Fr. Gavin - The Sacrifice of the Mass - From the Beginning

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PART THE FIRST. From the Beginning to the Offertory.


THE priest after vesting in the sacristy puts on his berretta, makes a profound inclination to the crucifix, and preceded by his server advances to the altar with covered head. The priest, as a token of his dignity, wears the berretta until he reaches the altar, when he hands it to the server; he genuflects if the Blessed Sacrament be reserved, otherwise he makes a profound reverence to the cross, mounts the altar-steps, chalice in hand, unfolds the corporal from the burse, places the chalice on the corporal, opens the Missal at the Introit of the day, returns to the altar, descends the steps, genuflects or bows profoundly again, and begins Mass with the words, In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen, at the same time making the sign of the Cross.


The words, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, taken from our Lord’s own words in the last chapter of St. Matthew, are an accurate description of the Godhead. In the name of the Father means that with the authority of God the Father, from whom all power springs, and of the Son who became Man and died for us on Calvary, and of the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father and the Son, the Teacher of truth and the Sanctifier of the world, the priest begins the great Sacrifice. The sign of the Cross reminds us by its form of our Lord’s Death on Calvary. The sign of the Cross as made on forehead, breast, and shoulders is said to be of Apostolic origin. Some have thought that our Lord on Ascension Day blessed His disciples, before He was hidden by a cloud, with the sign of His Cross. Tertullian, writing at the end of the second century, says, "At every moving from place to place, at every coming in and going out, in dressing, at the baths, at table, on going to rest, sitting down, we sign ourselves on the forehead with the Cross." The sign of the Cross is used in all the Church’s Services, in the administration of the sacraments, in all her blessings except in the blessing of the Paschal candle.


Amen is a Hebrew word meaning "so be it;" it expresses the desire that our prayers be heard, and it fortifies the good resolutions taken.


The three languages used in the inscription on the Cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," namely, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, are found in the Mass. Sabaoth, Cherubim and Seraphim, Hosanna, and Amen, are Hebrew; Kyrie Eleison is Greek, and the Liturgy of the Mass is Latin, at least in the Roman Church.


The priest joining his hands begins the antiphon of the 42nd Psalm.


P. Introíbo ad altáre Dei.


S. Ad Deum qui lætificat juventútem meam.


P. I will go to the altar of God.

S. To God, the joy of my youth.



P. Júdica me, Deus, et discérne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab hómine iníquo et
dolóso érue me.

S. Quia tu es, Deus, fortitúdo mea: quare me repulísti, et quare tristis incédo, dum afflígit me inimícus?

P. Emítte lucem tuam et veritátem tuam: ipsa me deduxérunt et adduxérunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernácula tua.

S. Et introíbo ad altáre Dei: ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.

P. Confitébor tibi in cíthara, Deus, Deus meus quare tristis es ánima mea, et quare contúrbas me?

S. Spera in Deo, quóniam adhuc confitébor illí: salutáre vultus mei, et Deus meus.

P. Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.

S. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper: et in sæcula sæculórum. Amen.

P. Introíbo ad altáre Dei.

S. Ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.

P. Adjutórium nostrum in nómine Dómini.

S. Qui fecit cælum et terram.

P. Do me justice, O God, and fight my fight against an unholy people, rescue me from the wicked and deceitful man.

S. For Thou, O God, art my strength, why hast Thou forsaken me? And why do I go about in sadness, while the enemy harasses me?

P. Send forth Thy light and thy truth: for they have led me and brought me to Thy holy hill and Thy dwelling place.

S. And I will go to the altar of God, to God, the joy of my youth.

P. I shall yet praise Thee upon the harp, O God, my God. Why art thou sad, my soul, and why art thou downcast?

S. Trust in God, for I shall yet praise Him, my Savior, and my God.

P. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

S. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

P. I will go to the altar of God.

S. To God, the joy of my youth.

P. Our help + is in the Name of the Lord.

S. Who made heaven and earth.



An antiphon means "alternate utterance," which is exemplified in the alternate chanting or saying of psalms or hymns by two choirs. This method of reciting psalms is said to have been instituted by St. Ignatius, one of the Apostolic Fathers. In the Latin Church it owed its origin to St. Ambrose of Milan, in the fourth century. The word antiphon has now a more restricted sense; it means a verse prefixed to or following a psalm or psalms, as a sort of key perhaps to the intention of the Church in using the psalm, or as drawing attention to that part of it on which she desires to lay peculiar stress. The minister or server answers: To God, who giveth joy to my youth.


