Getting the Most out of the Mass

Below is a collection of articles we have been printing in our bulletins on how to understand and get the most out of the Mass. This series is still being added to. All are welcome to make use of this resource.

Getting the Most out of Mass

The Mass is an encounter with God. Every time we go to Mass, it should strengthen our relationship with God, and make us more God-like in the way we live. However, it is easy to get into a pattern where the Mass does not seem to impact us all that much. It can seem repetitive or boring or disconnected from our own thoughts and feelings. One of the key reasons we can feel this way, is simply because we are not participating fully in the Mass. Participation is far more than doing the actions and words, or performing a role in the liturgy. Our fundamental participation is firstly a participation of the heart. That does not mean that if we do not feel anything, our hearts must be closed. Even if we come with good intentions and truly open hearts, we still can have difficulty. This is because the Mass is not just whatever we make of it. It has a meaning and reality of its own, and it has many different parts, each with its own purpose, that flow together to make one united whole. We cannot expect to enter fully into the Mass with our hearts if we do not first have a sense of its meaning and rhythm.

For this reason we will be running a series of short articles in the bulletin going through the different parts of the Mass. But before going into the parts of the Mass, we need to begin with a few general principles...


Mass is a Prayer

The Mass is the greatest prayer that we have. We participate in this prayer by taking part in the responses, but we should pray interiorly as well, bringing our own particular prayers in our hearts and uniting them with the prayers of the Church. In the Mass we are truly united with Jesus Christ and his mystical body, the Church, and so the prayers we offer are given a special power.

Prayer in the Mass includes the four key dimensions of prayer: Repentance, Adoration, Petition and Thanksgiving. We can see these four dimensions of prayer clearly present in different parts of the Mass.

To enable us to engage in each of these dimensions of prayer as they occur through the Mass, we should take a bit of time beforehand to prepare ourselves:

Repentance - We should call to mind the sins we have committed, and reflect on them, acknowledging how we have hurt others and offended God.

Adoration - We should spend a little time reflecting on the greatness of God’s power and mercy, so that we can more whole-heartedly praise him.

Petition - We should call to mind particular prayer intentions that we are bringing before God, especially for struggling family and friends and those who have died.

Thanksgiving - We should call to mind all the things that we are grateful to God for, especially looking back on the blessings we have received over the past week

If we get into the habit of just taking a few minutes before Mass to reflect on these four types of prayer, we will then have these prayers already present in our heart and mind, ready to be called forth by the movements of prayer in the liturgy of the Mass.

The Mass is a Sacrifice

Under the Old Covenant, priests repeatedly offered animal sacrifices in reparation for the sins of the people. It was a sign of their repentance and dependence on God’s mercy, but it was unable to make reparation for sin.

Jesus Christ established a “new and eternal Covenant” where he himself is both the High Priest and the willing sacrifice. On the Cross he truly obtained reparation for sin by offering himself to the Father for our salvation.

Every time Mass is celebrated that same sacrifice is made present and offered again in an unbloody way. At the Mass we are truly present at the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, and we are not just there as spectators or even just recipients, we are there as participants.

Through our baptism we now share in the life of Jesus. We are members of his body on earth, the Church. This means that we, the Church, can dare to offer up to the Father, Christ himself as a sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the world. That is what we do at the Mass; we join in offering again the one eternal sacrifice.

We are invited to do even more; we also add to what is offered. We offer ourselves in union with Christ, adding to his work of redemption for the world. All our good works, the faithful living of our vocation, our penances and sacrifices, all become actions of Christ in us that truly make reparation for sin and obtain graces.

We are called not just to offer parts of our lives, but our whole life. We took on this call at our Baptism when we united ourselves with Christ’s death and we renew it every time we come to the Mass.

That is the goal, but we fall far short. We cannot just decide to offer ourselves completely like that. It is only the work of grace that allows us to gradually give more of ourselves, but we are called to enter further and give more every time we come to Mass.

Each time we should seek to surrender more of our life in union with Christ’s own sacrifice: all our projects and ambitions, all our worldly possessions, our relationships, even our own mind and body and our life itself. In every area of our life we seek to wholeheartedly say with Jesus: “Thy will be done, not mine.” Mark 14:36

Through the work of God in our hearts, and through the sacrifice of the Mass, we can truly take part in the work of the Cross for the salvation of the world.

