First Published in 1868.
TAN Books and Publishers
An Exhortation To Hear Mass Devoutly
ALL good works together," says the saintly Cure of Ars, "are not of equal value with the Sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men, and the Holy Mass is the work of God."
Martyrdom is nothing in comparison; it is the sacrifice that man makes of his life to God. The Mass is the sacrifice that God makes of His Body and of His Blood for man. Yet how little is this most august sacrifice valued by most of men! If someone were to say to us, "At such a place and at such an hour a dead person will be raised to life," we should run very fast to see it. But is not the Consecration which changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of God a much greater miracle than the raising of a dead person to life? Ah, if Christians knew better the value of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or rather, if they had more faith, they would be much more zealous to assist at it with reverence and devotion!
To increase your zeal and fervor in hearing Holy Mass with greater devotion, let me relate a marvelous vision in which St. Gertrude saw our Lord Jesus Christ celebrate Mass in a mystical manner: On Gaudete Sunday [Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete means "Rejoice")], as Gertrude prepared to communicate at the first Mass-----which commences "Rorate"-----she complained to Our Lord that she could not hear Mass; but Our Lord, Who compassionates the afflicted, consoled her, saying: "Do you wish, My beloved, that I should say Mass for you?" Then, being suddenly rapt in spirit, she replied: "I do desire it, O Beloved of my soul, and I most ardently beseech Thee to grant me this favor." Our Lord then intoned the Gaudete in Domino semper ["Rejoice in the Lord always"] with a choir of Saints to incite this soul to praise and rejoice in Him; and as He sat on His royal throne, St. Gertrude cast herself at His feet and embraced them. Then He chanted the Kyrie eleison ["Lord, have mercy"] in a clear and loud voice, while two of the princes of the choir of Thrones took her soul and brought it before God the Father, where she remained prostrate.
At the first Kyrie eleison, He granted her the remission of all the sins which she had contracted through human frailty, after which the Angels raised her up on her knees. At the second, He pardoned her sins of ignorance, and she was raised up by these princes so that she stood before God. Then two Angels of the choir of Cherubim led her to the Son of God, who received her with great tenderness. At the first Christe eleison ["Christ, have mercy"], the Saint offered Our Lord all the sweetness of human affection, returning it to Him as to its Source; and there was a wonderful influx of God into her soul and of her soul into God, so that by the descending notes the ineffable delights of the Divine Heart flowed into her, and by the ascending notes, the joy of her soul flowed back to God. At the second Christe eleison, she experienced the most ineffable delights, which she offered to Our Lord. At the third Christe eleison, the Son of God extended His hands and bestowed on her all the fruits of His most holy life and conversation.
Two Angels of the choir of Seraphim then presented her to the Holy Spirit, who penetrated the three powers of her soul. At the first Kyrie eleison [of the second series], He illuminated her reason with the glorious light of Divine knowledge, that she might always know His will perfectly. At the second Kyrie eleison, He strengthened the irascible part of her soul to resist all the machinations of her enemies and to conquer every evil. At the last Kyrie eleison, He inflamed her love, that she might love God with her whole heart, with her whole soul and with her whole strength. It was for this reason that the choir of Seraphim, which is the highest order in the heavenly hosts, presented her to the Holy Ghost, Who is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, and that the Thrones presented her to God the Father, manifesting that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God, equal in glory, co-eternal in majesty, living and reigning perfect Trinity through endless ages.
The Son of God then rose from His royal throne and, turning towards God the Father, entoned the Gloria in excelsis Deo ["Glory be to God in the highest"] in a clear and sonorous voice. At the word Gloria He extolled the immense and incomprehensible omnipotence of God the Father; at the words in excelsis He praised His profound wisdom; at Deo He honored the inestimable and indescribable sweetness of the Holy Ghost. The whole Celestial Court then continued in a most harmonious voice, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis ["And on earth peace to men of good will"]. Our Lord being again seated on His throne, St. Gertrude sat at His feet, meditating on her own abjection, when He inclined towards her lovingly; then she rose and stood before Him, while the Divine splendor illuminated her whole being. The Angels from the choir of Thrones then brought a throne, magnificently adorned, which they placed before Our Lord; two princes from the choir of Seraphim placed Gertrude thereon and supported her on each side, while two of the choir of Cherubim stood before her bearing brilliant torches. And thus she remained before her Beloved, clothed in royal purple. When the heavenly hosts came to the words Domine Deus Rex Caelestis ["O Lord God, Heavenly King"], they paused, and the Son of God continued alone, chanting to the honor and glory of His Father.
