The Introductory Rites have a very important role in any liturgical celebration and especially for the celebration of the Eucharist. What we do and pray during this time identifies who we are as a community of believers. Thus, every liturgical celebration of the Church begins in the same manner with Introductory Rites.
The Introductory Rites of the Mass realize the Catholic understanding of how we begin our worship. They are not the same as a “Call to Worship” used in other Christian traditions, nor are they called the “Gathering Rites.” Unfortunately, because our catechesis has been weak, too many people see these rites as:
- secondary or unimportant
- something to do until “latecomers” arrive
- a welcoming of the priest and/or other ministers in the procession
- a call to gather
What Does the Church Teach?
Two very important documents explain the meaning and purpose of the parts of the Mass. These are significant resources for Catholics and others who want to learn more about the Mass. The first is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). It contains the norms that are the universal law of the Church for the Latin Rite and is a source for what the Church requires for the celebration of the eucharistic liturgy. It also contains the American adaptations for the celebration of the Mass. The second is the Introduction to the Order of Mass (IOM). The IOM is intended to assist in the training of liturgical ministers and especially for the formation of the faithful. Both documents provide wonderful explanations on the meaning and purpose of the parts of the Mass.
Here is what they say about the Introductory Rites of the Mass. The GIRM points out that the purpose of the Introductory Rites “is to ensure that the faithful who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves to listen properly to God’s Word and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily” (46). The IOM gives a beautiful description of these rites:
In the introductory rites, Christ joins the Church to himself and gathers her children to join their voices to his perfect hymn of praise. Thus, the liturgical assembly, “where two or three come together in Christ’s name, and where he is found in their midst (see Mt 18:20), is the ‘first image that the Church gives of herself.’” Thus, an important function of these rites is to enable the gathered assembly to take on the form of a community, alert and ready to listen to the Word and celebrate the sacrament. (66)
Here we see that the purpose of these rites is not so much to call us to worship and/or merely to “gather” us, but rather to form us into the Body of Christ where Christ is then made present. These actions prepare us to listen to God’s Word.
When we gather every Sunday as the Body of Christ, we fulfill the Lord’s command to “do this as a memorial of me” (Lk 22:19). In taking on the form of a community, we realize a basic tenet of our faith. We are baptized into the Church, a community, the people of God, the Body of Christ. As Catholics, then, we are not a random group of individuals, but the gathering of God’s people to exercise its royal priesthood in the sacrifice of praise. In liturgy, we transcend individualism. For this reason all of our liturgical celebrations, which are by their very nature public and communal, are organized to encourage and foster an awareness of mutual interdependence.
When we are called together in Christ, the Church is present. The risen Lord is present in the midst of the assembly, which becomes visible as the Body of Christ.
Within the context of liturgical celebration, we refer to this community as the “assembly.” The importance of the assembly at liturgy is emphasized in the 1978 document of our bishops entitled Environment and Art in Catholic Worship (EACW). Here it states the following:
“The most powerful experience of the sacred is found in the celebration and the persons celebrating, that is, it is found in the action of the assembly: the living words, the living gestures, the living sacrifice, the living meal.” (29)
“There is no audience, no passive element in the liturgical celebration. This fact alone distinguishes it from most other public assemblies. “(30)
Dies Domini (DD): On Keeping the Lord’s Day
In 1998, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter on the importance of Sunday entitled “On Keeping the Lord’s Day.” Here the Holy Father emphasizes the importance of our Catholic identity, which is inherently communal:
“It is not enough that the disciples of Christ pray individually and commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ inwardly, in the secrecy of their hearts. Those who have received the grace of baptism are not saved as individuals alone, but as members of the mystical body, having become part of the People of God. It is important that they come together to express fully the very identity of church, the ekklesia, the assembly called together by the Risen Lord.” (31)
He also notes that in the celebration of the Eucharist two things happen. The Eucharist feeds and nourishes us through the Body and Blood of Christ. At the same time, participation in this action forms the Church. “The Eucharist feeds and forms the Church” (DD, 32). Thus, the pope points out that “The Sunday assembly is the privileged place of unity” (DD, 36).
Sunday is the primary day of unity and community. Because of this, the Holy Father states: “At Sunday Masses in parishes…it is normal to find different groups, movements, associations and even the smaller religious communities present in the parish. This allows EVERYONE to experience in common what they share most deeply. … This is why on Sunday, the day of gathering, small group Masses are not to be encouraged” (DD, 36).
The Ritual Parts of the Introductory Rites
Our worship begins when the people have gathered and the priest and ministers enter the worship space. At this point the Entrance Chant begins. Many people think that this is simply a song we ADD to the Mass. So some people sing and others do not. Nevertheless, this could not be further from the truth. The Entrance Chant is actually the antiphon that is part of the Mass. In the United States, we are permitted to sing a different antiphon or replace it with another psalm or liturgical song. In fact, if the antiphon is not sung, it should be recited because it is a part of the Mass.
Sign of the Cross and Greeting
We continue the Mass by signing ourselves with the sign of the cross. Then the priest greets us with one of the optional greetings in the missal. This is not a simple “hello” and why the missal does not contains words such as “Good morning, everyone.” The greeting uses liturgical language to convey that the Lord is indeed present in the gathering of this community. Our response, “and with your spirit,” acknowledges our belief that the mystery of the church is indeed made present.
The priest invites those present to participate in an Act of Penitence. After a period of silence, all pray a formula of general confession. On special days, especially during the Season of Easter, this is replaced by the blessing and sprinkling of holy water.
The Kyrie is begun after the Penitential Act unless it has already been included as part of the Penitential Act. In this case, it is not done. The Kyrie is a chant whereby we the faithful acclaim the Lord and implore his mercy.
The Gloria is a very ancient hymn and originally was not a part of the Eucharistic liturgy. It was first sung as an Easter hymn and was associated with the praying of morning prayer. In the sixth century, it was used at the Christmas Mass for the very solemn celebration of Christmas with the pope as the presider. Later, it was allowed to be used only at Mass when the bishop presided at Mass. By the 11th century, we see the Gloria being sung at all Sunday Masses and special feasts.
Today, the singing of the Gloria points our hearts towards a spirit of awe and reminds us that we are called to praise and glorify God. When we sing the Gloria we should be transformed into a people of absolute joy as we give praise to God.
The Gloria is not sung during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent.
The priest invites all of us to pray. There should be a marked period of silence at this time. Then the priest “collects” all our prayers and prays with one voice to God the father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit.
Do you see why the Introductory Rites of the Mass are so important? When we participate in this part of the Mass the Church is made present. We take on the form of a community. Christ is made present in our midst.
This is why it is so very important that we do not come late for Mass.
Our full, conscious, and active participation in each of the actions of the Introductory Rites is very important. Mass is not a “spectator sport.” Participating at Mass is not the same as watching a football game or going to a movie. In 1962, Pope John XXIII called a Vatican Council. The first document that came out of this council was on the renewal of the liturgy. This document made the following statement: “The Church earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at Mass, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators.”