Christ Present in the Mass

At the Mass we come face to face with Jesus Christ’s enduring presence among us. There are many signs and symbols in the Mass that teach us or remind us about Christ, but in four special ways Christ is not just remembered; He is actually present.

Christ’s Presence in the People of God - The Church is truly the mystical Body of Christ. Where the members of the Church are, Christ is there. That does not mean that Catholics always act in a Christ-like way, but through our Baptism we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, who makes us “other Christs” to the extent that we allow the Holy Spirit to work. Bound together by the same Holy Spirit the whole Church also makes Christ present collectively.

Christ’s Presence in the Word of God - Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, human writers composed the books of the Bible, but these Sacred Scriptures do not just tell us truths about God. Jesus is truly the Word of God because he is God’s ultimate revelation of Himself and His love for us. When we read the Scriptures, moved by the Spirit, we meet the personal Word of God, Jesus Christ. It is not just information for our heads, it is a meeting of hearts.

Christ’s Presence in the Priest - Jesus Christ is the one and only High Priest of the New Covenant. In Him are bound together the Old Testament roles of Priest, Prophet and King. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit received at their ordination, priests share in that priesthood of Christ. Through the priest we receive the ministry of Christ Himself. As with the people of God, the priest has to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ’s own ministry well, but the Sacraments will still always bear the authority and power of Christ regardless of the priest’s own attitude.

Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist - Beyond these three types of presence, Christ is truly present in a far greater way in the Eucharist. We call this the Real Presence. When the prayers of consecration are spoken by the priest over the bread and wine, calling down the power of the Holy Spirit, the gifts truly become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. As with the other presences, the Real Presence is an enduring presence. Under the appearance of Bread, Jesus remains truly present in the tabernacle after Mass. In an extraordinary way, Jesus also remains truly present in us for a time after we have received him in Holy Communion.

In the Mass, we immerse ourselves in the life of Jesus Christ. We are called to approach Mass as though we are entering into the Holy of Holies. The Mass is the most sacred place on earth, the most sacred time in our week.


1) The Mass is a prayer offered to God the Father in union with Jesus Christ. It has elements of repentance, adoration, petitions and thanksgiving.

2) The Mass is an offering of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, with which we unite ourselves in the Mass through our participation.

3) Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ becomes truly present in the Mass. He is present in the baptised faithful, in the Scriptures, and in the priest. In a completely different and extraordinary way, He is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine.

The Parts of the Mass

The Entrance Procession

The entrance procession is for more than just what is practically required to bring the priests and other ministers to the sanctuary of the Church.

The procession of the priest and ministers at the start of Mass is a sign of the pilgrim Church on earth.

Ordinarily the procession is led by the crucifix, a sign that as a pilgrim people we follow Christ, and journey with Christ crucified.

The procession might also be accompanied by incense. This is a sign that the pilgrim Church is the place of God’s dwelling on earth, like the original temple in Jerusalem. In a special way, the people of God are the new temple of the new covenant.

Candles also accompany the cross, giving honour to the cross and showing it to be our light and guide through this earthly journey, in a world affected by darkness and sin.

As Christians, we believe we are not promised an easy life, and in many ways we expect our journey in this ‘vale of tears’ to have trials and struggles, but the procession reminds us that from a heavenly perspective, we are not just trudging along, we are part of a royal procession into the court of heaven!

“Let us go rejoicing to the House of the Lord!”

When we arrive at the sanctuary, it symbolises our ultimate arrival to heaven! It may seem strange to start the Mass by skipping straight to the end of our earthly journey, but this is because the whole Mass is our participation in the life of heaven. We take part in the Heavenly Banquet, and celebrate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. We remember that when we get to heaven, it will be just the beginning.

Showing Reverence

When the procession reaches the steps to the sanctuary, they pause and bow towards the altar, or if the Blessed Sacrament is present in the tabernacle they genuflect towards the tabernacle (unless they are holding something, in which case they bow).

Making an act of reverence before entering the sanctuary is part of Catholic practice both during and outside of the Mass. The sanctuary is a specially marked holy place, where no one enters unless it is to perform a ministry in the liturgy, or to prepare for Mass. Catholics also genuflect (or bow if they are unable) when they pass before the Blessed Sacrament present in the tabernacle.

