From the Sanctus to the Pater
This, the most sacred portion of the whole Sacrifice, is called the " Canon of the Mass," because, derived from a Greek word meaning a rule, it is the fixed rule to be strictly followed by the priest, there being only five Feasts during the ecclesiastical year, on which a slight variation in the words of one prayer is at all tolerated ; apart from these, there is never any change. The Church has a most jealous care of this part of her Liturgy, and severely forbids any innovation here, on account of its venerable antiquity, which all writers seem agreed to admit.
As an instance of this, it may be stated that in the year 1815, at a time when devotion to S. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, was spreading and gaining favour throughout the Church, an application was made, for this very reason, that his name might be added to those already found in the Canon. The reply, however, was in the negative, and his name has never been introduced; no addition has ever been made since the days of Pope Gregory the Great, in the sixth century.
The whole of the Canon, portions of which are probably the work of the Apostles themselves, is said in an inaudible voice, so as to promote recollection and devotion, in both priest and people, at this most solemn time. Moreover, it is desirable to prevent such sacred words becoming too familiar, as they might do, if they were recited aloud on every occasion, like other portions of the Mass. Silence, therefore, prevails, and, like a mysterious veil, envelops the Divine Mysteries, recalling Our Lord's sublime silence, at the time of His Passion, and also serving to remind us of the ancient Discipline of the Secret.
During the Canon, the Celebrant frequently makes the sign of the Cross over the Elements on the Altar, both before and even after the Consecration ! In the former case, it is the usual manner of imparting a benediction or blessing to creatures. But, in the second case, the idea of blessing the true Body and Blood of Our Lord, present on the Altar, is altogether repugnant. Then, the idea is to recall to our minds the Sacrifice of the Cross and its continuance in the Mass ; or, it is a profession of faith that, in the Mass, Christ crucified is present as priest and victim.
In the first prayer of the Canon, the Te igitur, we beg that God may vouchsafe to accept the gifts that are being offered to Him, and to grant peace to His Church ; we likewise pray for the Pope, the Vicar of Christ and Head of the Church, for the Bishop of the diocese where Mass is being said, and finally for all members of the Church on earth.
The Memento of the Living is the second prayer of the Canon. Here the priest pauses a little while, to make a spiritual remembrance of those for whom he particularly wishes to pray, and especially of the person or object for which he is offering the Sacrifice.
A word should be said here on the ancient use of the Diptychs, often referred to in early Church history. The diptychs were folding tablets, on the inner sides of which were inscribed names of persons living and dead. Among the former were included the Supreme Pontiff, the Bishop, and the ruling Sovereign, those also for whose special benefit the Holy Sacrifice was being offered, who supplied the wants of the Altar, or contributed to the support of its ministers. In another column were inserted the names of deceased Faithful; to this reference will be made later.
These diptychs used to be read up to the assembled congregation, at High Mass by the Deacon, at Low Mass by the celebrant himself. This practice remained in vogue for many long centuries, till vanity led so many to have their names inscribed and announced, that in the eleventh century the Church thought well to discontinue what was proving to be a source of sin and disedification ; hence, the custom no longer exists, except in some churches of the East.
But a further instance of the Church's conservative spirit is seen in the fact that the letters N.N. are still to be retained in the Missal at this point, though the practice of reading up the names has long ceased to exist.
Next comes the Communicantes, wherein we beg of God to grant us His help and protection, through the merits and intercession of His Saints. The Mother of God and the twelve Apostles are first mentioned, and to their names are added those of twelve Martyrs, well known and honoured in and about Rome, who adorned the early days of the Church by shedding their blood in defence of her doctrines. Those who had died for the Faith, by being thus named in the Canon, were said to be canonised, that is, found worthy of being named at this point of the Mass; thus was canonisation originally effected.
A vestige of this is still retained at the present day ; for, when the Pope has solemnly declared any servant of God to be worthy of the honours of the Altar, he invokes him, in the Mass said on the occasion, after the other Saints named in the Canon.
