Did You Know?
As we began our journey through the Celebration of the Mass, recall that I stated a good pot of Gumbo was dependent upon how good the roux was, since it is the foundation for the Gumbo. I used that image to stress the importance of the Gathering Rite, which is the foundation for the Celebration of the Mass. Remember, the Gathering Rite involves the coming together of the community of Faith to join in celebrating God’s Word and presence in the Eucharist. It also involves our movement from the secular world, the world outside, into the sacred, as demonstrated with the processional movement from the doors of the church, the world outside to the sacred, the sanctuary. As the gathering rite continues, we have the signing of the Cross, reminding us that we have been claimed for Christ, and our need to celebrate the presence of God’s mercy in our life. The Gathering Rite reaches its climax with the “Collect” or the opening prayer. It is this prayer that the celebrant in essence gathers “collects” all our prayers and presents them to God in our name. In the truest sense, the Gathering Rite, like a good roux, is the foundation for the Celebration of the Mass; it establishes the tone of the celebration.
Just as a Gumbo is more than roux, its base, so the Mass is more than just gathering a community together for worship. In any pot of Gumbo, you need some form of meat, poultry, or seafood. My favorite Gumbo is seafood; therefore, I am looking for the shrimp, grabs, oysters, and some good sausage. These ingredients, and some spices add to the flavor of the Gumbo.
When we gather to celebrate the Mass, there is a spiritual hunger that each of us needs to have satisfied. This Spiritual Food comes in two ways, which are the two Major Parts of the Mass, The Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
In the first major part of the Mass, The Liturgy of the Word, our spiritual nourishment comes from God’s Word which is proclaimed. The focus of our attention for the proclamation of God’s Word is on the “altar of God’s Word” or the “ambo”. The ambo, like the pulpit in many other denominations, is restricted to the proclamation of God’s Word, since it uses it to draw our attention to the sacred, the Holy Word of God.
The Liturgy of the Word consists of three distinct readings from sacred scripture, which are inter-related by their common message. Also, within the Catholic Church, regardless of what Catholic Church one attends on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation the readings will be the same. This demonstrates the universality of the Catholic Church, that though we are many, we still form one Church, one Body of Christ.
The First Reading generally comes from the Hebrew Scriptures, (Old Testament). It is important for us to recall that Jesus was Jewish, and that our religious roots are deeply connected with the faith journey of the Jewish People. Thus, we hear of the call of Abram who became Abraham, our Father in Faith. We also hear the story of Moses, and the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, a scripture story that within our African American has great historical significance in our own journey to freedom. We also hear of the prophets, God’s special messengers, calling the people of Israel to change their ways, a conversion experience and to return to the Lord their God.
There is one liturgical season when the First Reading comes from the New Testament, more precisely the Acts of the Apostles, and that is during the Easter Season. For as we celebrate the joy and mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we hear in the Acts of the Apostles how the early Christians came to understand the significance of this great mystery of the resurrection in their own life, as they formed this new community of faith.
After the First Reading, there is a Psalm Response, which comes from the Book of Psalms. It should be noted that the Book of Psalms is the oldest hymn book, and in essence a book of songs of praise or thanksgiving to God’s Word that has been proclaimed.
What follows is the Second Reading, which comes from Christian Scriptures, (New Testament). As a rule, these readings are from the Letters of Saint Paul to the various early Christian Communities. At times, these readings can also come from the Book of Revelation or the Apostolic Letters of Peter, James, and John. The importance of these readings is found in our ability to understand how God’s Word spread and touched the hearts and souls of the early Christians; how they came to understand the Mystery of the Incarnate Word in their own life.
In preparation for the high point of the Liturgy of the Word, the Proclamation of the Gospel, there is the “Alleluia” a song of great joy or during the Lenten season a verse before the Gospel. The purpose of these verses is to build up our excitement to hear and receive the Words of Jesus Christ which is about to be proclaimed in the Gospel.
As I mentioned, the Gospel is the climax of the Liturgy of the Word, for it is the actual teaching of Jesus Christ. That is why, out of reverence to the Gospel Message, we stand for its proclamation. As the Gospel reading is announced as coming from one of the four gospel evangelists, the deacon or priest makes the sign of the Cross on the page to be read from and then with all who are gathered we make the sign of the Cross on our forehead, our lips and over our heart. It is this ritual that signifies that these words of Christ be proclaimed and dwell in our mind, on our lips and in our hearts. In other words, may the Words of Jesus Christ become an integral part of our life.
After the proclamation of the gospel everyone is seated, it is now the responsibility of the deacon or priest to break open God’s Word, in the homily, so that the Word which was just proclaimed may nurture us and strengthen us as we continue to live it in our daily life. Personally, this is the most important and sacred responsibility that I must fulfill to the People of God who are gathered for the Mass. Just as in the scripture we hear of those coming to Jesus to be fed, so do the people of God today come to be fed God’s Word, so that they can make it through another week, and as God’s minister it is my responsibility to feed them this Word. It is the responsibility of the deacon or priest to take God’s Word that has been proclaimed and help to feed that Word to God’s faithful people who are assembled, so that God’s Word is understandable in today’s world, and can be a source of courage and hope.
After the homily, the community stands once again to recite our Profession of Faith which states what we believe as Catholics. It is also a reminder of our Baptismal promises when we stated that we believe in God, His only Son, Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit at work daily in our life.
This is then followed by the Universal Prayer of the Church, or the Prayer of the Faithful. This is a prayer of petition when we petition God’s assistance for various needs, which includes prayers for the Pope, bishops, government officials, world peace, and for those who have died.
It is with the completion of the Universal Prayer that the First Major Part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, comes to an end as we now move into the Second Major Part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
In our next publication, we will examine the Second Major Part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist.