The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
HOLY Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the New Testament in which the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, are offered to God under the appearance of bread and wine.
Humanity's redemption was accomplished when Christ bowed His head in death on the Cross. The Holy Mass is the sacrament of the sacrifice of Redemption, through which more abundantly than through any other means (Council of Trent) the merits of Christs redeeming death are applied to souls. The Mass is not a mere symbol recalling the sacrifice of the Cross. It is a sacrament, a symbol that does what it signifies. Through the separate consecration of the bread and wine, Christ our Lord, speaking through His priests, portrays the shedding of His Blood and His dying on Calvary, and becomes really present under symbols that show Him to be in a state of victimhood. In accomplishing this act, Christ presents once more before His Father His immolation on the Cross, with all that it involves of love and obedience, of adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation and petition. Thus, St. Cyprian writing to the Christians of the 3rd century declared: The sacrifice which we offer to God is the Passion of our Lord Himself.
Besides being the sacramental renewal of Christs sacrifice on the Cross, the Mass is also our sacrifice. Holy Baptism grafted us in Christ, the true Vine. We are members of Christs Mystical Body, the Church. Christ our Head is the priest and the victim of every Mass. The Sacred Ministers act in the person not only of our Savior, but of the whole Mystical Body and of everyone of the faithful. Christ offers not only Himself as Head of the Church, but in Himself His mystical members as well. (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei.) In every Mass, therefore, we are associated with the complete consecration, the obedience unto death of Christ our Head. Attendance at Mass should be for us the renewal of our Baptismal promises, a sincere dedication to Christian living, to the following of Christ, to doing the Will of God.
THE PRINCIPAL PARTS OF THE MASS
THE Holy Mass really consists of two services. The First Part, from the Prayers at the foot of the Altar to the Creed inclusively, is a service of prayer and instruction called Mass of the Catechumens, because, during the early centuries of Christianity, people under instruction, but not yet baptized (Catechumens), were permitted to be present at this service, but were excluded from the Eucharistic sacrifice. The Second Part called Mass of the Faithful, because only the baptized were permitted to assist, is the Eucharistic sacrifice. This part begins with the Offertory Verse and continues until the end of Mass.
I. MASS OF THE CATECHUMENS
The purpose of this service of prayer and instruction is to prepare us for the proper celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. We approach God in prayer; God speaks to us in the inspired words of the Epistle and Gospel and, through the lips of His priest, in the sermon.
1. PRAYERS AT THE FOOT OF THE ALTAR: The priest and the server (in the name of all present) recite part of Psalm 42, a hymn written by a Jewish priest or levite under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, about eight hundred years before the birth of Christ. This hymn, in which the inspired author speaks his yearning to worship on the holy hill of Jerusalem, expresses beautifully the sentiments that fill our hearts as we approach the altar for the Eucharistic sacrifice: consciousness of our sinfulness and weakness, confidence in God Who has saved us through Christs sacrifice.
Then the priest and server, speaking for all present, recite in turn the Confiteor, a general confession of sinfulness and a poignant plea for Gods forgiveness.
Every altar stone contains the relics of some martyr-saint, reminiscent of the early Christian practice of celebrating Mass over the tombs of the martyrs. Kissing the altar the priest says: By the merits of Your Saints, whose relics lie here, and of all the Saints: deign in Your mercy to pardon me all my sins.
2. INTROIT: Going to the Missal the priest reads a few verses usually taken from a Psalm. This prayer is called the Introit, from the Latin IntroitUS, meaning entrance, because it used to be sung, and at Solemn Mass is still sung as the sacred ministers enter the sanctuary.
3. KYRIE ELEISON These are Greek words, the only Greek in our Roman Mass, meaning, Lord have mercy (Kyrie eleison), Christ have mercy (Christe eleison).
4. GLORIA: This hymn of praise, adoration and thanksgiving begins with the words the angels sang at Jesus birth: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will. It is omitted during penitential seasons, in Masses of the dead and in ferial and votive Masses, e.g. in Nuptial Masses.
