Gavin - Sacrifice of the Mass - Introduction

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IN April, 1901, I began on the Wednesday evenings in Farm Street Church a series of simple Explanations of Catholic Doctrine for Catholics and non-Catholics. The text-book was the Penny Catechism. The purpose was to explain, supplement, and illustrate that little book which contains so much in a few pages. I began with the Sacraments, and after explaining the Eucharist as a Sacrament, went on to consider the Eucharist as a Sacrifice. To the Mass some twenty-eight Instructions were devoted, and they are now published.


The earnest hope is entertained that this explanation of the Mass will help to a deeper appreciation of the greatest act of worship in the Church. It is impossible to have laboured for many years in London without painfully realizing that the Mass is neither known, nor understood, nor attended, nor loved as it deserves. Surely there are many Catholics who might with a little self-denial hear Mass, if not daily, at least some times in the week. If we inquire the reason from those who find time for other things and not for Mass, we shall probably learn that they do not understand what they lose. Mass is a closed book to them. The love, self-sacrifice, and humiliation of a Divine Person lies before them in the Eucharist; they have eyes and see not. With an intelligent grasp of the doctrine of the Mass they would discover a method of discharging every obligation of the creature to the Creator, and of procuring all they want from His gracious bounty.


Let me explain simply the object of the Mass. Mass is the supreme act of worship, in which Christ as the Head of our race, offers His own Body and Blood in acknowledgment of the Creator's dominion over Him and over all mankind. Our Lord is the chief celebrant at every Mass, and at the altar renews His profession of perpetual service. Reason alone proves the obligation of giving God honour and glory. Our best is indeed small, whether we consider the deeds performed or the abject condition of every man, clad in infirmity from head to foot. Our deficiency is supplied in the Mass, which gives infinite honour and glory to God's Supreme Majesty. One Mass, for which we cannot spare half an hour, yields more honour and glory to God than the adoration of the blessed in Heaven and of their Queen. Once more. Thanksgiving is another duty of the creature to the Creator. "Thank you"

are almost the first words a mother teaches her child. The duty of thanking God is so obvious that any explanation weakens its claims. The duty is self-evident. We are surrounded by the unmerited blessings of Heaven as a fish by the waters of the sea. Man is the neediest and most helpless and most ungrateful of all creatures, and for him God has done incomparably more than for the angels. The Crib, the Cross, and the Tabernacle are three fountains of mercy and love whence grace floods this earth. Man is powerless to thank God for all His benefits. "The unsearchable riches of Christ" paid the debt of gratitude a thousand fold in the first Mass in the Supper Room. The Church calls the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, just as pain means punishment. At the Mass Christ chants His Te Deum in honour of His Father, or rather the Mass is His Te Deum, and the faithful on earth, in Purgatory, and Heaven, join the song of praise. You have received great temporal and spiritual blessings; have the Mass offered in thanksgiving, and assist at the Holy Sacrifice for the same intention. And though we may not aim so high, it is useful to remember that the saints recognized mercy even in crushing sorrow. "Although He should kill me I will trust in Him." (Job xiii. 15.) And they thank God at the Mass for sending it to them.


Once again: We are sinners. In this all men are akin; and we need some Being to appease the anger of God, to obtain His forgiveness and to avert or lessen the punishment due to crime. Mass is the great appeasing power of the world, for Mass is Calvary over again. The scene on Calvary is re-presented to us in the drama of the Mass. Death on Calvary was the consummation of the Sacrifice. That death was caused by the separation of the Blood of our Lord from His Body, that separation is, to use the words of the Council of Trent, "re-presented to us," placed again before our eyes in the double consecration of bread and wine. Although Christ exists whole and entire under the appearance of bread as well as under the appearance of wine, nevertheless by the words of Consecration the Body only is under the appearance of bread, and the Blood only under the appearance of wine. We have then here that mystical parting of the Body and Blood which makes the re-presentation of the Death upon the Cross.


