So the bell has rung and the congregation stands at attention because of the importance and seriousness of what we have been preparing to do by arriving early and praying over the scriptures to be proclaimed. It is not an individual who stands but a group of believers. Private prayer is usually done alone in the ‘inner room’ of the soul that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount (Mathew 5-7); but Liturgy is the Public Prayer of the People of God and as such has a celebrant designated by the Church (Priest) and a clearly stated format to be followed carefully. These special instructions are called ‘rubrics’ and are found in the Roman Missal that the priest prays from. By the way, the word ‘rubrics’ comes from the Latin word meaning ‘red’ and is used because, in the text of the Missal, they are indeed written in red ink!
As the Celebrant of the Liturgy processes with the liturgical ministers (Lector, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, and the Servers), the whole congregation sings the opening hymn.
At this point we confront the problem that Catholic congregations have regarding singing. While Protestant congregations sing out with great abandon, filling the Church with a vibrant faith, many Catholics will not even open the hymnal or missalette to look at the words. One of the most common excuses is that the hymns at Mass are not pleasant (or for some, unnecessary) interludes to be listened to. There are, however, some people who are shy of singing or feel they have no voice, but many just don’t want to join in; but since it is the first prayer of the people of God, to not even open the book or pamphlet to pray the words as the congregation sings is to refuse to join the prayer of the people.
Like the people who hug the back wall of the church even when there are available places to sit, the lack of participation in even reading internally the words of the hymns is a passive-aggressive statement of non-involvement in the Liturgy; it is simply a refusal. After the Second Vatican Council, non-participation, or simply observing the Liturgy, is not an option. We are not called to the Divine Liturgy as passive observers.
So the Celebrant and the ministers arrive at the Sanctuary of the Church and bow to the Altar. The Priest then ascends the steps of the Altar and kisses it as a sign of reverence. The Altar symbolizes two realities: the Table of the Last Supper and the Altar at which sacrifices are offered. Depending on the past ethnic culture, the sacrifices could be agricultural (wine being poured out on the Altar as a libation), animal (as when a lamb is slain), or human (Hebrew culture, after the halting of the sacrifice of Isaac, has consistently forbidden this—even though Jesus, considered as the Lamb of God, will be sacrificed in an un-bloody way on the Calvary of the Altar being kissed!)
When the Celebrant arrives at the Presidential Chair, he makes the Sign of the Cross with the congregation and he greets the people. He then invites the people to seek purification in anticipation of the awesome reality that will follow. This humble admission of sin and request for forgiveness actually does forgive any venial sins that were committed since the last Divine Liturgy. Mortal sins, however, can only be forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession. Once the reconciliation at this part of the Mass is completed, often the hymn of praise is either said or sung: the Gloria. When that is completed, the opening prayer is said or chanted. The priest begins with the powerful words “Let us pray”. This should be followed by a period of silence during which each member of the congregation silently says a personal prayer to the Father asking for the grace of sincere participation in what follows. Then the priest audibly ‘collects’ the prayers of the congregation through the Opening Prayer of the Mass (often entitled the ‘Collect’) that encapsulates the theme of the Liturgy (either a truth of the Faith e.g. reconciliation, or a canonized saint that gives us an example of how to live our lives).
Once all this preparation is completed, the assembly sits to listen to the Word of God. This part of the Mass is called “the Liturgy of the Word” and it centers on the Pulpit or Ambo where the lector now approaches to proclaim (not read!) the Word of God.
Suggested Resolution: When the leader of song announces the hymn number, I will pick up the missalette and turn to the hymn so as to follow the words, if not to actually sing the hymn itself.