At the conclusion of the Gloria in excelsis, the Lord Jesus, Who is our true [and eternal] High Priest and Pontiff, turned to St. Gertrude, saying Dominus vobiscum, dilecta-----"The Lord be with you, beloved," and she replied, Et spiritus meus tecum, praedilecte-----"And may my spirit be with Thee, O my Beloved." After this she inclined towards the Lord to return Him thanks for His love in uniting her spirit to His Divinity, whose delights are with the children of men. The Lord then read the Collect, Deus, qui hanc sacratissimam noctem . . . ["God, Who this most holy night . . ."], which He concluded with the words, Per Jesum Christum filium tuum ["Through Jesus Christ, Thy Son"], as if giving thanks to God the Father for illuminating the soul of Gertrude, whose unworthiness was indicated by the word noctem ("night"), which was called "most holy," because she had become marvellously ennobled by the knowledge of her own baseness. St. John the Evangelist then rose and stood between God and her soul. He was adorned with a yellow garment which was covered with golden eagles. He commenced the Epistle, Haec est sponsa ["This is the bride"], and the Celestial Court concluded, Ipsi gloria in saecula ["To Him be glory forever"]. Then all chanted the gradual Specie tua, adding the versicle, Audi filia et vide. After this they commenced the Alleluia. St. Paul, the great Doctor of the Church, pointed to St. Gertrude, saying, Aemulor enim vos-----"For I am jealous of you . . ." (2 Cor: 11 :2); and the heavenly choir sang the prose, Filiae Sion exultent. At the words Dum non consentiret, St. Gertrude remembered that she had been a little negligent in resisting temptations, and she hid her face in shame; but Our Lord, Who could not bear to behold the confusion of His chaste queen, covered her negligence with a collar of gold, so that she appeared as if she had gained a glorious victory over all her enemies.
Then another Evangelist commenced the Gospel, Exultavit Dominus Jesus, and these words moved the Heart of Jesus so deeply that He arose and, extending His hands, exclaimed aloud, Confiteor tibi, Pater ["I confess to Thee, Father"-----cf. Matt. 11:25], manifesting the same thanksgiving and gratitude to His Father as He had done when He said the same words on earth, giving special thanks for the graces bestowed on this soul. After the Gospel He desired Gertrude to make a public profession of faith by reciting the Creed in the name of the whole Church. When she had concluded, the choir chanted the Offertory, Domine Deus in simplicitate, adding Sanctificavit Moyses. The Heart of Jesus then appeared as a golden altar, which shone with a marvellous brightness, on which the Angel guardians offered the good works and prayers of those committed to their care. The Saints then approached, and each offered his merits to the eternal praise of God and for the salvation of St. Gertrude. The angelic princes, who had charge of the Saint, next approached and offered a chalice of gold, which contained all the trials and afflictions which she had endured, either in body or soul, from her infancy, and the Lord blessed the chalice with the Sign of the Cross as the priest blesses it before Consecration.
He now intoned the words Sursum corda ["Lift up your hearts"]. Then, all the Saints were summoned to come forward, and they applied their hearts in the form of golden pipes to the golden altar of the Divine Heart; and from the overflowings of this chalice, which Our Lord had consecrated by His benediction, they received some drops for the increase of their merit, glory and eternal beatitude.
The Son of God then chanted the Gratias agamus ["Let us give thanks"] to the glory and honor of His Eternal Father. At the Preface, He remained silent for an hour after the words Per Jesum Christum, while the heavenly hosts chanted the Dominum nostrum with ineffable jubilation, declaring that He was their Creator, Redeemer and the liberal Rewarder of all their good works and that He alone was worthy of honor and glory, praise and exaltation, power and dominion from and over all creatures. At the words laudant angeli ["the Angels praise"], all the angelic spirits ran hither and thither, exciting the heavenly inhabitants to sing the Divine praises. At the words Adorant Dominationes ["the Dominions worship"], the Choir of Dominations knelt to adore Our Lord, declaring that to Him alone every knee should bow, whether in Heaven, on earth or under the earth. At the Tremunt Potestates ["the Powers are in awe"], the Powers prostrated before Him to declare that He alone should be adored; and at the Caeli caelorumque ["the heavens and the heavenly hosts"], they praised God with all the Angel choirs.