We are anxious for our friends or relatives who are leading bad lives. But through the Mass we may infallibly appease the anger of God which we and they have justly incurred, and we may infallibly procure them graces, which if accepted, will lead them back into friendship with our Lord. For the soul in the state of grace the Mass infallibly satisfies a part of the punishment due to forgiven sin, wards off the chastisements of God, and obtains graces in every conjuncture of life, and for the soul in Purgatory the Mass is the surest and the quickest way of paying the debt, and releasing the prisoner from the flame. Devotions come and go in the Church. Some are more popular in one age than in another. Mass is the devotion of every age and people: it is our spiritual centre, like the sun in the heavens, shedding light and warmth over the earth. Mass can never leave us so long as this planet hangs in the firmament, and the last Mass on earth will be the signal for the Archangel's trumpet to summon the dead to Judgment. "God Himself," says St. Alphonsus, "cannot cause any action to be performed which is holier and grander than the Mass." In one word, to obtain the conversion of non-Catholics, the release of souls from Purgatory, to avert the anger of God, to satisfy His justice, to thank Him for count less favours, to obtain grace in special needs, Mass is the surest and speediest, because the heavenly appointed, means.


I have also endeavoured to explain in this book the Rubrics of the Mass.


By the Rubrics are meant directions which the Church has laid down for the fitting celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. The word Rubric is taken from the Roman law, in which the titles, maxims, and principal decisions were written in red (ruber). Burchard, the master of ceremonies under Innocent VIII. and Alexander VI., first set out, so says Le Brun, the ceremonies of the Mass in the Roman Pontifical printed at Rome in 1485. The ceremonies were finally arranged more or less in the present form by Pius V when he revised the Missal in 1570. Various rites, such as the Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Carthusian, Dominican, and others are approved by the Church; the Rubrics at these Masses are somewhat different from those of the ordinary Roman Mass. The history of the Rubrics is full of interest to any student. The Rubrics, says Le Brun in his famous work on the Mass, are so many signs which express thought more plainly than words. (Vol. I. Preface, p. 16.) Some Rubrics carry us back to the very earliest time: they are speaking records of the past. "Let us all remember this," says the Bishop of Newport in his beautiful work (Our Divine Saviour, p. 282), " there is not a ceremony of the Mass, not a prayer, not a genuflexion, not a vestment worn which has not been prescribed by ancient saints, if not by the Apostles themselves, and which has not upon it the stamp and sanctity of a hoary and venerable tradition. There is not a symbol of office in the country, not a crown or a flag, a chain or a robe, which is not of yesterday, compared with the stole and chasuble of the priest at the altar."


It will interest our readers to know that there is hardly a Rubric ever used which may not yet be found, either whole or in part, in the ceremonies employed in the Church to-day. If we do not find it in High Mass we shall find it in Low, if not in the Mass of a priest, at least in that of a Bishop or perhaps in the Pope's solemn Mass, said three times a year on the feasts of Christmas, Easter, and SS. Peter and Paul. Some times rites no longer seen in the Roman Mass, still find a place in the rites peculiar to certain Religious Orders or in Votive Masses. Let us illustrate our meaning by examples.


To begin with, the derivation of the word Mass reveals the existence of a rubric which for ages has passed away. Mass comes to us from the Latin Missa. Missa is another form of Missio, meaning dismissal, just as collecta (a collect) is another form of collectio, and repulsa of repulsio in the line from Horace, Virtus repulses nescia sordid^, not to quote other examples. Now, in the Liturgy there were two solemn dismissals first, of the catechumens after the Gospel; next, of the faithful at the end of the Service. The word for dismissal came to denote the Service from which there were two solemn dismissals. If further, it be asked why the catechumens were dismissed after the Gospel, the answer requires a brief explanation of what is called the Discipline of the Secret (Disciplina arcani). By the Discipline of the Secret, we mean the custom which prevailed in the early Church, say, from the end of the second to the close of the sixth century, of concealing from heathens and catechumens under instruction for the Church the most sacred doctrines of the Faith. This secrecy was preserved by the early Christians from the natural fear that the knowledge of their doctrines might increase the violence of persecution, or expose such doctrines to ridicule or profanation. The catechumens were ordered to withdraw after the Gospel, because at that point the preparation for the Sacrifice begins.


