As we gather as a community we sing together a hymn to express our belonging to the Church. Often gathering songs reflect God calling us to worship. Our gathering song also takes place while the ministers process into the Church and take their places. We stand for the gathering song.
Sign of the Cross
The Cross is a most powerful symbol of the salvation won for us by Jesus through His passion, death and resurrection. Therefore as followers of Jesus we use this powerful symbol to identify ourselves with the mystery of salvation and to remind ourselves that everything we do is “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.
If we meet someone we have hurt, our first task is to say sorry, before we can move on in our relationship with them. When we come before God, we are aware of our Sin, but we are also aware of God’s boundless mercy. We express our sorrow formally in a public act of contrition. Obviously for more serious personal sin we may need to do more than this simple communal act. Having expressed our sorrow and listened to the priest pray for our forgiveness we can go on with our worship.
Our first act of worship is to offer praise to God. We usually do this in song. We use the words of scripture that are ascribed to the Angels who brought the message of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds on the hillside outside Bethlehem. Echoing the heavenly chorus we sing “Glory to God in the highest”.
The Opening Prayer
The priest leads us in prayer. This prayer sums up and collects together all the prayers of the gathered community in a unified prayer of the whole community. Opening prayers are very ancient and have a recognisable form: An invitation to the people to pray (Let us pray); an address to God (usually God the Father); an attribute of God (often something God does for us); a petition or a request (please do this for us); the reason or the expected result (usually a change in us); a Christian conclusion (invoking Jesus); and a general affirmation of the whole community (Amen).
Listen to God’s Word
Catholics actually read a lot of the Bible in Church. For the Sunday Masses we have a three year cycle of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) with complimentary readings from the Old Testament. We read the Gospel of John at various times during the year. The Second Readings are taken from the New Testament Letters. There is also a two year cycle for weekday celebrations, so that the whole Bible is used in our worship. The advantage of having a pre-determined cycle of readings is that we receive the whole Gospel message rather than picking and choosing texts that support the particular interests of either the priest or the community. It also prevents us from avoiding texts we find difficult to understand.
Explore and link the Good News with our lives
Having listened to God’s Word, the priest or deacon helps us to reflect more deeply on what we have heard, and then apply it to our own Christian lives. In the Catholic Church this usually lasts about 7-10 minutes, which may surprise you if you are used to 30-40 minute sermons delivered in other churches.
Make a Proclamation of Faith
Reciting a Creed is a very positive way to respond to God’s Word. We use the Nicene Creed agreed at the Council of Nicea in 325ad. An ancient expression of faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
When we pray, most of our prayers are for others. Our Bidding Prayers are an opportunity for us to pray for the needs of our families, our community and finally ourselves. The reader announces the intention using the phrase “We pray for ...” We then pray in silence for this intention, and then the reader invites us to complete our prayer with a simple invocation and response. It is traditional in England and Wales to invoke the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What we are doing is asking Mary to pray for us.
Offering of Gifts
A collection is taken for the work of the parish. Unlike other Christian denominations, it is not the tradition of the Catholic Church to ask for a tithe (10% of your gross income). However, there is a real obligation to support the work of the Church, and members are expected to make a real discernment as to how much they should contribute. The collection does not go to the priest! It is used for the upkeep of the Church and Parish. Symbolically, representatives of the gathered assembly bring forward the gifts to be offered to God on the altar by the priest.
Thank You Prayers
The central prayer of the Mass is not us asking God for something. The “Eucharist” is a prayer of thanksgiving, saying thank you for all the blessings God has already showered upon us. Primarily, we want to thank God for sending us Jesus. As part of our thanksgiving, we recite the words Jesus used at the Last Supper, and through the invocation of the Holy Spirit by the priest, the bread and wine becomes the real presence of Jesus given for us as food for our spiritual journey.
The Lord’s Prayer
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, this is the prayer which he taught them. We therefore as today’s disciples pray the Lord’s prayer in imitation of those first disciples.
Sign of Peace
Turning to our neighbours and wishing them God’s peace reminds us that we cannot love God if we fail to love our neighbour. It also prepares us for receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. Holy Communion is not an individual act, or an individual gift, it is a communal act which binds us closer in unity to God and His Church.
Receiving the Lord
We talk about being “in communion” and “sharing communion”. When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion we not only receive the real presence of the Lord, but we are also bound more deeply in communion to God and the Church. We recognise the pain of our lack of communion with many other Christians by not sharing communion with non-Catholics. Non-Catholics and many of our younger members who are not yet ready for full communion come up to receive a blessing.
Many people might think that the most ideal place to spend your life would be in Church. However, the reality is that the spreading of the Gospel throughout the world is a task that requires us to go out into the world. So we are dismissed with a commission, “to love and serve the Lord”. This means we are to take what we have received and bring the message and presence of Jesus into our ordinary lives and relationships.