THE HOLY MASSAfter seeing how sacrifice exists in the Christian Religion, as it had existed also in the Jewish, and how the Sacrifice of the New Law is the Mass, let us consider now what Holy Mass really is.
The Mass is the offering to God of the Body and Blood of Our Lord under the appearances of bread and wine. This Body and Blood of Our Lord is the invisible Victim that is offered up to Heaven, the same as in the Sacrifice of Calvary, though the form and manner of offering be different; that of Calvary was a bloody sacrifice, in that Our Saviour's body was there mangled and bleeding, while on the Altar the Sacrifice is an unbloody and clean Victim ; the mystical death, the separation of body and blood, is effected by the two-fold consecration, which is of the essence of the Mass for that reason; hence also the need of two species for the Sacrifice, though one suffice for the Sacrament.
On Calvary, when Our Lord offered Himself in His visible human form, He made the offering for the general redemption of mankind, "blotting out the handwriting of the decree that was against us " (Col. ii. 14). For the offering of Himself was an act of infinite merit before the Father, making reparation for the sins of the entire human race, and capable of atoning for those of ten thousand worlds. Thus were our souls "purchased at a great price," and redeemed from hell, to which they had been condemned by the Fall of our first parents.
On the Altar, the same Victim is offered in an invisible manner, being hidden from our bodily eyes by the species of the bread and wine, and this for the purpose of continuing and renewing daily the Sacrifice of the Cross, that the graces therein merited for us may be applied to the individual souls of men.
The mere fact of Our Redeemer's sacrificing Himself on the Cross does not of itself save all mankind, otherwise all men would come to salvation, no matter who or what they are, how they live, or how they die. The merits of Our Lord's death must be applied to us individually, and be as a healing medicine to our souls. To illustrate this : a reservoir of pure fresh water is a great blessing, a necessity for the inhabitants of a large town ; the quantity of water in reserve is more than enough for the wants of the population. But for anyone who is in need of water, what will it avail him to know there is a large reservoir at a distance, if he cannot get at it ? If anyone need the water, he must either go for it, or have it brought to him in some way.
So, in the process of the Redemption ; the graces Our Lord merited by His death are an inexhaustible fountain for all men. But the waters of this fountain must be applied to their souls, or they will perish. Therefore Our Redeemer did not content Himself with meriting precious graces for us, but also instituted channels by which they might be conveyed to our souls individually, these channels being the Sacraments and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
He who offers the Mass is He who also offered Himself on Calvary—Our Divine Saviour, invisible, though truly present—by the visible ministry of rightly ordained priests. Before the coming of Our Lord, there existed two kinds of sacrifice, the bloody sacrifice of animals, and the unbloody sacrifice of bread, wine, oil, or fruit. Both these had been offered from the beginning, for Abel offered a lamb, and Cain the fruits of the earth. As there were two kinds of sacrifice, so there were two classes of priesthood : that of Aaron, for the sacrifice of animals, whose blood was actually shed, and that of Melchisedech, for the offering of bread and wine. Now, Our Blessed Lord united in His own Divine Person both orders of priesthood. He used bread and wine for the sacrifice at the Last Supper, according to the rite of Melchisedech, while on the following day He offered Himself up in a bloody manner, as Victim for our sins, on the Cross, according to the rite of Aaron.
We have already seen how Our Lord instituted the Blessed Sacrament the night before He died. It is not necessary, therefore, to repeat the details of that loving act of condescension. But it may be remarked here that the consecration of the Chalice, being made immediately after that of the Host, represents in a vivid manner the effusion of Our Saviour's Blood on the Cross, and His death which followed that shedding of blood. He placed the two Species on the table, in the state of sacrifice, offering it to His Father, in unbloody form ; to complete it, He partook of it Himself, and commanded His Apostles also to receive it, thus effecting a mystic death by the destruction of His Sacramental life. Herein was the Sacrifice of the New Law instituted in its essential parts—the Consecration and the Communion—the Holy Mass, which the Apostles were immediately afterwards empowered and commanded to offer.
