The Mass is the most beautiful act of worship of Almighty God and a precious treasure of our Catholic Church. To fully appreciate the Mass, one has to understand its historical development. First, the root of the Mass is the Last Supper, a Passover meal. Here our Lord and the apostles read the Sacred Scriptures, and then for the first time He took bread and wine, pronounced the words of consecration, and gave His Body and Blood to them. The action of this first Mass must be understood in the whole context of our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection. Since that time, the Church has offered the Mass, which participates in the ever present, everlasting reality of the Last Supper and the passion, death, and resurrection.
The Mass has evolved over time, but the essential elements and structure have not. Three of the best references describing the Mass of the early Church are the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) (c. 80), St. Justin the Martyr’s First Apology (c. 155), and St. Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition (c. 215). These references attest to the living tradition of the Mass. The form of the Mass we have today was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969.
The Order of the Mass comprises four major parts: The Introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and The Concluding Rites. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist “are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #56). Moreover, “the Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the Sacred Liturgy, to partake of the Bread of Life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, #21). The Mass flows as one sacred action.
In all, our Church has a beautiful and precious treasure in the Mass. None of us must ever take the Mass for granted or become lukewarm toward it. Moreover, priests should offer the Mass reverently and joyfully. The Second Vatican Council reminded the laity in particular of their role: “The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s Word, and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body. They should give thanks to God. Offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves. Through Christ, the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and each other, so that finally God may be all in all” (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 48).
(Source: Catholic Straight Answers)
Read more in the “Why Do We Do That?” series from Deacon Mike Fritz.