The Mass of the Catechumens.
This preparatory part of the sacred Liturgy, or Mass of the catechumens, may be divided into two parts. The first part may be called purgative or penitential; the second,illuminative or doctrinal.
And before beginning the Mass, all the ministers of the altar being in the sacristy, before they begin to vest, should first wash their hands, saying, 'Give grace to my hands, O Lord; remove from me every stain, that without any defilement of body and of soul, I may be found worthy to pay service to Thee. Amen.' On all Sundays in the year, the celebrating priest, accompanied by the deacon and attendants, proceeds solemnly to the church with the holy water, wherewith he sprinkles, first himself, and then all the people. This holy rite is an emblem of inward purity, and a means of purification from lesser sins. In it we also commemorate the act of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He washed the feet of His apostles before the first celebration of the divine Sacrifice.
The thurifer, acolyths, master of ceremonies, the deacon, sub-deacon, and the other ministers of the altar who accompany the priest, attend upon him, and, by the ministration, add to the external beauty and solemnity of the Sacrifice. They also represent the assemblage of virtues which are required in those who are engaged in these tremendous mysteries, as well in the people as in the priest;—the virtues, namely, of prayer, faith, and charity, &c.
The priest being arrived at the foot of the altar, makes the sign of the cross, beginning with this act the eucharistic Sacrifice, which is a representation and continuation, in an unbloody manner, of that one and the same sacrifice consummated by our Lord once, in a bloody manner, on the cross. He then recites, together with his attendants, the words of the 41st Psalm, beginning, Judica me, Deus, "Judge me, O God," which indicate the earnest desire of the soul to obtain a perfect reconciliation with God, and to enjoy the mercy and consolation which flow from an ultimate union with Him.
In the next place, bowing down with his face towards the ground, in deep humility, he accuses himself as a sinner before God and all the court of heaven; imploring their intercession, that he may obtain mercy from the Lord. Afterwards, as if encouraged by his example, the attendants at the altar, in the name of the whole people, confess themselves in like manner. In this the priest acts as the representative of Christ, who was loaded with the sins of all the people, which He took upon Himself; in like manner, the ministers of the altar, together with the faithful people in Christ, and with Christ, confess and lament their own sins and the sins of the whole world.
This same sentiment of compunction, which prevails in the first part of the Mass, is likewise expressed in the prayer recited by the priest as he ascends the steps of the altar,Aufer a nobis, Domine, 'Take away our iniquities, O Lord;' as also in the Kyrie eleison, or 'Lord have mercy,' which he recites together with his attendant ministers, and which is sung by the choir during all that part of the Mass which we have hitherto explained.
So also the incensing of the altar, which takes place before the Kyrie eleison at Solemn Mass, is offered with the same intention; that, as the scent of the incense banishes all the unpleasant odours which attack the senses, and which represent the evil odour of sin, so this also may be put to flight by the sweet odour of compunction and of the other virtues which holy penance produces in the soul.
This first or penitential part of the Mass concludes with the angelic hymn of Gloria in excelsis, wherein we celebrate the peace established between God and men by our divine Mediator Jesus Christ. Hence, at the close of the Gloria, the priest kisses the altar, which is the symbol of Christ our Lord, as if giving and receiving from Him the kiss of peace, that he may, in turn, communicate it to the people; and this he does when, turning round and spreading forth his arms, as if to embrace them, he says the Dominus vobiscum, 'The Lord be with you;' to which heavenly salutation, the ministers of the altar, the choir, and people, answer, Et cum spiritu tuo, 'And with thy spirit.'
The priest then calls upon all the people to unite with him in prayer, saying, Oremus, 'Let us pray;' and then goes on to recite one or more prayers, which are called collects, because in them are collected, or summed up, in short, all the desires, petitions, and necessities of priest and people, which are here presented to our heavenly Father, whom we beseech to shew His mercy upon us, through the merits of Jesus Christ, and the intercession of all the court of heaven.
