(From the Credo to the Sanctus)Now comes the Offertory, one of the three most important parts of the Sacrifice. When the Credo is said at Mass, it forms the transition from the first to the second part of the Liturgy. Before the Apostles separated, to begin their missionary work in various portions of the world, they drew up a symbol of faith, containing the chief doctrines they had received from their Divine Master. This was known as the Apostles' Creed, the standard of belief and teaching, which they were to carry forth to the nations of the earth, and for many generations it was the only formulary of faith in existence. It seems never to have been committed to writing, lest Catechumens or enemies should come to a knowledge of it, but it was handed down by word of mouth only. S. Cyril and S. Ambrose both warn the Faithful against writing it out. Some authors say it was used in the Mass into the early part of the fourth century.
About this time, Arius, priest of Alexandria, had been troubling the peace of the Church, by falsely teaching that Our Lord was not truly God, denying, in other words, the divinity of the world's Redeemer. The Council of Nicea was held in a.d. 325, and the three hundred and eighteen bishops there assembled condemned the impiety of Arius, giving forth the clear teaching of the Church on the divinity of Our Lord, as truly the Son of God, and enlarging upon some of the articles of the Apostles' Creed, which especially refer to the Son ; thus it is we have the Nicene Creed, which is merely a development of that of the Apostles.
Before the end of the same fourth century, errors arose also as to the divinity of the Holy Ghost, and these were condemned by the Council of Constantinople, in a.d. 381, when the Fathers enlarged and developed the Creed of Nicea, by adding the Church's teaching as to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity ; it is this Credo that we now recite in the Mass. It is usually styled the Nicene Creed, yet really it is the Creed of the Council of Constantinople.
It is said or sung after the Gospel, or after the Sermon, should there have been one. The congregation stand during its recital, as a mark of respect, and also as a bold profession of faith in the doctrines contained in it. At the words, however, which tell of the loving mystery of the Incarnation, the priest genuflects, bending his right knee to the ground, and the Faithful do the same, as an act of veneration to the Son of God made man : Et homo factus est.
When is the Creed said in the Mass ? Not in every Mass, but only on stated occasions, clearly defined and laid down by the rubrics, as follows :—
1. On all Sundays and Holidays of obligation.
2. On the various feasts of Our Lord and His Holy Mother.
3. On feasts of the Apostles, who by their arduous labours propagated it over the earth.
4. Usually on feasts of the Doctors of the Church, who in their writings have explained and developed the doctrines it contains.
5. On the feast of the Patron Saint of the Church or Diocese where Mass is said, and on feasts of the Angels.
6. Whenever the Creed is said on any feast day having an octave, it is said also each day throughout the octave, when the Mass of the feast is repeated.
Except on the occasions here enumerated, it is omitted. But it is interesting to remark that S. Mary Magdalen is the only female Saint, apart Our Blessed Lady, that has the Credo peculiar to the Mass of her feast, 22nd July. This privilege she enjoys, because, in the language of the Church, she is styled the " Apostle of the Apostles," for, as Holy Scripture avers, it was to her that Our Lord first appeared on His rising from the tomb, and commanded her to go and tell His disciples (John xx. 17).
After greeting the people once again, the priest, standing in front of the Crucifix, now reads from the Missal what is known as the Offertory. The origin of this anthem and of its name goes back to the days, when the Faithful themselves used to bring up to the Altar the bread and wine needed for the Sacrifice, this antiphon being said or sung as they were doing so. Here we have the principle and origin of the custom of the Faithful making an offering to the priest, when they desire Mass to be said for their intention ; a money offering is now made, towards their support, instead of gifts in the form of bread, wine, or fruit, etc. But a vestige of the old practice is still seen in the Mass of Ordination or Consecration, when wax candles, loaves of bread, and wine are, at this point of the ceremony, solemnly offered to the presiding Pontiff.
A word of explanation may be given here on an expression found in the Offertory of the Requiem Mass, which may puzzle pious souls who read it. Our Lord therein is begged to deliver the souls of the Faithful departed from the pains of hell and to deliver them from the mouth of the lion ! Yet, out of hell there is no redemption, and once souls are in the power of the Devil, never can they be freed from it. The simple answer to the difficulty is that in early ages, Mass could be said at any time of the day for a person who was considered to be at the point of death. The priest who received such intimation could, whether fasting or not, straightway offer the Holy Sacrifice for such person. The merit of the Mass could thus ascend to Heaven, and God was therein implored to have mercy and not allow such soul to fall into hell. The learned Pope Benedict XIV. is one of those who hold to this explanation. The ancient custom of thus saying Mass at any moment for a soul about to leave the earth is no longer in existence ; but the Church has not deemed it necessary to change the words of this Offertory, once again displaying her conservative instinct, by retaining words that refer to an extinct practice, which is here recalled by a seemingly inappropriate expression, so easily explained by a knowledge of its origin. Similarly, during Advent, we still pray that the clouds may " rain down the Just One," though the expected Messiah has long ago come and gone from the earth.
After reading the Offertory, the priest uncovers the chalice, and taking the paten in his hands, with the bread upon it, he makes the oblation thereof to God, begging Him to accept it as a victim for his own sins and offences, and those of all present, as well as for the benefit of Christians generally, whether living or dead. At the conclusion, he makes a cross with the paten over the corporal, and then, as it were, lays the victim upon it. The corporal aptly recalls the linen of the Crib and the shroud of the Tomb.
