Whenever I read an article about the Mass in secular publications, I note the way in which it is referenced and, in particular, how the author describes the priest’s actions. I have seen such descriptions indicating that the bishop performed the Mass, or the priest held a Mass, the pope delivers Mass, the pope leads Mass, or the priest presided at the Mass.
In times gone by, I have heard people say that they were going to hear Mass. Similarly, it was the priest who was going to say Mass. The Mass was also spoken of as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I still use this last phrase that I learned from my morning offering as a child.
There are various ways that I prefer to speak about the Mass:
Remembering that the priest is offering a sacrifice of bread and wine which will become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, I like to say that I am going to offer Mass. When I begin daily Mass, I usually note that “Today’s Mass is being offered for . . . .” You might notice the frequent use of the word oblation (offering) found in many of the prayers of the most recent English translation of the Mass. We are reminded that the priest is indeed offering the most perfect sacrifice of Jesus Himself to God the Father. Recall the prayer (doxology) at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer: “Through him and with him and in him, O God, Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.” “Amen.”
Some time ago I heard it said that the priest should be praying the Mass (above and beyond simply going through the motions and not merely reading/saying the words that are written in front of us). We speak in terms of Eucharistic Prayers, orations, etc. which remind us that we are praying during Mass. Pope Benedict XVI urged priests with the following: “. . . We must think of the various forms of the prayer of a priest, first of all daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the center and wellspring from which all the forms receive their ‘lifeblood’. . . . “ (May 3, 2009, Priesthood Ordinations in St. Peter’s Basilica)
It may also be said that a priest celebrates the Mass and I am the celebrant at Mass. When more than one priest offers the Mass together, we refer to them as concelebrants.
The current form of the Mass (frequently referred to as the Novus Ordo or the Mass of Paul VI) is the Mass most people are familiar with, especially if you were born in or after the 1960’s. What came before was the Traditional Latin Mass (or the Tridentine Mass) which is available in some parishes throughout the Camden Diocese (and is solely offered at Mater Ecclesiae Parish in Berlin, NJ.) There are many differences/changes that have occurred in the transition from the Traditional Latin Mass to the Novus Ordo including the use of the vernacular, the orientation of the priest, the positioning of the altar, those who are permitted to enter the sanctuary, etc. which I will attempt to address in subsequent columns.
How we speak about the Mass usually indicates what we think about it or what we believe happens during it. There are multiple facets of what the Mass actually is and what happens during it. I want to continue to emphasize, however, its essential sacrificial nature on an altar (the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ) which has often been obscured in more recent times in favor of a meal/table aspect (Last Supper).
If we take the time to understand the mystery before us at the altar, perhaps we can come to the realization that we are truly experiencing a foretaste of the Heavenly Liturgy awaiting us someday.
Fr. Ed Namiotka