This is a four-part series on the main components of the Eucharist. These short summaries by noted liturgist Gabe Huck are included in our Gather Hymnal with a complete order of the Mass with all the prayers of the Mass and explanations (like a missalette) in our Gather Hymnal in each pew.
The Introductory Rite
The church gathers on the Lord’s Day to listen to the Scriptures, to offer prayers, to give thanks and praise to God while recalling God’s gifts in creation and saving deeds in Jesus, and to share Holy Communion.
In these rites of word and Eucharist, the Church keeps Sunday as the Lord’s Day, the day of creation and resurrection, the “eighth day” when the fullness of God’s kingdom is anticipated. The Mass or Eucharistic celebration of the Christian community has rites of gathering, or word, of Eucharist, of dismissal.
All those who gather constitute the assembly. One member of the assembly has been ordained to the presbyterate, the priesthood, leads the opening and closing prayers, the Eucharistic prayer, and presides over the whole assembly. A member ordained to the deaconate may assist, read the gospel and the prayer of the faithful, and preach. Other members of the assembly are chosen and trained for various ministries: these are the readers, servers, greeters, musicians, and communion ministers. All of these assist the assembly.
It is the assembly itself, all those present, that celebrates the liturgy. The Order of Mass is familiar to all those who regularly join in the Eucharistic celebration. It is learned through repetition. This Order of Mass leaves many decisions to the local community and others are determined by the various seasons of the liturgical year.
The Liturgy of the Word
When the Church assembles, the book containing the Scriptures (Lectionary) is opened and all listen as the readers and deacon (or priest) read from the places assigned. The first reading is normally from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the second from the letters of the New Testament, and the third from the Book of Gospels.
Over a three-year cycle, the Church reads through the letters and gospels and a portion of the Hebrew Scriptures. During the Sundays of Ordinary Time, the letters and gospels are read in order, each Sunday, continuing near the place where the previous Sunday’s readings ended. During Advent/ Christmas and Lent/Easter, the readings are those, which are traditional and appropriate to the season.
The Church listens to and – through the weeks and years – is shaped by the Scriptures. Those who have gathered for the Sunday liturgy are to give their full attention to the words of the reader. A time of silence and reflection follows each of the two readings. After the first reading, this reflection continues in the singing of the psalm. A homily, bringing together the scriptures and the life of the community, follows the gospel.
The liturgy of the word concludes with the creed, the dismissal of the catechumens, and the prayers of intercession. In the latter, the assembly continues its constant work of recalling and praying for the universal Church and all those in need. The reading and hearing of the word – simple things that they are – are the foundation of the liturgical celebration. The public reading of the Scriptures and the rituals that surround this – silence and psalm and acclamation, posture and gesture, preaching and litany of intercession – gather the Church generation after generation. They gather and sustain and gradually make of us the image of Christ.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist
To celebrate the Eucharist means to give God thanks and praise. When the table has been prepared with the bread and the wine, the assembly joins the priest in remembering the gracious gifts of God in creation and God’s saving deeds.
The center of this is the paschal mystery, the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, which destroyed the power of death and his rising, which brings us life. That mystery into which we were baptized we proclaim each Sunday at the Eucharist. It is the very shape of Christian life. We find this in the simple bread and wine which stir our remembering and draw forth our prayer of thanksgiving, “Fruit of the earth and work of human hands,” the bread and wine become our holy communion in the body and blood of the Lord. We eat and drink and proclaim that we belong to one another and to the Lord.
The members of the assembly quietly prepare themselves even as the table is prepared. The priest then invites all to lift up their hearts and join in the Eucharistic prayer. All do this by giving their full attention and by singing the acclamations from the “Holy, holy” to the great “Amen.” Then the assembly joins in the Lord’s Prayer, the sign of peace, and the “Lamb of God” litany, which accompanies the breaking of the bread. Ministers of communion assist the assembly to share the bread and wine. A time of silence and prayer concludes the liturgy of the Eucharist.
The liturgy of word and Eucharist ends very simply. There may be announcements of events and concerns for the community, then the priest gives and blessing and the assembly is send forth by the deacon or priest to be Christ’s presence and carry on His mission in the world.
The Concluding Rite: Go, the Mass is Ended!
And the angel of the Lord came again a second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.’ And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that good forty days and forty nights to Moreb the mount of God” (1 Kings 19:7-8)
The Eucharist is this mysterious food and drink prefigured in the experience of the prophet Elijah. The dismissal of the people by the deacon or priest is a mandate for mission: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord [and one another]. Many who “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Like 1:89) wait for the light and warmth that only nourishment by the Eucharist can bring. Paradoxically the end of the Mass is the beginning of our mission. We are bound to leave, and leaving, to labor in love, so as to return “full of song, carrying our sheaves” (cf. Psalm 125:6)