These actions are not done for God’s sake, but for ours. They express in our bodies the truth of God’s glory.

For, although you have no need of our praise,yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift,since our praises add nothing to your greatnessbut profit us for salvation. Common Preface IV

The Mass is filled with these acts of reverence. They are acts of adoration and they remind us that we are not just taking part in something earthly, and we are not just gathering as a community, but we are in the very presence of God Almighty.

Kissing the Altar

The priest approaches the altar and bows and kisses it. Throughout the Mass, the altar will be the central focus. Every element of the Mass leads towards or flows from the altar. This is primarily because it is the place where the Holy Sacrifice will be offered, but it has other rich meanings too.

It points to eternal life as the table where God gathers with his children, the table of the heavenly banquet. It also points to death, as a sign of Christ’s stone tomb. This is expressed in the traditional practice of placing the relics of the saints in the altar.

The altar is also a sign of Christ himself, who is our rock and foundation stone. The rock from which Moses brought forth water in the desert is a sign of Christ who gives us the Holy Spirit, and from whose side blood and water flowed forth.

In the Mass, the priest truly offers Christ’s own sacrifice, and he becomes an alter Christus, another Christ. As he is configured to Christ and his cross sacramentally, he is called also to be conformed to Christ the Priest in mind and soul and spirit. When the priest kisses the marble altar, he is symbolically laying down his own life, in union with Christ’s, renewing the self-offering he made at his ordination.

In reality, of course, the priest’s interior attitude falls short of what is expressed in this symbolic action. That is why in the act of kissing the altar, he is not just giving of himself, but seeking to receive. He is symbolically drawing on Christ’s own life, the waters of life that flowed from the rock in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit, to heal and make up for his weakness. He is also seeking the aid and intercession of the saints, especially those whose relics are in the altar, to intercede for him, and also to add their own merits to make up for what is lacking in his.

The Sign of the Cross

In the sign of the cross we are united in an ancient yet simple expression of our whole faith.

In our words we profess faith in the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose name we live and move and have our being.

In our actions we call to mind the Cross of Christ through which we can hope to receive salvation. But we don’t just call the Cross to mind, we sign our bodies with the Cross showing that we are claimed by the Cross of Christ. As we trace the cross on ourselves, we also symbolically give ourselves over to the logic of the Cross and to love God with our whole mind (forehead), our whole heart (chest), and our whole strength (shoulders).

We use this symbolic action or prayer to consecrate ourselves in preparation for the Mass, but we should also be using this ritual to sanctify our whole lives. We should turn to the Cross regularly, at the start and end of the day, at prayer, at meals, and in times of need or in danger. Every time we place ourselves under the banner of the Cross we are reminding ourselves of our Christian identity, we are glorifying God, and we apply the power and protection of the Cross to our current situation. It should not be a thoughtless action, but should be done with sincerity and with pride.

The Sign of the Cross is not a superstitious action. The liturgy and our Catholic faith is full of tangible bodily actions, because our faith is not just a theory or an idea, it is an encounter with Jesus Christ who came among us in the flesh. God truly is present and at work in these tangible signs and actions, not because God needs them to exercise his power, but because we need them as bodily human beings to have a true and tangible relationship with Jesus Christ, our saviour who has humbled himself so profoundly to make that possible.

The Greeting

The priest greets the people with the words “The Lord be with you” or a longer phrase, such as “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” This longer form uses the greeting given by St Paul himself to the Corinthian community (2 Cor 13:14). Drawn from the scriptures and infused with Christian belief it reminds us that we come together and greet each other, not just socially or as disconnected individuals, but in the context of our ancient faith and our union in Christ.

The people respond with the words “and with your spirit.” The people refer to the priest’s “spirit” because of the special gift of the Holy Spirit that he has received at ordination to empower him to act on behalf of the people before God, especially at the altar. They are invoking God’s power and strength to aid the priest specifically in the work that he is about to perform in offering the Mass.

Penitential Rite

The penitential rite begins with the invitation “brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries” or something similar. Usually there will follow a moment of silence. We should try to use that time to call to mind particular sins that we have committed since the last time we attended Mass, as well as our sinfulness in general and to be truly sorry. It is important that we have an awareness of ours sins, because in the Mass we come before the cross, where we see the consequences of our sin, and receive forgiveness and a renewed strength to fight against sin.

