Explanation of the Mass - Liturgy of the Eucharist (Part 1)

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 72. At the Last Supper Christ instituted the Paschal Sacrifice and banquet, by which the Sacrifice of the Cross is continuously made present in the Church whenever the Priest, representing Christ the Lord, carries out what the Lord himself did and handed over to his disciples to be done in his memory.  For Christ took the bread and the chalice, gave thanks, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat and drink: this is my Body; this is the chalice of my Blood. Do this in memory of me. Hence, the Church has arranged the entire celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist in parts corresponding to precisely these words and actions of Christ, namely:

a)    At the Preparation of the Gifts, bread and wine with water are brought to the altar, the same elements, that is to say, which Christ took into his hands.

b)    In the Eucharistic Prayer, thanks are given to God for the whole work of salvation, and the offerings become the Body and Blood of Christ.

c)    Through the fraction and through Communion, the faithful, though many, receive from the one bread the Lord’s Body and from the one chalice the Lord’s Blood in the same way that the Apostles received them from the hands of Christ himself.

The priest acts in persona Christi, meaning that by virtue of his ordination he is acting in the person of Christ as he celebrates the Mass.  He says the same words that Jesus used at the Last Supper to change the ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Instead of looking at the priest, imagine that it is Jesus praying over the gifts.  In effect, the priest is lending Jesus his body so that this miracle can take place and we can share in the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist.

GIRM 73. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist the gifts which will become Christ’s Body and Blood are brought to the altar.  First of all, the altar or Lord’s table, which is the center of the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist, is made ready when on it are placed the corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice (unless this last is prepared at the credence table).  The offerings are then brought forward. It is a praiseworthy practice for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. They are then accepted at an appropriate place by the Priest or the Deacon to be carried to the altar. Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as was once the case, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings still keeps its spiritual efficacy and significance.  Even money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, are acceptable; given their purpose, they are to be put in a suitable place away from the Eucharistic table.

GIRM 74. The procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the Offertory Chant, which continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar.

Presentation and Preparation of Gifts.  Gifts of bread and wine, representing that which Jesus used at the Last Supper, are brought up to the altar.  In the early days of the Church, people brought the best of their crops to be offered to God – the “fruit of the earth and work of human hands.”  We have substituted those gifts with a monetary donation.  That is why the bread, wine, and monetary donations are all brought to the altar at this time.  These gifts represent our lives and we place all family and friends on the altar, along with the bread and wine, and offer them to God.  All of you are on the altar – we offer ourselves to Jesus because we want to be changed and transformed – when you don’t come to Mass, you can’t place yourself or your loved ones there.  “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”  (Romans 12:1)

GIRM 75. The bread and wine are placed on the altar by the Priest to the accompaniment of the prescribed formulas; the Priest may incense the gifts placed on the altar and then incense the cross and the altar itself, so as to signify the Church’s offering and prayer rising like incense in the sight of God. Next, the Priest, because of his sacred ministry, and the people, by reason of their baptismal dignity, may be incensed by the Deacon or by another minister.

When the priest accepts those gifts of the people, he recites an ancient Jewish prayer, “Berakah,” Hebrew for “blessing.”  The priest takes the paten with the bread and holds it slightly raised and says:

“Blessed are you, Lord God of all Creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you:  fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”  The priest may pray this quietly while the offertory hymn is being sung, but if he prays it aloud during silence in the Church, the people respond:  “Blessed be God forever.”

The priest (or deacon if present) then pours wine and a little water into the chalice and prays quietly:  “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Then the priest takes the chalice and raises it slightly while praying, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you:  fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”  Again, if this is prayed aloud, then the people respond, “Blessed be God forever.”

The priest bows profoundly (from the waist) and prays quietly:  “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.”

In special circumstances, incense may be used to incense the offerings, the cross and the altar.  The deacon or a suitable minister may also incense the priest and the people.