THE GATHERING RITE
Inside the Church
When Christ’s faithful gather inside the church, the candles are lit, the altar has been prepared by the sacristan, the choir gathers in the choir-loft and all other preparations are finalised for the celebration which is to follow. At Our Lady of Lourdes, every effort is made to create an atmosphere of peace, serenity and quiet to draw us into an experience of the presence of God. As the congregation gathers (assembles) people greet one another warmly before spending some time in quiet personal prayer in order that they may enter into the atmosphere and spirit of this holy place. As an act of consideration to those others who are already at prayer, and out of respect for the sanctity of the church, any talking or greeting is done in a whisper or in undertones. Conducting a conversation in church before Mass is not appropriate.
It is important to begin the celebration of Holy Mass in the right mood and atmosphere. This is created by:
- the welcoming environment of the church building;
- a warm welcome and friendly greeting from the ministers of hospitality, and also the parish priest and/or deacon;
- the quiet peaceful atmosphere within the church (the sacristans attempt to have the altar ready and prepared before the congregation arrives so that they are not distracted in their prayers by all the movement and preparation).
- the invitation to the gathered assembly to greet one another and to welcome those who are strangers in our midst.
We must remember that our gathering in church makes the Lord really and truly present. He promised that when two or three gather in his name, he would be there in their midst. Many of us have grown up with the idea that the only way Jesus is present is in the Blessed Sacrament. Of course he is present there in a special way, even when Mass is ended and the Eucharist is reserved in the tabernacle. But Jesus is present in other ways too, and the first if these is when the people gather in his name.
At Our Lady of Lourdes, the Sunday announcements are made before Mass begins. This practise differs from parish to parish. In most parishes announcements are made after Communion. We do this so that the sacred time after Communion is not taken up with the practicalities of the day-to-day activities of the parish.
These announcements are an important part of the gathering of the community. They serve as an opportunity to inform the assembly about current and forthcoming parish events and about what is to happen during the celebration of Mass – as there are sometimes additions to the usual liturgy. This is one of the reasons why the announcements are made before Mass at our parish. The other is to prevent the flow of the liturgy being interrupted by announcements – especially at a very special time like after Communion.
At the end of the announcements the members of the congregation are invited to greet one another and to welcome those who are visitors to our parish and our celebration. This ensures that we are able to begin Holy Mass as a family of faith. It follows then that nobody should ever feel like or be a stranger in our midst during Sunday Mass.
The Entrance Procession
The priest, deacon, altar servers, ministers of the Eucharist and ministers of the Word enter the church in solemn procession. The assembly stands as a sign of respect as the procession makes its way to the sanctuary, led by the cross. In this procession the Book of the Gospels is carried high and with dignity, because it is the book of Jesus’ Word, the book from which Jesus proclaims his Gospel.
The priest himself comes last: he will preside over the celebration of Mass. (He is also known as the presider ~ the one who presides over the assembly). He is another sign of Jesus’ presence because when he celebrates Mass, Jesus will be working through him to change the bread and wine into his Body and Blood. You may remember, from the account of St. Justin in Week 1 of this series, his reference to the presider. If you don’t, here it is again: “When the reader has finished, the President speaks, exhorting us to live by these noble teachings.” It is for this reason that the chair on which the priest (presider) sits during Mass is known as the Presidential Chair.
The entrance procession also signifies the entrance of all of us together into the liturgy. Some may be in the ritual procession, but in reality we are all in procession, all moving into our liturgy.
The procession enters the sanctuary and all genuflect in reverence before the Blessed Sacrament. The priest approaches the altar kisses it, because it is a most sacred table, the place where the sacrifice of the Mass is offered. He then proceeds to the Presidential Chair from where he introduces and presides over the first part of the Mass.