The period of silence will often conclude with the Confiteor prayer, which begins “I confess to almighty God and to you hear present…” This prayer is an earnest admission of our guilt, made before God, Mary, the saints, and the gathered community. It is part of the prayer to symbolically beat our breast three times at the words “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

The Penitential Rite also includes the Kyrie where all respond “Lord have mercy … Christ have mercy.” Here we turn to Jesus aware of our complete need and dependence on him, humbly and simply asking for mercy.

These prayers imitate the example of the tax collector commended by Jesus who simply “beat his breast and said ‘God have mercy on me a sinner’” (Lk 18:13).

The Penitential Rite occurs near the start of the Mass because repentance is the first condition of following Jesus. John the Baptist who went ahead of Jesus called people to repent. At our Baptism, we renounced sin, burying our sins with Christ in the tomb. The Penitential Rite is also a reminder of our Baptism. This is why on some special feasts and occasions it is replaced with the sprinkling of Holy Water, another sign of our Baptism.

The Gloria

On Sundays (outside of Lent and Advent) and Feast days the Penitential Rite is followed by the Gloria. Having acknowledged our weakness and need for mercy, we turn to God in awe of his perfection and glory.

The Gloria begins with the words ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill.’ Here it is echoing the prayer of the angels when they appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”Luke 2:13-14

At Mass we are present in heaven joining in the chorus of the angels and saints giving glory to God. When we pray the Gloria, especially when it is sung, we become aware that we are taking part in this heavenly liturgy.

To pray this prayer properly it is important to be aware of its Trinitarian nature. The first part gives Glory to “God, almighty Father.” At the start of the middle part, we move from glorifying the Father to glorifying the “Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son.” It is easy to not to notice the change, but it is important, because we are called to know and have a personal relationship with both the Father and the Son, and we cannot do that if we are merging them together in our minds into just an abstract idea of God.

This movement from glorifying the Father to glorifying the Son, reflects what we see in the book of Revelation, where the hosts of heaven are initially praising “the one who sits on the throne.”

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,to receive glory and honor and power,for you created all things,and by your will they were createdand have their being.”Revelation 4:11

But then “the Lamb” is introduced to the scene and they turn to praise him.

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strengthand honor and glory and praise!”Revelation 5:11

Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” many times in Revelation. There are also several other moments in the Mass where we do the same (eg. “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the word...” and “Behold the Lamb of God…”). There is actually a close harmony between the heavenly liturgy described in Revelation and the liturgy of the Mass.

The whole scene in Revelation ends by glorifying both the Father and the Son together.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”Revelation 5:13

Similarly, we conclude the Gloria by praising the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Collect (Opening Prayer)

The final part of the introductory rites is the Collect or Opening Prayer. The priest introduces the Collect with the words “let us pray.” Then there is usually a time of silence, where we all pray in silence for the particular intentions that we are bringing to God in the Mass. To get the most out of this time it is good to have prepared before mass by calling to mind the intentions we should pray for.

After the silence the priest begins to pray the Collect. This prayer usually has a fairly standard form with three parts:

1) Addressing God, usually with acknowledgement of some aspect of his glory or great works. For example:

Almighty ever-living God,who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and desires of those who entreat you.

2) A general petition for those gathered here:

Pour out your mercy upon usto pardon what conscience dreadsand to give what prayer does not dare to ask

3) And a Trinitarian conclusion

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The purpose of this prayer is to gather the silent prayers we have just prayed in our hearts and to unite them and lift them up to God through the priest. During this prayer the priest holds up his hands in what is called the orans position. The priest prays this way at many parts of the Mass, and it always means that he is offering up or lifting up the prayers of the people on their behalf. When the various prayers of the people are all gathered up and offered through the single voice of the priest it is a powerful sign that we are praying in one Spirit.

This is even better expressed when the Mass is celebrated ad orientem (where the priest sometimes faces forwards with the people). Not only does the priest at this point raise his arms to the orans position, but he actually turns forwards to show that he is taking up the prayers of the people, turning to God and offering them up with and for the people.

Because the orans position is meant to show the times when the priest is particularly fulfilling his priestly role to pray on behalf of the people, only the priest should pray in this way during the Mass. However, outside of the Mass, it is a practice in line with Christian tradition to use the orans position when praying, especially when you are praying on behalf of someone in need.

