Father Naples explains parts of the Mass
Father Timothy Naples, pastor of St. John Vianney Church in South Burlington, was videotaped explaining parts of the Mass. This abbreviated version explains parts of the daily Mass for Wednesday of Holy Week.
Kissing the stole: There is a prayerful custom for a priest or a deacon to kiss each vestment that is appropriate to his status in the sanctuary. So, a priest would kiss his stole and his chasuble as he puts them on. The prayer used when putting on the stole is: “Lord, restore the stole of immortality which I lost through the collusion of our first parents, and unworthy as I am to approach thy sacred mysteries, may I yet gain eternal joy.”
Vesting Prayers: The vesting prayers are something that I use to fulfill the Church’s direction that priests prepare for Mass by praying. A simple way to do this is to use some of the traditional prayers that are given for priests for each part of the vestment. The parts of the vestment are first of all the amice, which used to cover up the monks’ hoods, a little white piece that now we can use to cover our black collars. And then our alb, which is the white garment that we put over all of our arms and goes down to our feet, and the cincture, which is just a rope belt that is helpful to keep our vestments in place. After the cincture, we begin to put on the vestments that are appropriate to the priest which is our stole, a purple piece of cloth that goes around the back of my neck and drapes in front of me and then the chasuble which is the large piece of cloth that drapes over all of the other vestments. There is a traditional prayer given for most of these vestments.
Opening antiphon: When a priest arrives at the altar during Mass, maybe there is a hymn that has been sung or there is a scripture verse that is given which can be recited or sung called the Antiphon.
The priest kisses the altar: We call this the veneration of the altar. The priest usually kisses the altar at a place where an altar stone has been placed. Traditionally inside the altar there is a relic of a saint, and if possible, the priest will kiss the altar at that point out of love for the saint, the communion of saints which we are brought into by Christ whom we encounter here in the Mass.
Sign of the Cross: We begin all prayers in the Catholic faith by invoking our great God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is an ancient custom to not only invoke the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but to make the sign of our Lord Jesus’ passion by crossing ourselves at the beginning of the prayer. And so we begin the Mass in this way, remembering God Himself Father, Son and Holy Spirit and our Lord’s passion which we are about to commemorate which is the Mass.
Penitential Rite: The gesture that’s given for the people of the Mass while praying the “I Confess,” is the striking of the breast at the words of “through my most grievous fault.” Since the word fault is used three times, many people traditionally strike the breast three times in imitation of the publican in the parable that our Lord gave in the Gospel. As the Confiteor is concluded, the priest also leads the people in another verse and the Kyrie.
Let us Pray: When the priest says, “Let us pray,” some priest immediately begin the prayer which is called the “Collect” which is given in the missal. The instructions for the Mass say that a moment of silent prayer may also be given. So the priest may say, “Let us pray,” and then bow his head in silence for a couple seconds and then after people have recollected their intentions and their prayers that they have brought to Mass, the priest continues with the opening prayer. The priest holds his hands out to his side in the “orans” prayer position. It’s an ancient prayer position and has been adopted by all of the clergy for praying especially when the priest is at the altar. Everyone in the congregation is seated once the opening prayer is done.
Signing the Gospel At the beginning of the reading of the Gospel, there is a signing of the Gospel. After the priest or deacon says, “The Lord be with you,” he takes his thumb and over the beginning of the Gospel, on the page, he makes the Sign of the Cross.
The three crosses: Everyone in the church makes a Sign of the Cross over their forehead, lips and heart as the people of the congregation respond to the announcement of the Gospel. The three crosses are a sign that we want the Gospel of the Lord and God’s holy word revealed through our Lord Jesus Christ to be in our minds, on our lips when we speak and in our hearts in all that we choose to do.
Preparation of the gifts: A corporal is a white cloth that is supposed to hold all of the sacred vessels and then the Eucharist when it is consecrated. The ciborium is filled small hosts of bread for the people to receive communion. The paten holds a large host for the priest to and to receive communion.
