Our ideas about prayer often keep us from recognizing it as more than something we do. At heart, prayer is better understood as something that overtakes and envelopes us—not unlike our experience of love. In the celebration of the Mass, our longing for God is answered by the self-gift of God in the Eucharist. This makes the Mass the highest and most perfect prayer.
In the Bible, God’s people demonstrate their longing for God in praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and blessing. These forms of prayer are present in the Mass. In fact, the word Eucharist means “thanksgiving,” and the central part of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer, is one of thanks and praise. We offer “asking” prayers at the time of the General Intercessions but we also pray for the living and the dead during the Eucharistic Prayer. In addition, we pray penitentially for our common sinfulness at the start of Mass and receive a blessing at the end. Catholics begin and end prayer with the Sign of the Cross, and the Mass begins and ends with this sign of blessing.
It would be a misperception to view the Mass as prayer only in the sense that it’s full of prayers. The entire liturgy is a “sacrifice of praise” offered in the gift of our time, presence, and mindfulness. (A friend of mine notes that her praying begins on the way to church, as she hopes for a parking place!)
Liturgy means “public work”: It’s the prayer we offer together as the community of faith. It is also the source of all personal prayer, contemplation, and meditation. Our public prayer includes readings from our most sacred books: the Hebrew Law, prophets, and writings as well as the gospels and letters of the early church. The readings are followed by an exhortation known as the homily. Although “the talk in the middle” can seem like a break in the action, it should fit seamlessly with the rest. The homily helps us contemplate the relationship between God’s story and ours as we move to consummate that relationship in the Eucharist.
• Exodus 15:1-18; Psalms 8, 19, 100; Luke 1:46-55; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 14:26; Ephesians 1:12; Colossians 3:16-17; 1 Peter 2:9: Revelation 19:1-10
• “Praying the Mass” by Father John A. Hardon, S.J.