Then all the heavenly hosts sang together in harmonious concert the Cum quibus et nostras ["with whose (voices) and ours"], and the Virgin Mary, the effulgent Rose of Heaven, who is blessed above all creatures, chanted the Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus [Holy, holy, holy], extolling with the highest gratitude by these three words the incomprehensible
omnipotence, the inscrutable wisdom and the ineffable goodness of the Ever Blessed Trinity, inciting all the celestial choirs to praise God for having made her most powerful after the Father, most wise after the Son and most benign after the Holy Ghost. The Saints then continued the Dominus Deus Sabaoth ["Lord God of hosts"]. When this was ended, Gertrude saw Our Lord rise from His royal throne and present His blessed Heart to His Father, elevating it with His Own hands and immolating it in an ineffable manner for the whole Church. At this moment, the bell rang for the Elevation of the Host in the church, so that it appeared as if Our Lord does in Heaven what the priests do on earth; but the Saint was entirely ignorant of what was passing in the church or what the time was.
As she continued in amazement at so many marvels, Our Lord told her to recite the Pater noster ["Our Father"]. When she had finished, He accepted it from her and granted to all the Saints and Angels for her sake that by this Pater noster they should accomplish everything which had ever been accomplished for the salvation of the Church and for the Souls in Purgatory. Then He suggested her to pray for the Church, which she did, for all in general and for each in particular, with the greatest fervor; and the Lord united her prayer to those which He had offered Himself when in the flesh, to be applied to the Universal Church.
Then she exclaimed: "But, Lord, when shall I communicate?" And Our Lord communicated Himself to her with a love and tenderness which no human tongue could describe, so that she received the perfect fruit of His most precious Body and Blood. After this, He sang a canticle of love for her and declared to her that had this union of Himself with her been the sole fruit of His labors, sorrows and Passion, He would have been fully satisfied. Oh, inestimable sweetness of the Divine condescension, Who so delights in human hearts that He considers His union with them a sufficient return for all the bitterness of His Passion! And yet, what should we not owe Him had He only shed one drop of His Precious Blood for us!
Our Lord then chanted Gaudete justi ["Rejoice, ye just"], and all the Saints rejoiced with Gertrude. Then Our Lord said in the name of the Church Militant, Rejecti sibo, etc . . . He then saluted all the Saints lovingly, saying, Dominus vobiscum, and thereby increased the glory and joy of all the Blessed. The Saints and Angels then sang for the Ite Missa est ["Go, it is finished"], Te decet laus et honor, Domine ["To Thee belongs praise and honor, O Lord''], to the glory and praise of the effulgent and ever peaceful Trinity. The Son of God extended His royal hand and blessed the Saint, saying: "I bless thee, O daughter of eternal light, with this special blessing, granting you this favor, that whenever you desire to do good to anyone from particular affection, they will be as much benefitted above others as Jacob was above Esau when he received his father's blessing."
My dear Reader, were Our Lord to favor you but once with such a vision, how great would not your devotion be in hearing Mass! Ah, dear Reader, our vision must be our faith! Faith is the best of all visions because it is not subject to any illusion. In the light of a lively faith you will see in every Mass all these marvels of Divine omnipotence, wisdom and goodness which St. Gertrude saw. This faith teaches us to do what St. James the Apostle says in his Mass: "When the moment of Consecration is arriving, everyone should be silent and trembling with reverential awe; he should forget everything earthly, remembering that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords is coming down upon the altar as a victim to be offered to God the Father and as food to be given to the faithful; He is preceded by the Angelic choirs in full splendor, with their faces veiled, singing hymns of praise with great joy."
Of these hymns of praise St. Bridget writes thus: "One day, when a priest was celebrating Mass, I saw at the moment of Consecration how all the powers of Heaven were set in motion. I heard at the same time a heavenly music, most harmonious, most sweet. Numberless Angels came down, the chant of whom no human understanding can conceive nor the tongue of man describe. They surrounded and looked upon the priest, bowing towards him in reverential awe. The devils commenced to tremble and took to flight in the greatest confusion and terror." (Lib. 8, C. 56).
All this is in accordance with what other great Saints have seen or said on this subject. St. John Chrysostom says that whole choirs of Angels are surrounding the altar while Jesus Christ is as a victim upon it. St. Euthymius, when saying Mass, would often see many Angels assisting at the Sacred Mysteries in reverential awe. At other times he would see an immense fire and light coming down from Heaven and enveloping him and his assistant to the end of the Holy Sacrifice. (Life by Cyrillus). In the same manner the Holy Ghost would, in the form of a fiery flame, surround St. Anastasius whilst celebrating Mass. (Life by St. Basil). St. Guduvalus, Archbishop, who would always prepare himself for the celebration of this most august sacrifice by fasting, night watches and many fervent prayers, often saw how the Angels descended from Heaven during Mass, chanting hymns of praise with unspeakably great reverence; but he himself would be standing at the altar like a majestic column of fiery flame while he was celebrating the Holy Sacrifice.
