This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on the Introductory Rites.
The priest, wearing his vestments, will enter, as may other ministers.1 He is led by the Thurifer (the one swinging the incense burner, if used), Boat (the one carrying the extra incense), Crucifer (cross-bearer), Torches (candle-bearers), and any other ministers.
On reaching the altar,2 the priest, deacon, and other ministers reverence the altar with a profound bow (or a genuflection if the tabernacle is behind the altar). All clerics (deacons, priests, and bishops) will then kiss the altar.3
If the occasion suggests, the priest may incense the cross and the altar.4
The priest’s vestments are a symbol of his office (one who offers a sacrifice). He wears a cloth that looks like a wide ribbon, called a “stole” (the symbol of authority), and over that, he wears a chasuble (the symbol of mercy). Wearing the chasuble on top shows that his mercy trumps his authority—he is here to lead us closer to God through the forgiveness of our sins.
Incense is a symbol of A) our prayers rising up to God5 like a sweet aroma6, and B) the veil that shrouds us from directly seeing the mystery of God (how He is beyond what we can clearly see and comprehend).
The pure wax extracted by bees from flowers symbolizes the pure flesh of Christ received from His Virgin Mother, the wick signifies the soul of Christ, and the flame represents His divinity.Catholic Encyclopedia: Altar Candles
Why Reverence the Altar?
The altar is reverenced because it is the place where the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross will be made present again.
Keep in mind that, in Mass, you are participating in the Heavenly worship service (though you can only see it in signs and symbols).
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.Psalms 42:4
In the Mass, we are participating in Jesus’ Passion. Just as on Palm Sunday Jesus had HIs triumphal entry into Jerusalem before sacrificing Himself, so we participate in a triumphal entry prior to the sacrifice.
Another image you can bring to mind is seeing your priest as your congregation’s holy knight, leading you all into battle with the processional cross as your banner
- Processional Cross (the cross carried by one of the ministers in the procession)
- Crucifer (the minister who carries the processional cross)
- Thurible (the container in which incense is burned)
- Thurifer (the minister who carries the Thurible)
- Boat (the container for unburned incense)
- Principal Celebrant (the priest who will speak most of the words of the Mass)
- Concelebrants (other priests who will assist at Mass)
What About You?
- Have you ever found your heart lifted up to Heaven by the site of the Procession (the Cross, the Incense, the Priest, etc.)?
- What have you done to consciously enter more deeply into the Entrance Procession?
- GIRM 119-120
See Biblical examples of vested priests in Heaven (Rev. 1:13, 4:4)
Other ministers include: acolytes and/or altar servers, lectors and/or deputed lay readers, deacons, other priests, and bishops.
- See Biblical example of incense being brough to the altar in Heaven (Rev. 8:3)
- Reverencing the altar: GIRM 49, 122-123, (as a genuflection) 274
- Incensing the altar: GIRM 49, 122-123, 276
- Command to burn incense (Ex. 30:7-8) Incense rising up to God in Heaven (see Rev 8:3-4)
- But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life… (2 Cor. 2:14-16)