Readings from Scripture

Before reading from the Gospel, we read from the other books of Scripture. On Sundays the first reading is usually from the Old Testament and the second is usually from one of the letters in the New Testament. In the liturgical calendar we don’t read every passage of Scripture, but we do go through the full breadth of the books of the Bible and the different styles.

It is also important to know that the combination of readings that we have on any particular Sunday is not accidental. They have been put together because they are meant to be used to interpret each other. For Catholics, a fundamental principle for understanding the Scriptures is that the “In the Old Testament, the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament, the Old Testament is revealed” (St Augustine). Scripture needs to be interpreted as a whole.

The Mass is really the proper place for the reading of Scriptures, because in the Mass we come before Jesus, the word of God, who is also alive and present in the Scriptures. In the Christian faith, the Scriptures and the Mass were always tied very closely together. It was not until the 16th Century that the Catholic Church officially defined the list of books (canon) that made up the Bible. Before that, it was traditional practice that determined what Christians considered to be part of Holy Scripture, with the crucial factor being whether they were widely used in the celebration of the Mass.

When the Scriptures are read, we do not just engage our minds. As with all the parts of the Mass, it is an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. In the context of the Mass, having recognised our sins, and having prayed the prayers of the introductory rites in one spirit, we are in the ideal conditions for the word of God to take root in our hearts.

Responsorial Psalm

The Psalms have a special place in the scriptures, because rather than recording historical events or teachings, they are prayers of the heart that cover the full range of the emotions that we bring before God in prayer: joy and sadness, faithfulness and doubt, triumph and shame, praise and even anger. In reading them we can see the movements of our own heart before God at different times and by praying with the psalms we give a sure foundation to our prayer.

All priests and religious are obliged to pray the Divine Office every day, which is mostly made up of the psalms. So when we pray the psalms we are praying as one Church and with one heart and soul. It is a continuous hymn of praise or cry of the heart lifted up to God throughout the world.

In the Mass, the psalm is often prayed with the people responding to the reader or cantor. In the Divine Office the psalms are usually prayed antiphonally where there are two choirs who pray alternating verses. These patterns of praying the psalms emphasises the idea that they are a hymn of the universal community, even if they are not sung.

Often the response to the psalm in the Mass will be a hint or key to understanding the connections between the other readings in the Mass. The psalms response for today: “Our help is in the name of the Lord” is a very good theme we can use to interpret each of the readings.

It is a great practice to remember this response and to keep coming back to it throughout the week and applying it to our daily lives and concerns.

Gospel Reading

The Gospel reading is the highpoint of the liturgy of the word. This is expressed by the fact that we all join in the Gospel acclamation and stand for the Gospel. We often also use candles or incense to convey the sacred character of the Gospel, and the book of the Gospels is always treated with reverence.

The sacred importance of the Gospels is expressed in the Vatican II document, Dei verbum.

“Among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior.”

“The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin.”

“Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels... whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1).”

We are lead into the Gospel by proclaiming the Alleluia verse. Alleluia comes from the Hebrew for “praise God” (hallelu + Yahweh). It is a fitting acclamation as we prepare to hear the good news.

As we begin the proclamation of the Gospel, we all join in the liturgical action of tracing three crosses on our head, our lips and our heart. The priest or deacon reading the Gospel does the same, but first he traces the cross on the Gospel reading itself. This liturgical action is really a prayer of petition to God asking that the power of the Cross of Christ, present in these Gospels may find a home in our minds, in our speech and in our heart. This reminds us that the words of the Gospel are meant to change us. The Gospel must make its home in our heart, so that it can be fully proclaimed with our words and actions.

The Homily

As Catholics we believe that although the Scriptures contain all that God has revealed in Jesus Christ, they need to be read in the context of the Tradition of the Church that is preserved faithfully by the Church’s Magisterium or teaching authority. In the homily the priest has the responsibility of giving the proper context for the particular Scripture readings of the day. The homily is also meant to apply the teachings contained in the Scriptures to our daily lives which are always changing.