The prayers are always directed to the attainment of Christian justice, pardon of our sins, and sanctifying grace; and form, as it were, the link between the penitential and the doctrinal part of the Mass of the catechumens.
During the recital of these, as well as the other prayers of the Liturgy, the priest holds his arms extended in form of a cross, this being a most fitting attitude for prayer; consecrated also by the example of Moses, Solomon, and our Lord Himself upon the cross.
The faithful, at the end of all the prayers, answer, Amen, which in the Hebrew signifies,so be it, by which they at once ratify the words spoken by the priest on their behalf, and also beseech Almighty God to give ear to his petitions.
The Doctrinal or Instructive Part. After the purgative or penitential part, the illuminative or doctrinal follows. This begins with the reading of a portion taken from the Prophets, or more commonly from the Epistles, whence the name by which this part is known. After this are recited some verses taken from holy Scripture, or else composed by holy Church. In this part we have a remnant of the ancient custom of inserting in the Liturgy, at different parts, various hymns and psalms, in order to fill up the intervals between the different parts of the ceremony, and for other reasons of edification.
The priest, or the deacon at High Mass, before reading or singing the Gospel, bowing down profoundly before the altar, beseeches Almighty God that his heart and lips may be cleansed from every stain of vice, that with zeal and purity of heart he may declare the holy words of the Gospel.
During solemn Mass, both the Epistle and Gospel are read by the priest in an under tone, while they are being chanted by the sub-deacon and deacon; and in this we see represented how the sacred words of Christ, which were spoken in secret by Christ, represented by the priest, to His apostles alone, were preached by them in the four quarters of the earth; which is shewn forth in the changing of the Missal from one part of the altar to the other, as well as by the change of position of the attendants, by the procession of the acolyths with their candles, which they afterwards hold on either side of the book from which the deacon chants the Gospel. These lights may also be taken to signify the law and the prophets, which prepared the way for the faith of the Gospel. Also they may call to mind Moses and Elias, who were seen on either side of our Lord in His glorious transfiguration on Mount Tabor. The kissing of the book of the Gospels is a mark of the joy and gratitude with which we receive the good tidings of salvation. In the incensing of the book and of the priest after the singing of the Gospel, we honour the Word of God incarnate, who is represented by the priest and by the words of the holy Gospel. In the Creed, which is next said or sung, we publicly profess our faith in the mysteries of the Gospel; and with this concludes the doctrinal part of the Mass of the catechumens.
After the Gospel, and before the Creed, is the customary place for the homily, or sacred instruction; and this is to be considered as a continuation of the illuminative part of the Liturgy, and a fuller exposition of the truths contained in the Gospel and Epistle. And hence arose the custom of placing the sermon in this part of the Mass, rather than at the beginning or the end; a custom which reached, as we see, even to the apostolic age.
The Mass of the Faithful, or the Sacrifice properly so called, expounded.
After the preparation and instructions, the Offertory comes next in order, and with this what is properly the Sacrifice begins. Here the priest, after again saluting the people as before, invites them to join in spirit with him in prayer. The inferior ministers of the altar, representing the people present to the deacon the bread and the wine, which is by him, in turn, presented to the priest, who offers up this, which is called the remote matter of the eucharistic Sacrifice, to the Almighty Father, beseeching Him to vouchsafe to accept these oblations, and make them profitable to himself and to the whole Church.
