First Published in 1868.
TAN Books and Publishers
On the Ceremonies of the Mass
YOU may ask, dear Reader, if Our Lord also ordained the ceremonies of Mass. I answer, "No." He instituted only the essential parts of the Mass. He left it to His Church to prescribe the rites and ceremonies to be observed in its celebration. However, most of the ceremonies of Mass are of great antiquity, and many of them are without doubt of Apostolic origin. It is principally for two reasons that the Church has prescribed so many ceremonies in the celebration of Mass: first, because Mass being the highest act of religious worship, the Church desires that it should be celebrated with a solemnity and reverence corresponding in some degree to the greatness of the sacrifice; secondly, because, if the various ceremonies of Mass are well understood, they will greatly excite and foster a reverence and spirit of devotion in the hearts of the faithful. They all refer to our Saviour's Passion and death, of which the Mass is a commemoration. Hence the ritual of the Mass is arranged in accordance with the awful tragedy of Calvary.
The priest, the representative of Christ, is clad in garments like those in which the Redeemer was attired on the day of His cruel death. The amice, or white cloth worn around his neck, represents the handkerchief with which Our Lord was blindfolded; the alb, or long white garment, signifies the white robe which Herod put on our Saviour in mockery; the cincture or girdle, the maniple on the left arm, and the stole passing round the neck and crossed upon the breast represent the cords and strings with which Our Lord was bound, and by which He was dragged through the streets of Jerusalem; the chasuble, worn over all the others, signifies the scarlet robe in which He was arrayed when Pilate showed Him to the people, saying: "Behold the man!" The altar, with its crucifix, represents Mount Calvary; the chalice signifies the Saviour's tomb; the paten, His tombstone; and the purifier, with the pall and corporal, the linen cloths in which His Sacred Body was wrapped when it was laid in the tomb.
When the priest begins Mass, he says with the server some prayers at the foot of the altar, during which he bows very profoundly. This signifies Our Lord's entering upon His Passion in the Garden of Gethsemani, where He sweat Blood and prayed prostrate on the ground. These prayers of the priest are a kind of preparation for Mass. He begins by saying: In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti-----"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." It is as much as to say: "I act now by the authority of God the Father, Whose priest I am; and of God the Son, in Whose place I am priest; and of God the Holy Ghost, by Whom I am priest." Or, "I offer this sacrifice in the name of the Father, to Whom I offer it, and of the Son, Whom I offer, and of the Holy Ghost, by Whom I offer it."
Then he recites a Psalm expressive of humble trust in God, which is followed by the Confiteor and the Ordinary prayers accompanying it. After this he ascends the altar and kisses it. This part reminds us of the seizure of Our Lord by the Jewish multitude, into whose hands He was betrayed by the perfidious kiss and cruel treachery of Judas.
And now begins what may be called the preliminary part of the Mass, which answers to the time when Our Lord was interrogated about His doctrine before the tribunals of Caiphas and Pilate; it lasts till the end of the Creed. Having read the Introit, or short verses from Scripture, the priest says nine times, Kyrie eleison, "Lord have mercy on us," thereby giving us to understand how constant and persevering we ought to be in prayer. Immediately after the Kyrie follows the Gloria in excelsis, the hymn which the Angels sang at the birth of Jesus Christ. Surely if such a hymn of praise was sung by the heavenly choirs when our Saviour commenced the work of our redemption, we ought to render to Him a tribute of gratitude no less fervent when at Holy Mass we commemorate and participate in all His benefits and merits.
Therefore, everyone should recite this Divine hymn along with the priest, or at least join his intention with him and say some Gloria Patri, by way of thanksgiving. After the Gloria, the priest turns to the people and says, Dominus vobiscum, and the server, in their name, replies, Et cum spiritu tuo, a salutation and response which occur very often during Mass. The meaning of the former is, "The Lord be with you," and of the latter, "And with thy spirit," and the Church intends by this frequent interchange of holy affections between the priest and the people to excite devotion, and to teach us how we should desire above all things to remain always in the peace of God.
The priest extends his arms when he says these words to express the exceedingly great charity which Jesus Christ bears towards the faithful and to show how He wishes them ever to remain united to Him in the bonds of true love and obedient to His commandments. The outstretched hands of the priest at the Dominus vobiscum signify also the outstretched arms of our dying Lord on the Cross, Who, dying for all mankind, wished to receive them in His arms and press them to His heart in token of His undying love for them.
