Why do we do this during Mass? ...and other questions about our faith.


September 2018: Bread and Wine=Body and Blood

This month’s question regarding the liturgy of the Mass is on the Eucharist.  Several of you want to know: “At what point during the Mass is the bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus?

At the offertory, after the altar has been set, we (the people of God) bring our gifts of bread and wine (and often monetary gifts) and offer them to the priest.  The priest takes our offerings to the altar and we transition into “The Liturgy of the Eucharist”.

This begins with the priest holding the bread slightly above the altar and says: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.

The same is done with the chalice (cup with wine).

The priest then washes his hands asking the Lord to cleanse him from his sin, and then leads us to the preface and Eucharistic Prayer.  During the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest who is in “Persona Christi” (meaning it is Christ saying the words through the priest) holds the bread slightly above the altar and says the same words spoken at the Last Supper found in Matthew 26:26 and saying these words is the moment in Mass when the change occurs: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for THIS IS MY BODY, which will be given up for you.”  After saying those words, the priest genuflects in adoration because with those words it is no longer bread, but the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.  He does the same with the chalice.

Now that you know “when”, the natural question next is “how are the bread and wine changed”.  In short, the Church teaches us it occurs through the process of transubstantiation.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as follows: “…by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.” (CCC 1376)

This real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the foundation of the Catholic Church.  So the next time you are at Mass, listen for those beautiful words during the Eucharist Prayer: “This is my body…This is my blood”.  And at those words, remember what the Apostle Thomas said when he saw that Jesus lives and was present in his midst: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  Knowing that Jesus continues to be with us and nourishes us through the sacrament of the Eucharist at Mass will surely help you Love the Liturgy!


August 2018: Importance of Extraordinary Ministers

It is said the best way to stay engaged in an activity is to be involved in the operations of it. This is true whether it is with a project at work, your involvement with a volunteer organization, or a hobby you would like to master. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

The same can be said about the liturgy of the Mass. We are more likely to continue attending Mass if we are an active participant and feel as if we are part of the liturgy. Sure, we are all called to participate in singing the songs, responding to the prayers, and being mentally and spiritually prepared to meet our Lord in the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist... but there are other opportunities.

So, this month’s question is about a special ministry seen during the Mass.

The question: “I have noticed there are times my church parish does not have enough ministers to distribute communion. I would like to volunteer, but need to know more about it. Are there special requirements and training?”

There are two types of ministers who distribute Holy Communion. The first are priests and deacons who are considered “Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.” If your parish has multiple stations for Holy Communion during Mass, a priest/deacon should fill those positions. However, there are typically not enough priests and deacons to fulfill that need. For those circumstances, the Church allows for the second type of ministers to assist... the “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.”

These are members of the lay-faithful who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, are in good standing with the Catholic Church and have received training from their pastor (or designated trainer). This special ministry extends to more than what you see at Mass. Sure these men and women have the honor and responsibility of distributing the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Church.

However, many volunteer to travel to those who are unable to get to the church. By visiting the sick and shut-ins, these ministers bring Jesus to them in two ways: the sacrament of the Eucharist; and with face-to-face personal contact with those in need of prayer and companionship.

So what are some of the things you will learn during the training? Each program is a little different regarding when to approach the altar, where to stand when distributing... but other issues you will learn are what to do if a Consecrated Host is dropped or what to do if the Precious Blood spills. You will learn the proper way to transport the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins and prayers to say with those you visit. If you see the need and feel the calling for this ministry, the more you will “Love the Liturgy!”

Send your questions about the liturgy to: whydowe@diocesealex.org.

--Deacon Richard Mitchell


July 2018: Prayers and Postures during Ordination

This issue of the Church Today includes many pictures of the most recent ordinations in May and June. What a blessing it is for our diocese to have one new priest and nine new permanent deacons in active ministry doing the work of spreading the Good News of Jesus. These pictures capture the fact that the liturgy throughout an ordination is filled with beautiful postures and prayers which contain rich meaning that is often overlooked as we become caught up in the moment or due to us simply asking the question: “Why do we…?”

The most common question regarding an ordination is: “Why do the men being ordained lay on the floor during the ceremony?” To fully understand and appreciate this posture, it is important to take a small step back in the liturgy. Before the elect prostrate themselves (lay face down on the floor), they are asked a series of questions to ensure they intend to uphold the office for which they are going to be ordained (priesthood or diaconate). While the elect make these promises, they also understand they are not worthy of this calling to ordination and will need all the graces and prayers possible to fulfill these promises. So as a sign of their unworthiness, the elect prostrate themselves while we invoke the intercessions of the Saints to pray for them and indeed to pray for us all. Having been on that floor completely surrendering myself to the Lord, I can attest that this posture is the most vulnerable and defenseless position one can take; yet is very moving because it is here that one must rely on God for protection and can hear the support of the people’s prayers as we sing the Litany of Saints.

