Traditional Latin Mass filmed on Easter Sunday in 1941 at Our Lady of Sorrows church in Chicago.
From the Pater to the End of MassThe fourth part, called the Communion, comprises the final ceremonies of Holy Mass and completes the Sacrifice. The Holy Eucharist, as we have seen, is not only a sacrifice, but also food for our souls. Hence, if the Divine Lamb has been mystically immolated in our behalf at the Consecration, the Mass would be incomplete, unless that Divine Food were consumed, at least by the officiating- minister, through his own sacramental communion, from which this last part of the Liturgy takes its name. " The Communion of the celebrant is essential to the Mass in this sense, that, like the offertory, it appears to be of Divine institution, and cannot be dispensed with, even by the Church herself. The Mass was instituted, not only to provide the redeemed people of God with a Sacrifice, but also to furnish them with the greatest of all Sacraments. The priest when he communicates, receives as a Sacrament, that Divine Victim whom he has first offered up as a Sacrifice. The sacrificial meal is the Sacrament." [The Holy Eucharist," p. 1 69, Bp. Hedley.]
This communion of the priest is introduced by a series of beautiful prayers. The first is the Pater Noster, the family prayer, as it were, of the Church, forming the transition to this part of the Mass, as the Preface served to introduce the Canon. This is the prayer Our Lord Himself taught to the Apostles, and through them to the world, in answer to their request : " Lord, teach us to pray " (Luke xi. i). "Thus shall you pray," replied Our Saviour, and He gave them the Lord's Prayer, as it is termed, the " Our Father." This most excellent of all prayers contains a summary of perfection and sanctity. It consists of seven petitions or requests, the first three of which refer to the glory of God, in and through us, while the remaining four concern our own wants, spiritual and temporal. In this respect it recalls the Seven Words spoken by Our Lord on the Cross, and thus becomes a further memorial of the Sacrifice of the Altar being the same as that of Calvary. It is thought to have been introduced into the Mass by the Apostles, at the command, says S. Jerome, of Our Lord Himself! Its present position was assigned to it by S. Gregory the Great, in the sixth century.
The Pater is said at Low Mass, and sung at High Mass, in each case aloud, whole and entire, for the Catechumens were not present at this portion of the service, therefore the ancient Discipline of the Secret did not hold.
The concluding petition (deliverance from evil) is further developed in the prayer which follows, namely, the Libera nos, wherein we ask to be freed from all evils, past, present,
and future, and beg the intercession of the Saints that our days may be spent in peace and free from all disturbance of mind and body. Over and over again do the prayers of the Church beg this favour of God, for peace is one of the greatest blessings of Heaven, essential for our happiness and welfare here below, and most conducive to the attaining of eternal peace hereafter. It is the blessing Our Lord wished His Apostles on more than one occasion (John xiv. 27 ; xx. 19, 26).
Towards the end of this prayer, the priest divides the Sacred Host into two equal parts, an important act and a liturgical ceremony full of meaning. In this, he acts as the Divine Master had done at the Last Supper, when He broke bread and divided it amongst the Disciples (Matt. xxvi. 26). In the early days of the Church, the breaking of bread was synonymous with consecrating the Blessed Eucharist (Acts xx. 7). Such fraction of the Host typifies Our Lord's violent death on the Cross, and represents the Blessed Eucharist as the food of our souls, broken and divided among those who desire to receive it.
From the half remaining in his left hand, the priest, after laying down the other on the paten, again breaks off a small portion, which he places in the Chalice, praying that the commingling of Christ's Body and Blood may be to all who receive it effectual to eternal life. As the separate Consecration denoted the mystical death of Christ, so this union of the two Species in the Chalice represents the return to life of the Lamb that was slain on Calvary.
It may be well to briefly recall here what was said on a previous occasion, that when the sacred Species are thus broken and divided, Our Lord Himself is in no way affected by such act; He is now beyond all pain and suffering, and remains whole and entire under every portion and particle ; what is broken is but the appearance of bread.
" There is no breakage, no dividing, Whole He comes to everyone."
Hitherto the Celebrant has directed his prayers to the eternal Father, but now he turns to God the Son, lying before him on the Altar, and soon to be sacramentally received by him ; for this he now prepares himself, and says the Agnus Dei. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him, he said : " Behold the Lamb of God : behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world" (John i. 29). These words the Church here uses three times over, and the priest twice begs the Lamb to grant us mercy, and the third time asks the blessing of peace', a most appropriate request, as he is on the point of receiving the very Author of peace. At each petition, he strikes his breast, recognising himself as unworthy of such a favour. In Masses for the Dead, as we are not praying for ourselves, we do not strike our breasts ; the priest contents himself with words of address to the Divine Lamb, and instead of mercy and peace, implores rest, eternal rest for the Faithful departed, in their restless yearning for God. The three prayers that follow are by way of immediate preparation for the priest's Communion. The first one (which is omitted in a Requiem Mass) begs once more the blessing of peace, and prays for the unity of faith and love in the Church. After which, at High Mass, the priest kisses the Altar and then gives the kiss of peace to the deacon, and by him to the rest of clergy present. The Apostles instructed the Faithful to salute one another with a holy kiss (1 Cor. xvi. 20; 2 Cor. xiii. 12; 1 Pet. v. 14). This apostolic advice was introduced into the celebration of the Divine Mysteries, even laymen saluting thus their fellow-laymen. Hence, the primitive custom, still observed in some places, of men and women occupying separate sides of the church.