But here we must understand that this oblation draws its value principally from its relation to the offering and sacrifice of the Real Body and Blood of Christ, into which these elements are to he changed; and in the second place, from its relation with the offering and sacrifice of the faithful, who form the mystical Body of Christ, and who, in the offering of bread and wine, should behold a symbol of that far greater and more perfect sacrifice which they are bound to offer to Almighty God, together with their divine Head the Lord Jesus Christ; the sacrifice, namely, of all things which they possess in this world—their body, their life, and their whole will, according to His good pleasure. This is moreover beautifully shadowed forth in the union of the water, which in Scripture is the figure of the people, and the wine, which is the figure of Christ; which union of wine and water in the chalice is presented by the priest as our offering to the Almighty Father. The same truth is also clearly expressed in the prayer recited by the priest in the act of offering the chalice, and in the prayers which immediately follow, and which are called the Secret.Lastly, in the incensing, not only of the oblation of the altar and its ministers, but also of the people, as if all these were so joined to and identified with Christ, as to form together with Him one pure and sacred Host or Victim only, to be offered up by the hands of the priest, now purified by a fresh oblation, to the honour of the most holy and adorable Trinity.
The remote matter of the Sacrifice being thus prepared, the priest stands ready to approach the tremendous mystery of the Consecration; but first, in what is called the Preface, he invites the faithful more than ever to lift up their minds and hearts on high; and even to join in spirit with all the blessed citizens of heaven in offering up praise, blessing, and adoration to that divine Lord, who is about to make Himself present, and to exist sacramentally upon the altar; offering Himself a sacrifice, mystically slain, to the glory of His heavenly Father, for the salvation of the world; representing and renewing continually, in an unbloody manner, that same tremendous and bloody sacrifice, whereby heaven and earth, the creature and the Creator, angels and men, were reconciled and united together.
The Canon of the Mass and the Consecration.
The people now reverently attending to the great act (and for this purpose a bell is here sounded), the priest praying in a low or under tone, and bowing down in profound supplication, speaking in the name and in behalf of the whole body of the faithful, offering themselves up in union with Christ, beseeches the Almighty Father of mercies that He would vouchsafe to accept and bless their oblation; and grant that the fruits of this Sacrifice may descend in benedictions of grace and mercy upon the whole Church, the mystical Body of Christ; praying, in the first place, for the Sovereign Pontiff, the chief pastor and visible head of the whole Catholic Church, and afterwards for all members of the Church, in their place and degree, according to the order of charity; devoutly commemorating, at the same time, the Saints in heaven, that, through their intercession, God would be the more readily besought to grant our petitions.
The same spirit of sacrifice, whereby we offer up our whole being to the service of God, is expressed in like manner, not only in the different prayers of the Canon, but also in the ceremonies which accompany them, as when the priest spreads his hands over the oblation of the bread and wine—a rite practised under the ancient Covenant, and which signifies the union of the priest and the people with the Victim offered in sacrifice. The same is also indicated in the sign of the cross, the sign of sacrifice and of death, formed by the hands of the priest, and is often repeated over the oblation.
Well may we meditate upon, and highly prize this blessed offering of our service, and of that of the whole family of Christ, since this is the sacrifice which most conduces to eternal salvation.
The death of Christ itself would have availed us nothing, unless we were made partakers in His passion, by drinking His chalice, and carrying the cross together with Him. And this offering and renunciation of himself, and of his own life together with Christ, is that which makes every Catholic Christian a partaker of the priestly office; since a priest is one who offers sacrifice to God. And although Christ alone and by excellence is the High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec, who, by the offering of Himself, has presented to the Eternal Father a sacrifice worthy of God; yet it is also true that every priest, as the minister and in the person of Christ, renews and presents continually the great sacrifice of the cross; and, in like manner, every Christian who is united to Christ's Body by the holy Sacrament of Baptism, partakes also of His priesthood; so that he has it in his power to offer up the sacrifice of himself through the sword of sorrow and of love. Hence, between the priesthood of Christ, of the Christian priest, and of the simple faithful, there is this difference: that Christ is Himself the great Eternal Priest; the Christian priest and the Christian faithful have part of His priesthood by participation; the priest receives such a fulness of the priesthood of Christ, that he is able, not only to offer a sacrifice himself, but also to sacrifice Jesus Christ; whilst the faithful cannot sacrifice or consecrate, but can only offer up Jesus Christ; and, together with Him, they can offer up themselves a sacrifice through charity. From this union of ourselves with our divine Victim and Host arises the unspeakable benefit which we receive from the Holy Mass, as is clearly expressed in the following prayer, beginning, Quam oblationem, 'The which oblation we beseech Thee, O God, vouchsafe to bless with all fulness (that we may be filled with Thy heavenly comfort) ; ascribe (that our names may be inserted in the book of life); ratify (that we may obtain the gift of perseverance to the end, and eternal glory); make reasonable (viz. effective, to the end that all our inferior powers may become subject to reason and to grace, through which alone we can attain our end, eternal life); acceptable (to Thee, O Father Eternal), so that the Body and Blood of Thy well-beloved Son our Lord Jesus Christ may be to us the source of every good.'