5. PRAYER (or COLLECT): Returning to the Missal the priest reads the Prayer of Petition, called the Collect, because it is a petition made in the name of all the people collected, gathered together in church. This prayer, which is different for every Mass, is always a prayer of petition.
6. EPISTLE (or LESSON): God inclines toward us to instruct us. The priest reads a passege from the Bible, called the Epistle, because it is usually taken from the inspired letters of the Apostles.
7. GRADUAL: The verses, usually from a Psalm, recited after the Epistle are called the Gradual (from the Latin gradus, a step), because they used to be intoned by a cantor standing on the steps of the pulpit or altar.
8. ALLELUIA: A Hebrew expression meaning Praise the Lord! In the Roman Rite, AIIeIuia is regarded as an expression of joy, and consequently is omitted during penitential seasons and in Requiem Masses.
9. TRACT: A Psalm, or verses of a Psalm, recited in place of the Alleluia during penitential seasons.
10. GOSPEL: The climax of the prayer and instruction service. God speaks to us through the words of His Incarnate Son, as recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
11. CREED: With this profession of faith we express our acceptance of Gods revelation and instruction. The First Part of Mass began on a note of humilityconscious of our sinfulness we begged Gods mercy. It closes with a note of confidence; faith in the reward God has promised us as the fruit of Christs sacrifice: I believe in . . . life everlasting. Amen.
II. MASS OF THE FAITHFUL
The Second Part of Mass, from the Offertory Verse to the end, is the service of sacrifice, the unbloody sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, the sacramental renewal of His sacrifice on Calvary. This part of Mass consists of three actions: (a) The Offering, (b) The Consecration, (c) The Communion.
A. THE OFFERING
1. OFFERTORY: In the name of the whole Church the priest offers to God the bread and wine, mixed with a few drops of water, which will be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In ancient days the people gave the priest the bread and wine for the Holy Sacrifice. Today, for reasons of practicality, a money collection has been substituted for this ancient custom. With the offering of the host and the chalice we should make a complete offering of ourselves to God, accepting from the divine good pleasure the chalice that His Wisdom wills to mix for us, be it suffering or joy, good fortune or bad fortune. For He wills all for our ultimate happiness.
2. LAVABO: Washing of the Hands. Originally the priest washed his hands because they had become soiled by handling the bread and flasks of wine presented by the people at the Offertory. Now this act is a symbol of the inner purity with which priest and faithful should approach the Sacrifice of the Lord.
3. SECRET.: This prayer is so called because it is said inaudibly. The Secret is always a petition to God to receive favorably the offering of the Church and to sanctify the faithful.
B. THE CONSECRATION
The second act of the Eucharistic sacrifice begins with the Preface and concludes with the words, World without end. Amen (just before the Pater Noster). This part of Mass is, strictly speaking, the Canon, although the Roman Missal uses this term for the parts of the Missal immediately following the Sanctus.
1. PREFACE: The solemn introduction to the Canon of the Mass, to the Consecratory or Sacrificial Act. The Preface is always a hymn of thanksgiving, because Jesus giving thanks instituted the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the Last Supper. The Preface concludes with the jubilant cry of adoration of the Seraphim of Isaias vision (Isa. 6, 3), called the Sanctus.
2. TE IGITUR: These words, Therefore, most gracious Father, we humbly beg, introduce a great intercession in which the priest implores Gods good favor for the Pope, the Bishop of the diocese, all the faithful, especially those present, and those for whom he is offering Mass or whom he wishes to remember in the Holy Sacrifice.
3. COMMUNICANTES: Naming our Blessed Mother, the Apostles, some of the ancient Popes and Martyrs, the priest begs that in view of their merits and prayers and the intercession of all the saints, we may all be protected by Gods Providence and grace, and brought to the glory of the saints.
4. CONSECRATION: Speaking through His priest our Blessed Lord changes the bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Through the separate consecration of the bread and wine, which portrays the shedding of His Blood, He shows forth His death, renewing sacramentally the sacrifice He made of Himself on Calvary.
