By Joseph Chrisman, Director for Worship
People gather together for many different reasons under many different circumstances, and almost every gathering has some sort of beginning that gives it a direction. Movies have credits. Sporting events have a coin toss. Meetings have a call to order, but the Introductory Rites of the Mass do much more than provide information or introduce the players. These rites, which include the entrance, greeting, penitential act, Kyrie, Gloria and the opening prayer, help the assembly to open their hearts in order to enter into the particular celebration. They help establish communion. And, they help us to listen more attentively to God’s word (General Instruction [GIRM], 46).
There are several options for the entrance chant, hymn, or song (see GIRM, 48). Printed in the Sacramentary are antiphons or little scripture verses for each day that correspond to the season, saint, or celebration. Just as “O Come All Ye Faithful” captures the spirit of the Christmas liturgy and draws us in to the celebration, the entrance antiphons do the same. In some places these antiphons are read during the procession, or in place of the antiphon a Psalm, hymn or song is sung. Whichever option the parish chooses, it serves as the first text of the liturgy, which focuses our attention and accompanies the procession.Processions are a very symbolic part of the Christian life and have a long and rich tradition in our faith. The Israelites journeyed through the desert – in a type of procession – to the Promised Land. When the Ark of the Covenant was brought back from the Philistines in 2 Samuel, King David led the procession into to his city. During the Middle Ages in Rome, Papal Masses would contain elaborate processions from one church to another during the same celebration. Processions, though, are not only tradition. As the ministers come forward in procession, they remind us of the pilgrim church and our own journey of faith. The ministers come forward out of the assembly – called forth from them in service to the assembly – accompanied by the entrance music.
After the ministers take their places, the priest begins Mass with the sign of the cross and greeting. In the simple gesture of the sign of the cross, we invoke our God and dedicate our prayer to him. We call to mind our faith and our baptism. We also are reminded that this celebration is the sacrifice of the cross – Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.
Next, the priest greets the people with one of these greetings which come from St. Paul’s letters: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” or “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “The Lord be with you.” The first two greetings are slightly different from the current texts in the Sacramentary, but the third text has remained unchanged. The people’s response to this greeting, though, is quite different. We will soon say, “And with your spirit.” This response is not simply “Yeah, you too,” or “Right back at ya.” This response says something very special about who we are as Christians – a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people ( 1 Peter 1:9) – and who the minister is by virtue of his ordination. It also continues the biblical dialogue begun by the minister. And finally, “And with your spirit” is a direct translation of what the Latin says: “et cum spíritu tuo.” Unlike German, French, Italian and Spanish, English was one of the few languages that did not translate this phrase literally in the 1970 Sacramentary.
Following the greeting, we begin the penitential act. In both the current Sacramentary and the new translation of the Roman Missal there are three options: A, B, and C. Some of the words to options A and B have changed, but the words to option C are the same. The penitential act gives us the opportunity to reflect briefly on our lives, acknowledge the times that we have failed to live the Christian life, and make a confession. In the penitential act we both ask for prayers and pray for one another. It is important to remember that the penitential act in Mass does not take the place of sacramental confession.
The most commonly known options are A and C. Option A is usually called “The Confiteor,” a name that comes from the first word in Latin, “Confíteor Deo….” There is a minor change to one part of this prayer. The current text says, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words….” The new text says, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault….” The Confiteor is one of only three times in the liturgy that we use “I.” This is a personal acknowledgement. I confess to my own sinfulness, I need forgiveness and I am asking for the prayers and support of the angels, saints and the community to love God with my entire being and to love my neighbor as myself.
The words of Option B have undergone almost a complete retranslation. The priest will say, “Have mercy on us, O Lord,” and we will respond, “For we have sinned against you.” Then the priest will say, “Show us, O Lord, your mercy,” and we respond, “And grant us your salvation.” The first phrase comes from Baruch 3:2 and the second part comes from Psalm 85:5.
Option C is a litany of sorts consisting of tropes and a response led by the priest, deacon, or other minister: “You were sent to heal the contrite: Lord, have mercy.” The tropes have been retranslated, but Roman Missal allows the minister to create other appropriate tropes.
The “Kyrie” or “Lord, have mercy” follows options A and B, but not option C. The Kyrie is the only remnant of Greek still present in our liturgy. Greek fell out of use in the West (Europe) during the Middle Ages, but it reappeared during the 7th and 8th centuries due to a large influx of Greek-speaking refugees fleeing the Moslem conquest of present day Turkey.
In preparing this text, the translators were not trying to recreate the Sacramentary; they were trying to build upon the experience of the last 40 years. During that time we have gained a lot of experience worshiping in our own language, and the Church wanted to take another look at the different languages from a fresh perspective. The translators were charged with translating the Latin as literal as possible while still preparing a text that makes sense, can be easily sung and correctly articulates the faith of the Church – no easy task. In this light, even though we may pray in different languages, we are all united in praying the same Mass.