The term “Mass,” used for the weekly Sunday service in Catholic churches as well as services on Holy Days of Obligation, derives its meaning from the Latin term Missa.
It was used at the end of the Liturgy when the Priest said, “Ite missa est,” which translates to “Go, the (congregation) is sent.” It was a commissioning. Today, the dismissal is similar: “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.” At the end of the Mass, the mind is filled with the Word of God, and the soul is filled with the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus in Holy Communion. Parishioners are commissioned to go and take Christ into our broken world.
In other words, cooperating with the graces received from the sacrament, the communicants, once they are dismissed, have to be the eyes, ears, and hands of Jesus in our world.
The Sacred Liturgy, or Holy Mass, is divided into two main parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The first focuses on the written and spoken Word of God, especially and in particular the readings from the Bible. Before that happens, however, there is a Penitential Rite, which is merely a public acknowledgement of guilt that we are all sinners and are all in need of God’s forgiveness. It is followed by the Gloria, which praises God. This is followed by an opening prayer, and then the scripture readings are recited aloud. Priests, deacons, or bishops alone are allowed and are obligated to preach a homily immediately after the Gospel is proclaimed by a cleric (bishop, priest, or deacon).
The second half of the Mass focuses on the Word made flesh—the consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The bread (wheat) and wine (grape) are placed on the altar of offering and the priest says the exact and precise words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: “This is my body” (over the wafers of unleavened wheat bread) and “This is the cup of my blood” (over the chalice of grape wine). The separate consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ mystically represents the separation of body and blood which occurred at Calvary when Jesus died on Good Friday. This is why Catholicism calls it the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is not a second or other sacrifice, it is the one and same sacrifice of the Cross reenacted in an unbloody fashion. Once this holiest part of the Mass is complete, the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) is prayed and Holy Communion is soon to be given to those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church. A closing prayer ends the Mass and the people are dismissed.
Biblically, the apostles were commissioned before our Lord’s ascension into paradise. Our Lord said, “Go and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This order is very much part of our spiritual lives. We have a sacred duty as disciples of the Lord to go and bring the Good News of Salvation to everyone we meet, from our homes to the workplace to the marketplace. The Holy Eucharist is what enables us to be the Lord’s present day apostles.
Also, the Mass is seen as the source and summit of Christian living. The first part of our week after Sunday celebration of Mass is to be seen as a thanksgiving for the holy gifts received. The second part of the week is the preparation for next awesome celebration of the Holy Eucharist. When our week is viewed in this way, time becomes sanctified, and Sunday becomes central.
Other names for the Mass are the Holy Eucharist, Divine Liturgy, Breaking of the Bread, the Lord’s Supper, and Holy Sacrifice. Eucharist in Greek means thanksgiving. This refers to the fact that Jesus gave thanks before He broke the bread at the Last Supper. As sacrifice, the Mass is the unbloody reenactment of Jesus’ sacrifice made at Calvary. “Lord’s Supper” refers to the night Jesus instituted this sacrament, which was the night before He died.
In fact, Holy Thursday (the day of the Last Supper), Good Friday (the day our Lord died on the Cross), and Easter Sunday (the day of our Lord’s resurrection) are all intertwined in the Mass. “Divine Liturgy” is derived from a Greek term meaning work. The work being done in the Mass is redemption brought about by our savior, and we share in the fruits of this work by our reception of Communion. “Breaking of the bread” is a term the early Church used for the Eucharistic Liturgy originating in the Gospel when our Lord met two of His disciples on the Road to Emmaus on the first Easter evening. They did not recognize Him until he was known to them in the breaking of the bread (see Luke 24:35). Luke 24:30–31 says, “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.”
What we learn from these various names is that the Mass is a sacrifice and a banquet. A holy sacrifice because it is the same sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, a sacred banquet because we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the living, and glorified Jesus. Jesus is priest and victim at every Mass (he is the one offering and the one being offered), and He uses the priesthood to perpetuate His holy sacrifice.
Through the words the priest uses at the consecration, “This is My Body…This is My Blood,” Christ is made present. Bread and wine cease to exist, and they become the Body and Blood of Christ; this doctrine is called Transubstantiation. Holy Communion is truly the substance of the Body and Blood of the Risen and Glorified Savior under the appearances of bread and wine so that we can receive Him.