Another rubric still in daily use reminds us of the Discipline of the Secret, though some of our readers may be unaware of the connection. Why is the Pater noster said audibly at Mass, and in secret at the Little Hours and the various Offices of the Church? Benedict XIV., a safe authority, gives the reason. He informs us (The Mass, bk. ii.p.n^) that the Creed with the Pater noster were among those prayers never recited in the public Services of the Church at which pagans and catechumens assisted. Both pagans and catechumens had left the church at the Pater noster, hence there was no reason for saying the Pater noster inaudibly; but as pagans and catechumens were allowed to be present at Prime, Vespers, Matins, etc., the Pater noster in their presence was said in secret. And the custom lives to this day.


Let us take a few more instances. The priest's berretta at Mass dates from about the tenth century. Before that time the amice served as a covering for the head. Even at the present time many Religious wear the amice over the head until the beginning of Mass, when they cast it back between the shoulders.


Why is it the custom for the priest to vest in the sacristy and the Bishop at the altar? In earlier ages (as now on solemn occasions) the Bishop was received at the church door, a procession was formed, and the Bishop was conducted to a side altar where he vested before the principal Mass, and remained seated to receive the homage and offerings of the congregation. The Bishop then proceeded to the high altar and Mass began. In time the procession ceased, the Bishop's vestments were transferred to the high altar, and he vested as now within the sanctuary. There was no procession or solemnity before the priest s Mass, and he naturally vested in the sacristy. The Psalm Judica was not generally recited at Mass before the ninth century, its omission at Masses for the Dead and during Passiontide takes us back to the Mass in the earlier ages when the Judica was never said. The maniple originally served the purpose of a hand kerchief. It was pinned to the priest s arm before he ascended the altar. The custom is now observed at the Bishop s Mass; he receives the maniple at the Indulgentiam after the Confiteor. The sign of the Cross is made at the Introit because it begins the Mass: the Kyrie at Low Mass is said in the centre of the altar, while the old custom of saying it at the Epistle side is still kept at High Mass. The Gloria in excelsis was said at Mass until the eleventh century by Bishops only on Sundays and feasts, and by priests only at the Mass of Easter Sunday. The Pax vobis said by the Bishop after the Gloria instead of the Dominus vobiscum, is taken, according to some writers, from the Gloria, and is possibly a vestige of the Bishop's privilege.


Benedict XIV. gives another and far better explanation. Bishops say Pax vobis after the Gloria on festivals. If the Gloria be not said, the Bishop’s salutation is the same as the priest’s, Dominus vobiscum. The Bishop possesses the fullness of the priesthood, and therefore more closely represents Jesus Christ than a simple priest. And Pax vobis was our Lord’s greeting to His disciples in the joy of the Resurrection. These words, then, are fittingly said after the Gloria. In the other salutations at Mass the Bishop says the Dominus vobiscum to show that he is counted in the number of priests.


At High Mass, the deacon, before saying the Munda cor meum, places the Missal on the altar. This reminds us of the ancient times when the Gospels, as a mark of honour and respect, lay on the altar upon a stand during Mass. We have now only one Missal on the altar at Mass, in the earlier centuries two or three books were used. Various customs still survive during or after the Offertory, which link the present with the past. Thus, the Oremus, as said immediately before the Offertory, seems meaningless in its present position unless it refers to a prayer formerly inserted before the antiphon which we now call the Offertory. For a thousand years the faithful at the Offertory, as

mentioned in this book, made their offering of bread and wine for the altar, and wheat, oil, honey, and other gifts for the support of the clergy. We are reminded of this custom by two very striking Rubrics which occur at the ordination of the priest and the consecration of a Bishop. The Roman Pontifical directs that after the Offertory has been read by the Bishop each of the newly-ordained priests is to offer a lighted candle to the Bishop, while the recently consecrated Bishop is to present to the consecrating Bishop two lighted torches, two loaves, and two barrels of wine. Some of us may have wondered why the subdeacon at High Mass takes the paten from the deacon, after the oblation of the chalice, and covering it with a long veil holds it at the foot of the altar until the end of the Pater noster. The Church is very conservative, and sooner than part from an old custom she retains it though its raison d’etre has ceased. The custom can be traced to the time when the faithful offered bread and wine on the paten. As these offerings were large

and larger hosts were customary then, the size of the paten was in proportion, and being inconvenient on the altar, it was removed and kept by the subdeacon until needed again by the priest.


