Two Liturgies; One Mass

Undoubtedly most of our readers here are aware of the basic parts of the catholic mass we participate in each Sunday. However, most may not be aware of the fact that our Sunday Mass, although one liturgy itself, is actually made up of two main parts.

The first part of mass is called the Liturgy of the Word. During this portion of the liturgy there are one or two readings (always two on Sunday) given with a psalm sung or recited. The high point of the Liturgy of the Word is the Gospel reading which is presented with the Gospel acclamation followed by a gradual hymn. In many high churches, the Gospel is read from among the people with candle light illuminating the text. The closing of the first portion of the mass is the prayers of the people which follow the homily and reciting of the Creed.

The second part of mass is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It begins with the preparation of the altar and the presentation of the gifts. Once the gifts are blessed by the priest, they bring our attention toward the sacrifice that Christ made and our imminent imitation of His institution. The bread and wine offered become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and are offered in communion with the faithful. This portion of the liturgy is called the Communion Rite. The final liturgy portion ends with the Concluding Rite.

The opening of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is particularly important in the sacrifice of the mass. The gifts are brought forward from among the people and the food which we have harvested and grown is given to God and turned into spiritual food that feeds our soul and our bodies in a way that no man could ever make with the material brought forward. That is the essence of the transformation at the altar, to become the food of the world through the physical gifts brought up to the altar by the people.

During the Liturgy of the Word the First Reading is taken from the Old Testament (including the Deuterocanonical Books) and the Second Reading is taken from the Epistles (more often than not Pauline). During Eastertide the First Reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles which carries forward the anticipation of the Resurrection of Christ. The Gospel Reading is given particular importance for the obvious fact that it contains the Words of Christ and His testament here in earth. But there is also a logistical reason for the weighty importance given to the Gospel being present at the mass. In the early church, just as our foundational liturgies were being developed, the Liturgy of the Word was part of the gathering as a direct Jewish import from Temple worship. However, not many gathering groups had access to the written accounts of Christ’s life, what would become the Gospels within the Bible— now the most published and widest available book in human history. But that wasn’t the case in the few hundred years after Christ left and the Gospels had been recorded. Often the travelling Apostles brought letters that were read, as did travelling Deacons and leaders from other churches in communication with the Bishops. And some had the Gospel texts, which is why when they were present it was a big deal. And still to this day remains a big deal within the liturgy.

The opening of mass is called Introductory Rites and during this portion faithful sing or recite the Kyrie which is one of the oldest prayers in Christianity. Also, in most liturgical seasons, the Gloria in excelsis Deo is sung.

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