PRAYERS AND CEREMONIES OF THE LITURGYTo an unaccustomed eye, the Ritual of the Holy Sacrifice might appear very intricate and bewildering, a long tissue of prayers and ceremonies. This, however, will not be so, if we take some little pains to learn the meaning of such prayers and ceremonies. The Council of Trent insistently urges the necessity of the Faithful being instructed in all that concerns the Holy Sacrifice, and requires the priest to explain it to them (Sess. XXII., c. viii.).
A chapter, therefore, must be devoted to the subject of the Ceremonies, Prayers, and other portions of the Mass. It is a point of great importance that the Faithful should have a clear understanding of what goes on at the Altar during the Holy Sacrifice, so that the intellect being enlightened, the heart may be inflamed with love towards God for the Sacred Mysteries enacted in our midst. No deep research or learning is required in the bulk of the Faithful nor is the writer qualified to give them. But in accordance with the title of this little work, simple explanations and developments may be here presented to the reader, to complete what has been said above, to enable him to take an intelligent interest in what he sees, and so be able to give some reason for the faith that is in him, and, when asked a question on the subject, give a satisfying answer.
During the early persecutions, the Church spent weary years in weaving together the present web of the Sacred Liturgy, whereby to surround the Divine Mysteries with becoming stateliness and splendour. She evolved the rite of Holy Mass, as we know it to-day, in all its essential features, so that outward signs and ceremonies might speak to the inward sense. In lessons taken from Holy Writ, she poured out her heart in praise and prayer, inspired utterances recurring in her services, " like gems threaded on a golden cord." The Liturgy, the full service of God, satisfies the highest aspirations of the heart. It leads us on from the full confession of sin at the foot of the Altar, through the ceremonious singing of Epistle and Gospel, Creed and Preface, to the thrilling climax of the Consecration. ' Then all the people together made haste and fell down to the earth upon their faces, to adore the Lord their God, and to pray to the Almighty God the most High" (Ecclus. 1. 19).
The Chapter devoted to this explanation must necessarily be somewhat long, hence it may be well to divide it into four parts, corresponding with the fourfold division already made above. It must be premised that Solemn High Mass, with ministers and choir, is the standard on which the rubrics are based. Thus, High Mass is not simply a Low Mass with ceremonies added, but rather is Low Mass the Liturgy shorn of its splendour and stately ceremonial. In the early Church, scarcely any but High Mass was known, hence its being the Church's standard, when dealing with the question of ceremonies.
From the Beginning down to the Creed
When the priest is vested and ready to say Mass, he proceeds with chalice in hand from the Vestry to the Altar, where he genuflects, or bows profoundly, according as the Blessed Sacrament is, or is not, present thereon.
Genuflection implies an exterior act of respect and humility, very favourable to the spirit of prayer and penance, which bowing, in its own measure, also signifies; in the latter half of the Mass, both are frequent. He then ascends the step, arranges the chalice, and opens the Missal at the required place. He returns once more to the foot of the Altar to humble himself before God, as His unworthy minister, and begins Mass by making on himself the Sign of the Cross, invoking the most Holy Trinity in the usual form of words.
The words that accompany the making of the Sign were spoken by Our Lord Himself, as given at the end of St. Matthew's Gospel, xxviii. 19. They give us an accurate description of the Holy Trinity, one God in three Divine Persons. It is quite congruous and becoming to make here the Sign of the Cross, and invoke the three Holy Persons, for the Mass is a memorial of Calvary, and gives to the ever Blessed Trinity more glory and praise than any other act of Religion.
The Amen ("be it so") that follows is a Hebrew word expressing a desire that our prayers may be heard in God's name. On the Cross of Calvary, whereon Our Lord died, Pilate wrote a title: "The writing was Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews ... and it was written in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin" (John xix. 19, 20). This is the origin of the letters we often find on a crucifix : I.N.R.I.
Now, the same three languages are found also in the Mass, and thus we have at the very outset another reminder of the Sacrifice of the Cross.
The Hebrew is represented by this word Amen, so frequently used throughout, from beginning to end. Other Hebrew words are Cherubim, Seraphim, Sabaoth, Hosanna, and the frequent Alleluia.
The Greek is represented by the Kyrie and Christe, eleison ; and The Latin, by the rest of the Liturgy, at least in the Western Church.
After this beginning, the Priest and Server recite alternately the verses of the forty-second psalm of King David, Judica me, Deus. It is a psalm of gladness and joyful longing, expressing the desire of the royal prophet for the Altar and Temple of God, a desire that should animate the priest in like manner, as he stands at the foot of the Altar, like the Publican in the Temple, yet full of confidence and hope. This psalm is omitted in Masses of the Dead, and during Passiontide, as being unsuitable to such occasions of grief and penance, while some Religious Orders never say it at all.
