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The Introductory Rites of Mass (1)

Posted by Father Joe on August 22, 2006

The following notes are derived from a thorough reading of Rev. Josef A. Jungmann, S.J.’s classic work, The Mass of the Roman Rite. Several years ago, Fr. Charles Pope used the book almost exclusively for a series of classes he gave at Mount Calvary. It may be the best text on this most important mystery of our faith.

Division of the Mass

In the revised liturgy, the names for the two principal parts of the Mass have been changed. Formerly, they were called the “Mass of the Catechumens” and the “Mass of the Faithful,” terms which reached popularity in the eleventh century and which Florus used in his De actione missarum of the ninth. Today, they are called the “Liturgy of the Word” and the “Liturgy of the Eucharist,” distinctions made clear as early as the mid-second century (Justin Martyr’s account) and maybe as far back as the late apostolic age. The use of introductory readings would create an aura of faith for the great mystery of faith which would come later. Just as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults now (optionally) recommends, the catechumens in early days would be asked to leave prior to the second part of the liturgy. Indeed, in sixth century Rome, they would be required to leave even before the Gospel.

The Church has returned to the use of petitions after the readings, or what we commonly call the Prayer of the Faithful or General Intercessions. Also, similar to the practice of early times, the Liturgy of the Word begins rather abruptly, with a few introductory prayers. In reference to a story from the year 426 AD about Saint Augustine, Rev. Jungmann writes: “But what is of real interest to us is that when the tumult had gradually died down, the bishop ,greeted the people and then without further ado began the reading of the lessons”  (Jungmann, p. 188). 

A Schema of the Introductory Rites

(1)  Introit/Entrance Antiphon & Procession

(2)  Sign of the Cross

(3)  Greeting

(4)  Penitential Rite: Confiteor & Absolution

(5)  Penitential Rite: Kyrie Eleison

(6)  Gloria

(7)  Collect (Opening Prayer)

Unity of the Introductory Rites

The opening and closing rites of the Mass provide the framework in which is sandwiched the two principal parts of the Mass, the Word and Eucharist. Our current introductory rites are actually shortened versions of the more extensive ritual of the Tridentine Missal. Although some have complained about the lack of preparation this new brevity allows, liturgists like Johannes H. Emminghaus contend, “The recent reform did not entirely eliminate the impression of accumulation, but the structure has on the whole been rendered more logical and easier to put into practice, especially when use is made of various options offered” (The Eucharist, p. 104). Obviously, penitential rites were necessarily added from very early on, and even today, these rites can help the community to focus on their liturgical prayer. 

Originally, the collect was after the first reading. However, owing perhaps to the magnetism of the introit, it shifted to its present position. Others have suggested that its roots were really in some now forgotten ceremony of assembly prior to Mass, as appeared to have been the Roman custom. This particular oration was transferred to the processional litany, which exists today in its much reduced form, the Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy). Fr. Jungmann himself admits that the oration and the Kyrie belong together (Jungmann, p. 190).

The story is told that when Leo III and Charlemagne met in the year 799 AD, the pope intoned the Gloria which was taken up by the entire clergy, whereupon the pope recited a prayer. We are forced, therefore, to conclude that Kyrie, Gloria, and oration are part of a unified plan which is patterned on an ascending scale, the oration forming the high point  (Jungmann, p. 191).


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