Wednesday, August 21, 2019
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
Introduction to "The Sacred Ceremonies of Low Mass"
By Rev. Felix Zualdi, CM
The august Sacrifice of the Mass comprises in itself all that is most sublime and sacred in our Holy Religion. All the sacrifices of the Old Testament were only shadows of that of the new, which, as St. Leo says, really offers to God what the Jewish sacrifices only promised. The offering should bear some proportion to the person to whom it is made; but since the ancient sacrifices were only weak and needy elements, they could in no way satisfy for man’s debts to God and hence another sacrifice was required. The old victims were insufficient, the Levitical priesthood was impotent in the sight of God, therefore it was necessary, as the Fathers of the Council of Trent express it, that by the ordination of God the Father of Mercies, another Priest, according to the order of Melchisedech, our Lord Jesus Christ, should arise, who would consummate and bring to perfection all who were to be sanctified. Although Our Lord fully consummated the sacrifice by offering Himself to God the Father, and by dying on the altar of the Cross for our redemption yet His priesthood was not to expire with His death, but was to continue visible in His Church to the end of ages, as He Himself promised at His Last Supper when, instituting the Eucharistic Sacrifice, He gave the same Divine authority to the Apostles and to their successors. Every Priest can, therefore, say to himself when ascending the altar: I am no longer a mere man of clay, a weak creature—being identified with Jesus Christ through the power and the infinite value of the Victim I am about to offer. With what a high degree of virtue ought such a dignity be accompanied!
There are four kinds of worship given to God in the Sacrifice of the Mass. The first is called Latreutic, which is due to Him and can be given to His Infinite Majesty alone, and which is rendered by the Sacred Victim along with the adoration of the faithful, of the Saints, and of the Angelic Hosts, who, according to the opinion of the Fathers, reverently surround the altar. The second form of worship is termed Eucharistic, by which man raises his voice in perfect thanksgiving to his most generous Benefactor. In it, the excess of the Divine Goodness invests us with the power of offering abundant satisfaction to Him; and the greatest advantage we derive from this benefit is, that we can thereby make an adequate return for what we have received from God. God delivers us from the abyss; we present to Him the Deliverer. He opens Heaven to us; we offer to Him the Heir. So much does the supreme goodness shine forth in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that not only is our act of thanksgiving in keeping with the great benefits conferred upon us, but forms a return in some way suitable for the great love manifested in His conferring them upon us. We do this not merely once, as St. Gregory Nazianzen remarks, as when our Blessed Lord offered Himself in the Incarnation to His Eternal Father, but a thousand times, when we offer that Divine Son in the Mass, impassible and glorious as a worthy victim of thanksgiving.
The third act of worship is Propitiatory—to appease the anger of God, to satisfy the demands of His justice, and to obtain the pardon of our sins. Man should appease the Lord to whom he has been ungrateful, and avert His anger lest he might be cast off forever. All other creatures cried for vengeance against sinful man: Jesus Christ appeared and immolated Himself upon the Cross; peace came upon the world, man’s sins notwithstanding, and the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass pours out on him the grace of repentance and reconciles him with Divine justice. The Sacrifice of Calvary supplied the treasures, that of the Mass distributes them. From the treasury, judge of the key; and if the Passion of Jesus Christ fits us for the benefits of Redemption, the Sacrifice of the Mass enables us to enjoy them, for St. Chrysostom says : “Tantum valet celebratio Missae quantum mors Christi in cruce,” and the Church herself moreover assures us of it in these words: “Quoties hujus hostiae commemoratio celebratur, opus nostrae Redemptionis exercetur.”
But the worship we render to God, as the Author of every good gift, is based upon our prayers, serving as we do a Lord who wishes us to pray to Him, uniting His own glory with our best interests. “Call upon Me,” He says, “in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” Prayer constitutes the fourth act of worship, called Impetratory, for the due rendering of which to God the Mass furnishes us with the best of all means of moving the Divine liberality in our favour. We are unworthy not only to be heard but even to ask, and consequently unworthy of receiving, from the very fact that we are obliged to ask. The Word of God prayed for us, and “was heard for His reverence.” In the Mass He prays to the Father continually for us, in the same manner as He did, bathed with tears and blood, on the Cross, and we through Him are heard. On the altar the word of Salvation is raised, the life-giving Host is laid, and there is worked the most sublime miracle, ravishing in ecstasy of wonder earth and heaven. The Son of God, the invisible High Priest, the Holy Pontiff, just, innocent, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens, and able to compassionate us in our infirmities, intercedes for us with unutterable groanings, and becomes our propitiation, our victim: and the Eternal Father, who promised to hear everyone invoking Him in the name of His Son, cannot refuse the Son Himself praying, and offering Himself for us. “O Father!” we may suppose Him to exclaim in the Mass, “O Father! wilt Thou not remember the sacrifice which I consummated on Calvary? Look down on the renewal of it, that Thou mayst bestow on My brethren the graces I gained by My death.”
