Thursday, 9 June 2016

A Walkthrough the Mass at a Catholic Peninsular Malaysian Church - Gathering

When friends gather for a meal, they sit and talk: Eventually they move to the table, say grace, pass the food and eat and drink, and finally take their leave and go home. When it comes to the Mass, we will see a similar pattern: we will see ritual acts of 1) gathering, 2) storytelling, 3) meal sharing and 4) commissioning.

At Mass, we gather together into one body, ready to listen and to break bread together. At the entrance of the church we would usually encounter the Hospitality ministers at the door to greet you as you arrive for Sunday Mass: We all like to be greeted and welcomed when we gather for a celebration. When friends come for a meal or a party, we greet them at the door and welcome them into our home.

One of the first things Catholics do when they come to church is to dip their right hand in holy water, which is found in the holy water font or stoup usually near the entrance of the church, and make the sign of the cross. This ritual is a reminder of our baptism, where we were baptised with water and signed with the cross. Then when we come to the pew, we genuflect to honour the altar and the presence of Christ in the tabernacle before entering the pew. This practise became a custom of the church taken from medieval times where people would go down on one knee (to genuflect) before a king or person of rank as a mark of respect and honour.

In some parishes, the parist priests may offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation before the Mass begins, usually 15 minutes before and in some cases, 15 minutes after. It is strongly suggested that the faithful go for confession before the Mass, should he or she discover that he or she has committed sins, especially serious ones.

The Mass Begins
When the Mass begins everyone stands up. Standing is the traditional posture of Christians at prayer, expressing our attentiveness, and to show reverence and respect to Jesus, who is present in the person of the priest (or in persona Christi). This is the same reason why we stand in the presence of dignitaries and important people. Who, after all, is more important than our God and King?. We stand throughout the entire Gathering Rite. Often we begin by singing together, to unite our thoughts and voices in common word, rhythm and melody.

Veneration of the Altar
As the priest approaches the Altar he bends forward in reverence and kisses it. This ritual goes back to the earliest followers of Jesus who were persecuted or even killed for their faith The early Christians would gather, often in the underground catacombs, to pray and share their Eucharistic meal, and the “table” they used was the coffin of one who was martyred. The gesture of kissing the burial site was one of reverence for those who gave their life for the faith. Some of our altars today contain relics of a saint, maintaining that tradition. Another reason that the priest reverences the Altar with a kiss is because, for us, the Altar – a table of sacrifice – reminds us of Christ, who made the ultimate sacrifice, offering his very self to the Father.

Introductory Rites
The priest then asks us to begin with the sign of the cross, again reminding us of Baptism. When each one of us was baptised, we were signed with the cross of Jesus Christ, where the Church claimed us for Christ. When we begin with the sign of Christ’s cross, we are reminded of who we are and to whom we belong.

Then the priest will greet us, saying, “The Lord be with you” or some other perscribed greeting. It is both a wish (may the Lord be with you) and a statement of faith (as you assemble for worship, the Lord is with you). It is an ancient biblical greeting: Boaz returned from Bethlehem (Ruth 2:4) and said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” The ritual response to this or a similar greeting is always the formula, “And with your spirit,” by which we return the good wishes and the statement of faith.

After that, we proceed to the penitential rite, where we recognise our sinfulness and our need for the mercy and forgiveness of God. Then we give praise to God in the Gloria which follows. This ancient hymn comes from the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus. At the close of this first part of the Mass the priest will ask us to join our minds in prayer, and after a few moments of silence he will collect our intentions into one prayer to which we all respond “Amen,” a Hebrew word for “So be it.”

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