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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Questions & Answers About Liturgical Matters

Why does the Catholic Church have so many ceremonies?

The ceremonies and rituals assist in our lifting up of our hearts to God. The instrumentation of visible symbols helps us to grasp the invisible mysteries of faith.

Does the Bible approve of such things?

The Old Law prescribed many Jewish ceremonials. Christ made use of numerous such rituals and introduced his own ceremonies.

What is the altar?

The altar stands for the table upon which Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Why is the altar often so imposing and made of marble or stone?

While other materials may also make up the altar, the traditional altar was fashioned in the likeness of the martyrs’ tombs upon which the Mass was often said in the early Church.

Why is the altar covered with linen cloths?

It serves as a decorative cover giving reverence to the holy sacrifice, to help insure that if spilt no precious blood shall fall to the ground, and as a vestment for Christ symbolized there.

Why is there a cross (usually a crucifix) near the altar?

It is a visible reminder that the sacrifice of the Mass is an unbloody re-presentation of the sacrifice of the cross.

What is the chalice?

This is the cup into which the priest pours wine that is to be transformed into the blood of Christ.

Why do priests wear particular vestments at the altar?

The vestments remind us that the priest is a living representative of Christ at the altar. He acts in the very “person of Christ,” head of the Church. God himself prescribed vesture to be worn in the divine services of the Old Covenant.

What is the amice and what is its meaning?

This is a shoulder cloth that serves the practical purposes of covering the priest’s ordinary clerical attire and keeping the neck of certain albs (the white gown) clean. At one time it was even worn over the head as a cover against the cold. It signifies “the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17), with which the priest arms himself against devilish assaults.

What is the significance of the alb (a long white garment)?

It signifies the purity of body and soul with which a priest should possess before approaching the altar.

What does the cincture (rope worn around his waist) symbolize?

It calls to mind his priestly chastity and continence.

What does the stole (looks like a scarf) signify?

It is a vesture of dignity, as with the ancient Roman senators, symbolizing his honor and power.

What is the purpose of the chasuble (garment worn over all the rest)?

Just like the altar, as a symbol for Christ, is dressed; so too is the priest. The chasuble reminds us that he puts on Christ in a singular fashion. He is Christ, the one high priest, at the altar. It signifies the yoke of the Lord and reminds us all that to follow Christ means to take up the cross.

Suppressed today, although still implemented in the traditional liturgy is the maniple (a band hanging from the left arm); what is it about?

It is a symbol of penance, as well as of the various cares and responsibilities of the priestly vocation.

What do the different colors of vestments mean?

WHITE implies innocence and is particularly festive; it is used on feasts of the Lord and of saints who were not martyrs.

RED signifies martyrdom and is used at commemorations of the Passion, Pentecost and on the feasts of martyrs.

GREEN is used during Ordinary Time and represents the hope of eternal life.

VIOLET signifies penance and to some degree royalty (Advent and Lent).

BLACK is rarely used these days; however, it can replace white or violet at funerals and may still be used on All Souls Day. It expresses sorrow and morning.

SILVER and GOLD are variations upon white and point to even greater festivity.

What do the candles beside the altar signify?

They are another symbol for Jesus who is the Light of the World. We are reminded that his charity should always burn in our hearts. They also call to mind the first Christians who offered up the sacrifice in the dark and cold catacombs.

What is the meaning of incense?

It is a symbol of prayer that rises up to heaven as a sweet odor before God (Psalm 141:2).

Why do the priest and people make the sign of the cross at Mass?

It reminds us of the suffering and death of Christ on the cross. It also dedicates that activity to the Lord and sanctifies it. Associated with grace and blessings, it is often made over people and things.

What is the bow, bending the knee (genuflection), the bent head, and the kissing of holy objects about?

They are signs of veneration, and when directed to God, of adoration, respect, and homage to the presence of Christ upon the altar and/or in the tabernacle.

What are the principal parts of Mass?

Traditionally they were catalogued as the Offertory, Consecration, and Communion. The revised liturgy has much reduced the Offertory and simply calls it the Preparation of the Gifts. In light of renewed interest in the Scriptures, post-Vatican II directives speak of the two main parts of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Having said this, the center of gravity will always be upon the Eucharist. At the words of consecration the priest changes the bread and wine into the living body and blood of Christ. God makes himself present upon our altars. Holy Communion is our reception of the bread of life and the cup of salvation.

What ingredients compose the host that is to be consecrated?

It is unleavened bread made from pure wheaten flour and water.

What is the tabernacle?

This is the container, either upon its own altar table or in a wall, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.

What is the Introit?

Usually replaced by a musical piece on Sundays, it is the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass.

What is the Confiteor?

It is a confession of fault and sin; in other words, of our unworthiness as we begin the Mass.

What is the Gloria?

It is a solemn song of praise to the goodness and majesty of God.

What is the Liturgy of the Word?

It is composed of various readings and their application is a homily. The pattern on Sundays is as follows: Old Testament Reading, Responsorial Psalm, New Testament Reading, Alleluia and/or Verse, Gospel, Homily, Creed and Prayer of the Faithful (General Intercessions).

