Abbot Jeremy Driscoll is a Benedictine monk of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.  He teaches at Mount Angel Seminary and the Pontifical University of Sant’ Anselmo, Rome.  Following are notes on Father Jeremy Driscoll’s presentation “What Happens at Mass” at Saint Bernard’s on March 18, 2017 in Billings, Montana.  For complete information please refer to “What Happens At Mass” Revised Edition by Jeremy Driscoll, OSB.

Liturgy of the Word
The Sacred Scripture changes each Sunday (three-year cycle) and week days (two-year cycle) in order to layout portions of the whole story.

Assembly sits and is ready to receive.  God speaks in his word.

I sit down. It is Christ Himself who speaks the Word even though The First Reading is read by one of the priest’s helpers.  The reading is from the Bible about an event.  This event relates to the Gospel reading.

The Assembly then moves towards God with word responses saying our affirmation:  Thanks be to God.

MYSTERY – Jesus Christ is the mystery of creation and history.  That is, in the concrete something of the created world and in the history of the human race the secret-hidden and now revealed–is Jesus Christ  The eternal Word of God, the only Son coming from the Father filled with enduring love. This-He!-is the Word of God that is proclaimed and celebrated in Mass during the Liturgy of the Word. He is what happens.

God – action, word and deeds do not become old.

MYSTERY –  The connection between the First Reading, Responsorial Psalm, Second Reading, Acclamation before the Gospel and the Gospel is sometimes more, sometimes less clear.  The point is a general one about this structure in the liturgy.  Once the theological significance of this structure is grasped–the structure is a mystery!–profound and unexpected connections can emerge between the texts that will not appear when the texts are simply read side by side as texts.

FIRST READING – Words proclaim God’s deeds as with Exodus of old.  The Assembly hears it now as exiting our old sins.  What happens at Mass is the word being read and God coming to the community.

Everything is organized around the Exodus, the wandering in the desert, the coming into the Promised Land.  All things either lead to that event, recount that event, or look back to that event.  The whole of revelation for Israel is focused in what God manifested himself to be in these events.

Sin destroys our capacity to live in the world as in God’s temple, but the covenant with Abraham and Moses can be viewed as moving towards the building of a temple in Jerusalem, where once again God’s presence in our midst is known and celebrated.  But I can only hear these texts thinking of Jesus.  The Word gives language and images for thinking of him.  Jesus transposes the key in which the temple of his day is understood.  By his Death he mysteriously destroyed it, as he had predicted.  And in three days a new temple, his risen and glorified Body is raised up. As Saint Paul says, the Assembly is that temple built of living stones.  1 Peter 2

MYSTERY – The “Word of God” in the Liturgy of the Word does not mean the words of the bible are considered merely as conversations.  The “Word of God” is an event:  the event of creation and the event of what God is doing and saying in Israel and finally the event of what God is doing and saying in Jesus.  The words of the Bible narrate the event.  The words are a precious for the words are given by the Holy Spirit.   The “Word of God” carries far more than mere human words can carry.   The very events of the “Word of God” speak their formulation and is revealed the mystery of the event.

It is quiet so I can think about the words read.

The cantor sings a “Responsorial Psalm” to what was read.  The psalms are from the prayer book Jesus used while on earth.Silence before the responsorial psalm is of awe and adoration in the presence of God who has spoken.

In effect, during the silence, God’s Word spoken to the community, who is Jesus Christ Himself, descends into the heart of the Assembly.  Jesus Christ sinks down into the heart of his Church.  If He is the Word spoken by God the Father to the Church, He will now also be the Word made flesh in the heart of this community, uttering a response to the Father.  Without Him our response would be pitiable. With Him it is completely adequate!


The words written in the psalms were fulfilled by Jesus as he prayed them during the course of his life.  Verse by verse, psalm by psalm, they were a mystery, hidden but now revealed in Him.  With these words He spoke to his Father from His human flesh, from the place in Israel’s history in which He lived.  As He lived that history and prayed to His Father all the while, in His own name and in the name of His nation, He was absorbing into Himself, assuming into Himself, the entire history of the nation, and so of the world.

I use the words for the responsorial psalms for my response.  I do so because this was Israel’s hymn book and so was the prayer book of Jesus himself in his earthly existence.  The psalms were produced and then prayed throughout all the various epochs and phases of Israel’s existence.

The Second Reading is read by one of the priest’s helpers and is about what Jesus taught his Apostles. I need to be reminded how to act as Jesus said.


The direction of movement shifts again.  God speaks again to His Church and the Assembly listens.  The apostles provide penetrating reflections on the center – theology.  All of this is done with key concepts and many citations from the Old Testament.

