The Schema and Unity of a Traditional
Roman High Mass
- Asperges. [Sundays only] Sprinkling of holy water on the Day of the Resurrection to recall our rising with Christ in baptism and to demonstrate the relation of baptism to the Eucharist. The sprinkling also hearkens back to the sprinkling of the sacrificed lamb's blood on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
- Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. Psalm 42, the Act of Confession (the Confiteor), and the Psalm Versicles. An initial approaching of the sacred things with a sense of pleading and hope, a confession of one's sinfulness and unworthiness to participate in the mysteries, and a gradual increase of confidence.
- Incensation. A gesture which calls to mind the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, with the incense representing our prayers ascending to heaven. A ritual preparation of the altar for worship.
- Introit. The introductory proper, usually from the psalms, which relates to the teaching of today's Mass.
- Kyrie. A nine-fold plea for mercy (three for each of the Divine persons), to be delivered from the tribulations of living in a fallen world. It is distinct from the Confiteor because the tribulation from which we are seeking deliverance is not necessarily due to our sins.
- Gloria. A joyous reminder of what awaits those who do successfully overcome the tribulations of this life [Omitted during penitential seasons].
- Collect. The proper prayer which collects our thoughts and unites them to the teaching of today's Mass.
- Epistle. Most likely from St. Paul, and most likely with a practical aim on how to live a transformed Christian life.
- Gradual & Alleluia. A selection of psalm verses which gradually lifts our heart to the reception of the Gospel. [In Pre-lent and Lent the Allelulia is replaced by the "Tract," a selection of biblical verses].
- Gospel. The Word of God from one of the four evangelists. Like all of the other propers, it is chosen because it teaches something about the mystery of the day.
- Creed. The doctrinal summation of what we have just heard proclaimed in the Scriptures and the key to our participating in the ensuing sacrifice of the altar.
- Offertory Verse & Prayers. A relevant verse from the Scriptures on the significance of the Sunday and a poignant articulation of the meaning of the sacrifice.
- Incensation. A ritual preparation of not only the gifts and the altar, but the celebrant, servers, and congregation, all of which are sacrificed to God in the consecration.
- Secret. A proper prayer said privately by the priest tying together the sacrifice of the altar with the teaching of the today's Mass.
- Preface. The joyous prologue to the canon, relevant to the season.
- The Roman Canon. A series of carefully crafted petitions chiastically arranged, with the words of Institution (by which bread and wine are made Body and Blood) in the exact center.
- Pater Noster. The Lord's prayer, functioning here as the epilogue to the canon.
- Kiss of Peace. [During Solemn High Masses only] The priest kisses the altar upon which the consecrated Host lies, then "kisses" (ritually embraces) the deacon, who "kisses" the subdeacon, who "kisses" the servers, and so on. A dramatization of the mediatorial character of grace, cascading from the Eucharist through God's ministers to us, and a living out of the post-Resurrection Eucharistic "pax scene" in the Gospel of Luke (Lk. 24:35,36).
- Agnus Dei. John the Baptists's famous words, repeated thrice. The title "Lamb of God" here reflects the sacrifice that has just taken place and the banquet that is about to.
- Holy Communion. The reception of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord.
- Communion verse & Postcommunion prayer. A Biblical verse upon which to meditate after receiving Holy Communion, followed by a proper prayer, both reflective of the teaching of today's Mass.
- Blessing & Dismissal. "Ite, missa est" -- "Go, it is sent." Just as the sacrifice of the Son has been sent to the Father, so too are we sent to be witnesses to the Light. [The word "missa," incidentally, gives us our word for the Divine Eucharistic liturgy: the "Mass."]
- Last Gospel. John 1:1-14. A joyous denouement to the end of Mass and a perfect summation of the mysteries just celebrated. It-- and thus the Mass-- ends with the congregation's grateful response, Deo gratias: Thanks be to God.
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