THE HOLY MASS: CELEBRATING WHAT WE BELIEVE (PART 2)
This week we bring the second part of the teaching on the Holy Mass by Rev. Fr. Daniel Adjei Aboagye
It could be traced back from history that the Liturgy of the Word was assigned equal importance as the Eucharist. The Table of the Word prepares us for the Table of the Eucharist.
Inside the church, the Liturgy of the Word is symbolized by the pulpit and the Eucharist is by the Altar. Within these major divisions, the following are the individual parts of the Mass
1. Introductory Rites:
The GIRM explicitly states that “after the people have assembled, the entrance song begins as the priest and the ministers come in.” That is an indication that the church puts premium and value on the gathered community because within the gathering, Christ is in their mist: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt 18:20).
The Didache equally identifies the Eucharistic gathering as the redeemed church, though made up of different grains, through the gathering in the name of Christ, it becomes one loaf of bread: “as this bread was scattered over the mountains and has now been brought back together, so will your church be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.” The ministers process to the sanctuary accompanied by a song.
It is important that all join in the entrance song because it is aimed at opening the celebration, intensifying the unity of the gathered community of believers, and lead the thought of the people to the mystery of the season, feast or event being celebrated. Under no circumstances must the gathered community play a passive role.
Kiss of the Altar and Incensation:
The priest, concelebrating priest and deacon kiss the altar reverently. The altar is a symbol of Christ present among his people.
The Church during the middle ages, began the use of relics in the Altar because of increase devotion and belief in the prayer of intercession of the saints.
The kissing of the altar is a gesture of honoring Christ, the High-Priest and host of the day’s celebration. The priest performs this greeting and honoring gesture as a representative of the community. That requires that the gathered people join the priest inwardly to perform this act of honoring and greeting. The priest then venerates the altar with incense.
Formerly, incense was rejected based on its pagan use but during the Constantinian era, the church began to use it in line with the Psalm 141:2 “Let my prayer be counted before you like incense.”
Incense is understood as the self-consuming love of God and neighbor. It also symbolizes the church’s sign of reverence and offer of intercession to the Lord.
The Sign of the Cross:
From the presidential seat, the priest leads the congregation to sign themselves with the ‘Sign of the Cross’ accompanied by the words ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ By this sign, the whole church makes the affirmation that by the mystery of the cross, Christ has won for us salvation. The church proclaims that salvation comes through the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). And the words accompanying the symbolic gesture is a confession of belief in the Triune God, the source and fount of our redemption.
The gesture of crossing our body implicitly is found in the book of Ezekiel 9:4. Here, prophet Ezekiel received the instruction; “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sign and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”
Symbolically, it reminds us of our baptism, our death to sin in Christ and life through our resurrection with him. St. Paul’s letter put is beautifully, “don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3-4). The 1970 format for Mass ritual requires the priest to sign three times: at the beginning of mass, over the gifts and at the end (plus, another one if he uses Eucharistic Prayer I).
Greeting and Introduction:
The priest greets the gathered assembly with what is called Apostolic Greeting since it follows the example of St. Paul’s salutation employed in his letters, “Grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus be with you” (Cf 2 Cor 13:14). The priest may also say “The Lord be with you” and the faithful respond “And with your spirit.” This is a biblical language in 2 Tim 4:22—“May the Lord be with your spirit. And may his grace be with all of you.” Again, when the angel of God called Gideon to defend the people of God from foreign attacks, the angel of God said to him “The Lord is with you” (Judg 6:12).
The significance of the greeting indicates that the People of God have access to the power of God to carry out their unique vocation in the Father’s plan of salvation which is to bare “witness to the ends of the earth” (Act 1:8), and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). Also, through the greeting and the response of the faithful, the priest and the assembly declare and affirm the ever presence of God among the community and the mystery of the gathered church.
The apostolic greeting goes with extended hands symbolizing an embrace. It may be followed by a brief introduction to set the tone for the celebration, feast, or solemnity.
The Penitential Rite:
A preparatory rite that draws the gathered assembly to a repentant acknowledgement and confession of guilt and a prayer for forgiveness. An encounter with the divine always awakens the consciousness of humanity’s unworthiness and guilt. In the Old Testament, the penitents throw themselves to the ground, sit in ashes, cover their faces (Neh. 9:1-2, 1 Kgs 20:31-32). Again, Leviticus 5:5 calls on the penitent/sinner to confess verbally his/her sins.
The New Testament also sees our frailties in the presence of the self-revealing God when it said that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleans us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:8-9). Upon the confession of sins, moment of meditation, the priest offers the prayer of forgiveness.
In the Confiteor (I confess to almighty God…), we acknowledge and confess our sins to God and our neighbor. This underlines the social dimension of our guilt. We also express the fact that by our guilt we have violated injustice and love and above all injured the Body of Christ.
The Confiteor also points out our failure to do the good. It concludes by seeking the intercession of brothers and sisters, the triumphant church which is perfectly scriptural from James 5:16 – “therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”
Irrespective of the various options for the penitential rite, they all end with the prayer of forgiveness. Emminghaus rightly points out that, the prayer of forgiveness must never be underestimated because “they are certainly not words of sacramental absolution for sins that require confession, but there can hardly be any doubt of their theological and sacramental significance for repentant sinners.”
To be continued…