The joy here referred to in connection with youth has evidently a spiritual meaning. Whenever sanctifying grace is first given to the soul, a "new creature" is created, causing the death of the "old man" of sin. Now, one end of the Sacrifice is the forgiveness of sins; when mortal sins are forgiven the soul is renewed in its youth by sanctifying grace, and the Eucharist itself is the pledge of everlasting glory. There is a singular propriety in reminding the priest of this attribute of Almighty God as renovator of youth at the moment that the priest stands like the Publican "afar off" from the altar waiting for encouragement to carry his desire into effect. (See Oakeley’s Ceremonies of the Mass, p. 12.)


The priest and server next recite in alternate verses the psalm Judica.


The 42nd Psalm was composed by King David after his sin and the rebellion of his son Absalom. Surrounded by his enemies, full of sorrow for his past offences, King David makes a direct appeal to God from whom alone strength can be obtained, and lays his cause before his Maker.


This Psalm, used in the Old Dispensation as a preparation for the altar, ever since the ninth century has been used by the priest in the Mass. The priest applies to his own necessities the words of David: Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.


The priest’s confidence is in the fact that God alone is to be His Judge. From men he might have no hope. Standing at the foot of the altar he asks deliverance from his spiritual enemies. The server, whose duty is always to speak for the congregation, answers in a tone of hope and joy: For Thou, O God, art my strength: why hast Thou cast me off? and why do I go sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me? as if to encourage the priest that God will surely succour him, and that sorrow need not depress him though surrounded by enemies. The priest in more hopeful accents, continues: Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have conducted me and brought me unto Thy holy mount, to the altar, the mystical Calvary where the Victim is slain, and unto Thy tabernacles, which, as a priest, I ought to serve and guard. The server again answers in the words of the antiphon said before the Psalm: And I will go unto the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth. The priest encouraged more and more by these words, exclaims: I will praise Thee on the harp (see Apoc. ch. v., "having each of them harps in their hands," and in ch. xv., "and the voice I heard was that of harpers playing on their harps"), in joyous strains, O God, my God, for I belong to Thee, and I am made not by strange gods, but by Thee, the only true and living God; and then in a tone of sorrowful surprise, the priest upbraids his own soul: Why art thou sorrowful, O my soul, and why dost thou disquiet me ? The server still continues: Hope in God, for I will still give praise to Him, that is, confess all He has done for me and praise Him. The salvation of my countenance, that is, He is my salvation, for He illumines my countenance by His light and makes my face to behold His; and Thou art my God; in this thought there is hope.


Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. These words are taken from our Lord’s words in the last chapter of St. Matthew, and are thought to have been framed by the Apostles. They, with the addition, as it was in the beginning, &c., form what is called the lesser doxology, the Gloria in excelsis being the greater. We pray that all praise and honour be given to the Godhead, one in nature, three in persons; and the second portion, As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end; Amen, is ascribed to the Council of Nice, A.D. 325, or perhaps later, as a contradiction to the doctrines of Arius, who maintained that the Son was not in the beginning, nor equal to the Father. (Rock’s Hierurgia, vol. i. p. 75.) The priest repeats again: I will go unto the altar of God, and the server, to God who giveth joy to my youth; and then he makes the sign of the Cross and confides himself to the Divine protection, and with the words, Our help is in the name of the Lord, the server answering: who hath made heaven and earth, joins his hands, and bowing low, says the Confiteor. As one end of Sacrifice is the remission of sins, the confession of sin and the prayer for pardon are fittingly introduced here in the introduction to the Mass and just before the priest mounts the holy altar. The Confiteor consists of two parts first the confession of sin and then the prayer for intercession. The priest says the Confiteor for the pardon of his own sins, and the server says the Confiteor for the pardon of the sins of the people whom he represents.


P. Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.


R. Qui fecit coelum et terrain.


P. Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatae Mariae semper Virgin!, beato Michaeli Archangelo, beato Joanni Baptistae, sanctis Apostolis Petro et Paulo, omnibus sanctis, et vobis, fratres, quia peccavi nirnis cogitatione, verbo, et opere, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem, beatum Michaelem Archangelum, beatum Joannem Baptistam, sanctos Apostolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes sanctos, et vos fratres, orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.


R. Miser eatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.


P. Amen.


P. Our help is in the name of the Lord.


R. Who made heaven and earth.


P. I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary, ever a Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you, brethren, that I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. There fore I beseech blessed Mary, ever a Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, all the saints, and you, brethren, to pray to the Lord our God for me.