5. OFFERING OF THE VICTIM TO GOD: Recalling the Sacrifice of our Lord on Calvary and the Resurrection and Ascension by which God manifested His acceptance of Christs bloody sacrifice, the priest begs, with absolute assurance that the Eucharistic sacrifice is pleasing to God, that all who partake of this sacrifice in Holy Communion may be filled with grace and heavenly blessing.
6. COMMEMORATION OF THE DEAD: The priest prays for all the faithful departed and in particular for those whom he wishes to remember.
7. THE MINOR ELEVATION: For us sinners also the priest beseeches a share in the joy of the glorified martyrs and saints. The Consecration Act, the Canon properly so-called, concludes with a beautiful doxology (a prayer of praise of the Holy Trinity). Through Him and with Him and in Him (Christ our Lord), is to You God the Father Almighty, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
C. THE COMMUNION
In Communion our Blessed Lord gives Himself to His faithful to develop and strengthen the life of grace they received in Baptism, just as food nourishes physical life.
1. PATER NOSTER: In preparation for Holy Communion the priest recites aloud the Our Father, the prayer taught us by our Lord Himself. The daily bread we beg for is, more than anything else, the living bread the Holy Eucharist, which preserves us for eternal life and guarantees the resurrection of our bodies.
2. THE BREAKING OF THE SACRED HOST: In imitation of our Blessed Lord, Who at the Last Supper broke bread, the priest breaks the Consecrated Host. The Christians of the Apostolic times called the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, The Breaking of the Bread.
3. AGNUS DEI: A petition for mercy to Christ, the Lamb of God, Who redeemed us by the Sacrifice of the Cross and Who applies the benefits of that Sacrifice to our souls through the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
4. COMMUNION: Originally this antiphon and psalm were sung while Holy Communion was being distributed to the faithful. Now the short Communion antiphon is recited after Holy Communion.
5. POSTCOMMUNION The Churchs prayer of thanksgiving is short. An earnest endeavor to live a better Christian life is the thanksgiving she wants the faithful to offer God for the graces they have received through the Holy Sacrifice and in Holy Communion. Those who have received Holy Communion, however, are urged by the Church to spend some time in fervent thanksgiving.
The Sacred Vessels Needed for Mass
The CHALICE: A cup of precious metal (the inside must be gold or gold-plated), that holds the wine consecrated at Mass.
The PATEN: A small plate of precious metal that holds the Sacred Host.
The CIBORIUM: A large cup of precious metal with a cover of the same material, that contains the hosts consecrated for distribution to the Faithful in Holy Communion.
The PURIFICATOR: A small linen cloth used by the priest to dry his fingers and the chalice, when he has washed and purified them after Communion.
The CORPORAL: The linen cloth spread by the priest on the altar at the beginning of Mass. The chalice and host rest upon this cloth.
The PALL: A small square of stiffened linen, or of cardboard covered with linen, used to cover the chalice.
The CHALICE VEIL: A cloth covering, of the same color as the Chasuble, that conceals the chalice and paten up to the Offertory and after the Communion.
The BURSE: A flat, square contamer of cloth, the same color as the vestments, in which the corporal is carried to and from the altar. It is placed over the veil on top of the chalice.
High and Low Mass
From the viewpoint of external ceremony, we speak of High Mass and Low Mass. A High Mass is sung. A Low Mass is read. A High Mass is called Solemn Mass when it is sung with the help of Deacon and Subdeacon. A High Mass sung by a priest, without the assistance of those Sacred Ministers is known as a Missa Cant ąta.
Low Mass is one in which the priest, assisted by one server, recites in a speaking tone the parts that are sung in a High Mass. It is in fact the abridgement of the Solemn Mass which, in ancient days, was the normal way of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice. Low Mass was evidently introduced on account of the difficulty of securing the help of Deacon and Subdeacon.
The Classification of Feasts
According to their liturgical rank, feasts are graded, Double 1st Class, Double 2nd Class, Double Major, Double, and Simple. When two or more feasts happen to fall on the same day, the feast of the higher grade will take precedence. The Mass, consequently, will be of that feast. The lesser feast may be transferred to a later date, or, more usually, it will receive a commemoration, i.e., its Prayer, Secret and Postcommunion will be recited in the Mass of the preferred feast.