The Dominus vobiscum is followed by the Collect [Prayer] of the day, and after that follow the Epistle and the Gospel. These vary according to the season, and may be found translated in many of the ordinary prayer books.
When the Epistle is ended, the server says, Deo Gratias, "Thanks be to God," that is to say, for the good instruction contained in the Epistle. The server then carries the Missal to the other side of the altar for the reading of the Gospel-----at the left. This signifies that, after Our Lord had been taken prisoner, He was led about from one iniquitous judge to another: from Annas to Caiphas, from Caiphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod and from Herod back again to Pilate. This ceremony signifies also that when the Jews had rejected the Gospel, it passed over to the Gentiles, who received it with joy.
When the priest begins the Gospel, he makes the Sign of the Cross on the book to remind us that Our Lord died for the truth of the doctrine which He taught and that we also should ever be ready to lay down our lives for the same truth. After that, the priest makes the Sign of the Cross on his forehead, on his lips and on his heart, and the people do the same. This action is very significant and should never be omitted. By signing the forehead with the Sign of the Cross, we declare that we entirely submit our minds to the teaching of faith; by signing the lips, we testify our readiness to profess our faith before men; and by signing the heart, we remind ourselves of the duty of carefully preserving the word of God in our hearts.
At the end of the Gospel the server says, Laus tibi, Christe, "Praise be to Thee, O Christ!" viz., for His love, shown in the work of Redemption, which the Gospel makes known to us. The Gospel is followed by the Creed, or explicit confession of the truths which our Saviour has taught us; and when the priest says Et incarnatus est ["And was incarnate"], etc., all kneel down in adoring gratitude to the Son of God for having become man for us.
Now begins the Offertory, or the first [principal] part of the Mass, with which Mass may properly be said to commence. The priest uncovers the chalice, and taking the paten with the host upon it in his hands, he solemnly offers it to God the Father. He afterwards does the same with the chalice, into which he has poured the wine; but before offering the chalice, he drops into it a little water, in remembrance of the water that flowed from our Saviour's side, and also to signify that as the water becomes inseparably incorporated with the wine, so are we closely united to Jesus Christ in Holy Communion.
Then, turning to the people he says, Orate, Fratres, etc., "Pray, my brethren," thereby inviting them to join with him in more instant supplications that the sacrifice which he is about to complete may be offered with suitable devotion. We have seen that St. Chrysostom, speaking of the moment in which this tremendous sacrifice is consummated, says, "So great is then the abstraction of the pious mind from all sublunary things, that it seems as if one were caught up into Paradise and saw the things that are done in Heaven itself."
It is possible that when he wrote these words he may have had in his mind the part of the service which comes next in order; for now the priest calls upon the people to banish all earthly thoughts and to think of God alone, saying, Sursum Corda-----"Lift up your hearts!" And the people, in obedience to the call, answer by the server, Habemus ad Dominum-----"We have lifted them up to the Lord." Then once more he appeals to them, saying, in view of the countless mercies of God, Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro-----"Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God." And they answer as before, Dignum et justum est-----"It is meet and just." Whereupon, taking up the words which they have just uttered, he proceeds: "It is very meet, just, right and salutary that we should always and in all places give thanks to Thee, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God, through Christ, Our Lord."
This part of the service is called the Preface, and it includes a particular thanksgiving for the special blessings which Holy Church commemorates. The Preface ends with a petition that our praises be accepted before the altar of the Most High, in union with the adoration of the Angels, who rest not day or night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts! " At these words the Sanctus bell is rung to give notice of the approaching Consecration. Here all should kneel and keep as quiet as possible, avoiding even coughing or moving unnecessarily, for now the Canon or most solemn part of the Mass begins, and the Consecration, or the second [of the three principal parts] and most essential part of the Mass, soon takes place.
In the act of consecrating, the priest performs the same action which Jesus Christ performed at the Last Supper. He takes the host into his hands, and lifting up his eyes to Heaven, he repeats the words which Our Lord made use of; and by the Divine power of those words, the bread is changed into the true Body of our Saviour. After this he pronounces the words of Consecration over the wine in the chalice. The bell is rung three times at each Consecration as a warning to the people to adore Jesus Christ present on the altar. This is done according to the ancient usage of the Church. "No one," says St. Augustine, "eats of this flesh-----the Holy Eucharist-----without having first adored it."
