Jesus had just spoken of His death and the disciples were talking about who was going to be the greatest. The disciples were looking for fame, fortune and glory. The idea of being a servant was far from their minds.
Jesus came to serve, not to be served. We still have problems with the image of a suffering servant, especially if we are called to be the same. Holy Mass is the reenactment of the ultimate sacrifice of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The priest is present in the place of Christ--in persona Christi. We remember what happened at the Last Supper, when Jesus took the bread, took the cup and changed the words from the Passover meal to become what we now call Holy Mass. Through the centuries the Mass has evolved, but the roots as the same. From start to finish the Mass is a prayer of Thanksgiving, which is what Eucharist means, to the Father, through the person of Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Our prayers say, “We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.” Took years, much debate, gathering of Church officials to conclude that God is Trinity—Three Persons in One God. Therefore the first prayer after the opening Hymn is the sign of the cross—which by the way, identifies us as Christians. In order to meet in secret for the Lord’s Supper and not be killed the early Christians would make the sign of the cross and tell one another where the meeting was going to be. None-believers had no idea what was happening. So the sign of the cross started as an “Underground signal”. Took about one year of training to become a Christian. Those who were interested were called Catechumens. They were allowed to participate during the first part of the Lord’s Supper but could not partake of Holy Communion.
Some of us can remember that before 1965 the first part of the Mass was called “Mass of the Catechumens”. The second part of the Mass was called “Mass of the Faithful”. Now we have Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. Adults preparing to become Catholics are encouraged to leave Mass after the liturgy of the Word in order to study about the Faith. At this parish the Catechumens remain with us and cross there arms at the Communion line.
The Penitential Act comes immediately after the sign of the cross and perhaps an introduction. Might appear to be negative to start a celebration by remembering that we are sinners. Yet, that is what we are. The Penitential Act is directed to Jesus, which is why we say, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. Originally one of the parts that remained Greek—Kyrie, eleison. More than likely the first written texts of the Mass were in Greek, just like the Gospels and most of the New Testament. The way that we celebrate Holy Mass now looks more like what the early church was doing than the time that the priest faced the wall. Not taking anything from the Tridentine, or Extra-ordinary form of the Mass, we know from paintings on Catacombs and Jewish instructions that the celebrant faced the people gathered. Holy Mass has always been and will always be in the context of a meal. For about 500 years we kind of got stuck in a “one man show”. The priest did everything. He “said” the Mass and people went to “hear” the Mass. After Vatican II the movement has been to restore participation of all who are present. The priest continues to have a major role, but the congregation is called to sing, to pray, to respond with gestures. Some have asked, which part of Mass is more important? Isn’t the consecration the most important part? Well, compare the Mass to a love relationship. Which is the most important part? When two people greet each other with a kiss or when they sit down to eat together? One follows the other—one flows from the other. Holy Mass has to be considered in its totality.
We will never completely understand mystery. Yet some insight is healthy as we journey to the Heavenly Banquet where we hope to live with Christ forever and ever.