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Structure of the Latin Mass

Below is a description of the Mass with instructions for the posutures of the faithful.  These instructions are only for High Mass.  If you wish to go more in depth consider reading the full text of the Mass.  If you wish to follow along with a booklet, one can be purchased here.  If you would like to follow the propers of the Mass you can purchase a daily missal.  Printable guides on when to sit, stand, and kneel can be found here: Low Mass; High Mass.


The Asperges -  is a ritual purification of the altar and congregation with Holy Water.  This ritual precedes the principal Mass on Sundays, and it takes its name from Psalm 51 (“You shall sprinkle me…”), which is sung during the rite.  During Easter the text Vidi Aquam (“I saw water…”) from Ezekiel 47:1 is sung.


The Introit is an excerpt from a psalm which is sung at the beginning of the Mass


The Kyrie is the prayer “Lord have mercy.”  This Greek text, coming from the earliest days of the Church when Greek was the common language of worship among Christians, is the only text of the Mass that is not spoken in Latin. In the Extraordinary Form, the Kyrie is nine-fold - three Kyries for the Father, three Christes for the Son, and three Kyries for the Holy Spirit. 


The Gloria is an ancient Christian hymn inspired by the angels’ song as they announced the birth of the Christ Child at Bethlehem to the shepherds. It is sung on Sundays (outside of Advent, Septuagesima, and Lent) and on certain feasts.


The Collect is the first of three major prayers of the Mass that change based on the liturgical season, feast day, or the like. In this prayer, the priest recalls the work of God in salvation history and, on behalf of the whole assembly of believers, beseeches Him to come to our aid in a particular way. The Collect has its own unique form and poetic structure. 


The Epistle/Lesson is the first reading of the Mass. Usually taken from one of the letters (epistles) of St. Paul, this reading may also be taken from another book of the New or Old Testaments.


The Gradual, Tract, and Alleluia are readings from scripture that are chanted to assist the faithful in meditating on the meaning of the Epistle/Lesson and preparing them for the proclamation of the Gospel.


The Gospel is chanted from the left side of the altar.  Presuming that the altar is “liturgical east” the left side of the altar is therefore “liturgical north.”  The Gospel is proclaimed with the priest facing away from the altar, as if proclaiming the Gospel in the direction of the pagans who lived to the north of the medieval Church.


The Creed, the summary and synthesis of the Christian faith as handed down from the First Council of Nicea (AD 325) and clarified by subsequent Councils,  is sung on Sundays and certain feasts. All genuflect and reverence at the awe-filled mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation when it is recalled in the Creed.


The Offertory chant and prayers of the priest anticipate the Sacrifice of the Mass which reaches its high point in the Canon, asking the Lord to receive our humble worship in union with the saving sacrifice of His Son to bring salvation to to us and to the whole world. 


Another Incensation then occurs, the fundamental purpose of which is perhaps best summarized by one of the prayers the priest prayers while incensing the Offerings which, reflecting on the nature of smoke both to rise and cover an area, reads:


May this incense, blessed by thee,

Ascend to thee, O Lord,

And my Thy mercy come down upon us


The Secret (or Prayer over the Offerings in many ancient texts) is the most ancient part of the offertory ritual

The Preface is an introductory part of the central prayer of the Mass, the Canon. The changeable preface - which differs based on liturgical seasons and feast days - is one of unique features of the Latin Rite. 


The Sanctus is sung to mark our entrance into the most sacred moment of the Mass. it consists of two scripture verses. The first part, properly the Sanctus, is the hymn sung by the seraphim they ceaselessly adore the Most Holy God with veiled faces (Isaiah 6:3). The second part, the Benedictus, from Psalm 118, was sung by the crowds as Our Savior entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:19). 


The Canon, meaning “rule” or “established order,” is the central prayer of the Mass. It is so named because it is the unique text of thanksgiving and offering that the Roman Rite uses to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice that never changes from one Mass to the next. 


The Pater Noster (Our Father) is the prayer that Our Lord taught his disciples to pray. It is sung by the priest. 


The Agnus Dei is an ancient liturgical prayer pleading for mercy and peace and addressing our Lord with the title given to us by St. John the Baptist: the Lamb of God, which refers to his role as the sacrificial lamb who is offered to the Father to inaugurate the New Covenant in his blood, as the Passover lambs of old inaugurated the Old Covenant. 


Holy Communion is the greatest gift that man can receive and so should be received with the proper disposition. Catholics who are in the state of grace may present themselves for Holy Communion. In the Traditional Latin Mass communicants kneel at the altar rail and receive Holy Communion on the tongue. They do not say “Amen.”  To better prepare oneself for Holy Communion consider praying one or more Prayers before Holy Communion. 


The Postcommunion Prayer is, in a sense, the closing prayer of the Mass in the same way that the Collect is the opening prayer. The first century document the Didache prescribes such a prayer. 


For the Dismissal the priest chants “Ite Missa est” (Go the Mass is ended) and the people respond “Deo Gratias” (Thanks be to God).


The Blessing is then given by the priest to the faithful, who kneel to receive it.


The Last Gospel refers to the prologue of the Gospel according to St. John which is read at the end of every Mass so that the priest and people may end their celebrating by meditating upon the great mystery they have just received. All genuflect at the phrase “Verbum caro factum est” (and the Word became flesh) to express reverence and gratitude for the Incarnation of our Lord. 

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