Mix water and wine: The chalice is prepared first by pouring some wine into it enough for those who are going to receive the Blood of Christ and then by mixing a little bit of water — a drop or two — into the wine. The prayer that’s said over the chalice when the mixing is done, goes like this, “By the mystery of this water and wine we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.” Water was traditionally mixed with all wine in the ancient world as a custom of getting more length out of the wine and also of being hydrated in a safer way to avoid bacteria. The Church has attached a very symbolic significance to the mixing of the water and the wine; we reference the unity of the divinity of Christ — the wine— and the humanity — the water. This is of course a reference to the incarnation, the greatest truth of our faith.
Bow at the altar and priestly prayer: The priest bows as he says his own priestly prayer at the time of the offertory. This prayer is borrowed from Psalm 51 for the priest to prepare himself to celebrate the Eucharist and to do the consecration. It is said just by the priest before he washes his hands.
Washing of the priest’s hands: With the washing of the hands, the priest prays the prayer, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleans me from my sins.” The washing of the hands is an obvious gesture since we realize that the priest will be holding the Eucharist with his hands. To quote the parts of the Psalms from which so many of these prayers of preparation come from, we have from Psalm 51 verse 9: “Cleanse me with hyssop that I may be pure. Wash me. Make me whiter than snow.” This is one of the many verses that are called to mind in the preparation to celebrate the Eucharist. Many of the verses of scripture speak of washing to reference our need for the Lord to purify us of our sins.
Epiclesis: At each point of the Eucharistic Prayer where the priest is about to consecrate the host and the wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ, the priest invokes the Holy Spirit at a moment called the Epiclesis. The priest holds his hands over the chalice and over the paten — over the bread and wine — with palms facing down. He says, “Make holy Lord these gifts we pray by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Invoking the Holy Spirit, it is significant that the priest’s hands have been anointed with Chrism Oil, which is the essential oil for the gift of the Holy Spirit through confirmation. But because Chrism Oil represents the Holy Spirit in such an essential way for the Catholic Church, the priest, whose hands have been anointed with Chrism Oil (at his ordination) holds his hands as representing the Holy Spirit over the gifts when he prays the Epiclesis.
Prayers of Consecration: The word consecration is very biblical, meaning that which is totally dedicated and even united to God. So as Our Lord spoke about His consecration, we use the word consecration to indicate the time when (Christ, acting in the person of) the priest is changing the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The consecration is said by repeating the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, and the instructions of the Missal is for the priest to bow slightly which is a sign of reverence and makes it more solemn. When the priest has said the words “This is my body” over the host, it changes and become the body of Christ. We know this as the miracle of transubstantiation.
Elevation of the Host: Because of our great faith in this miracle and its essential part in the center of our faith, the Church developed in the Middle Ages the practice of elevating the host so that people could see the Body of Christ and could adore Jesus present in Eucharist, in the sacred species of the Body of Christ. The same would be done with the chalice. The Church firmly believes that at the consecration of the chalice … the wine is changed substantially into the blood of Christ, the divine presence of Jesus. The elevation is done at the consecration so that people may pray, worship and adore the Lord Jesus.
Breaking the host: As the Lamb of God is prayed, the fraction of the host takes place. The priest will break the host, and then a small piece of the host will be placed into the chalice, the mixing of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Final blessing: The priest’s final blessing at the conclusion of Mass is given in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit because it is the priest himself who has consecrated the Eucharist. It has been seen as a great sign of blessing that this same holy action that the priest has done himself should conclude with the priest giving his own blessing to the people. When the priest gives the dismissal at Mass, there are various forms that could be given. One is to say, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Another dismissal is to say “Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your life.” With all of these, we acknowledge that our mission out in the world our mission to follow Christ as disciples, be missionary disciples … is strengthened and put in motion by the Mass. With our great belief that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, we see our mission going forth out into the world as truly being united to Jesus. It is not as if we are separated from Him when we leave the Mass.
To view the video, go to vermontcatholic.org/priest-explains-mass.
—Originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.