The priest elevates the Host after he has consecrated it, and so he does with the chalice, in order that the faithful may compensate in some degree by the loving adoration of their hearts for the insults, mockeries, and injuries which Our Lord received when He was lifted up on the Cross. The priest also makes the Sign of the Cross very often over the sacred species. This is to remind us of the many pains and sorrows which Our Lord Jesus Christ endured for us during His crucifixion.
All the prayers of the Canon are said by the priest in such a low tone of voice that they cannot be heard. This is in memory of those awful hours during which Jesus Christ hung on the Cross and bore in silence the scoffs and blasphemies of the Jewish multitude. But at the Pater Noster the priest raises his voice; this is to remind the faithful of the last seven words which our Saviour spoke in a loud voice when hanging on the Cross. After the Pater Noster, the priest breaks the Host, signifying thereby the death of Christ, or the separation of Our Lord's Soul from His Body; at the same time, he drops a small particle of the Host into the chalice, to signify that Our Lord's Soul descended into Limbo to announce to the Patriarchs their redemption. At the Communion of the priest, or the third [principal] part of the Mass, the bell is rung again in order that the faithful may be reminded also to receive Communion, at least spiritually.
The act of Communion represents the burial of Christ. At this moment we should offer our hearts as a sepulchre to Our Lord; that is to say, we should resolve to close them against the world and to keep them pure and incorrupt that they may be the resting place of Him Who died for love of us. After Communion [including that of the people, if they are present], the priest says some prayers in thanksgiving, after which he turns and says, "Ite Missa est." This means that the Mass is ended; accordingly, immediately afterwards he dismisses the people with his benediction by making over them the Sign of the Cross, to remind them once more that every blessing comes from the death of Christ. Then the Gospel of St. John is read, at the end of which the server says, Deo Gratias-----"Thanks be to God"-----for His great mercy in having permitted us to assist at so precious and so holy a sacrifice.
Thus the ceremonies of Mass evince the deep wisdom of our Holy Mother, the Church, and if one has but a little good will, they will be a powerful means of leading the mind on to the great and inestimable mysteries which the Holy Sacrifice contains. When our Saviour was crucified on Mount Calvary, the sun was darkened, the rocks were rent and the whole earth quaked; the Roman centurion, seeing the things that were done, was greatly afraid and said, "Indeed, this was the Son of God." So the mystical renewal of the sufferings of Christ which is made at Mass continually excites emotions of faith and love in those who assist at it with sincere hearts.
Truly, Mass is the most powerful means to foster faith and fervor. For this reason, the devil persuaded Luther to attack this holy sacrifice, as the most infallible means of preparing the high road to Protestantism, that is to say, a general apostasy from Christianity. As soon as God would permit the Mass to be abolished, the gates of Hell would exert a fearful power against the Church and even threaten destruction to the Christian religion. Nevertheless, it is possible to remain indevout and cold, even with so great a means of grace at our command. In the very temple of God, Our Lord found those that sold oxen, sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting.
St. Chrysostom says of some Christians in his days that they committed greater sins by their irreverence in church than they would have done by remaining away altogether. It was on account of sacrileges perpetrated in church that the Kingdom of Cyprus fell into the hands of the Turks. But I need not go to history for instances of irreverence; modern times furnish, alas, too many, which prove how easy it is for one whose heart has grown hard and cold to treat the most holy things with disrespect. Be, then, always on your guard against the spirit of unbelief.
The love of the world soon deadens our appreciation of spiritual things. Strive to cherish a tenderness of heart for the greatest and most lovely mystery of our Holy Religion. When you go to Mass, say with St. Francis: "Now, ye worldly affairs and thoughts of business, leave me and remain outside, while I go into the Sanctuary of the Most High to speak to the great Lord of Heaven and earth." Be reverent while you are assisting at Mass, and when it is over, leave the church with such sentiments of humility and piety as if coming from the awful scene of the death of Jesus Christ on Mount Calvary. In fine, go forth to your duties with the same resolution with which you would have gone had you stood with Mary and St. John beneath your Saviour's Cross: namely, to merit Heaven by fulfilling the obligations of your state of life and by bearing with patience all sufferings, trials, hardships and injuries for the love of Jesus Christ, who loved us to such an excess and whom we shall never be able to thank sufficiently, nor repay His ever-burning love.