The Mass is offered chiefly and invisibly by Our Lord Himself, the Great High Priest of the New Law, and by the Bishops and Priests of the Church visibly, because it is an outward act of worship, needing a visible ministry, this, too, quite independently of their personal merits or demerits. But it may also be said in a certain sense to be offered by the Faithful themselves, united to the Priest at the Altar. He implies this, when he turns to them and says: Orate, fratres: "Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Father Almighty." This word
"brethren" recalls to our minds the expression of apostolic antiquity, for S. Peter, in the Acts, used it in addressing the people in Jerusalem, and we know well how frequently S. Paul uses it in his Epistles. In a more extended sense still, the Mass may be said to be offered by the whole Church, in virtue of that consoling and encouraging doctrine of the Communion of Saints, by which all the members of the Church are in communion with each other, by their prayers, their sacrifices, and good works.
In the beautiful rite of Ordination, the Bishop addresses these words to the young priest: " Receive power to offer sacrifice to God, and to celebrate Mass for the living and for the dead." In these weighty words we find the objects for which the Holy Sacrifice may be offered : " the living and the dead." Sunday by Sunday we hear it announced that Mass will be said on the following days for various intentions, such as, for instance, a person who is ill, for the members of some society, a conversion, or some special intention, i.e., it is offered " for the living." Or, more commonly still, the offering is made for the repose of the soul of some one lately deceased, for an anniversary, or for the souls in Purgatory generally, i.e., it is offered "for the dead."
1. For those still on earth we may offer the Holy Sacrifice, whether for individuals, or for the Church at large, or for any or all of the great ends of sacrifice, which will be dealt with in the next chapter.
2. In regard to those who have already passed into " the house of their eternity," we may offer it for the souls in Purgatory, that God may be pleased to lessen the intensity of their pains, to shorten their time of suffering, or even to release them entirely from their prison, and take them to Himself in His Kingdom.
3. For the Saints in Heaven we do not pray or offer sacrifice, for they are now in secure possession of their eternal reward, and need not our intercession. Yet we offer it in their honour, to thank God, who is wonderful in His Saints, for all He has done for them, to congratulate them on their final triumph, thus to procure them an increase of accidental glory, and especially to obtain their prayers in our behalf. By virtue of that same dogma of the Communion of Saints, we can thus effectively appeal to the friends of God in Heaven for their aid in our trials, and they, on the other hand, can plead before the throne of mercy for such graces and mercies as we may need, thus continuing, perfected in Heaven, the charity that animated them while living on earth.
4. As to the unhappy souls in Hell, no prayers are of any avail; the Holy Sacrifice cannot assist them, they are beyond the reach of even its mighty influence! They are no longer members of the Church, but are as dead branches of a tree cast into the fire to burn : this fire is eternal, will never be quenched ; the Precious Blood of Christ shed for man cannot now relieve them, for there is no communion between the Church and them; they are placed for ever beyond her reach !
Such is the great Sacrifice of the Mass, the central act of the Christian Religion. The Fathers of the Church have vied with each other in extolling its dignity and majesty and power. They speak of it as the renewal of the mysteries of Our Lord's life, death, and resurrection ; of the wonderful graces it brings to men ; they praise it as the strength of the faithful soul, the hope of the dying, and joy of the Blessed in Heaven ; all which explains the hatred that Satan has ever shown in every age to the celebration of the Divine Mysteries.
Seeing thus the excellence of the Holy Mass, surely we can draw a few practical conclusions for our daily lives in regard to it, lessons we should seriously take to heart and show forth by our conduct.
1. The first of these is the great esteem we must have for this adorable sacrifice. Think and reflect on what has been said of it; remember how the Saints have appreciated it, and Martyrs have died for it; this should strengthen and enliven your faith and teach you to value it as they have done.
2. If you know what the Mass is, you will endeavour to assist at it as often as your circumstances may allow. Examples have already been given in this respect, that should be an encouragement to all to adopt the pious practice. One more may be added here. S. Louis, King of France, attended at two, and sometimes even four, Masses in the day. Having heard that some of his courtiers censured him for devoting to the hearing of Mass the time that was so necessary for treating the affairs of his kingdom, he said: "See how far the solicitude of these men goes! If I gave to hunting or to some other frivolous amusement the time that I spend at Mass, I would not hear a word of blame from any of them."
