Overview of the Mass

THERE ARE A VARIETY OF WAYS to celebrate the Mass. As Dom Gregory Dix tells us, “there is not one single way of ‘doing this’ absolutely identical throughout christendom.” He adds that “none of the many ways of ‘doing’ it has anywhere remained the same from the days of the apostles until now. On the contrary, this simple bond of christian unity has a peculiarly complicated and ramifying history of variation.” Our way of “doing this,” the way we at Ascension and Saint Agnes celebrate the Mass, reflects the rite developed for use throughout the western Church following the Council of Trent as expressed through the stately Cramnerian prose of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

Structure

There are two main divisions in the Mass itself. The first, a service of prayer, scripture-reading, psalms, and instruction, is known as the Synaxis, the Liturgy of the Word, or the Mass of the Catechumens. This is followed by the second, called the Eucharist, the Mass of the Faithful, or Holy Communion.

The first of the two main divisions of the Mass is preceded by prayerful preparation by individual worshippers and by the sacred ministers. Individually when we enter the church we bless ourselves with holy water as a reminder of our baptism, we reverence the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle on the altar, and then kneel in our pew for a moment of silent personal prayer.

In the sacristy, the sacred ministers and other members of the altar party prayerfully vest themselves as the rubrics prescribe.

Entrance

Circumstances determine how the altar party enters to begin the Mass. Sometimes the entrance is directly from the sacristy; sometimes, from the rear of the nave up the central aisle.  At High Masses, the service begins with the Asperges and, if it has not already been done in the sacristy,  the Preparation.

The Mass itself begins with the following versicle, sung or said by the Celebrant, and response by the congregation:

V. Blessed be God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
R. And blessed be his + kingdom now and ever unto ages 
of ages.
Amen.
Liturgy of the Word

This major division of the Mass comprises prayers, three readings appointed for the day– one from the Old Testament, one from  from the Epistles, and one from the Gospel–and a sermon.  The choir chants a psalm between the first and second readings, and an Allelulia Verse before the Gospel reading.

Liturgy of the Faithful

This major division comprises recitation of the Creed, Prayers of the People, General Confession and Absolution, exchange of the Peace,  Holy Communion, final blessing, and dismissal.

In the Episcopal Church, all baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion at the Lord’s table.  Those not receiving are invited to come forward for a blessing.

“High” and “Low” Masses

What the western Church calls High Mass and what the eastern Church calls Divine Liturgy  is the norm of catholic Christian worship.  In the west, an alternative to the High Mass known as a Sung Mass, or Missa Cantata, is sometimes offered when resources for a High Mass, such as an ordained Deacon or lay Subdeacon or a sufficient number of servers are unavailable.

In  western usage, a form of the Mass known as Low Mass is said rather than sung.  A comparable form is not part of eastern usage.

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