WEEK ONE. The Entrance Chant
There is actually a lot more Scripture provided for each Mass than we usually hear. That's because the words provided by the Church for the chants at the beginning of Mass, at the Offertory, and at Communion are from Scripture. But we rarely hear them because in most parishes, hymns are substituted for these Scriptures, which are called the "Propers" of the Mass. It seems a shame that we should substitute hymns, which are human compositions of varying degrees of quality, for the Word of God. But that's what is generally done in most parishes. At St. Mary's we use the Propers at Sunday Mass, sometimes in conjunction with a hymn. At the UCat Mass, we use the Communion Proper. It is the chant at the beginning of Communion. I hope that you notice how it tends to echo the Gospel for the day.
The Entrance Chant in whatever form provides for the ministers to reach the sanctuary and to perform the preliminary ritual actions, like the reverencing and censing of the altar. Once the priest has come to the chair, we begin with the first prayer of the Mass: the Sign of the Cross.
WEEK TWO: What’s Up with Incense?
Leading the procession into Mass is the “thurifer” carrying the incense. Historically, incense was part of both the rituals of the Jewish temple and of the Roman court. In Jewish worship, incense represented the mysterious but real: the presence of God; the effect of prayer. For the Romans, incense indicated the presence of the divine.
Christian worship picked up on these historical roots and used incense for blessing and making holy. When anything or anyone is blessed with incense, it indicates that the person or object is being prepared for a holy function: the altar at the beginning of Mass, the book of Gospels at the Gospel, the gifts of bread and wine at the offertory, and finally the priest and people before the consecration because they are united to Christ in making the sacred offering of Himself to the Father.
WEEK THREE: The Sign of the Cross
The first prayer of the Mass is the Sign of the Cross. It is a really “neat” prayer, and one we may not even think of as a prayer since it is so routine for us. But it is a prayer! The words of this prayer made you a child of God! “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And there is even more to it: a sacred gesture. Way before anyone thought of putting hand motions to songs, the Church linked the Name of the Trinity to the salvation of the Cross. What an interesting connection! We assume it, but only because the Church has the wisdom to make the connection for us.
How to do it? Say the words and make the gesture distinctly! Sometimes we mumble the words together unintelligibly and make the gesture like we are shooing a fly away. Make sure to give each person of the Trinity His due and to cover yourself in the Cross! Pray it boldly.