Being come to this part of the sacred Liturgy, the priest having again purified on the corporal the finger and thumb of both hands, which are about to touch the sacred Host, begins the words of consecration; speaking no longer in his own name and in that of the people, but making a commemoration, and following exactly that which Christ Himself did and spake at the first Consecration. Speaking and acting thus in the person of Christ, he takes the Host into his hands, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he blesses it with the sign of the cross; saying, Hoc est Corpus Meum, "This is My Body;" and straightway kneeling down, he adores the sacred Bread, now made the true Flesh of Jesus Christ; then rising up, he raises the sacred Host in view of the people, and replacing it on the corporal, again adores.
Afterwards, in like manner, continuing to perform the action, and to imitate all that Christ did and said in the consecration of the wine, he takes the chalice into his hands, and blessing with the sign of the cross, he says, Hie est calix sanguinis Met, 'This is the chalice of My Blood,' &c. &c.; and kneeling, he adores the sacred Blood of Christ; rising, he holds up the chalice in sight of the people, and replacing it on the corporal, again adores.
All the words and actions of the Consecration are most clearly justified by the institution of the blessed Eucharist in itself, by the Real Presence upon the altar of the God-Man, the Incarnate Word of the Father, to whom is due all worship and adoration, as well of angels as of men; and by the end of the eucharistic Sacrifice, which is to commemorate and continually hold up and exhibit in the world the great Sacrifice of Calvary, wherein Jesus Christ was lifted up in the sight of heaven and earth on the bloody altar of the cross.
How full of boundless wisdom and love was the design of God, in choosing out of all the substances in nature these two of bread and wine to be changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, retaining still the species or sensible qualities of bread and wine. For the bread being made from the flower of wheat, signifies in a most striking manner the Body of Christ; and He, doubtless in allusion to this mystery, likens Himself in His passion to a grain of wheat, saying, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it bringeth forth no fruit."[St. John xii. 24].So, in like manner, the wine, which is pressed from the grape, shews forth a lively image of the Blood of Christ pressed forth in the wine-press of His passion; according to the words in the Canticles, and in the prophet Isaiah.[A cluster of Cyprus, my love is to me in the vineyards of Engaddi." (Cant, i; 13.) "I have trodden the wine-press alone." (Isa. lviii. 3.)] And all this appears yet more true and sublime when we regard the Body and Blood of Christ as destined, in a manner full of unspeakable mystery,-to become the Food of our souls, as bread and wine are the most ordinary support of our bodies.
