The Faithful Scribbler

A Catholic Mother In A Secular World

A Breakdown of the Catholic Mass

on March 11, 2010

I recieved this via email from my friend Pat and would like to pass it along to anybody who is interested in learning why we do things the way we do them.  Primarily targeted towards Protestant subscribers who have asked questions about the Mass– but as a Catholic, I personally appreciated the refresher course! :)


Parts of the Catholic Mass
Introductory Rites
Entrance procession
The Catholic Mass begins with the entrance procession. The entrance hymn is first of the four proper hymns sung during mass. The procession leads with the altar cross followed by the candles, the Book of Gospels, and lastly the priest. In certain solemn Catholic Masses, the censer may lead the way with burning incense.

The cross must be present at or near the altar of the Sacrifice. The cross depicts the sacrifice of the cross and made present in the altar.

Upon reaching the altar, the servers, ministers and priest will make the reverential bow or genuflect in front of the tabernacle. The cross and the candles, if carried in the procession are placed in their holders near or on the altar. The priest then goes on to the altar and kisses it in reverence. He proceeds to sit and wait for the hymn to complete.


After the hymn, with us standing, the priest and the faithful make the sign of the cross and the priest greets the faithful, usually with the traditional, “The Lord be with you.”

At this point the priest may also give a brief introduction to the Catholic Mass of the day.

The Penitential Rite or Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water:

During the penitential rite, we reflect on our sins and ask God to forgive them. The most common invocation is, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”

This is a general absolution and cannot replace going to the sacrament of confession. We cannot receive the Sacrament of Communion if did not confess a mortal sin beforehand. At this point the priest may also perform the blessing and sprinkling of water, to remind us of the actions and promises of baptism.


Kyrie Eleison (Greek for “Lord have mercy”) is a very old, even pre-Christian, expression, which is the brief petition “Lord, have mercy,” used constantly in various offices of the Greek Orthodox Church and of the Roman Catholic Church.

Gloria in Excelsis is Latin meaning, “Glory in the Highest.” This is the Angelic Hymn or greater doxology and is an ancient Christian hymn of thanks, praise and triumph for redemption.

Because of the joyful nature of the Gloria, it is omitted in more somber occasions, such as the Advent or Lent. During those seasons, the Catholic Mass takes on a simpler and more penitent character.
Opening Prayer

Originally called the Collect, the priest now invites us to pray in silence.

Liturgy of the Word
The Liturgy of the Word is the sequence of readings that prepares us for the Sacrament of Sacrifice. The readings are not optional. And not hearing the readings nor making any attempt to hear them would be to come unprepared for communion, just as we would be if we miss the reading altogether.

The Lectionary

The Lectionary specifies the readings that are read in a certain date. The modern Lectionary is arranged on a complicated pattern with overlapping cycles of years. With certain exceptions, the Sunday Lectionary of the Catholic Mass repeats in a three-year cycle, whereas the Weekday Lectionary of the Catholic Mass repeats in a two-year cycle. Both started in 1969.

The three readings every Sunday Catholic Mass are the first reading, normally from the Old Testament; the second from the Epistles of the New Testament; and the third from the Gospels. A Lector or a reader may read the first and second readings. The priest reads Gospel.

The responsorial psalms are either read or sung between the readings. The first responsorial psalm is a varying antiphon and the second the Alleluia. The faithful sits until the Alleluia, and then rises to greet the Gospel.

Although the first reading is supposed to reflect the Gospel, sometimes the connection may not be very obvious. The second reading is not chosen with any reference to the other readings.

In the Homily, or the Sermon, the priest is expected to make sense of the 3 readings and the psalm, and to do that in less than 10 minutes. That is quite a daunting task! In reality, in the Catholic Mass, the priest is not expected to give a full explanation of one of the readings, let alone the three.

However, the General Instruction does recommend that the homily reference some point from the readings or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Catholic Mass of the day. The priest is also expected to take into account the mystery being celebrated and the needs of the listeners.

How to Listen To the Sermon

The Scripture can be overwhelming for a lot of people. The best solution in order to understand the Sermon is to prepare ourselves before going to Catholic Mass.

