Guidelines For Preparing A Mass


People often ask me to check the “program” they have prepared for a Mass to be held with a group to mark some special occasion, such as an anniversary celebration or annual conference. There is a common trend with these liturgies which causes me great concern: readings and prayers which are totally unrelated to the Church’s liturgical calendar; hymns slotted in at the beginning, end and middle but no thought given to singing psalms or acclamations; all sorts of objects being placed on the altar and/or brought up with the bread and wine at the Procession of Gifts.
There are some basic principles to be kept in mind when preparing a liturgical celebration. They are not restrictive liturgical “rules” to be followed, but guidelines to help in preparing prayerful worship.
· Check the Church’s calendar for the day of the celebration.
We belong to a universal, liturgical Church; we celebrate feasts and seasons over the cycle of the liturgical year in unison with Catholics Christians around the world. Appropriate scriptural texts and prayers, frequently from venerable sources and with a very long tradition, have been selected by the Church for use in the liturgy each day. To reject these in favour of personal preferences or because “they don’t suit the theme of the gathering” shows a lack of understanding of the nature and purpose of liturgy.
Following this first principle simply involves looking up the date of the planned celebration in the Ordo which sets out the liturgical calendar for the year. Readings and Mass prayers are found in the Lectionary and Sacramentary (Missal) respectively.
· Singing of acclamations, processional songs (entrance and communion) and the responsorial psalm takes priority.
Rather than immediately looking for 4 hymns to slot into the Mass (the infamous “hymn sandwich”!), time should be spent finding simple musical settings of the psalm of the day (or at least the refrain), Gospel acclamation, Holy, Holy, communion acclamation and Great Amen that everyone present can join in. Most hymnbooks currently in use in parishes contain suitable psalm and Mass settings.
· Only gifts are brought forward in the Procession of Gifts.
This statement may seem self-evident, but it’s amazing how often people want to carry books, banners, candles, etc to the altar with the bread and wine and expect to get them back after Mass! Such items, if carried in at all, should be brought in during the entrance procession.
The only items on the altar, which is a symbol of Christ, are bread and wine, book and candle. Other significant objects and symbols can be displayed in another, suitably decorated part of the worship space.
· Check that the language used applies to everyone present and incorporates a variety of images for God.
I find it strange when the Prayers of the Faithful for a women’s Mass use “all men” or “brothers” to refer to both women and men. There are many ways to address God besides “Our Father” – Loving God, Creator God, God our Light, God of Peace are just a few examples.
· Don’t give everyone the script!
Printed orders of service should provide only an outline of the liturgy, the words of hymns and any unfamiliar prayers that the people will join in. The words of scripture readings and of prayers said by the presider are NOT included!

Elizabeth Harrington