Another question I hear after a priesthood ordination is: “What is the significance of putting oil on the hands of the new priest?” Using holy oils during a liturgy is not that uncommon. At a baptism, holy oils are typically used to anoint the baby; Sacred Chrism is used during confirmation, and holy oil is used during the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick; so the use of holy oils is a familiar sight to us. However, the significance of the Bishop using Sacred Chrism (consecrated oil) during the ordination is to anoint those hands that are now most important to us. For it is those hands that will now be the instruments used in the sacrament of Eucharist; those hands that will anoint us and our families when we are sick, baptize our children, and bless us in the sacrament of reconciliation and in times of need…those are more than just hands, but are indeed anointed hands used to do God’s work.

Please continue to pray for your priests and deacons that they may always have the strength to fulfil their promises made at their ordination in doing the good work of the Lord.

Keep those questions coming! You can write to Deacon Richard W. Mitchell at dcnrmitchell@diocesealex.org or send questions to: whydowe@diocesealex.org


May 2018: Our gestures at Mass

This month’s questions revolved around the gestures we make upon entering the Church and during the celebration of the Mass. So this article will be dedicated to explaining a few of the actions most of us have done a thousand times, but may have never really understood why.

So, upon entering a Catholic Church, we touch the Holy Water located in the font and bless ourselves with it by making the sign of the cross. This gesture is done as a renewal of our baptismal covenant, those promises we made to reject sin and turn to the Lord by being a disciple of Jesus. We do this as we enter, to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and then again as we exit the church to remind ourselves we are representative of Jesus as we enter into society.

Generally, our next gesture is to genuflect (or bending one knee to the floor) before entering into the pew. But why?

Well since we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, and most of our church parishes have a tabernacle (a special place the hosts consecrated at Mass are kept which is distributed to those in the hospital or homebound), we are genuflecting towards Jesus to respect and honor His presence.

Psalm 95:6 states: “Enter, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us”.

Since some are not physically capable of genuflecting, a profound bow or some other form of reverence is certainly acceptable. However, if there is no tabernacle or if the tabernacle is empty (such is the case on Good Friday), there is no need to genuflect, for Jesus is not physically present.

As Mass begins and if the priest chooses the Penitential Act that begins with “I Confess…”, about half way through we strike our breast as we say: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…” If you recall above, part of our baptismal promises are to reject sin. However, we are indeed sinners so this gesture is to acknowledge to one another that we have indeed failed and are asking for mercy.

As Mass moves along, we participate in the Liturgy of the Word. Part of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Gospel where we both stand and make the sign of the cross on forehead, lips, and heart. We stand out of respect for the Gospel readings are the words of Jesus. The sign of the cross is in itself an outward sign of our redemption in and through Jesus. As we make the cross on our forehead, we are asking Jesus to be in our thoughts and purify our mind; on our lips as we ask Jesus to be in the words that we speak and help us to spread His Good News; and in our hearts with the desire to strengthen our love for Him and our neighbor.

Hopefully understanding the significance of these few gestures will help prevent them from just becoming a habit and instead give you a better appreciation for “Why?” we do these things and ultimately help you come to Embrace the Liturgy!

--Deacon Richard Mitchell


April 2018: Liturgical vestments worn by the bishop

One of the aspects that makes our Catholic Liturgy so beautiful is understanding that everything you see, every sound you hear, and every action taken during the Mass has a rich and meaningful tradition that is there to lead us closer to our Lord as we worship and pray. The vestments worn by the clergy are no different, which leads us to this month’s question: “Why does Bishop Talley wear more ‘gear’ than a priest and carry a stick during Mass?”

I am a visual learner, so to help with explaining what is being worn, I have included an illustration here and labeled each of the items (or “gear”) he wears. But why the extras?

Explanation of Bishop's vestments.

Well I suppose we should begin by first defining who or what a Bishop represents in the diocese.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “…by the imposition of hands and through the words of consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is given, and a sacred character is impressed in such wise that bishops, in an eminent and visible manner, take the place of Christ himself, teacher, shepherd and priest, and act as his representative.” (1558)

In other words, Bishop Talley represents the great authority of Christ as he shepherds our diocese. And every good shepherd needs a Shepherd’s Crook or what is properly referred to as a crozier. It, along with his miter are visible signs of our Bishop’s authority as being our shepherd who is tasked with leading us, his flock, to the arms of Christ.

But have you noticed throughout the Mass there are several exchanges between the Bishop and the Master of Ceremonies and altar servers? I mean, what’s with all the taking the miter off, putting it back on, taking it off again, putting it back on…handing off the crozier, getting it back…I must admit, when I first became a Master of Ceremonies, it was a bit confusing and distracting to me, too. I literally had nightmares about either forgetting to get the miter or putting it on him, backwards! I only came to appreciate it when I learned the symbolism behind the actions.

