By Father Paul Gunter, OSB
ROME, 15 JAN. 2010 (ZENIT)
At this early stage of the Mass, the rites seem to speak for
themselves. We have neither arrived at the Liturgy of the Word,
which proclaims the sacred Scriptures, nor have we prepared the
altar for the sacrifice of the Mass. However, a sense in which
we have done both of these things is in the inner disposition of
When the Introductory rites occur, various actions, invisible to
the congregation, have already taken place. These not only set
the scene for the holiest of holies, but also distinguish in a
priest's life the manner in which he arrives at his appointment
at the altar so that the demands of the world shall not jar
against the recollected sacredness the celebration of holy Mass
The priest has made his private preparation, which is outlined
in the missal, whether of the ordinary or of the extraordinary
form. The distinction between the two forms is highlighted not
only because they form the current usage of the Roman rite, but
also because they compliment each other in their aims "to impart
an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful;
to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those
institutions which are subject to change; [and] to foster
whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ."
The "Praeparatio ad Missam" of both forms share in common a
prayer of St. Ambrose, a prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas and a
prayer of Our Lady. The Formula of Intention reminds the
priest that he confects the Body and Blood of Christ for the
benefit of the whole Church and for any who have commended
themselves to his prayers. Since this formula pertains to both
forms, it can be seen that both forms protect the
ecclesiological dimension of the Mass. The priest who
celebrates even privately does not celebrate Mass for himself
The Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, No. 93, explains this,
and alongside describes the dispositions that shall occupy the
celebrating priest: "A priest who possesses within the Church
the power of Holy Orders to offer sacrifice in the person of
Christ, stands for this reason at the head of the faithful
people gathered together […], presides over their prayer,
proclaims the message of salvation to them, associates the
people with himself in the offering of sacrifice through Christ
in the Holy Spirit to God the Father, gives his brothers and
sisters the bread of eternal life, and partakes of it with them.
When he celebrates the Eucharist, therefore, he must serve God
and the people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and
by the way he says the divine words he must convey to the
faithful the living presence of Christ."
Gestures of readiness
As a consequence, the Introductory rites presuppose that the
priest arrives at the altar ready for his sacred duties. At the
same time, no less is expected of the People of God present who
are to unite themselves with the action of the Church and shun
any appearance of individualism or division. "This unity is
beautifully apparent from the gestures and postures observed in
common by the faithful."
While the extraordinary form poignantly reminds us that the
vested priest approaches the altar, having made the necessary
reverences, it takes care to illustrate the care with which the
priest must make the Sign of the Cross.
The more extensive introductory rites of the extraordinary form
are distinguished by Psalm 42 with its famous antiphon "Introibo
ad altare Dei ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meum" recited
between the priest and the server. The Confiteor is prayed
twice, once by the celebrant and then by the server who recites
the Misereatur after that of the priest. After the second
Confiteor, the Misereatur, which has been retained in the
ordinary form of the Mass, but which prays for the forgiveness
of our sins generically, rather than allowing for the
distinction between those of the priest and those of the people,
is followed by the Indulgentiam, where the priest makes the Sign
of the Cross over the congregation as he prays for the remission
of the sins of us all.
Versicles from Psalm 84 follow. Guéranger describes their
purpose as follows: "The practice of reciting these Versicles is
very ancient. The last gives us the words of David, who, in his
84th Psalm, is praying for the coming of the Messias. In the
Mass, before the Consecration, we await the coming of our Lord,
as they, who lived before the Incarnation, awaited the promised
Messias. By that word mercy, which is here used by the Prophet,
we are not to understand the goodness of God; but, we ask of
God, that he will vouchsafe to send us him, […] the Saviour, by
whom salvation is to come upon us. These few words of the Psalm
take us back in spirit, to the season of Advent, when we are
unceasingly asking for him who is to come."
The priest says secretly as he ascends to the altar, "Aufer a
nobis," praying that God may remove our sins and that our minds
may be rightly disposed as we enter the Holy of Holies. Then he
kisses the altar and prays through the merits of the saints,
particularly through those whose relics are in the altar, that
God be indulgent toward his own sins. At high Mass, the priest
incenses the crucifix and then the altar and in such a way
as to cover every portion of the altar with incense. A diagram
in the missal describes the precise way in which this is to be
done. This act reminds us that the altar represents Christ.
Dom Guéranger recounts scriptural significance of this usage.
"Holy Church has borrowed this ceremony from heaven itself;
where St. John witnessed it. In his apocalypse, he saw an Angel,
standing, with a golden censer, near the altar, on which was the
Lamb, with four-and-twenty elders around him. He describes
this Angel to us, as offering to God the prayers of the Saints,
which are symbolised by the incense. Thus, our holy Mother the
Church, the faithful Bride of Christ, wishes to do as heaven
The ordinary form begins by emphasising the presence of the
people assembled before mentioning the procession of the priest
and ministers to the altar, which is accompanied by the singing
of the Introit. The substitution of hymns for the Introit and
the Communion Antiphon has effectively implied the loss of these
proper texts of the Mass. Though they have been translated into
the vernacular alongside other texts, it is rare indeed that one
hears these texts sung, particularly in parishes.