What do we understand by the Profession of Faith at Mass?

This is the Creed given to the universal Church at Nicea in 325 AD and again at the council of Constantinople in 381 AD. It is a formal confession of the Catholic faith.

What is the meaning of the priest pouring a drop of water into the wine?

It signifies the union of the divine and human natures in Christ, and it represents the water that flowed from the side of Christ.

What is the purpose of the Lavabo?

It is to clean the priest’s hands and prepare them to touch the Sacred Host. It signifies an inward purity of soul with which we should offer this holy sacrifice to God.

What is the Preface?

It is a solemn hymn of praise and thanksgiving just before the canon of the Mass proper.

What is the Sanctus?

It is the thrice-repeated salutation of the angels in heaven: Holy, Holy, Holy.

What does the word “Canon” mean?

It refers to the anaphora or Eucharistic prayer used at Mass. The oldest in the West is the first Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon. The word “canon” means rule and here points to the unchangeable rule or manner in which the holy sacrifice is daily commemorated. The Roman canon had remained unchanged for almost 1,300 years prior to the Second Vatican Council. The most essential part of the canon, as with those in the newer ones, finds its source in the words of our Lord, himself. Of course, the traditions of the apostles and church fathers, as well as the reverent regulations of popes, have played a part in the development of liturgy, too.

Why does the priest extend his hands over the gifts?

This action parallels a similar gesture in the old law where the priest was required to lay his hands upon the sacrificial offerings as a sign that the animal now bore their sins and had to expiate them by death. At Mass, the extension of the hands signifies that Christ is the Lamb of God who took upon himself all the sins of the world. It is also associated with the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epliclesis). The power of the Holy Spirit makes possible the sacrifice of the Mass and the transformation of the gifts.

What does the priest do at the consecration?

The priest says what Christ said at the Last Supper: “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you. . . . Take this all of you, and drink from it: This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.”

What is the effect of these words?

When they are spoken, the bread and wine are changed into the true and living body and blood of Christ.

Why does the priest raise up the bread and chalice?

Not only does it better allow the people to see, he lifts up the host (not simply bread) and then the chalice with the precious blood, as an invitation to adore our Lord and Savior now present under the forms of bread and wine.

What are the two prayers, which immediately follow the consecration?

The first is a Vatican II interpolation of the words associated with the consecration, “Mysterium fidei,” or THE MYSTERY OF FAITH. The congregation offers one of several memorial acclamations, which affirm that our Eucharistic Lord and the historical Christ are one-and-the-same: “Dying [you] destroyed our death, rising [you] restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.” The anamnesis or memorial prayer is next. By recalling Christ, we make present in the Eucharist both his person and saving activity. We affirm that this is a “holy and perfect sacrifice, the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation.”

How does the priest pray for the dead?

He prays that the faithful departed may also receive from the fruits of the Mass and be granted “Light, happiness, and peace” in God’s presence. Sometimes the priest will even mention the dead by name. This is called the “memento” of the dead. The congregation should pray also for their deceased relatives and friends at this stage of the liturgy.

Why do we offer the Lord’s Prayer after the Eucharistic prayer?

It is because as children of God we are entitled to call upon God as “Our Father.” The mediation of Christ brings our prayer to God in heaven. We are confident that God will hear our prayer and give us what we need for body and soul.

Why does the priest break the host?

The fracturing of the priest’s host reminds us of the passion and death of Christ when his soul parted from his body. A fragment of the consecrated host is mingled with the precious blood as a sign that Christ is here present as our Redeemer, risen from the dead.

What is the Agnus Dei?

This is the “Lamb of God” prayer that echoes Scripture in repeating three times that he is the lamb of sacrifice “who takes away the sins of the world.” It is a prayer for mercy and one which acknowledges what Christ has accomplished.

What is with the sign of peace?

It is a ritual gesture, not simply a handshake, where we extend Christ’s peace to one another. We are admonished not to come to the altar unless we are reconciled with one another. St. Paul tells us: “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16). That is why it is sometimes called the kiss of peace.

What does the response “Amen” mean at communion?

It is a faith profession and means “Truly” or “Surely.” It is an affirmation of the priest’s words, “The body of Christ,” or “The blood of Christ.” More than that, it also expresses acceptance and unity with the Church that offers the sacrament. In other words, a person is saying that I accept all that the Church holds as true, the Holy Father and all the bishops in union with him, etc. Not wanting to make hypocrites of people, we do not invite non-Catholics to receive. However, we do ask them to hunger with us for a more full unity and, if possible, to make a spiritual communion.

How is Mass concluded?

The priest does a post communion prayer, renders a Trinitarian blessing and then either the priest or deacon says the words of dismissal: “The Mass is ended, go in peace.”

How is the blessing offered?

Using his right hand he makes an outward sign of the cross, saying, “May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, + and the Holy Spirit.” The people answer, “Amen.”

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.