Such is the excellence of the sacrifice of our altars. Would to Heaven that all the Priests going forth every day with joy to the mystic Calvary, animated with sublime sentiments of religion, and covered with the blood of Our Redeemer, would present themselves to the Father, uniting, as St. Gregory the Great remarks, by an interior and invisible sacrifice, their groans to those of the Victim who died for men, and showing themselves alive to their solemn office and to the wants of poor souls. Then would they, by the Mass, honour the majesty of God, thank Him for His benefits, appease His justice, and implore His mercy. And since of all our functions, the Mass is the most holy and the most divine, fulfilling, as it does, the four great ends already mentioned, it appears very clear that no study or diligence should be omitted by the Priest in order that such a sacrifice may be celebrated with the greatest possible interior purity and exterior devotion, as the Council of Trent directs, declaring that the terrible anathemas fulminated by the Prophet against those who perform negligently the functions prescribed for divine worship apply rigidly to the ministers who celebrate Mass with irreverence. In order then that the Priest may avoid so great a fault, and the divine malediction consequent on it, let us remind him in the Introduction to this work what he ought to do before celebrating, while celebrating, and after having celebrated. All may be reduced to these three points: 1st, Preparation; 2nd, Reverence and Exactness; 3rd, Thanksgiving.
1. The Preparation is remote and immediate; the remote consists in the pure and virtuous life, which should be led by the Priest, in order that he may celebrate worthily. Therefore, his acts, his words, his thoughts should breathe of purity, that he may be fit to celebrate with proper dispositions. If he who handled the sacred vessels of old should be pure, how much more so must the Priest be, who bears in his hands and in his breast the Incarnate Word of God? This purity of life consists, first, in preserving himself undefiled from every sin, not only mortal, as he is necessarily bound to—but also, to secure greater purity, every deliberate venial sin, and even from every affection to venial sin; and secondly, it consists in applying himself most diligently and constantly to the acquisition of every virtue. “Qui justus est, justificetur adhuc, et sanctus, sanctificetur adhuc” (Apoc. xxii. ii). For the immediate preparation, mental prayer is requisite. The venerable John of Avila prescribes an hour and a half; St. Alphonsus reduces the time of immediate preparation to half an hour, and even to a quarter; but he adds, indeed, a quarter of an hour is too little. The Passion of Jesus Christ should be the continual thought of the Priest. Having finished his meditation it is meet he should recollect himself for some time before proceeding to celebrate, and consider the great action he is about to perform. He should seriously ponder, says St. Augustine, these four thoughts: “Cui offeratur, a quo offeratur, quid offeratur, pro quibus offeratur.” On entering the sacristy, he should say with St. Bernard: “Worldly affections and solicitudes, wait here until I have celebrated Mass.” The Priest should likewise consider that he is about to call from heaven to earth the Word Incarnate, to sacrifice Him anew to the eternal Father, to be fed with His sacred flesh; he should in fine, reflect upon his most serious responsibility in becoming at the altar the mediator between God and man.
