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One of the most elemental meanings of the word “introduction” is to lead into something. The Introductory Rites are the entrance into liturgical prayer. They help us to disconnect from distractions, to change gears, and to enter into the correct mood and disposition for the occasion or season being celebrated.
In the entrance the people gather and either sing a liturgical chant or recite the Entrance Antiphon as the priest or bishop enters and processes to the altar. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (found at the beginning of the Roman Missal) says the goal of the Entrance Chant is to “open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers” (n.47). Even when the faithful don’t sing the Entrance Chant is said by the priest, or he makes some opening remarks to lead into the celebration (n.48; cf. n.31).
A liturgical moment of your life is beginning
Your life, liturgically and otherwise, is united. Changing gears into order to enter into liturgical prayer can be challenging. The important thing is to live the liturgy as an important moment of your life.
If you’re a cradle Catholic, and you were blessed with a family that practiced the faith, you’ve been immersed in the liturgy over and over for as long as you can remember. The Lord has accompanied you sacramentally, Eucharistically, throughout your Catholic life.
If you became Catholic as an adult or teen you received an initiation into a whole new and profound way of living your relationship with the Lord: of coming into his sacramental presence in the Eucharist, and, when the moment was right, of receiving him in Holy Communion. Each liturgy is a new moment of wonder.
The liturgy is not just checking in once a week or once a day: it is doing something with Our Lord more consciously and more intensely. It flows into your life, just as your life flows into it. Our Lord is with you in every moment of your life, and in the liturgy you acknowledge and live that more fully. He’s been with you since you were brought into his sacramental presence—the Eucharist—for the first time by your family. As you grew older, despite work, study, or other obligations, you made the decision to continue the tradition, to come with your friends and acknowledge that the Lord was someone important in your life and deserved acknowledgment and quality time.
If you’re blessed with a family of your own, you carry that tradition forward for your own children by bringing them so they can experience the great mystery of the Mass. If having to mobilize the family to go to Mass and keep an eye on them during the celebration is challenging, remember that the day will come when the children are grown and you can live the Mass in a more contemplative way with the satisfaction that you gave them the opportunity to experience the Eucharist and be initiated into prayer.
Don’t be discouraged if after all those years your children stop going to Mass: pray for them. The seeds have been sown and every person has to make a decision whether to help those seeds grow or not. Our Lord is just as eager to help them see more clearly that He is always with them.
Disconnect from your worries and concerns, but don’t leave them at the door: bring them to Our Lord
The Introductory Rites are to help you change gears and get ready to live the mystery of the Eucharist. When you arrive, don’t worry about what’s coming after Mass. Disconnect from your concerns, but without leaving them outside the door; you disconnect in order to reconnect in a more profound way: sacramentally with Our Lord. Change gears. It is okay to bring concerns to God in worship. They shouldn’t become distractions; rather, they should be topics of interior conversation with Our Lord, even as you’re participating in the liturgy. Sometimes you realize that a concern is pointless, even silly, when you think of bringing it to Our Lord in liturgical prayer, either because it’s about something beyond your control, or simple because it’s something petty.
Worship is an extended prayer, and every prayer is a dialogue. It is not only a dialogue between God and His people, carried out using the prayers prescribed in the liturgical books, but it is also between you and Him, heart to heart. The ideal is to unite what you are saying in liturgical prayer with what you are saying in your heart, to meditate on the prayers in order to make their words your own. In that way you are not only talking in prayer, but listening.
At the same time, a deeper dialogue ensues between your soul and God. You may have something on your mind, and, suddenly, as you’re participating in the Mass, an insight occurs to you, or a bit of spiritual strength or consolation to help you along. Be thankful for receiving these gifts along with all the others that you receive in Mass.
Psalms give us examples of how to pray and what to pray for, which is why the Entrance Antiphon and many entrance hymns are psalms or are inspired by the Psalms
The Jews sang Psalms of ascent when they came close to Jerusalem in pilgrimage in order to worship at the Temple (for examples, see the Songs of Ascent: Psalms 120-134). Psalms give us examples of how to pray and what to pray for, which is why the Entrance Antiphon and many Entrance chants are either Psalms or are inspired by them.
Singing unites our voices to help unite our hearts and minds. They help us show our communion with God and with each other. They also remind us that the Church is not the buildings, but the people. As Church we gather to worship God, and even in a celebration presided over by a priest and few people it is the Church that worships God. It draws is beyond ourselves to the Church, to the world, and, above all, to God. You and I are praying the liturgy, but together we are praying the liturgy for ourselves, our community, our Church, and the entire world. Through singing you go from I to we. It helps you to be more open to the needs of the Church and the world without neglecting your own.
Singing also helps us adopt the correct mood of the season or occasion and to put them into the proper perspective
Singing helps you adopt the festive mood of the season or occasion. We don’t just live the liturgical season in Mass; Mass helps us live the season or occasion with God and with our fellow believers. The liturgical seasons are a mix of expectation, penance, and joy. Sometimes it requires an effort to celebrate an occasion: a funeral is not a cause for celebration, but, ultimately it is the celebration of a life and the consolation that death doesn’t have the last word in the light of the Resurrection.
When we come together to commemorate a tragic event, such as 9/11, or to pray for persecuted Christians or someone in need of healing or help, we pray in order to intercede for those in need of grace, but we also make an act of faith in God, trust in His ability to draw good from even the greatest evil, and love for Him and for whom we are offering the Mass.
Depending on the season or occasion singing can either sober us up when we’re being superficial or bring us out of whatever funk we’re in. We need to attune ourselves to the liturgical season in order to live the whole spectrum of spiritual experience. The Easter season lasts fifty days; fifty days of joy and optimism in prayer can be as real as challenge as forty days of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving in Lent. But both moments are necessary for the soul. They help train us for personal moments of Lent or Easter that may have nothing to do with the liturgical season at hand. They also help us keep a Christian outlook when our mood or events don’t occur to our liking.
We celebrate and acknowledge the gift of bishops, priests, and deacons
It didn’t take long for the faithful to realize that waiting in silence while the sacred ministers (bishops, priests, and deacons) made their entrance wasn’t enough. At the Last Supper Jesus told the Apostles to celebrate the Mass in memory of him, and they handed on this responsibility to their closest co-workers, who also saw the need for helpers in their ministry, just as Jesus gathered the Twelve, the Twelve (and St. Paul) asked others to help them, and, when an unforeseen need arose, the Twelve also appointed deacons (see Acts 6:1-6).
When the bishop or priest makes his entrance he is making the whole Church, spread throughout the world, present in that celebration of the Eucharist, and connecting that celebration to the diocese and to the Church spread throughout the world. He is also connecting the believers of the present to the generations of believers who have preceded them, all the way to the Apostles and to Our Lord himself.
The celebrant is there to provide pastorally for the People of God, just as Our Lord has willed it. Deacons help bishops and priests not only during the liturgy, but in other ministries as well, both on a diocesan and parochial level. The entrance is a good moment to pray for them and to thank Our Lord for shepherding us through their sacred ministry.
With their entrance something wonderful is about to begin, so we should unite our song, our hearts, and our minds to them. Without a priest there would be no celebration, and many priests have risked their lives to bring the sacraments to believers.