As early as the mid-second century the celebration of the Eucharist, already separated from its setting within a regular meal, was usually preceded by a scripture service. The people gathered in silence and, when all had arrived, a reader began to proclaim the Word. This ancient practice of beginning immediately with the read-ins was preserved in the Roman liturgy of Good Friday till 1956.
But the psychological desire to give a definitive starting point to the celebration and to provide an initial experience of prayer resulted in the gradual development of various introductory rites and formulas. In fifth century Africa, St. Augustine greeted the people before the scriptures were proclaimed. In late seventh century Rome the pope passed through the assembly in procession and then began with an initial prayer. During centuries to come other elements, often of a private nature and reflecting the piety of generations and cultures, were added before the scripture proclamations.
General Instruction of the Roman Missal (The Church’s Textbook)
No. 24. The parts preceding the liturgy of the word, namely, the entrance song, greeting, penitential rite, Kyrie, Gloria, and opening prayer or collect, have the character of beginning, introduction, and preparation.
The purpose of these rites is to make the assembled people a unified community and to prepare them properly to listen to God’s word and celebrate the Eucharist.
No. 21. For the sake of uniformity in actions and postures, the people should follow the directions given by the deacon, priest, or other minister during the celebration. Unless other provisions are made, at every Mass they should stand for the beginning of the entrance song or when the priest enters until the opening prayer or collect inclusive.
These rites, serving to introduce and prepare for the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist, are to help the people become a community at worship, an assembly convoked by God. Structurally, these rites are of secondary importance and are celebrated as such. Their major elements are the entrance song and the opening prayer.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What is the purpose of the introductory rites?
2. How do I as an individual bring myself to be part of this community of worship?
Scripture: For we, though many, are one body in Christ. Romans 12: 5