Catechesis of the Holy Father

Pope Francis
General Audience
December 20, 2018
   Introductory Rites

Recently, as part of his General Audiences, Pope Francis began a catechesis on the Holy Mass. We continue with the fourth installment. We will be sending updates for your reference. Elements of the teaching would make great information points in the parish weekly bulletin should you desire to use it in that manner.
Catechesis of the Holy Father

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Today I would like to enter into the heart of the Eucharistic celebration. The Mass is composed of two parts, which are the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Liturgy, so closely joined together to form a single act of worship (cf.  Sacrosanctum Concilium, 56,  General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 28). Introduced by some preparatory rites and concluded by others, the celebration is therefore a single body and can not be separated, but for a better understanding I will try to explain its various moments, each of which is able to touch and involve a dimension of our humanity. It is necessary to know these holy signs to live the Mass fully and to savour all its beauty.

When the people are gathered, the celebration opens with Introductory Rites, including the entry of the celebrants or the celebrant, the Greeting - "The Lord be with you" or "Peace be with you", the Act of Penitence - "I confess", where we ask forgiveness of our sins -, the  Kyrie Eleison, the Gloria Hymn and the Collect Prayer: it is called the "collect prayer" not because there is a collection of offers, but rather because it is a collection of prayer intentions of all peoples; and that collection of the intentions of the people rises to heaven as a prayer. The purpose - of these Introductory Rites - is to "to ensure that the faithful, who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves properly to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily" ( General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 46).  It is not a good habit to look at the clock and say: "I am on time, I arrive after the sermon and this way I fulfil the precept".  The Mass begins with the sign of the Cross, with these Introductory Rites, because we begin to adore God as a community.  And for this it is important to take care not to arrive late, but rather early, to prepare the heart for this rite, for this celebration of the community.

While the entrance hymn usually takes place, the priest along with the altar servers, approaches the altar in procession, and salutes it with a bow and in a sign of veneration, kisses it and, when there is incense, incenses it.  Why?  Because the altar is Christ: it is a figure of Christ. When we look at the altar, we look at where Christ is. The altar is Christ: it is the figure of Christ.  When we look at the altar, we are looking exactly at Christ.  The altar is Christ.  These gestures, which risk going unnoticed, are very significant, as they express from the beginning that the Mass is a meeting of love with Christ, Who "by the offering of His Body on the Cross, became "the Priest, the Altar and the Lamb" ( Preface of Easter V). Indeed, the altar, as a sign of Christ, "is the center of the thanksgiving that is accomplished through the Eucharist" ( General Instruction of the Roman Missal , 296), and the whole community [gathers] around the altar, which is Christ; not to look at each other, but to look at Christ, because Christ is at the center of the community, He is not far from it.

Then there is the  sign of the Cross. The presiding priest traces the sign on himself and all the members of the assembly, do likewise, knowing that the liturgical act is performed "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".  And here I will mention another tiny subject.  Have you seen how children make the sign of the Cross? They do not know what they are doing: sometimes they make a design, which is not the sign of the Cross. Please: mom and dad, grandparents, teach children, from the beginning - from when they are very little - to make the sign of the cross well. And explain to them that it means having as protection the Cross of Jesus.  The Mass begins with the sign of the cross.  All prayer moves, so to speak, in the space of the Most Holy Trinity - "In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" - which is a space of infinite communion; it has as its beginning and end the love of the Triune God, manifested and given to us in the Cross of Christ. Indeed, His paschal mystery is a gift of the Trinity, and the Eucharist always flows from His pierced heart. When we make the sign of the Cross, therefore, we not only remember our Baptism, but we affirm that liturgical prayer is the encounter with God in Christ Jesus, who for us became flesh, died on the cross and rose in glory for us.

The priest then gives the  liturgical greeting, with the expression: "The Lord be with you" or another similar one - there are several - and the assembly answers: "And with your spirit". We are in dialogue; we are at the beginning of the Mass and we must think about the significance of all these gestures and words. We are entering a "symphony", in which various tones of voices resonate, including moments of silence, with a view to creating "harmony" among all the participants, that is to say that they are motivated by a single Spirit and for the same end. In effect, the greeting of the priest "signifies the presence of the Lord to the assembled community" ( General Instruction of the Roman Missal , 50). In this way the common faith and mutual desire to stay with the Lord and to live unity with all the community is expressed.

And this is a prayerful symphony which is created and immediately presents a very touching moment, because the presiding priest invites all those present to acknowledge their own sins. We are all sinners. I don't know, perhaps one of you is not a sinner ... If someone is not a sinner, please raise your hand, so we can all see. But there are no hands raised; good, you have good faith! We are all sinners, and for this reason, we begin the Mass by asking for forgiveness. It is the penitential act. 

It is not just about thinking of the sins we have committed, but much more; it is the invitation to confess our sins before God and before the community, before our brothers and sisters, with humility and sincerity, like the tax collector at the Temple. If truly the Eucharist makes present the Paschal Mystery, that is to say, the passage of Christ from death to life, then the first thing we must do is recognize our own situation of death, in order to rise again with Him to a new life. This helps us to understand how important the Act of Penitence is. And we will return to this theme in the next catechesis.

We are going step by step through the explanation of the Mass. But please: teach the children how to make the sign of the Cross properly, please!