In the second prayer, the priest begs the grace of perseverance, and in the third implores that his reception of the Holy Eucharist may not turn to his judgment and condemnation, but prove to be a safeguard and blessing to both soul and body.
Then, holding the Blessed Sacrament in his left hand, he with the other strikes his breast thrice, and says each time the words : Domine, non sum dignus. These are the first words of the exclamation which the centurion uttered, when Our Lord proposed to go to his house and heal his servant, lying sick of the palsy and grievously tormented (Matt. viii. 8.) The Church has adopted them, with the change of one word, as most appropriate to the present moment. The priest, realising his utter unworthiness to receive into his heart the great God of Heaven, as his guest, repeats this prayer thrice within himself, saying only the first words aloud, giving vent, as it were, to the depth of his feeling, in the form of a sigh from the heart, just as he did at the Nobis quoque peccatoribus, and as a public confession of his unworthiness before Heaven and earth. Each time the ejaculation is made, the Server rings the bell again, and this is a signal for the Faithful to go up to the Altar rails, if they desire to receive Holy Communion.
Taking reverently both parts of the Sacred Host in his right hand, the celebrant makes with them the sign of the Cross on himself, and devoutly receives them ; then, after a few moments' silent recollection, he gathers up most carefully on to the paten such small particles of the consecrated Host as may be lying on the corporal, just as the Apostles gathered up the fragments, after the miraculous feeding of the multitudes (Matt. xiv. 20; xv. $j ; John. vi. 13). These particles he puts into the chalice, and devoutly receives with the Precious Blood. As far back as the middle of the fourth century, S. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote : " Let not one single crumb of that which is more precious than gold escape you." Such solicitude and scruple would never have been displayed for particles of mere common bread. Evidently, then, the sainted writer fully believed each particle of the Blessed Sacrament to be the real body of Christ.
Only the priest who celebrates receives under both forms, as Our Lord directed at the Last Supper: " Take ye and eat . . . Drink ye all of this" (Matt. xxvi. 26, 27).
But the Apostles alone were then present, and He then ordained them sacrificing priests. All others of whatever rank, who receive without saying Mass, do so under one form only, as has been fully explained before.
Hence, the priest, when his own Communion is over, takes the ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament under the form of bread only, and distributes It to those who have approached to receive it, and says to each one: " May the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul to life everlasting" ; to these words the communicant formerly answered "Amen." Though this is not done nowadays, each one should endeavour to feel in his heart what that word implies, namely, a desire that his holy Communion may indeed bring him to life eternal.
After returning to the Altar, and replacing the ciborium in the Tabernacle, the priest holds out the Chalice to the Server, who pours a little wine into it. A second time is this done and some water is added, both being poured over the fingers that have touched the Blessed Sacrament, so that all particles that have adhered to them may be removed ; he again receives the Chalice, and then dries both his fingers and it with the mandatory. These pourings of wine and water are called the «ablutions," or washings; they secure the priest receiving any particles of the sacred species adhering to the Chalice or his fingers. When all this is done, he rearranges and adjusts the Chalice veil, and proceeds to the Epistle side of the Altar whither the Missal has meanwhile been carried, and therefrom he reads aloud -
The Communion; this is a short anthem, which varies with the feast, and is usually a verse or two taken from a psalm, which for many centuries was said in full. It bears its present name, because formerly it was chanted or sung during the time that Holy Communion was being distributed to the Faithful. It is like a spiritual bouquet, we should carry away with us, of the spirit of the feast of which Mass has been said. Once more turning to the people, the priest addresses them, at the middle of the Altar, with the usual greeting, Dominus vobiscum, and returns to the Missal to read
The Post-Communion: this prayer always contains some reference to the great Sacrament he has just received, and some expression of gratitude and thanks for the ineffable favour thus bestowed on him.
Whatever be the number of Collects said at the early part of the Mass, there is always the same number of Secrets said, and the same number of Post - Communions. Comparing together these three sets of prayers, we may say, broadly speaking, that the Collect asks of God some grace or favour, through the intercession of the Saint whose feast is being observed ; the Secret generally prays God to look with favour on the offerings that lie on the Altar and be pleased to accept them to the glory of His Name ; while the Post-Communion contains an act of thanksgiving for the graces received through the Holy Eucharist.
