Introduction, Gathering Rite and Procession
"Liturgy" is the participation of the people of God in the work of God. Through the liturgy Christ, our Redeemer and High Priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through the Church. (CCC no. 1069) Since the Mass, the Church's highest form of prayer, is a gathering of the community, it stands to reason that ceremonies/rituals have developed over the years to set our Sunday gatherings apart from other kinds of assemblies.
In the earliest days of the Church, when the Eucharist was celebrated in homes as part of a meal, there was no special ceremony to mark the beginning of Mass. But after the persecution of the Church ended, when Christians began to build churches for worship, it was the custom for the community to gather in the church before Mass to pray and prepare themselves. The signal for Mass to begin was the entrance of the ministers.
The celebration begins by singing the entrance hymn that reflects the theme of the day, as the priest and other ministers process to the altar. Everybody stands.
The "altar" is by its very nature a table of sacrifice and at the same time a table of the paschal banquet. It is a symbol of Christ as well as of the whole Christian Community. The veneration of the altar at the beginning of the celebration is an act of greeting, which recalls that the common table is holy and sacred to the action of the assembly. It is the place from which prayer ascends like incense before God.
The Sign of the Cross and the Greeting
Priest: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
We begin the Mass with the sign of the Cross - the oldest gesture of our faith - and a greeting. In this way we go back to the earliest traditions of the Eucharist.
The sign of the cross, a traditional prelude to prayer, is a form of self-blessing with strong baptismal overtones. Every Christian has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Community at worship is first and foremost a baptismal community.
Priest: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
All: And also with you.
The Penitential Rite
Priest: My brothers and sisters, to prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins. (or similar)
A pause for silent reflection.
Priest & All: I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault (all strike their breast) in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Priest: May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.
Recalling our faults and sins, in preparation for the unity of the Eucharist, is an ancient tradition in the Church. We recall our common need for salvation and God's merciful compassion.
The triple invocation which concludes our penitential rite is one of the oldest known prayers of the Mass. In Greek, the Church's first official language, "Lord, have mercy" is "Kyrie eleison" - and even throughout all the centuries when Latin became the Church's language, the "Kyrie" was prayed in Greek, as a sign of our unity with the past.
Priest: Lord, have mercy.
All: Lord, have mercy.
Priest: Christ, have mercy.
All: Christ, have mercy.
Priest: Lord, have mercy.
All: Lord, have mercy.
The Gloria is now sung.
Priest & All: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly king, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
This joyful prayer - The Gloria - is really a song of praise, a "canticle". The earliest Christians copied the Jewish practice of singing canticles based on Scripture during their liturgy. Examples of these canticles "The Magnificat" and "The Canticle of Zechariah" are two canticles still used in the Morning and Evening prayer of the Church.
In this tradition, early Christian Communities created their own songs of praise. The Gloria - in the very same words we use today - is found in Christian prayerbooks as early as the year 380!! At first, it was sung only on special feasts, but later it was included in every Sunday celebration.
The Opening Prayer - The Collect
The following prayer, which concludes the introductory rites, has been given the name "Collect" from the Latin word "collecta", which means "to gather up". Even in the early days of the Church, it was a tradition for the leader of the assembly to gather up the needs of the people and offer them to God in prayer.
Priest: Let us pray: (The priest says the opening prayer)
Next: The Liturgy of the Word