Through a series of informational articles, we will try to explain terms, prayers, and actions that happen at Mass and why they happen. You will learn about the prayers the priest prays silently during Mass, as well as the people’s parts. References to GIRM in italics refer to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the book from which rites related to the Mass are codified. We hope this information will help to make your participation in Mass more meaningful and understandable.
GIRM 53. The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other. It is intoned by the Priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by everybody together or by two choirs responding one to the other. It is sung or said on Sundays outside Advent and Lent, and also on Solemnities and Feasts, and at particular celebrations of a more solemn character.
Gloria – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will” (Luke 2:14) is an ancient hymn of praise, echoing the song of the angels at Bethlehem proclaiming Jesus’ birth. Having asked for God’s forgiveness, now we praise Him for His goodness. We can think of this as being meant to cheer us up in case we get down about our sins. The Gloria is omitted during Advent as a reminder we are waiting for Jesus to come, so we hold off doing anything joyful until His birth; and it is also omitted during Lent because we are suffering with Christ for our sins until the joy of His resurrection.
The text elaborates on this message of the angels, recognizing the goodness and mercy of the Lord God through his Son, Jesus Christ. This prayer dates back to the sixth century and began to be used only at Masses when a bishop was the celebrant, and then only on solemn feasts. However, the beauty of this prayer captivated the priests and faithful. Slowly, permission was granted for priests to use it, but at first only for Easter. By the 12th century, the Glory to God reached its current level of use within the Mass. Today, the Glory to God is sung or said at all Sunday Masses, solemnities, and feasts except during the seasons of Advent and Lent. Whether sung or said, this prayer is one of praise, and our voices should be lifted in praise as we say it!
GIRM 54. Next the Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds expression. By an ancient tradition of the Church, the Collect prayer is usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and is concluded with a Trinitarian ending, or longer ending, in the following manner: The people, joining in this petition, make the prayer their own by means of the acclamation Amen.
Collect, also known as the Opening Prayer, wraps up the Introductory Rites. The theme of the prayer is based on the readings. We respond “Amen” which is Hebrew for “so be it.” This opening prayer takes all of our individual needs and focuses them, collects them into a common purpose for celebrating that day’s Mass. The collect always follows the same pattern – YOU, WHO, DO, THROUGH.
YOU: Naming God the Father, to whom the prayer is always addressed;
WHO: naming the goodness that God has done for us;
DO: naming our petition to God, asking our needs for that day;
THROUGH: asking our petition through Jesus Christ in union with the Holy Spirit.
While the priest is the one saying the prayer, the prayer belongs to all of us – note the introduction is “Let us pray,” not “let me pray.” After this introduction, there is a period of silence to help us to focus and recognize Christ’s presence, through whom we address our needs to the Father. Listen carefully to the words of the opening prayer when you’re at Mass, and pray for that common intention for which all of us should pray on that day.