The Celebration of The Holy Mass

Monday - 12:05 pm; Tuesday - 6:00 pm; Wednesday - 12:05 pm & 6:00 pm; Thursday 9:00 am, Missa Tridentina 6:00 pm;

Friday - 9:00 am; Saturday 9:00 am, Vigil 5:30 pm; Sunday 8:30 am, High Mass 10:30 am, Spanish 12:30 pm.

Postures and Gestures

Why we do what we do

Postures and Gestures of the Congregation at Mass

The Church’s great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one’s life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops asked that the faithful be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words. Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in Eucharist faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate.... (§64)

Pope Benedict XVI stressed the need for formation and instruction about the Sacred Mysteries of the Eucharist (“mystagogical catechesis”), so that Catholic people will more fully understand and be able to unite themselves interiorly with the action of the Eucharist. The Holy Father specifically mentions signs and gestures. 

Part of this instruction about the mystery of the Eucharist, the pope writes, involves the meaning of ritual gestures: A mystagogical catechesis must also be concerned with presenting the meaning of the signs contained in the rites. This is particularly important in a highly technological age like our own, which risks losing the ability to appreciate signs and symbols. More than simply conveying information, a mystagogical catechesis should be capable of making the faithful more sensitive to the language of signs and gestures which, together with the word, make up the rite. (§64, b. Original emphasis.) -

The origin of most of these symbolic gestures that are integral to Catholic worship — a wordless liturgical language — is, in many cases, lost in history. A basic vocabulary would include genuflecting toward the altar and tabernacle, bowing the head at the name of Jesus and when the names of the Trinity are pronounced (the Doxology, or “Glory be…”), along with bowing toward the crucifix, striking the breast and making the sign of the cross. They do have meaning and significance as powerful signs of worship even if the way this happens is only dimly understood.

The vocabulary of ritual gestures Catholics make during worship is by now, quite clearly, endangered — as has happened with other unwritten languages. As there are relatively few explicit rules (and even these are often not followed), little uniformity of practice, and considerable confusion, it seems worthwhile to compile a sort of “dictionary” of ritual gestures, their meaning and grammar, in order to relearn our historic language of ritual worship. 

The Sign of the Cross                                       

On the cross Christ redeemed mankind. By the cross He sanctifies man to the last shred and fiber of his being. We make the sign of the cross before we pray to collect and compose ourselves and to fix our minds and hearts and wills upon God. We make it when we finish praying in order that we may hold fast the gift we have received from God.

In temptations we sign ourselves to be strengthened; in dangers, to be protected. The cross is signed upon us in blessings in order that the fullness of God’s life may flow into the soul and fructify and sanctify us wholly. Think of these things when you make the sign of the cross. It is the holiest of all signs. Make a large cross, from forehead to abdomen, to left shoulder then right shoulder, taking time, thinking what you do. Let it take in your whole being — body, soul, mind, will, thoughts, feelings, your doing and not-doing — and by signing it with the cross strengthen and consecrate the whole in the strength of Christ, in the name of the triune God. 

Striking the Breast

The gesture of striking the breast expresses sorrow, unworthiness, extreme humility. For Christians, this ritual gesture expresses our contrition, our sense of sinfulness and unworthiness before God. In this gesture we see an interior meaning that calls us to repentance. To strike the breast is to beat against the gates of our inner world in order to shatter them. The blow also is to wake us up. It is to shake the soul awake into the consciousness that God is calling…. She reflects, repents and is contrite.

Kneeling

Kneeling is an almost universal ritual gesture of homage, honor, reverence and worship. There are many, many biblical references to kneeling in both the Old and New Testaments, and these passages reveal that the gesture of kneeling is a very ancient, multivalent sign that expresses worship, respect, willing obedience, prayer, reverence, petition, supplication and homage. Kneeling has from time immemorial been a customary ritual posture in both public and private worship. 

Incense             

In the Old Testament God commanded His people to burn incense (e.g., Exodus 30:7, 40:27, inter alia). Incense is a sacramental used to venerate, bless, and sanctify. Its smoke conveys a sense of mystery and awe. It is a reminder of the sweet-smelling presence of our Lord. Its use adds a feeling of solemnity to the Mass. The visual imagery of the smoke and the smell reinforce the transcendence of the Mass linking Heaven with Earth, allowing us to enter into the presence of God. The smoke symbolizes the burning zeal of faith that should consume all Christians, while the fragrance symbolizes Christian virtue. Incensing may also be viewed in the context of a “burnt offering” given to God. In the Old Testament animal offerings were partially or wholly consumed by fire. In essence, to burn something was to give it to God. Incense and the smoke of burning incense have been offered as gifts to God and to others since ancient times. In a more practical visual sense as the fragrant smoke ascends it also symbolizes our prayers rising to heaven. 

