Ceremonies Of The Mass

THE Mass is the great sacrifice of the New Law. It was foreshadowed by

all the sacrifices ordained by God in the Old Law. They were shadows; it

is the substance.

We learn from Genesis of the fall of man. Universal tradition, as well

as Scripture, informs us that the creature formerly became guilty in the

eyes of the Creator. All nations, all peoples, endeavored to appease the

anger of Heaven and believed
hat a victim was necessary for this

purpose. Hence sacrifices have been offered from the beginning of the

human race.

Cain and Abel offered victims; the one the first fruits of the earth,

the other the firstlings of the flock. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and

Melchisedech worshiped this way, and their worship was acceptable to

God. Everywhere, even among the heathen, you find the altar, the priest,

and the sacrifice. As we learn from Leviticus and other portions of the

Old Testament, God Himself carefully prescribed the quality, manner,

number, and place of the various sacrifices which He was pleased to

accept from the hands of His chosen people. From this fact that

sacrifice has ever formed a prominent feature in the worship of all

people, we conclude that it belongs to the essentials of religion, and

that Christians to-day should have an altar of which, as St. Paul says,

"they can not eat who serve the tabernacle."

The sacrifices of the Old Law were provisional and prefigured the great

sacrifice of the New Law foretold by the prophet Malachy. This glorious

prophecy of Malachy, "From the rising of the sun even to the going down

My name is great among the Gentiles; in every place there is sacrifice,

and there is offered to My name a clean offering; for My name is great

among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of Hosts"--this glorious prophecy is

fulfilled only by the great sacrifice of the Catholic Church. We alone

can say with St. Paul, "Habemus altare" "We have an altar" and a true

sacrifice. Of all the blessings bequeathed by Jesus Christ to His

Church, there is none better, none greater, none holier than the holy

sacrifice of the Mass. It is the sacrifice of His own body and blood

offered to the heavenly Father under the appearances of bread and wine.

It was instituted by Our Lord at the Last Supper, when He took bread and

wine in His sacred hands and blessed them, saying, "This is My body. . .

. This is My blood. . . . Do this for a remembrance of Me."

He instituted the holy Mass in order to represent and continue the

sacrifice of Calvary. St Paul says, in his first epistle to the

Corinthians, xi. 26, that it was instituted to show the death of the

Lord until His second coming. After the consecration, which the priest

effects by saying over the bread and wine the same words which Jesus

Christ said at the Last Supper, there is no longer bread and wine, but

the true and living Jesus Christ, God and man, hidden under the

appearances of bread and wine, just as in the manger He was hidden under

the appearance of an infant. The priest offers Him up to His heavenly

Father in the name of the Catholic Church, or rather He offers Himself

up, and we can confidently hope that we will obtain more through prayers

at the holy Mass than through our own unaided prayers. In order to have

part in the holy sacrifice of the Mass a person should follow the

actions and prayers of the priest, especially at the offertory,

consecration, and communion; meditate on the passion of Christ; say the

rosary or the prayers in the prayer-books, at the same time uniting his

intention with the intention of the sacrificing priest.

The sacrifice of the Mass is a true sacrifice, because it is the

oblation of a victim to God to represent by its destruction or change

His supreme dominion over life and death. It is offered to satisfy our

four great debts and wants in adoration to God on account of His

omnipotence, in thanksgiving for His benefits, in atonement for our

sins, and to obtain His assistance in difficulties and temptations. The

holy Mass obtains for us all graces and blessings, temporal and


Since the Mass is the highest act of public worship, it is proper that

it should be celebrated with fitting sacred ceremonies. Every ceremony

which the Church prescribes has its deep significance. All tend to bring

before our minds the mystery of the passion.

The altar, which is reached by means of steps, represents Mount

Calvary, upon which Christ died with His arms extended as if to enfold

all men as brothers. The crucifix recalls Jesus dying on the cross.

The lighted candles are symbols of the faith and devotion which ought

to burn in the hearts of the faithful when present at Mass. The sacred

vestments, embroidered with the sign of the cross, indicate that the

priest is the minister and visible representative of Jesus Christ, the

invisible priest. The sign of the cross made many times by the priest

over the host and chalice reminds us that we offer to God the divine

Victim of the cross, and that we ought to unite ourselves to Him by

loving the cross, by patience and Christian penance. We genuflect

because Our Lord is really present. If we know He is not present on the

altar we bow in honor of the place where He sometimes reposes. Holy

water is used to signify that our souls must be pure if we wish God to

answer our prayers. Incense is used at solemn High Mass and at

Vespers. It is symbolic of prayer, agreeably to the words of the 140th

psalm: "Let my prayer, O Lord, be directed as incense in Thy sight." And

St. John, describing the heavenly Jerusalem in the 8th chapter of the

Apocalypse, says: "Another angel came, and stood before the altar,

having a golden censer; and there was given him much incense, that he

should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which is

before the throne of God."

The sacrifice of the Mass, then, is the sacrifice of Calvary, since the

same Victim is offered up and by the same High Priest, Jesus Christ. The

Emanuel, the God with us, the thought of whom made the prophets tremble

centuries before He came, that divine Teacher who loves to dwell with

the children of men, the Catholic Church beholds dwelling in the midst

of us on our altars. If you have visited some of our ancient cathedrals,

or any of our magnificent modern churches, and admired the varied

ornaments or artistic wonders therein; if you have ever been present at

our religious solemnities and witnessed the gravity of our ceremonies,

the beauty of the chants, the piety of the adorers; if you have

reflected upon the spirit of sacrifice and self-forgetfulness so common

to Catholicism and so unknown elsewhere--that spirit which moves

thousands of the young of both sexes to forsake the world and devote

themselves to the care of the sick, the education of the young, and to

other works of charity--if you have witnessed these things and reflected

upon them, you can not but have asked yourself why are such gorgeous

temples built; why such magnificent works of art as displayed on the

altar, the sacred vessels, paintings, and other things in the church?