2. Reverence and Exactness.—It is necessary in celebrating, to manifest all the reverence due to so great a sacrifice. This reverence means that due attention be paid to the words of the Mass, and that all the ceremonies prescribed by the Rubrics be exactly observed. As to the attention, the Priest sins by willful distractions while saying Mass; and these willful distractions, if occurring at the consecration of the sacred species, or during a notable portion of the Canon are, according to a large body of theologians, mortal sins. It is not considered possible that a Priest so acting could fulfil what is prescribed by the Rubric in these words: “Sacerdos maxime curare debet ut . . . distincte et apposite proferat . . . non admodum festinanter, ut advertere possit quae legit.” Exactness regards the fulfilment of the ceremonies enjoined by the Rubrics, in the celebration of the Divine Sacrifice. The Bull of St. Pius V., found in the beginning of the Missal, strictly commands that the Mass be celebrated according to the rite of the Missal, so that no willful omission, even though it be trivial, of what is prescribed for the actual celebration of Mass, whether in word or in action, can be excused from the guilt of, at least, venial sin. It is commonly held this does not apply to what we have said of the preparation for the sacrifice and thanksgiving after it. Words half pronounced, genuflections half formed, incomplete signs, and confused and hurried actions, may lead to grave sacrilege. There are some who hurry over the Mass in such a way that the interrogation might be put regarding them which Tertullian used for another purpose: “Sacrificat, an insultat?” Of such ministers it might be said they are not Priests but executioners, who insult the Passion of Jesus Christ; they are perfidious Jews, who, instead of pleading for pardon, bring upon their souls everlasting malediction. Add to this the scandal given by him who celebrates without devotion. The people respected our Divine Saviour in the beginning of His public life, but when they saw Him despised by the priests they lost all reverence for Him, and cried out for His death. The greater number of authors, including Benedict XIV., Clement IX., and other very learned Pontiffs, declare that the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass should not occupy more than half an hour, nor less than the third part of an hour. Such a space of time is prudently considered sufficient, both to secure a due and reverent celebration and to prevent weariness on the part of those assisting. Whoever fails herein merits reprehension; but he who gets through the Mass in a less space of time than a quarter of an hour is, as St. Alphonsus holds, guilty of mortal sin.
3. Fervour in Thanksgiving after Mass is a sure proof that the Priest has offered the Sacrifice with a heart animated with holy affections. If he has celebrated, with the fire of the love of God it will not be easily extinguished in him. Every benefit claims its acknowledgment. Now, let us consider what gratitude is due to God by the Priest who has been just permitted to say Mass! “Oh! what an abuse and what a shame,” cries out St. Alphonsus, “to behold so many Priests who, after having celebrated Holy Mass, after having received from God the honour of offering to Him in sacrifice His own Divine Son, and after having been fed with His most Sacred Body, with tongues still purpled with His most Precious Blood, having hurried over some short prayers coldly and inattentively, commence immediately to discourse of useless things or of worldly business; or else go forth carrying about the streets Jesus Christ, who is still reposing in their breasts under the sacramental species.” With such might we deal, as the Venerable John of Avila once did with a Priest who left the church immediately after having celebrated. He sent two clerics, bearing lighted torches, to attend him, and they, when asked by the Priest what they meant, replied: “We accompany the Blessed Sacrament which you carry in your breast.” Alas! How sad: and yet this is the fittest and most precious time to treat of our eternal salvation and to gain new treasures of grace. This is the propitious hour in which we should present to our Saviour devout offerings and thank Him for the privileges just conferred. After Communion, as St. Teresa says, let us not lose so good an opportunity of treating with God, since His Divine Majesty is not wont to reward sparingly him from whom He receives a hearty welcome.
As long as the Sacramental Species remain every act of virtue possesses greater value and merit, because of the strict union which then exists between the soul and Jesus Christ, as He Himself declared: “Qui manducat meam carnem et bibit meum sanguinem, in me manet et ego in illo.” Therefore acts performed at this time have the highest degree of efficacy and value, for, says St. Chrysostom; “Ipsa re nos in suum efficit corpus.” Jesus places Himself in the soul as on a throne, and He seems to say to her, as He formerly did to the man born blind, “Quid tibi vis faciam?” . . . Would it not then be most advisable that every Priest should entertain Himself with Jesus Christ for half an hour after Mass, says St. Alphonsus; or even for a quarter of an hour?
The first portion of the time of thanksgiving should be devoted by the Priest to the recital, more with his heart than with his lips, of the customary prayers proposed by the Church, which are found in all Missals and Breviaries. The second part should be spent in loving communion with Jesus, in sentiments of adoration, of thanksgiving, of oblation, and of supplication. The Priest should pray for himself and for the Church; he should pray for all the people in general, and in particular for those of his own diocese, of his country ; for his relatives; for the living and for the dead; for all the members of the Catholic Church; particularly for those under his own charge (parishioners, penitents, etc.); he should pray for all, that all may come to know, to love, and to serve God on earth, and so afterwards to glorify Him with the angels and saints in Heaven.