Get a Lectionary. Read the readings for the Catholic Mass and reflect on the meanings. This preparation will help us keep our minds in Church during the readings and through the Sermon.
Be forewarned: With minor exceptions, the Catholic mass was never and probably will be never, about great oratory, but rather about the celebration Eucharist, of the unbloody sacrifice and prayers. A test of your faith begins when you walk into a mass with utterly indistinguishable, to say it kindly, priest.
Profession of Faith
The Creed was added into the Catholic Mass about a thousand years ago in a desire to unite the people in proclaiming their loyalty to the faith before they begin to celebrate the Eucharist.

Gradually the Creed became a standard part of the Catholic Mass. As a result of this intimate association with the liturgy and teaching of the Church, the Apostles’ Creed has always been held to have the authority of an ex cathedra utterance.

It is commonly taught that all points of doctrine contained in it are part of the Catholic Faith, and cannot be called in question under pain of heresy.
General Intercessions and Prayer of the Faithful
In the prayers of intercession we ask God for the needs of the Church; for public authorities and the salvation of the world; for those oppressed by any need; and for the local community.

Typically the intentions are announced in the lectern but introduced by the priest.

Also called the Prayer of the Faithful, at one stage in the evolution of the Catholic Mass, the marked the beginning of the “Mass of the Faithful.” This was the secret ceremony that only baptized Catholics of good standing could attend. Strangers, catechumens and penitents were expected to leave at this point.

Communion Rite
The Lord’s Prayer

The communion rite begins with the Our Father. Although not required by the Holy See, common practice calls for people to hold hands during the recitation of the Our Father up the Embolism, which is the prayer inserted between the Our Father and the Fraction of the Bread.

The priest picks up the last petition to deliver us from every evil. During the Sign of Peace, the priest invites the congregation to share the sign of peace among each other. The priest, however, cannot leave the sanctuary.
The Fraction

The Breaking of the Bread is the oldest name for the Eucharistic liturgy, going back to the apostolic days, following Christ’s breaking of the Bread at the Last supper.

The Commingling

When the priest breaks the Bread he also drops a small piece of the Host into the Chalice, which is called Commingling. There are two possible origins of this rite.

First, it was customary to reserve a fraction of the Host from each day’s Catholic Mass and keep it until the next Catholic Mass. Then it would be brought to the altar and mingled with the newly consecrated Chalice.

The other custom was practiced in Rome where the pope would send particles of the Host from his Catholic Mass to every church in the city so they could be mingled with the Blessed Sacrament in each church.

Agnus Dei

While the priest is going about the breaking of the bread and commingling, the congregation or choir sings the “Lamb of God.”


Communion is the actual reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is the Church doctrine that Holy Communion is morally necessary for salvation. Thus, without this sacrament it would be very difficult to resist grave temptations and avoid grievous sin.

Silence after Communion

After receiving communion we meditate and contemplate on the Sacrament of Holy Communion. When communion has been distributed the priest, deacons and the extra-ordinary ministers of the Eucharist return the vessels to the altar.

The remaining Hosts are collected into one ciborium. If the Sacred Blood is used the remaining Species must be consumed. The paten, ciborium and chalice are then purified.

Although not dictated by the General Instructions, it is a common practice for the congregation to kneel while the practical necessity of clearing the Sacred Vessels is going on. It is customary to stay kneeling until either the priest sits or the ciborium of the remaining Host is returned into the tabernacle.

Prayer after Communion

After the silence or song following Communion or after the purification of the vessels, the priest then invites the faithful to pray, which closes the Communion rite.

Concluding Rite

This brings to attention certain announcements from the parish.
Greeting and Blessing

For the last time the priest and the people exchange greetings


The mass ends with the solemn blessing of the congregation.


2 responses to “A Breakdown of the Catholic Mass

  1. Nathan Day says:

    I am Baptist but am currently writing a novel that deals heavily with the Catholic church. This post was INCREDIBLY helpful. It’s concise, informative and easy to follow. Thank you so much!!!

    • James Strode says:

      I am Lutheran but needed to refer to the course of events involving Catholic Mass. I am a GCU student and needed to write a reflective paper based upon a visit to a church of different denomination. This page was most definitely helpful. Thanks.

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