Then taking the chalice, he advances to the Epistle corner, where he receives the wine cruet, from which he pours a little into the chalice, saying nothing while so doing. Then from the other cruet, he pours in a few drops of water, begging of God that we may be united by grace to Our Lord's divinity, who deigned to become partaker of our humanity. Something has already been said in a previous chapter on this mingling of water with the wine, so that further comment here is unnecessary.
Returning to the middle of the Altar, the priest makes now the oblation of the chalice, praying that it may ascend with the odour of sweetness to Heaven, for the salvation of mankind. Lowering then the chalice, as he did the paten, he places it on the corporal, and covers it with the palla, which prevents flies or dust falling into it.
After bowing down a short time in prayer, the priest proceeds once more to the Epistle corner, where he washes the tips of the thumb and first finger of each hand ; these alone are allowed to touch the Blessed Sacrament, and were, on the day of his ordination, solemnly consecrated and anointed for that purpose. While the water is being poured, he recites a few verses from the twenty-fifth Psalm and says the Lavabo : " I will wash my hands among the innocent." Apart from the literal meaning of these words and the need of washing his fingers, to cleanse them from all soil and dust, especially after using the thurible at High Mass, there is also a figurative meaning in this little ceremony, namely, that his soul must be free from sin and defects, for the worthy celebration of Holy Mass.
Then, shortly, comes the Orate, fratres. The celebrant turns round to the congregation and addresses these words to them, asking them to pray that their common sacrifice may be acceptable in the eyes of God Almighty. Only these two words does he utter aloud, saying the rest to himself, perhaps that the choir might not be disturbed, who were still singing the Offertory at High Mass, and the custom has since been retained at every Mass. Or it may be that the earnestness and piety of some great Pontiff, in making the request, may have led him to utter these first words as a sigh and exclamation from the heart, an example that was followed by others, till it became general and universal. Of this we shall meet similar instances later on.
This is the last time the priest turns towards the people, till the Sacrifice is completed and the Communion received. He is now beginning the more solemn portion of the Mass, and entering, as it were, the Holy of Holies, like the High Priest of the Old Covenant. Knowing his own frailties and unworthiness, he appeals to his people to pray for him who is their fellow-being, their priest and mediator. By the lips of their representative, the Server at the Altar, they do his bidding, and pray : " May the Lord receive this Sacrifice from thy hands, for the praise and honour of His own name, for our benefit, and for that of the whole Church." When priest and people are thus united in prayer for each other, they may well expect Our Lord to fulfil His promise, and be in the midst of them, to grant their petitions.
After the Server's reply to the greeting addressed to the people, the priest recites the Secret. This is a prayer so named because said in a low voice, not heard by those around, and said thus for the same reason again, namely, that the choir, formerly situated close to the Altar, were still singing the Offertory, or some other anthem. As the Collect usually asks some grace or blessing from God, so the Secret generally begs Him to accept the gifts laid upon the Altar, and to reform our hearts that they may be acceptable in His sight.
There may be more than one Secret, but the number always corresponds with that of the Collects, read at the beginning of Mass; at the end of the last one, the priest raises his voice and, after three versicles and their answers, he begins - The Preface, most probably of Apostolic origin, a sort of introduction to the Canon, not an essential, but very impressive part of the Mass. It is an invitation to raise our hearts to God and tender Him our thanks, through His Divine Son, and in unison with the heavenly choirs mentioned by name, for His many favours, and for the great work He is about to accomplish, by the ministry of His priest, at the Consecration. Thus did Our Lord act, before instituting the Blessed Sacrament, as we read in the Gospels.
There are in the Roman Missal eleven different prefaces, used on various occasions, and serving to bring under our notice the characteristics of the feast, or the mystery for which we should thank and adore God. These prefaces are for the Nativity, the Epiphany, for Lent, Passiontide, Easter, and the Ascension for Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, for feasts of the Blessed Virgin and the Apostles ; lastly, what is called the Common Preface, for ordinary use when no other is prescribed, and which is probably the oldest of them all.
At High Mass, the Preface is sung, and the Church here employs a chant most simple, yet most exquisitely thrilling and soul inspiring; apart from its venerable antiquity, dating back perhaps to the very days of the Temple, this plain chant has ever been regarded by musical experts with the greatest enthusiasm and admiration, often moving people to tears as they listened to it. Whichever preface be said or sung at Mass, it always concludes with - The Sanctus. Here the bell is rung to recall the wandering thoughts of the people, and to remind them that the Canon, the solemn part of the Mass, is commencing. This short hymn is said in a lower tone of voice than the preface, leading by a gentle transition to the Canon, the whole of which is inaudible to the congregation. The first words recall the glorious vision of Isaias vi. 3, wherein he heard the Seraphim crying out before the throne of God : " Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of hosts ; all the earth is full of His glory." While the second part consists of the words of King David, which the Jews sang to Our Lord, as He solemnly entered Jerusalem : Benedictus qui ventt, " Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matt. xxi. 9). These words are again a most appropriate welcome given to Our Lord, as He comes down upon the Altar, at the Consecration. Hosanna in excelsis is a shout of joy, concluding both parts of the Sanctus.