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Posted June 23, 2010

The Mass: A Guided Tour
Author: Thomas Richstatter
St. Anthony Messenger Press. Cincinnati, OH., 2009. Pp. 129

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The Mass is a central mystery of our Catholic faith, but that does not mean that everything about it has to be mysterious. In this book, Father Thomas Richstatter uses simple, easy-to-understand language to explore and explain the Mass. The result is a guide to what the Mass means to our Catholic faith and how its different elements ó the Introductory and Concluding Rites and Liturgies of the Word and the Eucharist ó invite us to experience that faith more deeply and express it more fully.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Part One: Setting the Table

The three key actions of this part of the Eucharist are 1. Bringing the bread and wine from the assembly, 2. Placing them on the altar (table), and 3. Praying over the gifts of bread and wine.

Double Process

Early church writers delighted in explaining the mysterious exchange of gifts that takes place at this point of the Mass. We come forward in procession to give our bread and wine to God. God takes our gifts and transforms them into the Divine Gift, the Body and Blood of Christ. And then we come forward in a second procession, the Communion procession, to receive Godís gift. One procession to give a gift; one to receive a gift. Frequently the prayers of the Eucharist refer to this holy exchange of gifts.

The priest receives the bread and wine and sets the table for the Lordís Supper. The mixing of water in the wine and the washing of hands are actions which Jews perform at every ritual meal and actions which Jesus, no doubt, performed at the Last Supper. These rituals should remind us of the meal dimension of the Eucharist, but I believe that this historical, cultural reference is not evident to many Catholics.

Money Offerings

In the days before money became the ordinary means of exchange, the procession to bring forward the bread and wine to set the table for the Lordís Supper was also the occasion when people brought forward food and drink, or oil or and other items to sustain the church ministers, the poor and the imprisoned.

Today, this procession is the time when we give our monetary offerings. In sharing the fruits of our labor, we participate in the mission of the church to announce the Good News that we have been saved by the cross of Christ, and to fulfill the Lordís command to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty.

This offering of our gifts and the gesture of the priest lifting up the bread and wine are the reasons we formerly called this part of the Mass the Offertory. As we will see when we visit part two of Meal Sharing, our principal offering takes place during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Secondary Rite?

Whatís the big deal about setting the table? Well, maybe setting the table isnít such a big deal Ė it certainly isnít the main action of the Mass. But, here again, a lot depends on your experience. When I was a child at home with Mom and Dad, we usually ate in the kitchen. We used the same dishes at each meal ó the glasses were originally peanut butter jars. Mom took the food from the stove and put it on the table. When I left home and entered the seminary, my meal experiences were not much more impressive in this regard ó institutional food served to two hundred teenage boys doesnít tend toward elegant dining.

But when I was a graduate student in Paris, the friars there had a different understanding of meal sharing. I remember the first holiday when our entree was some sort of bird ó I donít remember if it was pheasant or turkey or just what bird it was ó but I do remember that the friar chef brought it from the kitchen on a large platter, held high above his head. He arrived at the table and presented the bird ó garnished with feathers! ó and all the friars expressed their delight and awe. This changed my ideas about setting the table. Today I am much more aware of what a beautifully prepared table can add to a meal. And any good coo knows that it is not just the food but also its presentation that is important. Even if the preparation of the gifts or setting the table at the Eucharist is a secondary rite it is important in its own way.

Table of Contents:

Part One: Four mysteries

1. Christmas

2. Holy Thursday

3. Good Friday

4. Easter Sunday

Part Two: A Symphony in Four Movements

5. Gathering

6. Storytelling

7. Meal sharing

8. Commissioning

Conclusion: Returning Home