us to adore the Body and the Blood of our Lord, now on this altar for our food.  He genuflects in adoration himself before the Body and Blood of Jesus.

The priest then invites us to proclaim this “Mystery of Faith” before us.  We say or sing one of four proclamations which express our faith in this mystery, which reveals the mystery of the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord for our salvation.

The priest then prays to the Father, that the Holy Spirit, who transformed these gifts, might transform us: “May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.”

Finally, the prayer presents several petitions before our Father at this sacred time together.  We are reminded that we are here in union with the whole Church, around the world.  We ask that we might “grow in love.”   And we pray for those who have died: “bring them into the light of your face.”

Our prayer of thanksgiving is concluded with a solemn prayer giving glory to our Father.  The priest prays – while he and the Deacon raise up the Body and Blood of Jesus – that through Jesus, with Jesus and in Jesus, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, “all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever.”  We respond to this prayer and to the whole Eucharistic Prayer by our “Amen.”

The Lord's Prayer

We all stand to continue praying to our Father, in the words our Savior gave us when his disciples asked him to teach us to pray.    We respond to the prayer the priest prays after the Lord’s Prayer with the acclamation: “For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.”

The Rite of Peace

The prayer which flows from the Lord’s Prayer, asks the Father to grant us “peace and unity in accordance with your will.” The priest then offers us all the peace of Christ and invites us to offer each other some sign of peace.

The Fraction

We now kneel as the priest then breaks the bread which has been transformed into the Body of Christ, reminding us that Jesus himself is broken and given to us in this Eucharistic sacrifice and meal.  The name often given to the Eucharist in the early church was “celebrating the breaking of the bread.”  While he does this, we sing the Lamb of God.  Then the priest invites us to “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Remembering the faith filled words of the Roman Centurion, asking that his son be healed, we respond, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed.”


During the Communion rite, we are preparing our hearts to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.  (Even if we receive only the Body of Christ in the form of bread, we always receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord.)  Our personal focus and preparation for the profound privilege we are about to receive – the gift of “holy communion” with our Lord and Savior – will enhance the richness of this sacred moment.

The minister says to us, “The Body of Christ.”  We bow our heads slightly in assent to this great mystery, and we say, “Amen” as we hold out our left hand, with our right hand beneath it, to receive the Body of Christ.  (We may also choose to receive the Body of Christ on our tongue.)

If there is Communion with the Blood of Christ, we do the same thing, taking the chalice from the minister and sipping the Blood of Christ and returning the Chalice to the minister.

Often, on Sundays, we will be singing during the Communion rite.  It is important that we let our hearts be filled with gratitude and joy at the Communion we have just received with Jesus and that our singing continues to express our great peace at this gift.


There are often brief announcements after Communion.

The Prayer After Communion

We stand for this prayer.  Like the opening Collect Prayer, it has four parts: 

1) The priest begins with an invitation to all of us to pray quietly, in our hearts, for what we desire, as we are filled with gratitude for this Eucharist. 
2)  We all pray quietly. 
3)  The priest “collects” our prayers into a prayer of the whole Church, on our behalf, on this particular day. 
(This is will help us carry home a desire that this Eucharist will lead to our living the Gospel faithfully and coming to the joys of eternal life.)
4)  We all affirm that prayer, with our Amen.

The Blessing and Dismissal

After a final greeting, the priest blesses everyone in God’s name.
The Deacon, if present, gives the final dismissal, inviting us to “Go forth” to which we respond, mindful of the gratitude in our hearts for this wonderful celebration,
“Thanks be to God!”


Just as we ceremonially processed in together, with the priest and ministers, we now recess out together, singing a song of praise to our God.

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