While it is sometimes called a ‘sermon’ this is not completely correct. A sermon is just a teaching, and it can happen in any situation, but the homily is not just a teaching or a lesson. It is part of the liturgy and ritual of the Mass, because it expresses the deeper reality that the Scriptures belong within a truly living Tradition.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the priest will be very insightful about applying the Scriptural lessons, or even necessarily faithful in preserving the Traditional teachings, but even if it does not particularly appeal to our minds, we can still participate with our heart. Because of its place in the Mass, the homily is a powerful opportunity to hear God speaking to us in a personal and particular way, if we open our hearts prayerfully. Even if it means that God has to work in spite of the priest!

The Creed

The creed is a summary of the key elements of our Faith, but it is also a sign of the entirety of what we believe. The Greek word for the creed is symbolon, which means a symbol or a token. So when we recite the creed, we are not just making statements about the particular truths that we are naming, we are confessing religious belief in the whole truth revealed by Jesus Christ.

It is also possible that when we say the creed there are statements in it that we do not yet understand. Certainly, there is always more to learn about the mysteries it contains. In a sense this does not undermine the value of our profession of faith, because fundamentally we are not making a statement about the facts we hold in our head; we are making a statement about the assent of our heart to the truths which Christ revealed and the Church preserves and puts forth for us to believe.

This is not a matter of suppressing the intellect or logic, but in humility, choosing to direct our minds to the voice of God who is Truth. As St Thomas Aquinas taught:

"Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace." Summa Theologica, II-II, 2, 9.

It is important to remember as we pray the creed, that true Faith is not an achievement of our intellect, but God’s action in us. As Our Lord said to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:17). So when we pray the creed we are also celebrating the great gift of Faith that we have received, that we can say “I believe!” We also keep in mind that our Faith always needs to grow, and so we should have in our hearts the prayer of the man who asked Jesus to heal his son. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mt 9:24)

Prayer of the Faithful

Historically, these prayers were called the Prayer of the Faithful because they occurred immediately after the catechumens left the Church. Catechumens are people who believe the Catholic faith but are still in preparation to receive the sacraments. Because they had not yet received the sacraments, they would go out to receive instruction immediately after the homily at Mass.

This litany of prayers emphasises that we are not an isolated community, but part of the Communion of Saints, with a responsibility to support each other through our prayers. This is why this part of the Mass is also known as the ‘Universal Prayer’. There is always a focus on praying for universal causes over concerns that are particular to our local community. While local concerns are often mentioned and prayed for, it is usually as part of a broader concern, eg.

We pray for those threatened by natural disasters, especially those facing bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland.”

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the book of instructions on celebrating the Mass):

“In the Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in a certain way to the word of God which they have welcomed in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is fitting that such a prayer be included, as a rule, in Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the whole world.”

Whenever we pray for someone in need, we exercise our baptismal priesthood. A priest is someone who is a mediator between mankind and God. An ordained priest has a particular authority and power to act as a mediator through the sacraments, but all of the baptised have been given a general authority and real power to intercede on behalf of their fellow human beings and bring their concerns before God, most of all by bringing them to the altar of the Eucharist.

Preparing the Altar

The Mass transitions from the liturgy of the word into the liturgy of the Eucharist with the preparing of the altar. As with any meal, there is the need to set the table with what we need, but in this case it is no ordinary meal, but a sacred Banquet.

The Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples would have followed the Passover tradition of using special vessels and linens to recognise the sacred nature of the meal. As Christians, we have even more reason to give proper reverence to the mysteries we celebrate.

The Altar Cloth The altar is always covered with a white cloth. This practice goes back to the early Christians for whom linen was fairly valuable. The cloth also ensures that the Blessed Sacrament does not touch the altar.

On the altar there is usually a cross so that the priest can be reminded of the sacrifice that he is offering.. If the priest is not separated from the people by the altar, the cross can be above or behind the altar. The events of the Last Supper are inseparable from the sacrifice of the Cross.

The Candles As with many elements of the Mass candles are placed on the altar to show that it is a sacred place, and what we are doing is illumined by the light of Christ.

The Missal and Missal Stand The Missal is of practical necessity, because it contains the rites for the priest to follow in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Missal is often placed on a Missal Stand. The stand makes the Missal easier to read, but it also emphasises the sacredness of the altar. In general, we try to avoid putting anything made of common materials on the altar, and so the brass Missal stand holds the Missal aloft.