Let us pass now to another vestige of an ancient Rubric kept in a Votive Mass. The nuptial blessing is given in the Mass for the Bride and Bridegroom after the Pater noster and again after the Ite Missa est. Why is the blessing given after the Pater noster? The blessing is the survival of a ceremony which has long ceased to exist. Bishops before the sixteenth century gave a special blessing after the Pater noster perhaps to friends and benefactors, and again at the end a general blessing to the congregation. The special blessing to the bride and bridegroom in this place reminds us of that special blessing given by the Bishop. The second prayer at the end for bride and bridegroom may have been found in the Mass before the practice began of a priest blessing the congregation after the Itta Missa est. And it naturally kept its place.


Once more. In churches abroad and at home men sometimes occupy one side of the church and women another. This separation of the sexes was strictly enjoined when the kiss of peace was given after the Agnus Dei. In ancient times the pax or kiss of peace was common to every High Mass (except Solemn Requiem), and at least every male member of the congregation received it. Now the pax is given only at High Mass to those who are in the sanctuary. But the separation of the sexes sometimes continues, although the special motive of the separation has disappeared. Finally, let me give one more instance of a rite which is no longer allowed in the Mass of a priest or Bishop, and is found in the solemn Mass of the Pope. Up to the twelfth century Holy Communion was administered to the faithful under both kinds. By the Council of Constance, in 1414, the celebrant only is allowed to receive under both kinds. When the laity communicated under both species, other chalices besides that used by the priest were employed; the deacon usually administered the Chalice, and the people drank the Precious Blood through a tube. At this day during the Mass said by the Pope over the tomb of the Apostles at Christmas, Easter, and SS. Peter and Paul, the deacon and subdeacon are privileged to partake of the Precious Blood. A solitary instance of a usage still surviving which was almost universal in the Church for at least eleven hundred years.


The reader will find the Rubrics explained in their proper place where the meaning is not self-evident.


And now I pass to the third motive of this volume.





On this the greatest possible stress has been laid. The prayers at Mass are the prayers of the Church and their importance cannot be exaggerated. The Church is responsible for these prayers. She watches over every word in the Mass with anxious care and is keenly jealous of the least alteration or addition. In proof of this we may mention that about 1814 the Holy See was petitioned to add the name of St. Joseph to the list of saints in the prayer Communicantis in the Canon. The request was refused. Not all prayers, however holy and beautiful, even written by saints in approved manuals of devotion, can claim to be called the prayers of the Church. Much misunderstanding is abroad on this subject. By the prayers of the Church we mean pre-eminently the Scriptures (for in a sense Scripture from Genesis to the Apocalypse can be called one long prayer), and such prayers as are prescribed in the Mass and in all public Services or in those rites, Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Carmelite, Carthusian, Dominican, etc., etc., which the Church has approved. In these she teaches her doctrine and preserves her creed. The well-known theological axiom must not be forgotten, lex supplicandi est lex credendi her prayers are the rule of her belief. It may safely be said that the prayers at Mass are the warmest outpourings of the Church s big heart in the sublimest act of worship which earth offers to Heaven. No words can possibly exaggerate the beauty of these prayers or the reverent tenderness they display for the sacred Majesty of God. Every feeling of the heart finds adequate expression in her supplications as she mourns and rejoices, thanks, beseeches and invokes her Spouse. These prayers are recommended by every consideration that excites devotion. As the prayers of the Church they are in matters of faith divinely preserved from error, and they teach us how to pray as no other prayers can. They bear the consecration of age. The Canon, as we read it to-day, is almost unchanged since the beginning of the seventh century, 604, when St. Gregory the Great died. For 1,300 years, then, virgins and martyrs and confessors, the needy and the weary and the heavily laden, the penitent sinner, the innocent child, the monarch in his palace, the prisoner under sentence of death have found all the heart longs for in the very same words which we say to-day in hearing Mass. Why are these prayers so little used by the Catholic laity? Why is the popular manual preferred to the Missal? Why are the prayers of a man dearer than the prayers of the Church? The only answer is that the Ordinary of the Mass is not known and studied, and therefore is not appreciated and loved as it deserves. The prayers of Mass demand and abundantly repay the same study which a diligent student gives to his classical author or to some splendid passage in Shakespeare, Dante, or Milton. Remember that the Mass has the privilege of arousing the warmest love of the saint and the undying hatred of the heretic. Whenever heresy arises, its most bitter persecution is reserved for the Mass, and in no land did that persecution wax more furious than in England. A love of the Mass is an infallible test of a nation s faith; where devotion to Mass is weak, the faith is certain to wane. If you wish to find a people who have kept the faith through an almost passionate love for the Mass, look at Ireland, where in Dublin alone some 40,000 hear Mass daily.