Nonetheless, the liturgy begins with song during which the
priest may incense the altar. The opening words of the Mass are
the same in both of its forms: "In the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Led by the celebrant,
priest and people make the gesture together and bridge the time
that has passed between the historical death of Christ on the
cross and the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary that is made
present on the altar each time the Mass is celebrated. As Father
Jeremy Driscoll writes, "Our own bodies will be drawn into the
body that hung on the cross, and this sharing in the death of
Christ is the revelation of the Trinitarian mystery."
"In the name" suggests that we entrust the celebration into the
name of the Trinity. It is by baptism that we are immersed and
entrusted into the name of God. As in baptism we are buried and
rise with Christ, so in making the Sign of the Cross we actively
renew our faith in the Trinitarian name of God. The Sign of the
Cross is not only the traditional way with which Catholics begin
prayer, but the obvious and strongest way of doing so. The Amen
is the solemn assent of those who answer.
The Apostolic Greeting welcomes the people. It is so called
because it is inspired by the letters of St Paul. Maybe the
priest will use "Dominus Vobiscum." Otherwise he will choose
another option. All the same, he does not trivialise the
greeting by saying "Good Morning." The greeting is formalized
because the priest greets the people in his specifically
sacramental role where, "in persona Christi capitis," he is
greeting the assembly called together by God. The congregation
does not respond "Good Morning Father," but, "and with your
spirit." As Driscoll continues; "The people are addressing the
'spirit' of the priest; that is, that deepest interior part of
his being where he has been ordained precisely to lead the
people in this sacred action."
Recognition of sinfulness
The priest leads the faithful in the Penitential rite as he
calls people to recognize their sinfulness and ask for God's
mercy. The varieties in the missal are many. The Confiteor,
which is said by everyone together, encourages the prayers of
each person for the others and calls upon the communion of
saints to assist us. Another form is redolent of the versicles
that follow the Indulgentiam in the extraordinary form. Both
of these are followed by the Misereatur and by the Kyrie whose
repetitions indicate persistent pleas for mercy. The other form
consists in a series of often seasonal petitions or "tropes"
followed by the Invocation, Kyrie or Christe Eleison. On a
Sunday, feast or special occasion, the priest then intones the
Gloria, the song of the angels, which is taken up by those
present or sung by the choir which represents the faithful.
The Opening Prayer brings together the role of the priest in the
Introductory rites of the Mass. The invitation, "Let us pray,"
is followed by brief silence. Silence speaks profoundly to the
inner being and while being a natural feature in the
extraordinary form needs to be fostered in the ordinary form as
a normal and humble response to mystery. This is traditionally
referred to as the Collect
the Latin verb "colligere" concerns the bringing together of
seemingly disparate parts to form a whole.
The liturgy of the Church, through the mouth of the priest, puts
into the hearts of the faithful a prayer that sums up what we
should all be praying for. Not only does the Collect encourage
us to look beyond the smallness of our own needs and petitions,
but to hear the prayer said or sung alone by the priest in the
name of the whole Church, and to make it the prayer of each one
of us. Then, oriented toward God and dedicated to the worship of
the blessed Trinity in the service of the sacred liturgy of the
Church, priest and people alike may be more attuned to hear the
tender voice that calls us so that "under God's protection [we]
may attain to the loftier heights of doctrine and virtue."
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, "Sacrosanctum Concilium,"
 The Preparatio in the Missale Romanum 1962 is more
 Missale Romanum, Editio Typica Tertia, Typis Vaticanis 2002,
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, "Lumen Gentium," No. 28
 Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, No. 93
 IGMR, No. 95
 IGMR, No. 96
 "[...] signat se signo crucis a fronte ad pectus, et clara
voce dicit:" Missale Romanum 1962
 P. Gueranger, "Explanation of the Prayers and Ceremonies of
Holy Mass," tr. L.Shepherd, ed. Stanbrook Abbey, Worcestershire
 A. Fortescue-J.B. O'Connell-A. Reid, "The Ceremonies of the
Roman Rite Described," 14th ed, St. Michael's Abbey Press,
Farnborough 2003, 142.
 Revelation 8:3-4
 P. Gueranger, "Explanation of the Prayers and Ceremonies of
Holy Mass," 8.
 J. Driscoll, OSB, "What happens at Mass," Gracewing
Publishing, Leominster 2005, 21.
 "In the person of Christ the Head"
 J. Driscoll, OSB, "What happens at Mass," 25.
 "Ostende nobis Domine misericordiam tuam…"
 A trope, from the Latin tropus, and sometimes disparagingly
referred to as a farsato, was originally a phrase or a verse
added as an embellishment or insertion into the Sung Mass of the
Middle ages. For example, 'Kyrie Lux et Origo eleison' in Missa
I in Tempore Paschali. The Missal of Pius V discontinued them.
 Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 73.
* * *
Benedictine Father Paul Gunter is a professor of the
Pontifical Institute of Liturgy Rome and Consulter to the Office
of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.