The psalm ends with the Gloria Patri. The first part of it is supposed to have been framed by the Apostles, while the other part dates probably from the Council of Nicea, held a.d. 325, in condemnation of Arius, who taught that the Son was not from the beginning, nor equal in all things to the Father. This Doxology, as it is called, terminates nearly all the psalms, as used in the Divine Office, and should be said with head bowed down and in all reverence, as an act of faith in the dogma of the Blessed Trinity.
Then the priest recites the Confiteor—the " I confess," acknowledging his sinfulness before God and His Saints, and His unworthiness to approach the Altar; he asks pardon of his offences, which is one of the ends, of sacrifice, and he also begs the Saints to pray to God for him for that purpose. Here we have a distinct profession of faith in that consoling doctrine of the Church, the Communion of Saints, whereby we of the Church Militant on earth can appeal to the members of the Church Triumphant in Heaven for the help of their prayers in our behalf. Such invocation is authorised in many places of Holy Writ, both in the Old Testament and the New. While saying the Confiteor, (which has been in use from the eighth century,) the priest profoundly bows his body, and strikes his breast thrice, imitating the humble Publican, who "would not so much as lift up his eyes towards Heaven, but struck his breast saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke xviii. 13). Confession of sin always preceded sacrifice, even in the Old Law.
Then the Server repeats the Confiteor, for and in the name of the Faithful; it must always be remembered that the Server throughout represents the Congregation present at the Mass.
A few ejaculatory prayers follow, the last of which is Dominus vobiscum, " The Lord be with you," an expression that occurs several times during the course of the Mass ; this is the first greeting of the priest to the people, wishing them the grace and blessing of God. It is the same as is found in the Book of Ruth ii. 4 : " Booz said to the reapers : the Lord be with you ; and they answered him : the Lord bless thee." Through the Server the people reply, Et cum spiritu tuo, "and with thy spirit," O priest—an expression taken from the second epistle of S. Paul to Timothy iv. 22—a mutual salutation between priest and people.
Then the priest slowly goes up to the Altar, earnestly praying, as he does so, that God would purify his heart and make him worthy to enter the Holy of Holies. He next bows down and kisses the Altar, which symbolises Jesus Christ, as an act of love and reverence towards Him and the relics of the Martyrs, which, as we have seen, must always be found there.
Proceeding now to the Epistle side, he reads from the Missal what is called the Introit, or entrance, to the Mass, all that has gone before being taken as the introduction thereto. The Introit usually consists of a passage from Holy Scripture. This was formerly followed by one of the psalms, but, when the prayers of the Mass were shortened, the first verse only of the psalm was retained, concluding with the Gloria Patri, after which the Introit is repeated, as a sort of antiphon to the psalm. In Masses for the Dead, etc., the Gloria Patri is always omitted, its tone being one of gladness and joy.
Formerly, the Kyrie, eleison was said at the Epistle corner, and the custom survives even yet at High Mass ; at Low Mass, it is said at the middle of the Altar, before the Crucifix. It is a threefold cry for mercy addressed to the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, and is appropriately used at the beginning of Mass, be££incr the orace to offer it, or assist at it, in worthy dispositions.
The Gloria in excelsis has been called the Angelic Hymn, because its opening words are those sung by the Angels on the first Christmas night, as they announced the birth of the world's Redeemer to the Shepherds, watching their flocks on the hillside near Bethlehem (Luke ii. 14). The remainder of the hymn, dating back as far as the Council of Nicea, a.d. 325, forms a sublime melody of pious aspirations, composed by various pastors and doctors of the Church, whose very names remain quite unknown to the world. It addresses the three Divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and it contains the four objects of sacrifice: Adoration (adoramus Te) : Thanksgiving [gratias agimus tibi) : Propitiation (miserere nobis) : and Supplication (suscipe deprecationem nostram).
This glorious hymn, so majestic and beautiful, when first admitted as part of the Liturgy, was restricted exclusively to the feast of Christmas. Afterwards its use was extended to other festivals, but even then confined to Bishops only, till at last it came into general use on all feast days and by all priests.
We may naturally expect to learn that a hymn, so expressive of joy and gladness, would have no place in Masses for the Dead, nor during penitential seasons, except on feast days occurring then : and this we really find so to be.
At the end of this hymn, the priest once again uses the greeting, Dominus vobiscum, but in doing so, he this time turns and faces the people. Whenever he thus turns towards the congregation, he first of all kisses the Altar, as though receiving from Jesus Christ typified thereby the kiss of peace and all blessings, which he then opens his hands to pour out on his people.
Then comes the Collect of the day. This, a principal prayer of the Mass, varies according to the festival, or the mystery, of the day, and is nearly always addressed to God the Father, as Our Lord Himself used to do, when on earth, and it begs graces and favours through the intercession of the Saint whose feast is being kept, or through the merits of some incident in Our Lord's life being then commemorated. Following the wish of the Apostle (Col. iii. 17), the Church concludes her prayers and petitions in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
It often happens that more than one collect is said ; for a secondary feast may fall on the same day, and of it a commemoration is made. A Vigil may also coincide with the feast, or an Octave may be running", and of these likewise a commemoration is made, while, again, the Bishop, for some grave cause, may order a prayer to be added in the Mass, for some days or weeks together ; thus the number of collects will vary according to these different circumstances. It may be added, that some of the collects are among the most beautiful of the Church's prayers, both in the sentiments they contain and in the language wherein they are expressed, and many are of very ancient date.
