The liturgy requires a balance of the fixed and the flexible–of the permanent and the pliant.
During the entrance procession, veneration of the altar, sign of the cross and greeting of the assembly, the celebrant has carefully read the words and followed the actions prescribed in the missal. After the greeting, however, the priest, deacon or a lay minister may introduce the Mass of the day using personal remarks.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal dictates that the introduction should be brief, but all else–the content, form and phrasing–is left entirely to the discretion of the one delivering the opening comments.
Teachers of liturgy suggest several sources that may serve as inspiration for the words of the introduction. Among them are: the entrance song, scripture readings, the particular season or feast, those in attendance and the circumstances of the celebration.
Entrance Song (Hear Sample): The congregation collectively intoned the entrance song. While still fresh in the assembly’s mind, some priests choose to expand on one of the motifs presented in the song and use its topic as a natural transition to introduce the day’s celebration.
Scripture Readings (Hear Sample): Another method is to highlight the underlying message from the day’s readings. Typically, there is a common theme that unites the first and second reading, the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel proclamation. The priest may choose to focus on this connective motif rather than emphasize a particular reading or verse.
Seasons (Hear Sample): The Liturgical cycle itself can provide inspiration as every mass is particular– each taking place on a specific day in the Church year. Whether it is the first Sunday in Advent, the Second Sunday after Christmas, or the Third Sunday of Easter, every mass moves the Church along a circular path on the temporal cycle– that is days commemorating key events in the life of Christ. Each season has its own character which may be emphasized in the introduction.
“Holy Mother Church is conscious that she must celebrate the saving work of her divine Spouse by devoutly recalling it on certain days throughout the course of the year…Within the cycle of a year, moreover, she unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord.”–CONSTITUTION ON THE SACRED LITURGY #102
Feasts (Hear Sample): The sanctoral cycle of the Church year commemorates the people close to Jesus such as the Blessed Mother, Joseph and John the Baptist.
“In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ’s mysteries, holy Church honors with especial love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son.”–CONSTITUTION ON THE SACRED LITURGY #103
Each day of the Church calendar is also devoted to saints and martyrs making all masses inherently unique.
“The Church has also included in the annual cycle days devoted to the memory of the martyrs and the other saints. Raised up to perfection by the manifold grace of God, and already in possession of eternal salvation, they sing God’s perfect praise in heaven and offer prayers for us. ”–CONSTITUTION ON THE SACRED LITURGY #104
The celebrant may choose to use these solemnities, feasts and memorials as the basis for the introductory comments.
Those in Attendance (Hear Sample): Special parish groups may be recognized in part of the introduction, such as departing missionaries, those completing a retreat or a club celebrating their founding.
In order that they feel included, children may be specifically welcomed in the introduction and referred to in other parts of the mass21.
“Nevertheless, in Masses of this kind it is necessary to take great care that the children present do not feel neglected because of their inability to participate or to understand what happens and what is proclaimed in the celebration. Some account should be taken of their presence: for example, by speaking to them directly in the introductory comments (as at the beginning and the end of Mass) and at some point in the homily.”–Directory for Masses With Children #17
If it affects the parish community, special guests such as religious or governmental officials may also be acknowledged in the introduction.
Celebration Circumstances (Hear Sample): If it is a nuptial mass, the celebrant may recognize the bride and groom in the introduction. A married couple renewing their wedding vows may be acknowledged as would those becoming part of the Church if there is a baptism within the context of the liturgy. When the Mass is joined to the celebration of a sacrament or the Divine Office, the priest may make mention of this in the introduction.
These and other sources provide an inexhaustible font from where the priest, deacon or lay minister may draw from to compose an introduction. The succinct words should crystallize the importance of the day’s liturgy, heighten the communal nature of the mass and draw the assembly more fully into the Eucharistic celebration.