Explanation of the Mass - Preparations Before Mass Begins

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.


Prior to the beginning of Mass, certain things must be done to prepare to celebrate the sacred Liturgy.  Please refer back to our definition pages if necessary. 

GIRM 117.  The altar is to be covered with at least one white cloth.  In addition, on or next to the altar are to be placed candlesticks with lighted candles: at least two in any celebration, or even four or six, especially for a Sunday Mass or a Holyday of Obligation, or if the Diocesan Bishop celebrates, then seven candlesticks with lighted candles.  Likewise, on the altar or close to it, there is to be a cross adorned with a figure of Christ crucified.  The candles and the cross with the figure of Christ crucified may also be carried in the procession at the Entrance.  On the altar itself may be placed a Book of the Gospels distinct from the book of other readings, unless it is carried in the Entrance Procession.

GIRM 118.  Likewise these should be prepared:

a)  next to the Priest’s chair: the Missal and, if appropriate, a hymnal;

b)  at the ambo: the Lectionary;

c)  on the credence table: the chalice, corporal, purificator, and, if appropriate, the pall; the paten and, if needed, ciboria; bread for the Communion of the Priest who presides, the Deacon, the ministers, and the people; cruets containing the wine and the water, unless all of these are presented by the faithful in the procession at the Offertory; the vessel of water to be blessed, if the sprinkling of holy water takes place; the Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful; and whatever is needed for the washing of hands.

The priest, deacon (if any), and altar servers then vest in the Sacristy.  All three wear an alb.  The altar servers may use a cincture.  The priest and deacon then put on a stole, although the style is different for the priest and the deacon.  Finally, the priest dons the chasuble and the deacon may put on the dalmatic.  The stole, chasuble, and dalmatic reflect the color of the liturgical season.

The altar servers may light certain candles if they are not used in procession.  The Paschal Candle is lit during the Easter season and for special occasions and celebration of sacraments throughout the rest of the year. 

Next  it’s time to begin the celebration of the Mass