When the hymn begins, we all stand together. Of course, some people are unable to stand for whatever reason so they may stay seated because of physical limitations. But our gesture of standing speaks volumes. First, it is a common gesture for all. We are showing our unity as we stand together. Plus, standing is a sign of welcoming. We are not only welcoming the priest and ministers into the room, but we are preparing ourselves to welcome Christ.
At the same time, we sing together the entrance antiphon or hymn. Not only does this hymn open the celebration, but singing together also fosters and signifies our unity. Hopefully we notice unity is a big deal. We’ll see many more symbols of unity throughout Mass.
As we ministers reach the sanctuary, we genuflect to Jesus who is present in the tabernacle. We recall from last week that genuflecting shows that Jesus is our king and we believe that he is truly present: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament that is reserved in the tabernacle. If the Blessed Sacrament is not present, we would make a profound bow to the altar. This is because the altar is a symbol of Christ. Furthermore, the altar is consecrated for the sole purpose of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In case it is not clear how sacred the altar is, the priest also kisses the altar.
There is also the option of incensing the altar. We incense things that are holy to show reverence for them (including the human body at a funeral). The smoke of the incense rising also reminds us of our prayers rising to the throne of God in Heaven.
Then the priest leads everyone in the Sign of the Cross. Recall from last week how the Sign of the Cross speaks volumes. The Cross is the instrument Jesus used to save us from eternal death, and offer us new life in Him.
Then, there are some words spoken by the priest in greeting, and the people respond together, in one voice, once again showing unity. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) says: “By this greeting and the people’s response, the mystery of the Church gathered together is made manifest.” So, our little signs of unity here also point to the unity of the Church throughout the world. That is some 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.
Even our moments of silence speak volumes. As the priest invites all gathered to call to mind their sins, there is a moment of silence to do just that. Furthermore, we can consciously call to mind that we are in God’s presence.
In the Confiteor, we strike our breast when we say: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” just like the tax collector in today’s Gospel. What does that mean? This is an ancient sign of humility that shows we are sinners, we need God’s mercy and we are unworthy to be in His presence. Striking the breast can be done very lightly. It is a symbolic gesture. We are not trying to hurt ourselves.
In some places, the faithful have made the Sign of the Cross when the priest says: “May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us the everlasting life.” This is a pious action that speaks volumes, but the Sign of the Cross is not called for here in the liturgical norms. If it were mandated, it might create confusion with absolution from the Sacrament of Penance. The GIRM reminds us that this sentence spoken by the priest “lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.” We are required to receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year and any time we are conscious of mortal sin before we consider receiving Holy Communion. In my opinion, people who make the Sign of the Cross here should continue to do so.
It is also appropriate for the priest to sprinkle the people with holy water, especially in the Easter Season. This gesture speaks volumes in reminding us of our Baptism and all the rich implications that come with being made sons and daughters of God.
Finally, to finish up the Introductory Rite, the priest invites all to pray. Before the prayer, we observe silence once again to consciously remind ourselves that we are in God’s presence. And we can formulate our own mental petitions of prayer. The prayer the priest says is called the Collect. Collect looks exactly like the word collect, and it means the same thing. As the priest is praying it on behalf of the people gathered, all their individual prayers, hope and desires are collected and offered to God also.
The priest prays the Collect in the orans position, which is the ancient prayer position with hands held open and slightly out to the side. Since the priest is representing the people and collecting all their prayers into one with the Collect he is praying, it would not be appropriate for any of the faithful to pray in the orans position at that time. It would diminish the symbolism of all the prayers of the faithful being collected into one by the priest’s prayer to the Father.
And the people acclaim together: “Amen.” This shows they unite themselves to the prayer the priest just made to the Father. And it shows they make the prayer their own, once again, showing their unity.