After reciting the words of Consecration over the bread and wine, the priest immediately adds those other words spoken by Christ at the institution of the Eucharist, whereby He conferred on His apostles His own divine authority to renew again that same sacrifice: "As often as ye do these things, ye shall do them for a commemoration of Me." After this follows a prayer, in which the priest, in his own name and in that of the whole clergy and people, does, in fact, make commemoration of the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ our Lord into heaven; as well to obey the commands of Christ, as to shew forth in some measure the infinite gratitude due to our heavenly Father for having given to us, of His unspeakable mercy, His only-begotten Son (and in Him every good), not only to die for us in sacrifice upon the cross, but to be our unbloody Sacrifice and Victim upon the altar as long as the world shall last. And since we have not, by reason of our unspeakable misery, any thing whatsoever to offer up in return for this gift of infinite price, His own divine Word made man for us, we offer up, and beseech Him to accept on our behalf, this same most pure, most holy, and spotless heart, our eucharistic Sacrifice, with the same loving kindness and benignity wherewith He was pleased to accept the sacrifice made by Abraham of his well-beloved son Isaac, the figure of the bloody Sacrifice of the cross; and that of the bread and wine offered in Melchisedec's sacrifice, which was a figure of the unbloody Sacrifice of the Eucharist; and that of Abel the just, which was a figure of the Sacrifice of the faithful, who form the mystical body of Christ. Moreover, acknowledging our own utter unworthiness, as well as that of all created beings in earth or heaven, to present to the Eternal Father this divine oblation, and bowing down profoundly before the altar, the priest beseeches Almighty God to send the Angel of the Testament, Jesus Christ Himself, our divine Mediator, that with His own hands He may present our sacrifice upon the altar on high in the presence of the Majesty of God, that so all those who partake of His most sacred Body and Blood may be filled evermore with all heavenly benediction.
We pray, moreover, that the members of the Church who are yet in the middle state of purgation may obtain part of these graces and blessings, and gain speedy entrance into their heavenly country, and to the company of the blessed, among whom we pray that we too may have part, not through any merits of our own, but through the merits of Jesus Christ our crucified Saviour.
These feelings of boundless confidence and loving remembrance of Jesus crucified are also shewn forth in the posture of the priest, who, with hands extended in the form of a cross, prays now in silence, now aloud, and in the often-repeated sign of the cross, which he forms over the adorable Sacrament. For, whilst Jesus hung with arms extended upon the cross, He prayed both aloud and in secret, when He recited those words of the Psalmist, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" repeating what followed in silence; and again and again, after intervals of silence, broke forth in those divine ejaculations which are called the seven last words.
The sacred act of making the sign of the cross three times over the whole sacred Oblation of both species, and once only over the eucharistic bread and wine separately, is also full of mystery. For by the threefold signing is shewn forth how the whole Blessed Trinity were united in the great work of our redemption; and by the sign of the cross once made over the Body and the Blood is signified how the Incarnate Word alone suffered and died for our salvation, giving His own Body to suffer every torment, and pouring forth all His own Blood in very deed for our ransom.
It remains for us to speak of that great means wherein the faithful receive the whole plenitude of the ineffable benefits which the eucharistic Sacrifice contains, by partaking of the divine Victim. For this participation, or communion, the sacred Liturgy prepares both priest and people by means of the most sublime prayers; amongst these the Lord's Prayer holds the first place,— a prayer whose excellence and perfection no words can express, because composed for the occasion by our divine Lord and Master Himself; and whose fitness is most manifest, because, besides petitioning for our daily or supersubstantial bread, we therein ask for all other possible graces which may make us fit for such reception.
The principal graces which we ask in the Pater noster, as well as in the following prayers, are the gift of peace, or of charity, from which all true peace proceeds. For it is that supernatural love flowing from Christ crucified and dying for us which delivers us from the love of self, and unites us unspeakably with God, and with one another; which calms that warfare which we feel within us,—that contention of the flesh against the spirit,—restoring order again in our moral nature, whence alone can arise true peace within ourselves, and in the world around us. The breaking of the sacred Host, and the union of one particle with the sacred Blood in the chalice, while it represents the death and resurrection of the true Body of Christ, is at the same time a figure of the detachment from all created things, which is a spiritual death; and that union with God, and that life no longer our own, but in God and for our neighbour, which is the supernatural life and resurrection of the faithful, who form the mystical Body of Christ; which proceeds chiefly from the Holy Communion, the very food of charity; and this love, which is the source of peace—this peace, which is the fruit of love, the priest immediately before receiving the Communion of the body of Christ, beseeches directly from our Lord, — that peace, which is the fruit of the passion and death of Christ; for it was only after His resurrection that He communicated this gift, in all its fulness, to His apostles, and, in them, to His Church. When at the different times He shewed Himself to them after His resurrection, the words of His salutation were, Pax vobis, "Peace be unto you." Hence arose that sacred rite observed at solemn Mass, just before the Communion, wherein the priest, after beseeching this peace from Christ, and after bowing down and kissing the altar, which is the symbol of Christ, turning to the ministers of the altar, salutes them with the kiss of peace, which they, in turn, communicate to the people.