Severus relates of St. Martin that when he was saying Mass a fiery globe would be seen above his head. Who shall not wonder at this behavior of the Angels: during Mass and at the great preparations which the celestial spirits make when Mass is being celebrated, in order that this most august mystery may be performed with the greatest pomp and dignity possible. But we, wretched men as we are, see, for want of faith, but little of the supernatural that is going on during Mass. Were Our Lord to show us what He deigned St. Bridget and other Saints to see, what great marvels should we not witness? We should see how the whole of the heavenly host would be occupied in making most suitable preparations for renewing, in a mystical manner, the life, sufferings and death of Jesus Christ.
We should see, to our greatest surprise and astonishment, how a heavenly sun, moon and stars would shine upon this mystery during its celebration and how the Angelic choirs would glorify it by their music most sweet and their singing most enrapturing. We would see, moreover, how true it is what Our Lord once said to St. Matilda. (Lib. 3, Revel., C. 28). "At the moment of Consecration," said He, "I come down first in such deep humility that there is no one at Mass, no matter how despicable and vile he may be, towards whom I do not humbly incline and approach, if he desires Me to do so and prays for it; secondly, I come down with such great patience that I suffer even My greatest enemies to be present and grant them the full pardon of all their sins, if they wish to be reconciled with Me; thirdly, I come with such immense love that no one of those present can be so hardened that I do not soften his heart and enkindle it with My love, if he wishes Me to do so; fourthly, I come with such inconceivable liberality that none of those present can be so poor that I would not enrich him abundantly; fifthly, I come with such sweet food that no one ever so hungry should not be refreshed and fully satiated by Me. Sixthly, I come with such great light and splendor that no heart, how blinded soever it may be, will not be enlightened and purified by My presence. Seventhly, I come with such great sanctity and treasures of grace that no one, however inert and indevout he may be, should not be roused from this state."
Who should not exclaim, with St. Francis of Assisi, "Oh, wonderful greatness! Oh, most humble condescension, that the well-beloved Son of God should conceal Himself for man's sake under the small species of bread! Let entire man, the whole world and the heavens tremble at such a spectacle!" Not seeing these wonders with our eyes, we are accustomed not to appreciate them, and to assist at Mass with levity and indevotion. But the Angels see them and tremble. The devils see them and take to flight; we see them not, but believe them, and though faith is the best sight, yet we are present almost like marble blocks, looking at everyone who comes in or goes out; the least noise disturbs us and makes us forget Our Lord. We truly deserve the reproach which Jesus Christ made to St. Peter when He said, "O ye of little faith." Nowhere do these words come more true than when we are at Mass! How much is this our little faith confounded by the fervor and devotion of so many Christian Dukes and Monarchs.
Fornerus, formerly Bishop of Bamberg, relates (Miser. conc. 78) of the great Duke Simon de Montfort as follows: "This famous Duke was accustomed to hear Mass daily with great devotion, and at the Elevation of the Sacred Host, he would say with Simeon: 'Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace, because my eyes have seen Thy salvation.' (Luke 2:29-30). His regular attendance at Mass was known to the Albigenses, his bitterest enemies, against whom he had been waging war for 20 years. The Albigenses, being driven to despair, determined to make a sudden attack upon the Duke's army in the morning while he was at Mass.
"They executed their design and really surprised his soldiers. Officers came to him while he was hearing Mass, announcing to him the great danger in which the whole army was and begging him to come to their aid. The Duke answered, 'Let me serve the Lord now, and men afterwards.' No sooner were these officers gone than others arrived making the same most earnest request. The Duke replied, 'I shall not leave this place until I have seen and adored my God and Saviour Jesus Christ.'
"Meanwhile, he recommended his whole army to Our Lord, beseeching Him by the most august Sacrifice of the Mass to assist his people. At the Elevation of the Sacred Host, he poured out his heart in humble prayer to his Saviour, offering up to the heavenly Father the Body and Blood of His well-beloved Son, and making, at the same time, an oblation of his own life in honor of the Blessed Trinity. At the Elevation of the Chalice he prayed, 'Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace, because my eyes have seen Thy salvation.' Then, feeling inspired with great courage and confidence in the Lord, he said to his officers, 'Now let us go, and if God pleases, die for Him who has deigned to die for us on the Cross.'