Proceeding now to the middle of the Altar, which he kisses, the priest again greets his people, adding the words Ite, missa est, "Go, you are dismissed." This was once the completion of the Mass of the Faithful, as the Mass of Catechumens ended with their dismissal after the Gospel, or the Sermon. On days, however, when the Gloria is not recited, instead of the Ite, Benedicamus Domino is said, " Let us bless the Lord." The omission of the Gloria usually denotes a penitential time, such as Lent, Advent, etc., and when the actual Mass was ended, instead of dismissing the people, the priest invited them to remain for the canonical hours that followed, saying, " Let us continue to bless the Lord." Although this is no longer done, the Church once again shows her conservative spirit, and retains the expression used anciently when such services were the custom, and in doing this reminds us of an ancient practice. Then again, in Masses of the Dead, neither of these greetings is used, but their place is taken by Requiescant in pace, a petition that the souls of the deceased may rest in peace.
Up to the tenth or eleventh century, the Mass ended with these formulas. What follows them at the present day was added gradually only, and finally made obligatory by S. Pius V. in 1570.
The priest now bows profoundly before the Crucifix, begging the most Holy Trinity to accept the sacrifice he has offered, making it a propitiation for himself and all those for whom he has offered it. Then, kissing the Altar, he turns to the people and blesses them with the sign of the Cross, which he makes over them. This blessing at Mass is reckoned as one of the Sacramentals, or rites which have some outward resemblance to the Sacraments, but which are not of divine institution. They excite increased love of God in the heart and also hatred for sin, and, because of these movements, remit venial sin. In the Old Law, we read how the High Priest stretched forth his hands and blessed the people (Lev. ix. 22), while Our Saviour blessed His Apostles, before ascending to Heaven (Luke xxiv. 50). In the beginning, Bishops alone gave this blessing, forming a triple sign of the Cross in so doing ; later on priests were allowed to give it, with a single Cross only : in a Requiem Mass, the blessing is always omitted.
The priest next goes to the Gospel side of the Altar, and there reads the last Gospel, with the same ceremonial that accompanied the reading of the first one, as already described.
Usually, it is the beginning of the Gospel according to S. John that is here read, telling us of Our Lord's eternal birth in the bosom of His Father, and ending with the august formula of His Incarnation and birth in time. We genuflect at the words Verbum caro factum est, "The Word was made flesh," an act of adoration towards the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who was pleased to become man for our redemption. This Gospel used at first to be recited out of private devotion, as an act of thanksgiving, by the priest who had just said Mass. It became of precept under Pope S. Pius V. in the sixteenth century.
On many days, however, throughout the year, another Gospel is read from the Missal, which is again removed to the other side. Certain days, such as the ferias of Lent, Ember days, and Vigils, have a complete Mass of their own ; if this be superseded by the Mass of a feast that takes precedence, a commemoration is made, as we have seen, in the Collect, etc., and then the Gospel of the omitted Mass is read at the end, instead of that of S. John. But should a Requiem Mass be said on any of those days, no commemoration of them is made, nor is any other Gospel ever read but that of S. John. At the end, the people answer by the Server Deo gratias, "Thanks be to God," for the great mystery of the Incarnation, source of all our blessings, and for the Holy Mass, at which they have been privileged to assist.
And now, the priest, taking the Chalice in his hands, descends the Altar steps, genuflects, if necessary, and returns to the Vestry where he unvests, and proceeds to make his thanksgiving. What the priest here does, those who have assisted at Mass, especially if they have been to Communion, should also do, before they leave, namely, make acts of adoration and love, along with good resolutions, which would be equivalent to a worthy act of thanksgiving.
In concluding this long chapter, we may add that there is no sacrifice or service so pleasing and so acceptable to God as the offering of Holy Mass. There is nothing that so effectually disarms the Divine anger against sin, or strikes a more crushing blow at the powers of Hell. This the Devils know full well and hold It in dread; hence the hatred they bear to It; hence their efforts to discredit It, not only in the enemies of all religion, but even in the hearts of the Faithful, whom they ply with distractions, and fill with tepidity and indifference to It. No other prayer is so effectual in bringing relief to the suffering souls in Purgatory ; none obtains so many graces for men upon earth, or gives greater joy to the Blessed in Heaven. Thus the Universal Church of God, Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant, benefits very effectively by every Mass that is offered. The great Judgment day will verify all this!
Be it, therefore, our endeavour to cultivate lively faith and deep devotion towards this Divine work, to be present at Mass, as our circumstances may allow, and thus show our appreciation of the mercy and goodness of God who has established It in our midst. The more we know and understand the Divine Mysteries, the greater should our fervour be, when present at them. It is hoped that these pages of explanation on the prayers and ceremonies of the Liturgy may be an aid to the Faithful to that end. They do not profess to go deeply into matters, but merely offer instruction and suggest interpretations of the various portions of the Mass, which an instructed Catholic should know, and which, it is desired, may prove helpful to his piety and devotion.