Catholic Truth Society Postal Course #17: How To Follow Mass, by Father Herbert C Fincham

How to Follow MassIn chapter 8 we studied the essential nature of the great sacrifice of the New Law, the Holy Eucharist, and it was pointed out that the only absolutely essential requirement for taking our part in this perfect act of worship is to know what the Action really means. Hence it is enough to unite ourselves to the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, in offering Himself as the Victim of the sacrifice to the glory of Almighty God. By so doing we must become, with Him, the Victim, and all our worship, thanksgiving, supplication become His, an act of perfect, infinite glory to God. “All honour and glory.”

Holy Mass Can Be Followed By All

Having realized this union, the Holy Mass may be well attended by meditating on the Passion of Christ or other Mysteries of His life as suggested in the Holy Rosary, or by using any other suitable prayers. One of the great benefits of the Sacred Sacrifice is that it can thus be shared in perfectly by both the literate and illiterate, each in a way most suitable and helpful to his intelligence. For many centuries the vast majority of the faithful could not read and so there could not be any use for missals with translations of the Latin text. In our more literate days the use of such an English missal is undoubtedly the best way to follow the Mass, and we must now study in more detail the actual order and differing parts of the age-old liturgy of the Church. Until it is mastered it is liable to prove a distraction rather than a help, turning over the pages and searching through the book. Hence at first it is best to follow only the unvarying prayers, which are called the Ordinary of the Mass, and are to be found in most Catholic prayer-books as well as in the missal. The Mass is divided into two main parts: first up to the Offertory, the Mass of the Catechumens; secondly from the Offertory to the end, the Mass of the Faithful. They are so named because in the early Church the Catechumens (unbaptized converts) were not allowed to remain for the “Mystery”, but were dismissed by the Deacon at the end of the Gospel or Creed with the words, Ite missa est. From this they came to call the Mystery the missa, from which our word Mass is derived. The reason for their exclusion was lest the Mystery should become known to pagans and be subjected to ridicule and profanity.

Mass Of The Catechumens

The first part, the Mass of the Catechumens, is an office of preparation for the real offering of sacrifice and consists of prayers, canticles and readings from the scriptures. Most of these vary for each Mass and must be look^ for in what is called the Proper of the Season and the Proper of Feasts. The prayers at the foot of the altar and going up to the altar do not vary and are in the Ordinary, together with the Kyrie eleison (Greek for “Lord have mercy on us”), Gloria, Munda and Credo. There are, as well as these few Greek words and the Latin, a few Hebrew words used in the Mass, such as Amen, Alleluia, etc., thus preserving the three languages used on the inscription which was fix^ to the Cross of Christ (John 19:19-20). The Gloria is omitted in Advent, Lent and in other Masses when purple or black vestments are used, and in some votive Masses. The Credo is said on all Sundays and most big feasts. In England the congregation stand for the Creed, and everywhere all stand for the Gospel. This latter is preceded by making the Sign of the Cross on the forehead, lips and heart. (Whenever there is a cross in the text of the missal it indicates that the Sign of the Cross is made).

The Proper Of The Mass

The Proper of the Mass will be found under the appropriate day, and consists of the rest of the Mass of the Catechumens and four short variations in the Mass of the Faithful, i.e. the Offertory, Secret, Communion and Post-communion. Provided one has discovered what Mass the priest is saying, it should not take very much practice to discover where to insert these varying parts. The chief difficulty is that the Proper of Seasons runs concurrently with the Proper of Feasts and the Mass may be the one for the Season with Commemorations of the feast or feasts; or the Mass of the feast with commemoration of the season; not to mention the frequent addition of other prayers. By commemoration is meant that the Prayer, Secret and Post-communion of the commemorated Mass are inserted after those for the Mass which is being said.

The Colours Of The Vestments

The only way to solve the problem is to use a Church Calendar or observe the weekly notice on the church porch, which will usually be a safe guide, at least for Sundays. On other days one can usually tell by the colour of the vestments. Thus Green will always be the Mass of the season; purple nearly always the Mass of the season; red is used for Pentecost, feasts of Martyrs and those which commemorate Christ’s Cross and Precious Blood; white are for joyful seasons and most feasts; pink for mid-Advent and mid-Lent Sundays; black for the dead.

The Mass Of The Faithful

The Mass of the Faithful starts with the Offertory. Originally this was the time for the faithful to bring up their gifts to the altar and these were all offered to God as symbols of their offering of themselves in the Sacrifice with Christ. This offertory of the people is still signified by the Mass stipend and the collection, hence this stipend and what is put in the plate represents the offering of the giver to God and is not a mere alms given in charity to an importunate beggar! During the Offertory the priest prepares and offers to God the bread and wine for the sacrifice, using most beautiful and appropriate prayers which are concluded by the Secret from the Proper and the Preface, which has slight variations but is found in the Ordinary.

The Preface

As long as we remember that the Mass is a reality and not mere play-acting, there can be no harm in using our imagination to dramatize the Sacred Action. In fact from this point until the Pater Noster it is a real help to build up a kind of pageant or oratorio in harmony with the prayers we are reading.

