The word "Mass" comes from the Late Latin word missa, meaning dismissal. This word is used by the priest at the end of the Mass in Latin: "Ite, missa est" ("Go, it is the dismissal"). From Pope Benedict XVI's Sacramentum Caritatis:
After the blessing, the deacon or the priest dismisses the people with the words: Ite, missa est. These words help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of Christians in the world. In antiquity, missa simply meant "dismissal." However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word "dismissal" has come to imply a "mission." These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church. The People of God might be helped to understand more clearly this essential dimension of the Church's life, taking the dismissal as a starting- point.The Mass is comprised of the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. During the Liturgy of the Word, we hear two Scripture readings: the first is usually from the Old Testament (during the Easter season, it is from the Acts of the Apostles), and the second is from a book in the New Testament other than the Gospels. In between these readings, we participate in the recitation of a Psalm. After the readings, the priest or deacon reads a passage from one of the four Gospels and then gives a homily (sermon) about the Gospel, other readings, or both.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist includes the "heart and summit" of the celebration, when the community joins with all the angels and saints in their unending praise of the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, for all His works, and then "asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine, so that by His power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit" (which is why the Eucharist may be referred to as "communion") (CCC 1352-1353).
The Mass is highly ritualistic: certain prayers are recited every time, and the basic format never changes. There is always a priest dressed in vestments, always an altar, always various liturgical vessels and linens for the wine and bread offerings. There is often music and candles, and sometimes there may be incense.
Why I Love It:
There was a time in my life when I might have admitted that I thought going to Mass week after week was boring to me. And for that I am ashamed. Marc Barnes of BadCatholic wrote a fantastic piece about this:
The problem is that familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds boredom. And in Catholicism, familiarity is a lie. What we are essentially saying, when we bemoan a mass for being boring or long, is that we are too familiar with the meeting of heaven and earth, the infinite ripping into the finite and filling it to overflowing, glorifying everything, and saving the world. But the truth we are clearly denying is that the Mass is made up of the sort of stuff that we simply don’t have the capacity to become familiar with. You and I, being natural products of a natural universe, cannot become familiar with the supernatural....For the Mass is supernatural, so every time it is experienced it is in contradiction with our natural being, and in terrible alignment with our supernatural souls. The thousandth mass we attend is just as supernatural as the first; it doesn’t matter if we’ve attended it before – it still is outside of our experience, bursting into our lives like an uninvited adventure.
2. The basic format of the liturgy has remained the same since the early days of the Church. Justin Martyr described the Eucharistic celebration in a letter to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius around the year 155 AD:
On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.3. I can go every day. Catholics are obligated to go to Mass on Sundays, but Masses are celebrated every day of the year (except Good Friday). The Liturgy of the Word on weekdays and Saturdays contains just one Scripture reading before the Psalm and Gospel, and usually there is no music, but otherwise daily Masses are just like Sunday Masses. I am hoping to start taking Elise to Mass at least one day a week.
The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.
When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.
Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.
When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.
Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.
He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.
When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.'
When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.
4. It's the same everywhere. The universal Church has spread throughout the world, and each day, the same Mass is celebrated in every parish -- the same Scripture readings are read, the same prayers are recited, the same Eucharist is celebrated.
5. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian Life. "The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us." (CCC 1382)
(Don't worry, I will be devoting a separate post to the Eucharist!)
6. Participating in the Eucharist brings me into greater unity with the Church as the Body of Christ. A lot of my faith is lived out alone -- private prayer, reading the Bible, writing these blog posts (wink). These are all wonderful and important, but the Mass brings me to a place of communal worship. "The comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as head of the Body; and the Church as bride of Christ." (CCC 789)
7. The Scriptural passages read during the Liturgy of the Word allow me to ponder God's Word through all four Gospels and readings from the Old and New Testaments. I have decided to try to read the entire Bible over the course of the next year using this guide (instead of reading cover to cover, I will be reading Old and New Testament books at the same time). We'll see how it goes! Thankfully, I am already familiar with a considerable portion of it, because I have heard it proclaimed at Mass so many times over the years.