While reciting the next prayer, Hanc igitur, the priest spreads his hands over the bread and wine, a ceremony borrowed from the Old Law, as we read in Exodus xxix. 10, 15, 19, where God commanded that Aaron should place his hands on the head of the victims he was about to offer in sacrifice. This action denotes that the priest charges the victim with his own sins and with those of the people whom he represents, the victim which is to mystically suffer and die instead of the sinner. What was symbolism in the olden day is reality now in the Christian Mass, wherein the Lamb of God, who took upon Himself the sins of the world, daily renews the sacrifice of Calvary for their expiation. As this prayer and its accompanying action so closely precede the Consecration, the Server here rings the bell, to remind the people of the near approach of the solemn moment.
During the next few words, five times does the priest again make the sign of the Cross over the oblations, recalling the five Wounds of Victim of Calvary, and reminding us it is the sacrifice of the Cross that is here being renewed.
And now we have reached the sacred moment of the Consecration, the essential act of the Sacrifice, when the Angels of Heaven are preparing to come down upon earth to adore their sacramental Lord. The words of this part of the Liturgy are almost the same as those of the Gospel, relating the institution of the Blessed Sacrament. Suiting the action to the words, the priest, in imitation of Our Lord, takes the bread in his hands, and raising his eyes heavenwards, as tradition says Our Lord did, he blesses it, and pronounces the mystical words: " This is my body," and behold! transubstantiation is thereupon effected—the bread has become the true Body of Christ!
How stupendous a change! How sublime a miracle! How awful an act! Yet how marvellously simple is it all! Man utters a few words, and God's love and power fulfil the wondrous change. It is a repetition of the act of creation : " Be light made : and light was made" (Gen. i. 3). It is a commemoration also of another sublime mystery, expressed in the simplest terms: " The Word was made flesh" (John i. 14). 22
At once the priest bends his knee to adore his Creator whom, all unworthy though he be, he now holds in his hands! The bell here rings gently, to remind the Faithful of what has taken place at the Altar, and invite their adoring worship. This tinkling of the bell should bring ease to our souls : there is joy in the very ringing of it, for does it not signify the new birth of the God-made-man, ever living to make intercession for us ?
" Sound, sound His praises higher still, And come, ye angels, to our aid : Tis God ! Tis God ! the very God Whose power both man and angels made ! "
This adoration of the Holy Eucharist is attested by all antiquity, even the earliest Fathers of the Church instructing their flocks to renew their faith in the Real Presence, and adore Him whom their faith acknowledges to have descended from Heaven to earth } surrounded by the invisible angels of His Court.
The priest rising immediately, elevates the Sacred Host for the Faithful to look upon and adore, symbolising the lifting up of Christ on the Cross. Reverence and devotion have led them to bow down during the whole time of the Consecration and Elevation, and the deep-rooted custom has become universal. Yet the very object of the priest's thus raising the Sacred Host is that the Faithful may rest their eyes on It and see their Lord in His sacramental form! To urge them to revert to the original idea, the late Pontiff Leo XIII. granted an indulgence to all such as should reverently look upon their uplifted Lord at this moment. Hence, such as assist at the Holy Sacrifice should raise their eyes, for a moment at least, and so justify the Elevation, which otherwise would have no meaning, while, at the same time, they will gain with ease the indulgence that is offered for the mere act of thus looking devoutly on the Sacred Host, as it is raised up before them!
The reader must here be reminded that this elevation of the consecrated elements did not take place till the eleventh century. In 1047 Berengarius, who has already been referred to, began to broach errors on the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. These were promptly repudiated and condemned by the Church, and this ceremony — the Elevation — was unanimously adopted as a protest against the impieties and new doctrines of this heretic, and as a practical profession of faith in Our Lord's presence on the Altar, after the words of consecration have been uttered.
Devout Catholics must, during this solemn time, manifest both by outward demeanour and inward faith, the reverence they cherish towards the Eucharistic mysteries ; silent adoration is then their duty.' Silence during these moments produces a most impressive effect, and is by.all means to be encouraged.