The Sanctus and Canon

Before our eyes we have the altar and the priest singing or saying that glorious hymn of thanksgiving and praise when suddenly he drops his voice and the bell is sounded while he says, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, the song of the angels before the throne of God (Isaiah 6:3. Apocalypse 4:8). Behold then the entry of the Angel Choir high above our altar. Silently the priest starts the Canon, which means the “rules”, or fixed part, of the Mass. Looking up to heaven he says, “Wherefore, Most Merciful Father…” Here is the object and aim of all our Action: the Father, whom we picture high above the altar in the centre, looking down in merciful love upon us and our Sacrifice. The prayer goes on to recall that it is truly our action, for the whole Church is united in it. Behind the priest on the left let us picture the Pope, whose name is mentioned at the letter N. The name of the Bishop of the diocese is also inserted and we can think of him as standing on the right. Then the priest remembers all the living, above all, those present, and so we can glance at those around us and add to them in our mental picture all we wish to pray for and all the faithful in the whole world, in a great uncountable multitude spreading out around the church, far and wide beyond the horizon.

Now the priest turns back again from earth to heaven: “Having communion with and venerating the memory…of the glorious Mary…” The Church triumphant must take their place with us in our Sacred Drama. Below the Father in the centre above the altar, we place Mary, our Queen, and each side of her the saints named in this prayer, while crowding in upon the scene we picture the whole army of God’s saints. This prayer, Communicantes with the next, Hanc igitur, has slight variations on the biggest feasts, which are to be found in the Ordinary of the missal.

The Consecration

Now all is prepared for the climax of our Sacrifice, the entry of the Great High-Priest and All-Holy Victim Himself. A single bell warns us to prepare while the priest signifies again our oneness with Christ the Victim, by extending his hands over the oblation, and says two short prayers of immediate preparation. Then in solemn silence he recalls in detail all that Jesus did at the Last Supper and, using the awe-inspiring power dehvered to him from Christ through the apostles, he says slowly in Christ’s own person, “This is My Body”. With three rings of the bell we are called upon to adore our Saviour truly present on the altar. Here is the Great High Priest, but His sacrifice, as Victim, must be shown forth in mystic separation of His Sacred Blood, so in the same manner the priest proceeds to the consecration of the chalice and again three bells call forth our adoration.

Now all is complete for our Sacrifice, the ofiering of the Mystical Body of Christ to our Father in heaven. The priest recalls in the next prayer the fact that it is the same sacrifice as that of the Cross, though now the “Holy Victim” is risen and ascended into heaven. In the next prayer are recalled the sacrifices of the Old Testament and we can invite, as it were, the saints of the Old Dispensation to take their place near our altar, but it is not their sacrifice in the way it is ours, and so they could not enter until after the climax of the Consecration. In like manner the Holy Souls have no power to merit by actual participation in the Holy Eucharist but must depend on our intercession for them. So we recall them in the Memento of the dead and think of them as in the Apolcalypse, “under the altar” (6:9).

The Mass Is The Perfect Act Of Worship

Overwhelmed, as it were, by a sudden realization of his unworthiness to be in such company, the priest strikes his breast murmuring, “For ourselves too, sinners but Thy Servants”, and prays for a place among the saints. Then taking the Sacred Host and chalice, he lifts them a little above the altar and declares the first and most wonderful purpose of all our Sacred Action to render infinite glory to God with Christ: “Through Him, with Him and in Him, is to Thee, God the Father Almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and worship.”

The Pater Noster And Communion

Then aloud follows the perfect prayer taught by Jesus Christ Himself: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name…” While the priest breaks the Host at the Fraction, he silently enlarges on the last petition of the Our Father, “Deliver us from evil”, ending his prayer aloud with the supplication for peace. He then drops a small portion of the Sacred Host into the chalice and continues aloud, “Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world…” {three times). Bowing over the altar he makes his own preparation for Holy Communion in silence, again ending aloud with a declaration of his unworthiness, “Lord, I am not worthy…” repeated three times while the bell is rung. This bell warns all who wish to receive Holy Communion to go up to the altar rails. The priest reverently consumes the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.

The people wait until the priest comes down with the ciborium, containing the small Hosts, to give them Holy Communion. A gold plate is passed from one to another and must be held under the chin while the priest is giving Holy Communion, to catch any specks of Host that might fall. If others are waiting, do not remain too long at the altar rails but make way for them. Finally the priest returns to the altar, cleanses and dries the chalice and arranges it neatly in the middle. Then at the Epistle side he reads the Communion and Post-communion. These are variable parts. This is followed by the Dismissal, Blessing, Last Gospel (which is usually the first fourteen verses of Saint John but may be the Gospel of a commemorated Mass) and finally, as a rule, the English prayers.

MLA Citation

  • Father Herbert C Fincham. “How We Are Saved”. The Catholic Postal Course, 1951. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 April 2016. Web. 26 October 2016. <>