The Art of Celebration II: The Introductory Rites

In the previous mini-essay on ‘The Art of Celebration‘ the role of the Introductory Rites in gathering together those present for worship, uniting them as a single body united in common action, united in Christ.

The Entrance Chant has a key role in helping us to this unity.

But helping us to come together, and helping us to be ready to take our full part in the spiritual exercise that is the Mass, generally requires us doing more than joining, once, in song together.

The remaining elements of the Introductory Rites each have an important role too – uniting us one with each other also and progressively, helping us to be ready and able to participate in the principal actions of the Mass which follow – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Those elements include the Greeting and Sign of the Cross; the Penitential Act and Kyrie; the Gloria; and the Collect. Each has its own virtue, but all together they have something of the character of warm up exercises.

During the Mass as a whole, we are challenged and encouraged about our reception of, living by, and sharing of the Good News. We are called to repentance and renewal; we give thanks; and we recommit to our part in the Church’s mission. During Mass we have a pretty rigorous spiritual workout – at least that is what we are invited to.

The Introductory Rites are provided as a first, relatively gentle, warm-up so we do not strain muscles later, and retire injured before we have really got going.

  • The Sign of the Cross and Greeting gently reinforce our awareness of being welcome in the house of the Church, and united in our being gathered in Christ as children of God. Our sense of Communion – please God – will be amplified and enhanced as we proceed through the celebration of the Mass and in our sending out to continue as missionary disciples. But it is acknowledged here…
  • The Penitential Act does not directly confront us with our worst failings, but it does remind of and invite us to acknowledge sin, and especially turn to the Lord for a further gift of his mercy.
  • The Introductory Rites do not give us much chance to focus on the particular joys and goodness for which as individuals we will want to give thanks and glory to God, but the Gloria calls us to a more general and generic praise of God.
  • The Collect and the silence that precedes it will not perhaps be the most engaging time of prayer during the Mass, but after our first warm-ups it offers us a pause in which to gather our thoughts and prayers, and prepare for the greater spiritual workout to follow.

All of these moments help orient us to God, or re-orient us to God, help us to find ourselves again before God, and to give first expression to that proper and healthy ‘fear of God’, that is knowing God in his glory and might and mercy and consolation.

If we are wanting to fully participate in the Mass – alert to the promptings of grace occasioned by Scripture, prayer and Sacrament – we will make the most of these warm-up moments to help us to be alert and receptive. Otherwise they can become just the things we do because they are there to be done.

In the coming weeks we look at these moments in some more detail to see how we might perform them more effectively, more significantly – with benefit to ourselves and to the whole assembly.

For now I invite you to take some time to consider

  • What do you value about the introductory rites?
  • What difference does it make to you when the Introductory Rites (or at least some of them) are omitted at Sunday Mass – for example when replaced by the rite of Acceptance of candidates into the Order of the Catechumenate, or the introductory welcome of infants for baptism
  • What strikes you about the omission of the Gloria during Advent and Lent? And its restoration during Christmas and Easter?
  • The Missal provides musical settings for all of the elements of the Introductory Rites. Why do you think this is?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.

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