"His whole army consisted of but 800 cavalry, with a small number of infantry. With this little force he attacked, in the name of the Blessed Trinity, the grand army of the Albigenses, commanded by the Count of Tolosa, who was supported by the army of Peter, King of Aragonla, his brother-in-law. Now, of this grand army Simon de Montfort, the Christian hero, killed 20,000 men on the spot, and the rest of his enemies he put to shameful flight. Everyone said and believed that Montfort had gained this glorious victory more by his fervent prayers at Mass than by the strength of his army, which counted but 16,000 men."
Ah, how many and how great would be the victories which we should gain over the world, the flesh and the devil, were we always to hear Mass with as much faith, fervor and devotion as this Duke did! How great would be our humility to bear contempt and contradictions with a tranquil heart; how great our patience to carry the crosses and trials of this life until death; how great our confidence in the Lord under the most trying circumstances; how great our charity for our neighbor; how great the light of our understanding in religious matters, and the devotion of our hearts to relish the same, if we profited well by the gift of God in the holy Mass!
What the holy Patriarch Jacob said after his wrestling with the Angel of the Lord we too might say, but with more truth than he did: "I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been saved." (Gen. 32:30) For "As often as one hears Mass," said Our Lord Jesus Christ to St. Gertrude, "and looks with devotion upon Me in the Sacred Host, or has at least the desire of doing so, so many times he increases his merits and glory in Heaven, and so many particular blessings and favors and delights shall he receive." (Lib. 4, Revel., C. 25) Yes, my dear Reader, for your sake and for mine the heavenly Father sends His well-beloved Son upon the altar; for your salvation and mine the Holy Ghost changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ; for your sake and mine the Son of God comes from Heaven and conceals Himself under the species of bread and wine, humbling Himself so much as to be whole and entire in the smallest particle of the Host; for your sake and mine He renews the mystery of His incarnation, is born anew in a mystical manner; for your sake and mine He offers up to His heavenly Father all the prayers and devotions which He performed during His life on earth; for your sake and mine He renews His Passion and death to make us partake of its merits, cancelling your sins and negligences and mine and remitting many temporal punishments due to the same.
One Mass which you have heard will do you more good than many which are said for you after your death. As many Masses as you have heard, so many consolations you will experience in the hour of your death, and so many advocates you will have before the tribunal of God to defend and plead for you. You can do nothing better for your parents, friends, for the poor and distressed, for your benefactors, for the dying, for the conversion of sinners, for the just, for the Souls in Purgatory, than to hear and offer up for them the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, nor can you give greater glory and joy to the Blessed Trinity, to the Blessed Virgin and all the Saints than by assisting at Mass with devotion.
Mass is the most powerful means for being preserved from temporal and spiritual harm, for obtaining every gift from the Lord, both for this life and for that to come. In a word, Mass is, as St. Francis de Sales says, "the center of the Christian religion, the heart of devotion and the soul of piety; a mystery so ineffable as to comprise within itself the abyss of Divine charity; a mystery in which God communicates Himself really to us and in a special manner replenishes our souls with spiritual graces and favors." (Intro. to the Devout Life, Chap. 14). Hence, I can truly say and fairly conclude that there is no hour of the day so precious as that which you devote to hearing Mass. It is truly a golden hour, for the merit you gain therein is more precious than pure gold. The other hours of the day, although they are necessary, and have their use in the economy of Nature, in comparison, can only be esteemed as dross.
But you may say, "It is more necessary for us to labor than to hear Mass, because without work I cannot earn a subsistence for myself and family." I say otherwise: it is even more necessary to hear Mass than to labor, because it is a most powerful means to keep yourself in the state of grace and most difficult for you to obtain the blessings of God without it. I do not say neglect your work, but break off for a half-hour and give that short time to God, and you will find your business will succeed better, as it will have God's blessing upon it.
If you neglect to hear Mass, either for temporal interest or from slothfulness, you occasion to yourself a loss in comparison with which no worldly loss is to be compared, for you lose a hundred-fold greater gain than you can make by your work during the whole day. This you may judge from the remarkable words which Christ used with so much emphasis: "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul." (Matt. 16:26). Can you hesitate for a trifling worldly profit to refuse to listen to and apply to yourself the trusty admonition of Christ Himself?