The general rule (with a few exceptions) is the Bishop wears the miter when he sits and removes it when he stands. Sitting with the miter is a sign of his teaching authority, so it is logical that this is done during the scripture readings. However, when we all stand for the proclamation of the Gospel, he takes off his miter but he then clutches the crozier. But why? This is a symbol that he, our Bishop, is our shepherd and he is holding his Shepherd’s Crook as The Good Shepherd speaks to us in the words of the Gospel.

After the Gospel, the Bishop does have the option of sitting, putting on the miter and preaching from his chair (again as a sign of authority). You will typically see this at major ceremonial events such as ordinations more so than at daily Mass or Sunday Mass.

So the next time you see Bishop Talley and he is either wearing his miter or holding his crozier, comment on them using the proper terms and
he will be most impressed with your liturgical knowledge!

Remember to keep those questions coming by emailing WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org or mail to P. O. Box 7417, Alexandria, Louisiana 71306-0417.

--Deacon Richard Mitchell


March 2018: What’s going on around the altar?

The response to the idea of this column, designed specifically to answer YOUR questions, has been great. Through emails and through just talking to people around town, there is apparently a lot of interest and a strong desire to learn more about our participation in the Mass.
So, let’s get started.

“Why is there a saint’s relic in the altar of the Church?”
For those unfamiliar with a “relic,” it is a part of the physical remains or some personal effects of a saint. Many, but not all, altars may indeed have a relic sealed inside the altar in such a way that it is not easily removable.

But why??  This is a tradition that continues from the early Church when the remains of martyrs were placed in above ground tombs. During the times of persecution, the people of the Church would gather around the tomb which would be used as the altar to celebrate the Mass. There are some Churches built above the tombs of martyrs including the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the walls in Rome.

“Why does the priest/deacon kiss (or reverence) the altar at the beginning and at the end of Mass?”
At the very beginning of the Mass, (and at the very end of the Mass) the priest (and deacon) will bow down and kiss the altar. This is done mainly to honor the altar of sacrifice (which represents Christ) where the miracle of the Eucharist takes place. Secondarily, it is to continue the tradition of reverencing the relics of the saint or martyr placed in the altar.

“Why does the priest break off a piece of the Eucharist and place it in the Chalice?”
This is a great question that some may not even notice during the liturgy of the Eucharist because it is done immediately after the “Sign of Peace” while we are singing (or speaking) the “Lamb of God”. Since it is a quick action with a prayer that is said silently by the priest, it can be easily missed by the congregation.
However, the priest does indeed break off a piece of the host and place it in the Chalice saying: “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”

But why??  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (also known as the GIRM) states: The priest breaks the Eucharistic Bread as a gesture of Jesus breaking the bread at the Last Supper. The priest then puts a piece of the host into the chalice to “signify the unity of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the work of salvation, namely, of the Body of Jesus Christ, living and glorious.” (GIRM 83)
So, this coming Sunday, when you are participating in Mass, take notice of these two actions:
• The priest reverencing the altar with a kiss at the beginning and at the end of Mass
• The priest uniting the Body and Blood of Christ after the Sign of Peace.

Keep those questions coming! You may either send an email to WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org or mail them to Deacon Richard Mitchell, P.O. Box 7417, Alexandria, La. 71306-0417


February 2018: Questions and Answers

Have you ever been asked a question about a part of the Mass or other liturgical ceremony and did not have the answer? See if you can answer these popular questions:

Why does the priest wear the different colored vestments and what do the colors mean?

Why do we bless ourselves with Holy Water before entering the nave of the church?

Why do we genuflect before entering the pew?

So…How did you do? Were you able to confidently answer each of them?

Each year I hear the same thing from Catholics who are accompanying or “sponsoring” their friend or family member in the R.C.I.A. program (R.C.I.A. is a program used by most Church Parishes to educate and prepare adults to enter into the Catholic Church). When we begin to discuss general questions and I explain “why we do what we do” in the Catholic Church, sponsors (who are willing to admit it) will often say: “I’ve been Catholic my entire life and I never knew that”.

Well, beginning in next month’s issue of the Church Today, the Office of Divine Worship will begin a series to help answer your questions and explain the meaning associated with each part of the Mass and other liturgical ceremonies.

I am a firm believer that those who embrace the liturgy and truly understand “why we do what we do”, will not only grow in faith, but will also be better prepared to evangelize and Spread the Good News of Jesus. So what better name to call the new column than “Embracing the Liturgy”.

Since this column is designed to answer YOUR questions, you are invited to send your inquiries regarding the Mass or other liturgical ceremonies (weddings, baptisms, funerals…) in an email to WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org.

By the way, no names will be included in the articles, so do not be afraid to ask your questions!

Our goal is to go through and explain each part of the Mass and incorporate the answers to your questions along the way.

I hope you will enjoy it and will join me in “Embracing the Liturgy”!

--Deacon Richard Mitchell