The Corporal A linen cloth called a corporal is laid in the middle of the altar. It acts as an extra level of precaution to prevent fragments of the Blessed Sacrament from being lost. The corporal is folded in a 3 x 3 pattern, so that it can be folded up in a way that will collect any fallen fragments. There is a special process of washing the corporal (and other linens) that ensures any fragments that have been picked up are not just discarded or washed down the drain.

The corporal also marks where the Sacrifice is offered. Usually a priest will only intend to consecrate the bread and wine in vessels on the corporal to make sure there is no confusion about what was and wasn’t consecrated.

The Pall The pall is a stiff linen square (usually with card in it), that can be used to cover vessels to keep out insects or dust.

The Purificators The purificators are linen cloths used for any kind of cleaning or wiping of vessels that hold the Blessed Sacrament. These are also cleaned in a special way to make sure respect is giving to any trace of the Blessed Sacrament.

Chalice and Paten The main vessels that are brought to the altar are the chalice and paten. These are always made of precious materials and often ornate, because they will hold the Blessed Sacrament. They have been consecrated for this purpose and should never be used to hold anything else. In fact, it is a practice in the Church that if a non-precious vessel is used for the Mass or to hold the Blessed Sacrament (because of an emergency situation), then that vessel should be destroyed and buried to prevent it from being ever used for a mundane purpose.

Ciborium The ciborium is another vessel for holding the Blessed Sacrament. It is not essential to the Mass, but it is used if you need more hosts than the paten can hold, and it also used to hold the remaining hosts and placed in the tabernacle after Holy Communion.

Cruets The Mass also makes use of non-sacred vessels, like the cruets which hold the water and wine to be consecrated. Although cruets can be quite ornate, they are usually made of non-precious materials, like glass. This is to indicate the radical difference between the water and wine that they hold, and the true Eucharistic Body and Blood of Jesus that they become.

The use of materials and the way we treat these items communicates the extraordinary holiness of the Eucharist, and when we as a community faithfully perform these actions, they become communal acts of love and reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist.

The Collection and Offertory

While the collection is mostly a practical and material action, its placement in the liturgy has a spiritual significance. It occurs just before the offertory. In the offertory bread and wine (bought with the parish funds) are brought forward to be used in the Mass. It is not just the offering of the people carrying the gifts, but of the whole people. Giving to the collection is a real way to take part in the offering of the gifts of bread and wine for us in the Mass.

The much more important way we take part in the offertory is spiritually. What is being offered is not just bread and wine for Jesus to make into his own Body and Blood. We are also offering our very selves, so that we can be made more and more the Body of Christ on earth.

Through the grace of our Baptism, we are able to offer in the Mass all our good works. On their own they would be not much in the grand scheme of things, but in the Mass they are united with the Cross and truly become part of the work of salvation.

As well as our past actions, we also offer our future as well. In the bread and wine, we offer ourselves body and soul. We commit our bodily or material needs to God, and we surrender our plans, hopes and desires to His Will. We entrust our lives to God, knowing he can do far more with them than what we have planned. This act of trust can be one of the greatest offerings we can make in the Mass, especially when we have fears about the future.

It is important to be recollected during the offertory and to make a sincere self-offering in our hearts. This self-offering in the Mass is really at the heart of the whole Christian spiritual life. On days when we do not get to Mass, there is a traditional prayer called the Morning Offering where we can spiritually make this offering wherever we are:

“O my Jesus, through the most pure heart of Mary, I offer you all the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day, for all the intentions of thy divine heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, and in reparation for my sins and the sins of the whole world. Amen.”

Praying this prayer daily is a great way to develop the spirit of self-offering that helps us to participate in the offertory at the Mass.

The Prayer over the Gifts

During the offertory prayers the priest invites the people to join in making the offering of bread and wine, and also an offering of themselves to be transformed to become the Mystical Body of Christ.

With the Prayer over the Gifts, the priest now turns and speaks to God the Father asking his grace as we make this sacred offering so that it will be for our good. The priest again uses the orans posture (with hands apart and open) to show that he is praying to God on behalf of the people. The particular prayer that is used depends on the liturgical calendar and changes from week to week. An example of one is:

Grant us, O Lord, we pray,that we may participate worthily in these mysteries,For whenever the memorial of this sacrifice is celebratedThe work of our redemption is accomplished...

