The Qurbana (Mass in Syriac) is like an onion; with layers of meanings/representations: On physical, mental, spiritual, symbolic levels. The early church fathers thought of this brilliant way of keeping the faith strong over the millennia: with an opera steeped in meaning. The current church CxOs say the Qurbana cannot really be demystified and that it affects an attendee on the conscious, sub-conscious and even the unconscious levels.
In one of the layers the Qurbana is actually the reenactment of the life of Jesus. I have here tried to show the whole 2-3 hours of the 'holy drama' pictorially below. The dotted lines are the periods during the mass when a veil (thirasheela) is drawn across the sanctum sanctorum.
Before we try to understand any further we also need to be aware of the following:
The madbaha/holy-of-holies represent the heavens/sky/paradise,
The thirasheela represents the inability of the populace to see God, and
The incense smoke represents the Holy Spirit
A typical Sunday Syrian Orthodox mass starts with the morning prayers. This is the Old Testament period and the prayers are performed with the veiled madbaha remembering the dark times when the people lived without a lord.
- Lights, Sound, Smell & Action. The celebration that Jesus is born. One of the candles represents the Star of Nativity and the other the coming of the Wise men. The deacon represents John the Baptist here.
- The Evangelion (Gospel) is read
- Blessing of the Censer is performed at this point and the word (smoke) is spread
- The Nicene creed is recited during which the priest washes his fingers.
- The kiss of peace is given. This is the shortened version of one's reconciliation with neighbors before offering sacrifice to God. The celebration of the sosaffa depicts the scales being drawn from one's ignorant eyes.
- The Bread & wine is consecrated
- The Intercessory prayers (the Living & Dead fathers, saints etc.) are said for before the curtain is drawn and darkness overcomes the earth.
- The sound of the bell signals the resurrection of Jesus and the curtain is removed once again. The Lord's Prayer is recited.
- The apostles are enlightened on the Day of the Pentecost and afterwards watches Jesus ascend. At this stage the curtain is drawn again during which the communion is partaken.
- The curtain is drawn again depicting the second coming of the lord. This is the culmination point of the Qurbana.
The priest finally gives thanks and dismisses the crowd after the notices, bull and band readings. He may also test the patience of many by giving an elaborate sermon.
This is just one layer of view of the Qurbana. On other layer, it maps with a typical middle-eastern (jewish almost) sacrificial ceremony using Jesus as the lamb.
The opera tries to capture all our senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste & touch. In my view, a Roman Catholic mass is but a page from this bigger story book. The latter is probably the more antique superset.