R. May Almighty God be merciful to thee. and, having for given thy sins, bring thee to life everlasting.


P. Amen.


The Confiteor is then said by the Server,


P. Misereaturvestriomnipotens Deus et dimissis peccatis vestris perducat vos ad vitam aeternam.


R. Amen.


P. May Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting.


R. Amen.


Signing himself with the sign of the Cross, the Priest says:


P. Indulgéntiam absolutioném, et remissiónem peccatórum nostrórum, tribuat nobis omní-potens et miséricors Dóminus.


R. Amen.


P. May Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to everlasting life.

S. Amen.


Then bowing down, he proceeds:


P. Deus, tu convérsus vivificábis nos.

S. Et plebs tua lætábitur in te.

P. Osténde nobis Dómine, misericórdiam tuam.

S. Et salutáre tuum da nobis.

P. Et cum spiritu tuo.

S. Dominus vobiscum.

P. Turn to us, O God, and bring us life.

S. And Your people will rejoice in You.

P. Show us, Lord, Your mercy.

S. And grant us Your salvation

P. The Lord be with you.


S. And with thy spirit.




I confess to Almighty God, says the priest, Almighty because sin is forgiven by God alone, and its forgiveness is a work of omnipotence; to Blessed Mary ever a Virgin, because she is the refuge of sinners; to Blessed Michael the Archangel, as Chief of the Heavenly Host and Protector of the Catholic Church; to Blessed John the Baptist, who preached the Gospel of penance and led a most penitential life crowned by martyrdom; to the Holy Apostle Peter, as Head of the Church and a penitent sinner; to St. Paul, also a penitent sinner: the two names are always connected in the Church’s liturgy; to all the Saints, our fellow-citizens who during life were sinners too; and to you, brethren, adds the priest, revealing his sinfulness to the congregation, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, which embrace all sins, as those of omission may be classed under thought, for willful omission is impossible without thought or determination. Next comes the petition to the saints already mentioned, to inter cede for the priest, Therefore, I beseech, etc. Then follows the Misereatur by the server, the confession by the server, and the absolving prayer by the priest:


May Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life ever lasting and signing himself with the sign of the Cross, the priest says May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins.


Both prayers are by way of supplication, they are not authoritative, they are not absolution strictly so called as in the confessional when the priest forgives by a judicial sentence. In the confessional the priest forgives in the Mass he begs we may be forgiven. Further the priest cannot forgive his own sins; but in the Indulgentiam he says peccatorum nostrorum (our sins) and makes himself a part of the people; thus this prayer is shown to be a simple petition.


Next, slightly bowing, the priest recites these versicles from the 84th Psalm Thou wilt turn again, O God, and quicken us. And Thy people shall rejoice in Thee. In the next versicle is another earnest request Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy and grant us Thy salvation, that is, Thy grace through Jesus Christ, by whom alone we can be saved; the words O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto Thee, express the earnestness of the request. The Lord be with you is the first greeting of the priest to the people, and with thy Spirit, replies the server may He be in thy spirit too, O priest.


Oremus is said in a loud voice, as a formal invitation to prayer; and the two prayers that follow are said secretly to God, as the priest’s private and personal request for the pardon of his own offences before he mounts the holy altar.


The priest prays in a low voice inaudible to the congregation, secretly asking pardon for his personal sins. The Council of Trent (Sess. xxii. c. 5) prescribes that certain portions of the Mass should be said in a loud, others in a low tone of voice. These outward signs add solemnity to the prayers of the Church, and lift the minds of the congregation to heavenly things.


These prayers are:

P. Aufer a nobis, quæsumus, Dómine, iniquitátes nostras ut ad Sancta sanctórum puris mereámur méntibus introire. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Amen.


P. Take away from us, O Lord, we beseech You, that we may enter with pure minds into the Holy of Holies. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


P. Orámus te. Dómine, per mérita Sanctórum tuorum, quorum reliquiæ hic sunt, et ómnium Sanctórum: ut indulgére digneris ómnia peccáta mea. Amen.


P. We beseech You, O Lord, 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. Amen.




Take away from us our iniquities, we beseech Thee (notice the humble earnestness of the prayer we beseech Thee), that we may be worthy to enter with pure minds into the Holy of Holies.


In the Old Law the High Priest, and he only, entered once a year into the Holy of Holies in the Temple to sacrifice for himself and the people; in the New any priest may daily offer the Sacrifice of the Altar.


Bowing down over the altar the priest says: "We beseech Thee, O Lord (again the humble, earnest request), by the merits of Thy Saints, whose relics are here, and of all the Saints, that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to forgive me all my sins. (Again the humble prayer: digneris "that Thou wouldst deign.")


The priest kisses out of reverence the relics of the martyrs which rest in the altar-stone. In the earliest ages of the Church Mass used to be said on the tombs of the martyrs: hence perhaps another reason for enclosing their relics beneath the table of the altar.

  • 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