This prayer usually conveys an awareness that we are entering into something of great awe and majesty, and so there are great graces to be obtained by being here, but we are definitely don’t want to be approaching these mysteries casually or presumptuously, so we invoke God’s help.

Preface Dialogue

The Eucharistic Prayer begins with the preface dialogue. Which is a series of invitations and responses between the priest and the people:

The Lord be with you And with your spiritLift up your hearts We lift them up to the LordLet us give thanks to the Lord our God It is right and just

In Scriptural language, where your heart is, is a way of saying what you care most deeply about. When we lift up our hearts to the Lord, we mean that we are leaving behind all our earthly and material concerns and choosing to focus only on God and heavenly things. This is particularly appropriate as we are about to enter into the heart of the Mass, into the place where heaven meets earth. A great example of this attitude is the response of the disciples who left their boats and their fish behind and followed Jesus at his invitation.


The preface is a longer prayer that will be different depending on the liturgical season or particular feast of the day.

It is a prayer praising God and recognising some of the events of salvation history that allow us to offer this sacrifice today, such as creation, the fall, redemption and the promise of future glory. This prayer at the start of the Eucharistic Prayer, reminds us that what we are celebrating is firmly rooted in history. Because of God’s actions in our history, we are able to be united with God in the present, and anticipate eternal life with God in the future. In the Eucharistic Prayer, the past, present and future all come together in one single event.

Holy, Holy, Holy

At the end of the preface prayer, which testifies to God’s glorious works, we are called to unite ourselves with all the choirs of angels in praising God. It is not always the same, but all the prefaces ends in a similar way.

And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,we sing the hymn of your glory as without end we acclaim:

Thrones, Dominions and Powers are all ranks of angels, so what is being described is ranks of angels, like a whole city all dedicated to praising God. At this point we all answer this invitation and joyfully join in the chorus:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hostsHeaven and earth are full of your glory Hosanna in the highestBlessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord Hosanna in the highest

Holy, holy, holy is the chorus of saints and angels in heaven before the throne of God (Is 6:1-5, Rev 4:2-8). When we say “Lord God of hosts” the hosts are the hosts of angels. This word for hosts is often also translated as armies. As we are now entering into the heart of the Mass, we are also more closely united with heaven on earth. At this point in the Mass we cannot see it, but in a special way we are joined by all the angels and saints in heaven who stand before the throne of the God. As we join in this acclamation it is good to picture hosts of angels gathering around the altar, filling the sanctuary and the Church praising God.

It might seem that as we join in this acclamation we have reached the highpoint of the liturgy, but this is not the case. There is still a great sense of anticipation and expectation. There is more to come. While we join the angels in praising the Lord (God the Father), we then move into praising “he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We await the arrival of God the Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

Immediately after the Holy, holy, holy acclamation, in contrast to joining in the glorious chorus of the angels, we move into a time of silent awe. We prepare to receive our saviour.

As we go through the Eucharistic prayer, it is even more than Jesus himself coming among us. We will enter not just the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we will be present and take part in his victory over death. We become truly present at his passion, death and resurrection even though we do not see it. So we kneel down in awe, as we begin enter into these mysteries...

The Epiclesis

The Epiclesis is the action where the priest calls down the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine so that it may become truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. While saying the Epiclesis prayer the priest changes his posture to hold his hands over the gifts. Often the bell is rung as this prayer is said. Some traditions within the Church see this as the moment that Jesus becomes truly present in the Eucharist while others focus on the Consecration that follows. Either way, both the calling down of the Holy Spirit and the words of Christ at the Last Supper are essential for the celebration of the Mass. This reminds us that while the priest is necessary, he is merely a vessel for the Holy Spirit, whose power it is that changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Consecration

The Consecration is the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer where the priest takes the bread and wine and repeats the sacred words of Jesus spoken at the Last Supper. This is not just a re-enactment of the Last Supper. The Last Supper itself was a sacramental pre-enactment of Christ’s Passion. Jesus solemnly offered his own body and blood to be given and poured out for us. This solemn profession of his ultimate self-gift was consummated on the Cross. When we celebrate the Mass now, not only does Christ himself become present, but we enter into his Passion, Death and Resurrection. The one Sacrifice by which we are saved is offered again in an unbloody way and we participate in that offering.

"Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the source and summit f the whole Christian life, the faithful offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It." - Vatican II, Lumen gentium 11.