While reading the collects and other prayers of the Mass, the priest, when his hands are not otherwise engaged, raises them upwards, according to a long established and impressive custom. It was thus that Moses prayed on the mountain for his people, as they were fighting against the Amalekites in the plain (Exod. xvii. 11). In different parts of the psalms, David makes frequent reference to the custom, which is thus shown to be very ancient. Our Lord prayed with extended arms on the Cross, and the practice was adopted by the primitive Christians, as early documents in writing and the paintings in the Catacombs clearly show, but it is one that is seldom seen nowadays.
After the Collects, comes the Epistle, or Lesson. The Jews, on their Sabbath day, used to read passages from the books of Moses and the Prophets (Acts xiii. 15). This example the first Christians followed, by reading extracts from the Scripture during Divine worship on Sunday, chiefly, though not exclusively, from the epistles of S. Paul. As Our Lord used to send some of His disciples before Him to those places He was about to visit, so the Church reads first from the writings of the Apostles, before coming to the Gospel, which contains the teachings of Our Lord Himself. The present arrangement of the Epistles and Gospels throughout the year, was made by S. Jerome, at the request of Pope Damasus, in the fourth century. At the end of the Epistle, the Server answers Deo gratias, "Thanks be to God," for the gift of His holy doctrine and spiritual nourishment contained therein.
Then comes the Gradual, a sort of transition from the Epistle to the Gospel, consisting usually of two or more verses from the psalms.
On five different occasions, the Gradual is followed by a Sequence, or hymn, suitable to them. Formerly they were more numerous, but now five only are found in the Roman Missal. They are all of them very beautiful, and because well known deserve to be at least mentioned here. They are : the Victimce Paschali, for Easter Day; Vent, Sancte Spiritus, on Pentecost ; S. Thomas of Aquin's Lauda, Sion, on Corpus Christi ; the Stabat Mater, on the feast of the Seven Dolours ; and the Dies irce, in Masses of the Dead.
Here the Missal is taken from the left-hand side of the Altar to the right, as being the more honourable. " Mystically, this ceremony is intended to remind us of the translation of the Word of God from the Jews, represented by the Epistle side, to the Gentiles, represented by the Gospel side, in accordance with what is said by SS. Paul and Barnabas, in the Acts of the Apostles xiii. 46 : 'To you it behoved us first to speak the word of God : but, because you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we turn to the Gentiles.' The bringing back of the Missal afterwards denotes the final return of the Jews to Christianity, at the preaching of Enoch and Elias."— Durandus. Meanwhile, the priest bows down before the Crucifix, saying a prayer wherein he begs, out of reverence for the Word of God, that his lips and heart may be cleansed, in order worthily to announce The Gospel, taken from S. Matthew, S. Mark, S. Luke, or S. John. Here the people rise and stand, expressing thereby their respect for the Divine Word, and their readiness to obey its commands. The priest makes a small sign of the Cross, with his thumb, on the opening words of the Gospel, implying it is the book of Jesus crucified. Then a triple cross upon himself, on his forehead, his lips, and his heart, wherein the Faithful should imitate him, symbolising their resolve to profess boldly the doctrine of the Gospel, to confess it with their lips, and to love it with their hearts. At the conclusion, the priest kisses the sacred volume, as a token of affection for Our Lord's teaching, and says : " May our sins be blotted out by the words of the Gospel." But these words are omitted, as well as the signing and kissing of the Missal, in Masses of the Dead, though the Server always answers : Laus tibi, Christe, "praise be to thee, O Christ."
It cannot have failed to strike many that, in reading the Gospel, the priest does not stand square to the Altar, as he did in reading the Epistle, but turns somewhat to his left, at an angle to the Altar. Why is this ? And what does this position imply? It may be that the Church, with her conservative genius, desires to preserve a vestige of the ancient practice of reading the Gospel to the people from the pulpit; hence, the priest still turns somewhat towards the congregation.
Moreover, if the Altar is, as it should be, towards the east, then the priest, in turning to his left, turns also towards the north. As it has just been stated, the Epistle, on the south side, is like a preparation for the Gospel, and symbolises the preaching of the Word to the Jews. They rejected Our Lord and His doctrines, then was the Gospel preached to the Gentile world, typified, in the words of S. Gregory, by the north : " The dark, cold north is a figure of the heathen world, for idolatry has hardened their hearts, just as the cold has frozen the northern lands." The following words of Jeremias iii. 12, though spoken primarily of the Jews in captivity at Babylon, further north than Judea, may also have reference to the establishment of the Church and to the conversion of the Gentiles : " Go, and proclaim these words towards the north." Hence the position that the priest takes, when reading the Gospel, either at this point or at the end of Mass.