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The Sacraments:

What happens at a Catholic Mass?


Full Active Participation in the Liturgy


We often hear people say they are bored at Mass. Perhaps the reason being that they do not understand what ‘full and active participation in the liturgy’ means.

Paragraph 48 of Sacrosanctum Concilium states:

‘Christ’s faithful when present at the Eucharist….should be instructed by God’s Word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest but also with him, they should also learn to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.’

In the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium, it talks of being fed and nourished at the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist. That Word needs to be broken for people so that like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we can say: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened the scriptures to us.’

We need a deeper understanding of the parts of Mass so that we can truly participate in the Liturgy rather than being an observer.




As the priest processes through the congregation to reach the sanctuary what does this action say to us?


Prior to this action, the congregation are a group of people waiting for the Liturgy to begin. By processing through the congregation, the priest is preparing the people for worship. This congregation are the gathered people of God preparing to encounter Christ through Word and Eucharist.



Read the Prophet Nehemiah 8: 2-6 8-10


What is happening to the people gathered to hear the Word of God? What do you think the people are thinking about? What joys and sorrows do they bring? 


As we gather to worship we bring with us many joys and sorrows and we prepare ourselves to bring them to God, offering our whole being.




As we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we reflect on how we experience God’s mercy. St. John

in his first letter tells us: ‘This is the love I mean not our love for God but God’s love for us.’ Where do I need to experience the mercy of God? As we prepare to encounter Christ in Word and Eucharist I need to experience the healing I need that God’s mercy brings. There is always the invitation from God: ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.’


Read the Book of Revelation. Rev. 3: 20 -22


As we open our hearts and prepare to celebrate the Eucharist let us open the door of our hearts and welcome the Lord for food and nourishment and experience the healing presence of the Lord. What would prevent me from turning to God’s mercy?


The Gloria is said or sung to give praise to God for all he has done for us and all that he gives us.


The collect prayer is when we pause in silence and reflect on what we need to bring to the Lord in this Mass. The priest then gathers all our intentions to include them in the opening prayer of the Mass.




During the Ordinary Sundays of the year, we listen to the first reading which comes from the Old Testament. The Psalm reflects a theme or themes from that reading. The second reading is always from one of the letters in the New Testament usually from St. Paul. Over a period of weeks, we listen to the whole of that letter. The Gospel is linked to the Old Testament reading. The seasons of Advent, Christmastide, Lent and Easter have readings relating to those seasons. It is important to listen to the Word of God.

Through his Word God may have a message for you. Listen with a disciple’s ear. If you are able to it would be good to have read the readings prior to coming to Mass so that you are allowing that Word to speak to your heart.



Read the following Scripture Reading from the New Testament: Luke 4: 16-22 

Notice how attentive the people are as Jesus reads the scriptures. We need that stillness and openness to be touched by the proclamation of God’s Word. What would help me to encounter Christ in his Word?




The point of the homily is to break open the Word of God to help people relate that Word to their everyday lives. The Word of God is alive and active as the author of the Letter to Hebrews tells. That Word is as relevant today as it was when the inspired scribe put pen to paper. It is useful to take home with you the Mass sheet with those readings printed on it. Pray and meditate on that Word during the week to allow the Holy Spirit to draw you deeper in understanding what God is saying to you.




The Corporal is placed on the altar. This is to show by a gesture that this congregation are invited to a home in a new sacred space. The corporal has the gifts of bread and wine placed upon it. We move from the sacred space of the congregation to this piece of white cloth where the bread and wine will be transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood.

The bread and wine are usually brought to the altar in procession. This gesture is to show that as the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar so we too bring all that we want to offer to God in this Mass; our lives, our gifts and our talents. Just as the bread and wine will be changed, transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood so may our lives be transformed as we participate in the liturgy. This is another way where we participate fully in the celebration. We are not bystanders but participants.



Read the following Scripture Reading from the New Testament: Luke 19: 1-10

This is a wonderful story of a person’s encounter with Jesus. Jesus sees beyond Zacchaeus’ sins and failings. He sees what he could become. Jesus stays with him and as a result of the encounter, Zacchaeus is transformed. Do I allow the Lord to see beyond my failings and allow him to transform me?




In the preface, we are reminded of the things God has done for humankind in general. The next part of the preface informs us of what God does for us now. We are then invited to join the angels and saints in praising God. What a wonderful image of this congregation is invited to join the angels and saints in praising our heavenly Father.

The Eucharistic prayer is a wonderful prayer to reflect on. Take some time in praying that prayer and rejoice in what it is revealing to us.

The Holy Spirit is invited to come and make Holy these gifts of bread and wine that they may be transformed. The gesture of the priest placing his hands over the gifts reminds us of God creating the world.


Mary was asked to be the Mother of God. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the laying on of hands in the sacraments and the many occasions when Jesus laid his hands on the sick and forgave sinners. Reflect too on the many times the disciples were prayed over before a mission.

The Amen at the end of the preface is our chance of saying yes to everything we have heard. During this prayer, we are being taken up and are part of the drama unfolded.



Read Saint Paul’s letters to the Corinthians: 1Cor 11: 23 – 27


The actions of taking, blessing, breaking and giving take place at the consecration. These actions are revealed to us through the different parts of the Mass. To be a Eucharistic person I need to reflect on those actions in my life. He takes me and blesses me through the sacraments and the many graces he bestows upon me. He breaks me of my failings and sinfulness and sends me forth from Mass to live out that which we have celebrated.




We have already eaten from the table of the Word. As we process to receive Holy Communion it is recommended that some simple chant should be sung which is linked to the Liturgy of the Word to remind us that we now prepare ourselves to be fed with the Eucharist. To process reminds us that we are a pilgrim people on a journey.


Silence after Holy Communion


Silence after Holy Communion is important showing the link with the silence at the end of the Liturgy of the Word. Moments of silence are important in our liturgy. It gives God a chance to speak to our hearts. The Bishops of England and Wales have produced a document highlighting silence in the liturgy.


The dismissal 


The dismissal at the end of Mass instructs us to go out and put into practice what we have celebrated. We are to be a light in the darkness and salt of the earth.



Read the following Scripture Reading from the New Testament: Luke 24: 13-35

Reflect on this passage and see the connection to our celebration of Mass. The disciples encountered Christ in Word and Eucharist. Share your journey of encounter with someone you trust.

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