Ritual of wonder: About the Roman Catholic Mass

If anything, Catholics know and live the sacred scriptures every Sunday. Photo: 2011 Ian D. Christy

HOUSTON – May 8, 2011 — Most of us will admit that the Roman Catholic Mass isn’t about the entertainment. Some people argue that it’s boring, too ceremonious, lacking fellowship, but the most outrageous of all accusations is that the Catholic Mass is not scriptural. On the contrary, the Roman Catholic Mass is almost entirely based in scripture, from the entrance to the exit.

If people seek entertainment, the Catholic Mass isn’t for them, because scripture isn’t always entertaining. James, Peter and John fell asleep while waiting for Jesus to pray at the Garden of Gethsemane just at the start of the Passion. The Mass, though, sticks very strictly to “instructions” written within sacred scripture, and a few parts enriched by sacred tradition.

The entire Mass is a recollection, a sacrifice, of the Last Supper. It can be divvied up into more categories, but there are four main parts to the Mass: The Introductory Rites, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist and Concluding Rite. (All citations taken from the New American Standard Bible, NASB)

In the first part of the Mass, the Introductory Rite, the priest, aside from saying a brief greeting to the congregation, always starts the Mass with “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” taken from the Matthew 28:19, and follows it with a variation of “The grace and the peace of God…” from 2 Corinthians 13:14, Ephesians 1:2, or 2 Timothy 4:22, the recitation of either the Penitential Rite (based on Ezekiel 36:25 and Number 8:7a) or the Kyrie Eleison, “Lord have mercy,” (found in the book of Matthew starting at 15:22 and so forth). Singing or reciting the “Gloria” is from Luke 2:14 and reflected in Revelations 4:11 as well.

The Liturgy of the Word, the second part of the Mass, is direct readings from scripture. Generally, the first reading is from the Old Testament, following by a Psalm that is either recited or sung, depending on parish capabilities. The second reading is taken from the New Testament. The great acclamation of “alleluia” is often based on Psalms as well, though some are from various snippets of the New Testament.  And finally, the Gospel is taken from one of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

The Nicene Creed that Catholics recite after the priest’s homily begins with “We (I) believe,” (based on Mark 9:24 and John 11:27) was developed by the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, and clarified over centuries of previous councils. After that, Catholic make supplications, the Prayers of the Faithful, based upon Exodus 8:29-30 and 10:17-18.

The third part, the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the preparation of the gifts based on 1 Chronicles 29:10, usually initiated while the donation basket is passed around and the congregation sings a hymn. The congregation responds by singing or chanting “Holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3)…blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Psalm 118:26, Mark 11:9, Matthew 21:9, John 12:13)… Hosanna in the highest (Mark 11:10 and Matthew 21:9).”

Copyright © 2011 Ian D. Christy. All rights reserved.

The heart of the Mass is found in the Eucharist, when the priest recalls words from Mark 14:22-24, Matthew 26:28, Luke 22:17-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25b: “Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you,” followed by “Drink of it, all of you, this is the blood of the covenant,” and, lastly, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The faithful respond by reciting a memorial acclamation based on either 1 Thessalonian, 1 Corinthians 11,15, 16, or Luke 4.

The Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father”) is found in Matthew 6:9-13, and Catholics add an extra doxology to the end of it found after Matthew 6:13 and 1 Corinthians 29:11. The greeting of peace (just before Catholics shake of the hands of the pew neighbors) is based on John 14:27 and 16:33. The Agnes Dei (Lamb of God) and breaking of the bread is based on John 1:29, 36 and reflected in Revelations 5:6-13, 22:1-3. When the priest holds of the Eucharist, Catholics respond with “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed,” taken from Luke 7:1-10.

The final blessing may quote a scripture from Genesis, Deuteronomy, Numbers or Psalms before the priest makes any local announcements and concludes with the sign of the cross and a farewell (Exodus 4:18, 1 Samuel 1:17, Mark 5:34, Luke 7:50, 8:48, Deuteronomy 10:11-13, Judges 18:6, or James 2:16).

Because the basis of Mass is scripture, don’t be surprised if your late entrance or early exit yields a sharp, admonishing gaze from other faithful. As with all other denominations, scripture is deemed “the Word of God,” and revered to its extreme. If you must be late, try to limit movement to the in-between moments, such as when the Catholic faithful perform calisthenics, i.e., standing, sitting or kneeling.

The Holy Soap Opera is on Facebook, as are more scriptural passages that support the Mass.

Erica Bonnell is a native Houstonian and proud Texan. Aside from travelling, volunteering and educating, she spends much of her spare time in theological pursuits. Her personal adventures with faith and divorce are regularly blogged at http://writtenstraw.wordpress.com.



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Erica Bonnell

Erica Bonnell is an HR project manager by day and religious writer by night. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas and is working on her Master of Arts in Theology. She’s a proud aunt, volunteer extraordinaire, avid Houston Texans fan and devout Roman Catholic.  Her adventures with faith and divorce are regularly blogged at http://writtenstraw.wordpress.com.

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