Catholic Mass Handbook: Tell me why…

Getting the most out of Mass, pt. 3.

“Tell me why…” a solid and confident question children often ask and yet it makes adults feel so very vulnerable. For me, it’s a natural segue into really understanding a subject, especially in the case of getting the most out of Mass. The more I ask, the more I learn.

And so as I attend Mass on Sundays, I look around and think about the not so obvious. What nuances do we take for granted? Here are my top five “tell me why” moments about Mass.

Mass Tell Me Why

Mass Tell me why #1

Tell me why altar candles are lit at the beginning of Mass

As you’ve probably noticed, there are many visible elements of the liturgy. The presence of candles, in all celebrations, has long been seen as something practical (as a source of light) and symbolic. And they are actually a requirement per the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.

The candles, which are required at every liturgical service out of reverence and on account of the festiveness of the celebration, are to be appropriately placed either on or around the altar.”

General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM)

Yet, there is a more beautiful reason that crosses all Christian beliefs. The candles are a symbol of God. They are lit to represent the light of Christ.

Fun fact: These candles are traditionally made of beeswax. And why? The purity of the wax extracted by bees symbolizes the pure flesh of Christ received from His Virgin Mother.

Mass Tell me why #2

Tell me why we’re obligated to go to Mass on Sundays

Moses brought to us The Ten Commandments, our road-map to Christ. The third commandment reads that we are to observe the Sabbath as a holy day. Our focus should be on God on Saturday?

Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day.  Six days shalt thou labor, and shalt do all thy works. But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God:  thou shalt do no work on it, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made Heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.

Exodus 20:8-11

The Sabbath was originally observed on a Saturday. It marking God’s day of rest after a long week of creation. However, for Christians this transferred to Sunday – the day our Lord rose from the dead, conquered sin and death. For us, Sunday is the fulfillment of the Sabbath of the Old Testament.  

A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.

Code of Canon Law, No. 1248.1

Fun fact: If you can not attend Mass on Sunday, Saturday is an acceptable substitute. What’s tricky is when consecutive obligations occur on Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday. We are to attend Mass twice to fulfill two separate obligations.

Mass Tell me why #3

Tell me why the priest wears so many different colors during the year

This is a great question! There is a definite significance to the when and why a priest wears a particular color to officiate Mass.

The outer garment the priest uses during Mass is called a chasable, meaning “casa”. And the primary colors you’ll see a priest use are: purple, rose, white/gold, green, red and even black (my favorite color). There’s a wonderful story here.

During the Christmas and Easter seasons, the priest will wear white or gold as it is the sign of light, joy and victory. When he begins to use a rose-colored chasable, we know we’re half-way into Lent and Advent, otherwise you’ll see him in purple vestments. We are reminded that His resurrection is near yet there is still work to do. This is a time for celebration and sacrifice.

Green is the color of hope. A priest wears green to remind us that we are headed to a better place. Red is the color of love, fire, blood. The primary symbolism here points to the blood of Christ and His burning love for us. He wears a red chasable to celebrate the Passion of Christ, blood of the martyrs and descent of the Holy Spirit during Pentacost.

And last, but not least, we have the black vestments. These garments are traditionally reserved for requiem Masses. However, it’s not only for funeral Masses. Black garments are also used during Advent and Lent. Both are appropriate times to use a color that symbolizes deep mourning and grief.

Fun fact: Since the Middle Ages, the priest’s vestments are usually made of linen or silk. These were considered the upper-class “Sunday dress” of the late Roman Empire.

Mass Tell me why #4

Tell me why we make the sign of the cross at the start of Mass

My favorite! A beautiful gesture that reminds us of salvation and the Holy Trinity.

When we make the sign of the cross we call to mind that we are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. And it is because we are baptized Catholics that we can participate in the Holy Eucharist.

Fun fact: We start and end the Mass with the sign of the cross. The first sign of the cross reminds us to celebrate the mystery. The last sign of the cross invites us to go live out the mystery of our faith.

Mass Tell me why #5

Tell me why we have three readings each Sunday

We didn’t always have three readings during Mass. The Second Vatican Council happened and we began to see change happen. The dynamics between the Catholic Church and the modern world were to change. It was a good thing. We were evolving.

Love this quote…

Second Vatican Council, 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church (1962–65), announced by Pope John XXIII on Jan. 25, 1959, as a means of spiritual renewal for the church and as an occasion for Christians separated from Rome to join in search for reunion.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Before the Second Vatican Council, we only had two two readings. A third reading was added to help the faithful get to know the Holy Bible better. After all, it is a source of life and comfort to us.

Fun fact: We read from the Old Testament because it’s literally the “Word of God”. The Old Testament is God’s blueprint. Here we find out about who He is, what He wants and His plan for us.

You May also Enjoy…

Mass is a sensory experience and can be a little overwhelming. Check out these other posts to help you along the way.

Catholic Mass Handbook: We don’t say that any more? – part 1 to this series on Catholic Mass.

Catholic Mass Handbook: Etiquette for today’s Catholic – part 2 to this series on Catholic Mass.

Every Sacred Sunday Mass Journal – an unbiased and unpaid review. In fact, this is one fabulous book that combines journaling with full mass readings for the this liturgical year.

Soul Makeover: Get closer to God today in 3 easy steps – we are the modern face of Christianity. And it’s time the world sees what a Christian looks like. Above all, it starts with me and with you in 3 easy steps.

Are you just getting back into the swing of things. Don’t worry. You’re not alone! Hit the comment section below and share away. I love hearing from you!


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  1. Fellow Catholic here. Found your blog via Twitter. I did not know why we have three readings at Mass. Informative post. I’ll definitely be sticking around! 😊💕

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