Then the assembly is quiet again.

I stand on my feet and sing the Gospel Acclamation.


I with the Assembly are on our feet standing and singing, at the time of the proclamation of the Gospel.  In the first two readings the “Word of God” is communicated in the words of the prophets and apostles of the Old and New Testaments.  The Gospel is the Word of God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, who speaks to the Assembly.

Code is “and with your spirit.”  The Gospel will be read next.

Flame and the sweet smell of smoking incense make their appearance again.  A procession forms.  The bishop from his chair blesses one of the deacons he has ordained and directs him to lift the Book of the Gospels from the altar where it had been placed and to carry it aloft in procession to the place from which the Gospel will be proclaimed.  All these are mysteries.  Through them the transcendent Lord speaks directly to his Church.

The Assembly’s response is: And with your spirit.

Each time the response is “And with your spirit” is code.  Code:  something better is going to happen. This particle code indicates the Gospel will be next relating to the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Then the Priest or the Deacon kisses the book, saying quietly:
Through the words of the Gospel
may our sins be wiped away.
The Gospel is to be the means by which God wipes away my sins.  The initiative is God’s and the Gospel is the holy instrument.  Psalm 51:11

The Gospel is read is when Jesus rises from the dead everything said rises with him.


God’s word is among us in Jesus.  The assembly stands to hear the gospel proclaimed to be part of the story affecting the gathering as he affected the story.

My responses are talking to God because he is at mass.

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll indicates that when Jesus rises from the dead, everything he ever said rises with him.  Reading a portion of the Gospel, so to speak, of what has risen with Jesus.  To any part of the Gospel on any given day is our way, our entry, that day into the whole mystery of the Resurrection.

The Assembly then moves towards God with the word responses saying the affirmation “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!”

I sit down to listen to the homily to receive what God has said.  God is with us now.  The homily builds the community of people at Mass.THE HOMILY

Movement of direction:  both.

It is first of all the direction of responding to what God has said.  It is the preacher’s responsibility to listen with special care to all that is said in the “now” of today’s liturgy by means of the particular texts that have been proclaimed.  The story teller will propose to the Assembly ways of ensuring that God’s word finds its home in my heart and that I respond to it as we ought.  So, if in one sense the word is coming into the priest.  In another sense it is coming out of our story teller.  The priest is in the middle position.  Jesus Christ is the Word that comes in, and Jesus Christ is meant to be the Word that comes out.

Mystery – Jesus express that pattern precisely:  “My teaching is not my own but is from the one who sent me” (John 7:16).  This kind of preaching begins on Pentecost is no accident.  The homily must also signal and to some extent explain the link between the Liturgy of the Word, which is now concluding, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is about to begin.
I stand for Profession of Faith. The Universal Prayer or Prayers of the Faithful prayers are commonly responded with “Lord hear our prayer.”  This is the hinge swinging me to the Eucharistic Prayer.

The Apostles Creed in Pictures


The Creed is a summary of the Church’s way of reading the Sacred Scriptures, and consequently it is a summary of the Church’s faith.  The creed is the master plan for how Sacred Scriptures fit together.  The assembly stands to profess its faith and exercise its baptismal priesthood.

Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, (agree or give assent of my heart, mind, soul)
the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.  Colossians 1:15-16

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.  Colossians 1:17  |  Revelation 1:17-18
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made,
consubstantial with the Father;  John 14:9-10 
through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven,

and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, Hebrews 5:7

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Instead of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, especially during Lent and Easter Time, the baptismal Symbol of the Roman Church, known as the Apostles’ Creed, may be used.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,  

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell;

on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

The Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful is the hinge moving the Assembly to the Eucharistic Prayer.  The Prayer of the Faithful or Bidding Prayers consist of:

1.  Pray for the church so that she can be holy and pleasing to God and a sacrament of salvation.

2. Pray for the world that the world may know of the salvation offered in Christ

3.  Pray for God’s intentions for the world – God intends that all the peoples of the world be gathered around the Eucharistic table where the assembly is gathered.  1 Timothy 2:4

4.  Individuals can pray for their particular needs in the quiet of their hearts.

Back to 1966 – while waiting for family members to arrive for the mass, food was being prepared for the meal following mass.  The gentlemen went fishing with the Priest and Archbishop.  How appropriate for the future Pope John Paul II to be taken fishing on his first trip to Montana.  The language barrier was almost nonexistent as the ones who spoke Bohemian could converse easily with the Polish speaking Archbishop.

“Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

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Notes on the Mass – Start of Section