Then follows the second Consecration, that of the wine in the chalice, with similar adoration and elevation. Thus two elements, bread and wine, are necessary for the Eucharistic Sacrifice, though one suffices for the Eucharistic Sacrament. This separate consecration of the bread and wine is, in a mystical sense, the painless immolation of the Divine Lamb, typifying that separation of His Blood from His Body, which took place on Calvary with the most painful reality.
It may be repeated here that, should the Celebrant die suddenly after either consecration, or be taken so seriously ill as to be unable to proceed further with the Mass, another priest must, if possible, be found to continue and complete it, even though (perhaps) he be not fasting; for, the Natural Law, requiring the completion of the Sacrifice, prevails over the law of fasting, which is merely of Ecclesiastical origin.
The first prayer after the Consecration is Unde et memores. The Mass of itself cannot but be pleasing in the sight of God, for Christ, the Victim, is His Own beloved Son, of infinite merit before him. Yet the priest and the Faithful also share in offering the Sacrifice, and this privilege should overpower them as they reflect upon their sins and unworthiness. Hence, as guilty beings, they here beg of God to accept their Sacrifice, as of old He was pleased to receive the offerings of Abel, Abraham, and Melchisedech. The sacrifices of the first two were, more than others, typical of the bloody Sacrifice of the Cross, while that of Melchisedech was a figure of the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass. The Celebrant asks also that God's angel may carry the offering to the Altar on High, in sight of the Divine Majesty and His heavenly Court—a reference to the golden altar of the Apocalpyse viii. 3.
The sign of the Cross that the priest now makes over the consecrated elements is no longer here a blessing given, but a reminder that the Victim who died on the Cross now lies before us on the Altar. The Church avails herself of every occasion to impress on the minds of priest and people alike this great truth—that the Sacrifice of the Altar is the selfsame as that of the Cross. Hence, the frequent use of the Cross over the oblations, even after the Consecration.
The next point to notice is the Memento of the dead. The Church, from the days of the Apostles, has ever taught and practised prayer for her deceased children. It has ever been her belief that there is a Purgatory, or place of suffering after death, where those who die in the state of grace, but as yet not pure enough to enter Heaven, are detained for awhile, till their souls are sufficiently cleansed to appear in the presence of God. It was hardly likely, therefore, that the Church would pray for her living members, in this august Sacrifice, and omit to pray for those who are no longer with her on earth, but have entered the home of their eternity. Hence, we have at this point the " remembrance" of the dead, that is, the names of departed Faithful, inscribed on the Diptychs, were read up, and prayers were asked that they might be granted "a place of refreshment, light, and peace," that their sufferings might be mitigated, or even ended by their release from Purgatory and their entrance into Heaven. We are thus requested to pray, as S. Augustine remarks, " that such religious duty, whenever it becomes neglected by parents, children, relations, or friends, may be supplied by our pious and common mother, the Church."
Should a departed soul for whom Mass is offered be unable to benefit by it, either because eternally lost, or because already in Heaven, theologians commonly teach that such sacrifice is by no means lost, but the fruit of it becomes part of the general treasury of the Church, whence indulgences may be granted by the dispensers of God's mercy.
And next, the priest strikes his breast, like the Publican in the Temple, and utters aloud the words Nobis quoque peccatoribus, beginning the last prayer of the Canon. After interceding for the souls of the Faithful departed, he prays now for sinners upon earth, whose future is still uncertain and exposed to many dangers. By way of showing the earnestness of his petition, or as a sigh from the heart, he pronounces these first three words aloud, (the only words heard during the Canon,) all the rest being recited in a subdued voice throughout. Mention is made of Martyrs and Saints belonging to different orders and states in the Church, with whom we ask God to grant us, in spite of our sins, some part and fellowship.
At the end of this prayer, the priest holds the Sacred Host over the chalice and raises them a little from the Altar, and then replaces them. This was formerly the Elevation of the Mass, and, till the eleventh century, the only one. But it has been already explained how, during that century, the principal Elevation came to be made at the time of the Consecration, as a protest against the errors of Berengarius.
With the second (and now, minor elevation), the priest concludes the prayer, raising his voice, and saying per omnia secula seculorum, "World without end: amen." This ends the Canon of the Mass, and leads us into the last division.