The Catholic Mass is the traditional service attended by worshipers in Catholicism and is considered their primary gathering. It is most often celebrated on Sundays, but some notable exceptions are the Saturday night vigil and weekday masses.
Additional Masses are also celebrated on Catholic holy days. The Mass takes place in the most common language in the region where it is located and is composed of ceremonies, psalms, and prayers.
The Mass celebrates the Eucharist or the Sacrament of Eucharist, and it consists of two parts: the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Word. The Liturgy of the Word is first to take place during the Mass, and it contains a Gospel reading, two Scripture readings, prayers, and psalms.
During the second part of the Mass, the priest prepares the gifts on the altar in what is traditionally called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. He breaks the bread and administers the sacred communion to the church members. The priest concludes the Mass with prayers and psalms after the Eucharist.
Two types of Mass
In the Catholic Church, there are two types of Mass: Low Mass or Missa Privata and High Mass or Missa Solemnis. In Low Mass, the priest reads the prayers, in the traditional dialogue. In the High Mass, however, the priest sings the gospel and the majority of the prayers, save for a few that occur during the Eucharistic ceremony.
High Mass is the longer form of the Mass and consists of more rituals. Another particularity of the High Mass is that many parts are sung instead of just read. Among the rituals used during the High Mass is the use of incense. The sub-deacon and deacon, together with the priest sing many psalms and prayers during High Mass. On Maundy Thursday, the High Mass is the only one celebrated at an early hour. The ceremony called the Absolutions frequently follows the High Mass of the Dead.
The significance of the High Mass
The High Mass is always longer and fancier than a Low Mass. The congregation can participate in the High Mass, as most of its parts are sung. The High Mass is celebrated on Sundays and on holidays such as Easter or Christmas when people have more time to devote to worship.
The Low Mass is celebrated for everyday occasions when the priest reads most of the parts. There is less participation from the worshipers in the Low Mass, as there is no singing. The simpler and shorter Mass can be celebrated daily, during the early mornings during the week.
The worshipers recite some of the prayers together with the priest during the High Mass. However, the chorus and the priest sing most of the High Mass’ parts. The sung prayers are often accompanied by organs. Usually, the High Mass lasts around an hour. However, it can be even longer, between one-and-a-half and two hours depending on the occasion.
During the High Mass, the same prayers are used as the Low Mass. However, this more special Mass has beautified additionally with melodies, psalms, and chants. The whole church can participate in singing these songs, psalms, and melodies.
It is customary in some churches for the priest to bless the congregation with holy water before Mass begins. This ceremony is called the Asperges, taking its name directly from Latin. At the blessing, the first prayer is sung. The Asperges is meant to express the idea of the Mass’ prayer.
As the altar servers, Ministers, and Celebrant enter the church preparing for Mass; the choir sings the Introit, a prayer that contains a portion of one of the Psalms with Antiphon and Gloria. At the English Hymnal’s end can be found the Introits for great feasts and Sundays. Sometimes, this anthem is replaced by singing a hymn.
At the High Mass, the Ministers and Celebrant use incense to bless the altar. This ceremony has the twofold significance. On one side, it symbolizes the ascent of the prayer for mercy and on the other hand is symbolizes waiting for the coming of the Christ King.
On greater feast days and all Sundays, the choir is singing the Creed. The Ministers say the Creed at the altar and go to sit until the singing is done. Typically, the Creed is followed by a sermon and notices.
Here is a recording of a High mass: