New words, same Mass: The Introductory Rites, part I

JosephChrismanBy Joseph Chrisman, Director for Worship - January 2011

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles exploring the different parts of the mass in light of the new translation.

People gather together for many different reasons under many different circumstances, and almost every gathering has some sort of beginning that gives it a direction. Movies have credits. Sporting events have a coin toss. Meetings have a call to order, but the Introductory Rites of the Mass do much more than provide information or introduce the players. These rites, which include the entrance, greeting, penitential act, Kyrie, Gloria and the opening prayer, help the assembly to open their hearts in order to enter into the particular celebration. They help establish communion. And, they help us to listen more attentively to God’s word (General Instruction [GIRM], 46).

There are several options for the entrance chant, hymn, or song (see GIRM, 48). Printed in the Sacramentary are antiphons or little scripture verses for each day that correspond to the season, saint, or celebration. Just as “O Come All Ye Faithful” captures the spirit of the Christmas liturgy and draws us in to the celebration, the entrance antiphons do the same. In some places these antiphons are read during the procession, or in place of the antiphon a Psalm, hymn or song is sung. Whichever option the parish chooses, it serves as the first text of the liturgy, which focuses our attention and accompanies the procession.

Processions are a very symbolic part of the Christian life and have a long and rich tradition in our faith. The Israelites journeyed through the desert – in a type of procession – to the Promised Land. When the Ark of the Covenant was brought back from the Philistines in 2 Samuel, King David led the procession into to his city. During the Middle Ages in Rome, Papal Masses would contain elaborate processions from one church to another during the same celebration. Processions, though, are not only tradition. As the ministers come forward in procession, they reminded us of the pilgrim church and our own journey of faith. The ministers come forward from the assembly – called forth for service.After the ministers take their places, the priest begins Mass with the sign of the cross and greeting. In the simple gesture of the sign of the cross, we invoke our God and dedicate our prayer to him. We call to mind our faith and our baptism. We also are reminded that this celebration is the sacrifice of the cross – Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.

Next, the priest greets the people with one of these greetings which come from St. Paul’s letters: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” or “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “The Lord be with you.” The first two greetings are slightly different from the current texts in the Sacramentary, but the third text has remained unchanged. The people’s response to this greeting, though, is quite different. We will soon say, “And with your spirit.” This response is not simply “Yeah, you too,” or “Right back at ya.” This response says something very special about who we are as Christians – a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people ( 1 Peter 1:9) – and who the minister is by virtue of his ordination. It also continues the biblical dialogue begun by the minister. And finally, “And with your spirit” is a direct translation of what the Latin says: “et cum spíritu tuo.” Unlike German, French, Italian and Spanish, English was one of the few languages that did not translate this phrase literally in the 1970 Sacramentary.

Next month we will look at the penitential act and the Kyrie.