Sanctus Bells

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2000, No. 150) stipulates that a bell may be rung regularly at two places during the Mass: First, the bell is normally rung at the time of the epiclesis in the Eucharistic Prayer. At this point, the priest joins his hands and places them over the bread and wine to be consecrated. He prays for the Holy Spirit to come down upon the gifts so that they may become the Body and Blood of our Lord. The ringing of the bell alerts the congregation to the calling down of the Holy Spirit and prepares them for the consecration that immediately follows.

Second, the bell is rung at the showing of both the Eucharistic Bread and the chalice. After the priest says the words of consecration, he elevates the Sacred Host or the chalice of Precious Blood. The ringing of the bell again alerts the faithful that transubstantiation has taken place and that the Body and Blood of our Lord is truly present on the altar. The use of a bell at Mass is a longstanding tradition in our Church and no one should ever think that their use has been suppressed. Actually, the common practice in the basilicas of Rome is for the bell to be rung at each elevation and then in a prolonged way when the priest genuflects after the elevation of the chalice.

Another reason for the ringing of the bell as well as the high elevation of both the Sacred Host and chalice of Precious Blood after the consecration was to affirm that transubstantiation had occurred. In the 1100s, some theologians speculated that the transubstantiation of the bread did not occur until after the words over the chalice had also been pronounced. To counter this notion, the following practice was instituted: After the words of consecration of the bread, the priest elevated the Sacred Host so that it could be seen by all, the bell was rung, and then the priest genuflected after placing the Sacred Host back on the paten on the altar.

Since we are a people of senses, sounds are important in our worship, whether in the quiet of the moment, the singing of a congregation, or the sound of the organ. The sound of bells does add to the reverence and the solemnity of the Mass. Most importantly, they highlight in a sensible way the sacred action taking place on the altar. Therefore, we have a tradition that is not only practical but also beautiful.

Entrance Rites:

  • Make the sign of the cross with holy water (a sign of baptism) upon entering the church.
  • Genuflect toward the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament and the Altar of Sacrifice before entering the pew. (If there is no tabernacle in the sanctuary, or it is not visible, bow deeply, from the waist, toward the altar before entering the pew.)
  • Kneel upon entering the pew for private prayer before Mass begins.
  • Stand for the entrance procession.
  • Bow when the crucifix, a visible symbol of Christ’s sacrifice, passes you in the procession. (If there is a bishop, bow when he passes, as a sign of recognition that he represents the authority of the Church and of Christ as shepherd of the flock.)
  • Remain standing for the entrance rites.
  • Make the sign of the cross with the priest at the beginning of Mass.
  • When the priest says "Peace be with you" do not extend your hands at the response of "And with your spirit".
  • Strike your breast at the “mea culpa(s)” (“through my fault”) in the Confiteor.
  • Bow and make the sign of the cross when the priest says “May Almighty God have mercy…”
  • Bow your head when you say “Lord, have mercy” during the Kyrie.
  • If there is a Rite of Sprinkling (Asperges), make the sign of the cross when the priest sprinkles water from the aspergillum in your direction.
  • Throughout the Mass, bow your head at every mention of the name of Jesus and every time the Doxology [“Glory be”] is spoken or sung. Also when asking the Lord to receive our prayer.
  • Gloria: bow your head at the name of Jesus. (“Lord Jesus Christ, only begotten Son…”, “You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ…” )

Liturgy of the Word:

  • Sit for the Scripture readings.
  • Stand for the Gospel at the Alleluia verse.
  • When the priest announces the Gospel, trace a cross with the thumb on head, lips and heart. This gesture is a form of prayer for the presence of the Word of God in one’s mind, upon one’s lips, and in one’s heart.
  • Sit for the homily.
  • Creed: Stand; bow your head at name of Jesus; on most Sundays bow during the Incarnatus (“by the power of the Holy Spirit … and was made man”); on the solemnities of Christmas and the Annunciation all genuflect at this moment.
  • Make the sign of the Cross at the conclusion of the Creed at the words “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Liturgy of the Eucharist:

  • Sit during the offertory.
  • Stand as the priest says “Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours…” and remain standing to respond, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…”
  • If incense is used, the congregation bows toward the thurifer when he bows to the congregation both before and after he has incensed them.
  • The congregation remains standing until the end of the Sanctus (“Holy, holy”), when they kneel for the entire Eucharistic Prayer.
  • At the moment of the Consecration of each element, bow the head and say silently “My Lord and my God”, acknowledging the Presence of Christ on the altar. These are the words of Saint Thomas when he realized that it was truly Christ who stood before him (John 20:28). Jesus responded, “Because you have seen me, you believed. Blessed are they that do not see and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
  • Stand at the priest’s invitation to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Reverently fold your hands and bow your head as you pray the Lord’s Prayer. (Special note should also be made concerning the gesture for the Our Father. Only the priest is given the instruction to “extend” his hands. Neither the deacon nor the lay faithful are instructed to do this. No gesture is prescribed for the lay faithful in the Roman Missal; nor the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, therefore the extending or holding of hands by the faithful should not be performed).
  • Remain standing to exchange the sign of peace, if the invitation is made. (The sign of peace may be either a handshake or a bow of the head towards those nearest you; your immediate right, left, front and rear, not across pews or aisles accompanied by the words “Peace be with you”). Never leave your pew or flash the "peace sign" to offer someone the sign of peace
  • In reciting (or singing) the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God…”), strike the breast at the words “Have mercy upon us”.
  • Kneel at the end of the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God…”).
  • Bow your head and strike your breast as you say, Domine non sum dignus... (Lord, I am not worthy...)

Reception of Communion:

  • Leave the pew (without genuflecting) and walk reverently toward the altar in single file, with hands folded in prayer.
  • Make a deep gesture of reverence (bow) as you approach the priest in procession to receive Communion. If you are kneeling at the Communion rail, no additional gesture is made before receiving.
  • You may receive the host either on the tongue or in the hand. If the former, open your mouth and extend your tongue, so the priest can place the Host properly. If the latter, place one hand over the other hand, palms open, to receive the Host. With the lower hand, take the Host and reverently place it in your mouth. (See Holy See’s 1985 directives).
  • If you are carrying a child, it is much less awkward to receive on the tongue.
  • If you also receive from the chalice, make the same gesture of reverence when you approach the minister to receive.
  • Make the sign of the cross after you have received Communion.
  • Return to your pew, do not leave the sanctuary.
  • Kneel in prayer when you return to your pew after Communion, until the priest sits down, or until he says “Let us pray”. (GIRM 160 American adaptation says that people may “stand, sit or kneel”.)

Conclusion of Mass:

  • Stand for the concluding prayers.
  • Make the sign of the cross at the final blessing, as the priest invokes the Trinity.
  • Remain standing until all ministers have processed out. (If there is a recessional, bow in reverence to the crucifix as it passes by.)
  • If there is a hymn for the recessional, remain standing in your pew until it concludes. If there is no concluding hymn, remain in your pew until all the ministers have gone out of the main body of the church.
  • After the Mass is concluded, you may kneel for a private prayer of thanksgiving.
  • Genuflect reverently toward the Blessed Sacrament and the Altar of Sacrifice as you leave the pew, and leave the nave (main body) of the church in silence.
  • Make the sign of the cross with holy water as you leave the church, a reminder of our baptismal obligation to carry Christ’s Gospel into the world.

 

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The Worshiping Assembly at Mass

The celebration of Mass is a corporate act, an act of the whole assembly gathered for worship. All the particular ministries serve this corporate function (GIRM, no. 27). In the Mass, the Church is joined to the action of Christ, the high point both of the action by which God sanctifies the world in Christ and of the worship that the human race offers to the Father, adoring him through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit (no. 16). We are joined to this divine action through baptism, which incorporates us into the risen Christ. This action, which lies at the center of the whole Christian life (no. 16) is not initiated by us but by God acting in and through the Church as the body of the risen Christ. It becomes our action only to the extent that we give ourselves to this mystery of redemptive worship. The liturgy is designed to bring about in all those who make up the worshiping assembly a participation of the faithful both in body and mind, a participation burning with faithful, hope, and charity (no. 18).  In the celebration of Mass the faithful are a holy people, a chosen people, a royal priesthood: they give thanks to God and offer the Victim not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him and learn to offer themselves. They should endeavor to make this clear by their deep sense of reverence for God and their charity toward brothers and sisters who share with them in the celebration (no. 95). They should become one body, whether by hearing the word of God, or joining in prayers and liturgical song, or above all by offering the sacrifice together and sharing together in the Lord's table (no. 96). Because the whole liturgy is a corporate act of the gathered assembly (GIRM no. 34; Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1144), there are certain parts of the Mass that are to be done by the whole assembly, the congregation of the faithful and all the ministers, in order to express the corporate nature of this act. By joining in action through common postures and gestures, the entire congregation of the faithful joins itself to Christ in acknowledging the great things that God has done and in offering the sacrifice (no. 78).