3. When you do go to Mass, let it be with deep feelings of faith, fervour, and love. Go in spirit to Calvary and take your stand at the foot of the Cross ; see the Virgin Mother, see Mary Magdalen and the beloved Disciple there, and endeavour to make their feelings your own ; your dispositions will then be good, and worthy of the same great offering at the Altar. A prayer book will, as a rule, be of use to you, and help to fix your attention, if you endeavour to feel within you the sentiments of the prayers you read. A further help is to have some definite intention to pray for. Merely to go to Mass as a habit, and without seeking any particular grace or favour, is to lose much benefit. Have some special object to pray for, some grace to ask, and your experience will prove that your attendance at Mass will be more devout, your dispositions more fervent, and the results more fruitful.
4. Let boys and young men deem it an honour to serve at the Altar ; learn the Latin and the ceremonies with intelligent care, and let every movement be made with the reverent awe that fills the angels before the throne of God in Heaven. Blessed Thomas More took great delight in serving Mass, and, though his time was much taken up with affairs of State, frequently served several in succession. On one occasion, a certain courtier, sadly deficient in lively faith, represented to him that King Henry would be displeased at his lowering himself to fulfil the office of acolyte. " Surely," replied the Chancellor, "the king cannot be displeased at the homage I offer to his King!"
5. If girls and young women cannot enjoy the privilege of serving at the Altar, they can do something equivalent: they can stitch and sew, make or mend the vestments, attend to the Altar linen and so forth. They could provide some of these things for poor churches, where meanness and destitution are too often in evidence. Thus acted Marie Eustelle Harpain, a poor sempstress, who lived and died in the odour of sanctity in the early half of last century. So great was her love and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, that she was called the "Angel of the Eucharist." Her devotion consisted not only in prayer, but also in active work on or about the Altar and all that pertained in any way to its service, a model to many, who might thus prove their love for Jesus in the Tabernacle.
6. Above all, never miss Mass on Sundays or Holydays, except it be for most solid reasons, that may be valid in the eyes of God. Too common nowadays is the habit growing of staying away from Mass, for any and every paltry excuse that may present itself, and too much reason is there to fear that God's anger may overtake us in consequence, affecting not merely those actually guilty of the wilful omission, but perhaps those also among whom they live! For it is a grievous sin, and one peculiarly displeasing to God, as being so coldblooded and deliberate, and lacking the excuse of strong passion. There is no sudden passion here, hurrying a man on to sin, and carrying him away almost before he is aware of it; it is simply a calm and calculated neglect, which makes its guilt all the greater.
7. Short of missing Mass, there are many, too many, who come late to it, and to many^ of the Church Services. This is most disrespectful, and denotes a want of faith and reverence. When wilful, it is an insult to God in His own house, and that, too, at the very time we profess to come there to adore Him! It is moreover distracting and annoying to neighbours, as it is also disedifying by the evil example it gives. We should blush to go late to a party, and yet are not ashamed to walk late into church, where the Faithful are assembled, as though we were going to a promenade concert, where people may come or go as they please. Think the matter over, and remember the weighty words of the prophet: " Cursed be he that doth the work of the Lord deceitfully," or negligently (Jer. xlviii. 10). Once again, a more lively faith would enable us to avoid this displeasing habit.
8. Lastly, prayers and communions in reparation for the neglect of Mass, and for irreverence shown during the offering of it will always be most pleasing to God; it is an unselfish devotion, seeking nothing but His greater glory, though at the same time it tends to appease the Divine anger and to avert the chastisements of Heaven from falling on the earth.
Here are a few lessons and suggestions of a practical kind that naturally present themselves as corollaries of what has been said on the exalted nature, the dignity and beauty of Holy Mass. Were they but generally observed by the Faithful, how much would reverence and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament be intensified and increased!