What prompts such sacrifices? And the answer will be, because the church

is the edifice where God in the holy Mass daily renews the prodigies of

His mercy, and it can never be worthy of His love; because God, who

sacrificed Himself for us, is ever with us in the Blessed Sacrament of

the altar, to soothe our cares and answer our prayers. Yes, the grand

feature of the Catholic Church is the holy altar. On the altar is the

tabernacle for the residence of the Lord of Hosts.

There our "hidden God," Jesus in the Eucharist, dwells night and day in

the midst of His people, saying to them with words of love, "Come to me

all you that are burdened and heavy laden, and I will refresh you."

The Mass, independent of its sacrificial aspect, consists of the best

prayers ever uttered. The priest begins by making the sign of the cross,

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." This

sign is an epitome of the Christian's belief in the unity and trinity of

God and in the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ. After making the

sign of the cross he repeats the 42d psalm, "Judge me, O God," and then

makes an humble confession of his sins to God. He ascends the altar and

nine times asks God to have mercy on him, Kyrie Eleison; then follows

the beautiful hymn the shepherds heard the angels singing at the birth

of the Saviour, Gloria in Excelsis Deo.

The prayer of the feast, the epistle and gospel follow, and then the

sermon in the vernacular is usually preached. After the Nicene Creed,

Credo in Unum Deum, the priest makes the offering of bread and wine.

He then washes the tips of his fingers, saying: "I will wash my hands

among the innocent," by which he is reminded to be free from stain to

offer worthily the Holy Sacrifice.

The preface, canon, and solemn words of consecration follow, during

which the bread and wine are changed by the power of Jesus Christ into

His body and blood. In a short time he comes to the best of all prayers,

the prayer taught us by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Our

Father, Pater Noster. The Agnus Dei follows, then the communion,

when he partakes of the consecrated bread and wine, and afterward gives

holy communion to the faithful. He then continues the Mass, gives his

blessing, and finishes the Mass with the beginning of the Gospel of St.

John. Hence you see that, besides the great sacrifice which makes it an

act worthy of God, the Mass consists of the best of all prayers.

From what has been said it is evident that ceremonies in the worship of

God are reasonable, being sanctioned by God in the Old and New

Testaments; that the holy sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest of all

acts of worship; and that the Catholic Church in using ceremonies is but

following the example of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and His

apostles. St. John in the Book of Revelations tells us that before the

throne of God angels stand with golden censers, multitudes from all

nations follow and adore the Lamb, while virgins sing the new song which

they alone can utter. So, too, before the throne of God on earth we

swing our censers, multitudes from all nations prostrate themselves in

adoration, the sweet incense of their praise and prayer ascends to the

throne of grace, their minds are enlightened by God's word, while their

hearts are raised to God by the grandeur of our ceremonies.

The Son of God, after having taught us by His word, shown us by His

example, and merited for us by His grace the virtues necessary for

salvation, wished to institute the holy sacrifice of the Mass, that He

might come Himself in the Holy Sacrament and imprint them upon us. Of

these virtues, the most important are humility, purity, obedience,

patience, and charity.

Let us always ask God when present at the holy Mass for a lively faith

in His Real Presence, an ardent love for Him in the Blessed Sacrament

of the altar, and the grace to imitate His humility, His purity, His

meekness, obedience, patience, and charity here, and enjoy His

presence forever hereafter.

The following beautiful words of Cardinal Newman show that the Mass is

something more than a mere form of words, and that ceremonies are

reasonable as well as necessary in its celebration:

"To me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so

overcoming, as the Mass said as it is among us. I could attend Masses

forever and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words--it is a great

action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is not the

invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the

Eternal. He becomes present on the altar in flesh and blood, before Whom

angels bow and devils tremble. This is that awful event which is the

scope and the interpretation of every part of the solemnity. Words are

necessary, but as means, not as ends; they are not mere addresses to the

throne of grace, they are instruments of what is far higher, of

consecration, of sacrifice.

"They hurry on as if impatient to fulfil their mission. Quickly they go,

for they are awful words of sacrifice; they are a work too great to

delay upon, as when it was said in the beginning, 'What thou doest, do

quickly.' Quickly they pass, for the Lord Jesus goes with them, as He

passed along the lake in the days of His flesh, quickly calling first

one and then another; quickly they pass, because as the lightning which

shineth from one part of the heaven unto the other, so is the coming of

the Son of Man.

"Quickly they pass, for they are as the words of Moses, when the Lord

came down in the cloud, calling on the name of the Lord as He passed by,

'The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and generous, long suffering, and

abundant in goodness and truth.' And as Moses on the mountain, so we,

too, make haste and bow our heads to the earth and adore.

"So we, all around, each in his place, look for the great Advent

'waiting for the moving of the water,' each in his place, with his own

heart, with his own wants, with his own prayers, separate but

concordant, watching what is going on, watching its progress, uniting in

its consummation; not painfully, and hopelessly following a hard form of

prayer from beginning to end, but like a concert of musical instruments

each different, but concurring in sweet harmony, we take our post with

God's priest, supporting him, yet guided by him. There are little

children there, and old men, and simple laborers, and students in

seminaries, priests preparing for Mass, priests making their

thanksgiving, there are innocent maidens, and there are penitent

sinners; but out of these many minds rises one Eucharistic hymn, and the

great action is the measure and the scope of it."