After this, the priest, now just about to unite himself to his divine Lord in the adorable Sacrament, withdrawing, and, as it were, isolating himself from all created things, begins to speak with his Lord alone, in words of deepest compunction, humility, faith, hope, and love; and again adoring, he receives the sacred Body and Blood, and remains standing, silent and absorbed in an ecstacy of love, enjoying the chaste embraces of the Beloved of his soul …….. from which blessed vision awaking, he speaks only to beseech his divine Spouse never more to depart from the midst of his heart, but to remain ever united with him; and to remove, by His grace, whatever He beholds unworthy of His sacred Presence, and displeasing in the sight of His infinite purity.
From what we have hitherto said, as well as from that which follows in the sacred Liturgy, it is plain that at the time when it was composed, that is to say, during the first ages of the Church, it was the custom for all, or nearly all the faithful, who were assisting at the divine Sacrifice, to communicate. And, in truth, without this communion of the sacred Victim, it is plain that something must be wanting to the full participation in the Sacrifice, the one act appearing to be inseparable from the other. Hence the holy Church so earnestly exhorts all the faithful to communicate, and ordains that, at this part of the Mass, the adorable Body of Christ shall be distributed to all who communicate, looking upon this distribution as a part of the Liturgy itself. And therefore the faithful who communicate have no need to prepare [It is, however, well to make some preparation before Mass.] themselves during Mass by any other prayers more particularly directed to this end; but need only—and this is their best preparation—apply to themselves these very prayers which the priest himself uses.
Since, however, it is a very great advantage for all Christians who have it in their power to assist daily at the eucharistic Sacrifice, and yet, as there may be just reasons in the present day why good and faithful Christians should sometimes abstain from a real communion of the body of Christ, they should endeavour at least to make a spiritual communion, which consists in exciting in our souls an ardent and most loving desire of this heavenly food, that we may obtain those graces from this fountain, which never faileth; and for making this spiritual communion, we may prepare ourselves in the same way as for actual communion.
What we have said of the preparation may also be said of thanksgiving after communion, whether real or spiritual. Let the faithful who communicate follow as far as possible the letter and the spirit of the Liturgy. The part which follows the communion of the sacred Host consists in rendering infinite praise and benediction to God for His unspeakable Gift, beseeching Him to grant us, together with this, all other goods and blessings.[It is not, however, meant that we should not make our thanksgiving for communion after the end of the Mass.]
The Mass ends with the blessing given to the people in the name of the most Blessed Trinity, as if shadowing forth that great and never-ending benediction, when Christ shall summon all His elect, at the last day, to the inheritance of His eternal kingdom of blessedness.
Last of all is read a part of the Gospel, for the most part the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, for herein is contained the whole sum and essence of our blessed religion; and wherein is celebrated the glory of the most holy and adorable Trinity, and the infinite love of the Blessed Trinity for man, as shewn forth in the mystery of the Word made flesh.
Much more still remains which might he noticed in an exposition of the Liturgy of the holy Mass. But we trust that these few words, read again and again, and pondered upon deeply by the faithful Christian, will be found more than sufficient to create in his mind a very high veneration of it, and to inflame his heart with an ardent love of that most glorious act of Catholic worship, by far the most excellent of all practices of Christian devotion. And so we believe that every faithful Christian who clearly understands and thoroughly penetrates what we have here explained, will find no more perfect method for assisting devoutly at Mass than the method we have given.
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.