To increase the love for Holy Mass I have endeavoured to explain every word and allusion found in the Ordinary of the Mass which throws light on the doctrine of the Blessed Eucharist, as also those expressions and phrases which to many are unintelligible because they may never have been explained.


This little book is meant for all classes; for the educated and the labouring man, for the home, the convent, ecclesiastical seminaries, for boys and girls at school, and especially for converts. Priests may sometimes find in it thoughts of saints and theologians that will make the privilege of ministering at the altar even more highly prized.


In conclusion, I have to express my deep indebtedness to the following works" Rock's Hierurgia, the Catholic Dictionary (Sixth Edition, 1903), Le Brun's famous treatise on the Mass, Canon Oakeley's Explanation of the Ceremonies of the Mass, Benedict XIV. on the Mass, Father Hunter's Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, Father Gerard's Religions Instruction for Catholic Youth; and, above all, to the most valuable compilation in two volumes by Dr. Gihr Le Saint Sacrifice de la Messe, Son explication dogmatique, liturgique et ascetique. His book cannot be too highly praised; besides its intrinsic merits, the learned author has grouped together passages from great theologians and saints, our safest guides on the Doctrine, Rubrics, and Prayers of Mass.


Scripture Manuals are arranged for the Oxford and Cambridge Local Examinations, and were the Ordinary of the Mass the subject for Examination, it is hoped that this book would to some degree help the student to pass in its Doctrine, Rubrics, and Prayers. Instruction is my object; and on instruction solid piety is founded.


For convenience an Index is added at the end.





The Purification, 1903.


  • CHAPTER THE FIRST. The Doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass 
  • CHAPTER THE SECOND. The Essence of the Mass 
  • CHAPTER THE THIRD. The Consecration of the Altar 
  • CHAPTER THE FOURTH. The Vestments 
  • CHAPTER THE FIFTH. The Asperges
  • CHAPTER THE SIXTH. The Ordinary of the Mass. Part the First: From the Beginning to the Offertory                                    
  • CHAPTER THE SEVENTH. The Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria in excelsis
  • CHAPTER THE EIGHTH. The Dominus vobiscum, Collect, Epistle                                   
  • CHAPTER THE NINTH. The Gradual, Alleluia, Tract, and Sequence   
  • CHAPTER THE TENTH. The Gospel and the Creed                               
  • CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH. Part the Second: The Offertory to the Canon                                   
  • CHAPTER THE TWELFTH. Part the Third: The Canon of the Mass                                   
  • CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH. Part the Fourth: From the Pater Noster to the end of Mass                                    
  • CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH. The Ceremonies of High Mass                                   
  • CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH. Mass for the Dead                                    
  • APPENDIX: The Language of the Mass