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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

On account of the profound respect that is due to our Lord in the Holy Sacrament of the altar, as well as to signify that interior purity of heart which we should always possess when celebrating the tremendous Sacrifice of the new law, it is of strict obligation that the priest should wash his hands immediately before donning the sacred vestments. All are unanimous in saying that this practice is as old as the Christian Church itself. While performing this ablution the priest recites the following prayer: “Grant, O Lord! such virtue to my hands that they may be cleansed from every stain, to the end that I may serve thee without defilement of mind or body.”

In early times not only was the priest who was to say Mass required to wash his hands, but also every member of the congregation as he entered the sacred edifice. For which reason there used to be placed at the entrance of all the ancient churches fonts filled with water (Riddle, Christian Antiquities, p. 739). These fonts were sometimes elaborately finished, and inscriptions of a pious nature were engraved upon them. The celebrated Church of Holy Wisdom (Sancta Sophia) at Constantinople had an inscription on its font which read the same way backwards and forwards. It was printed in Greek characters, thus: “ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑ ΜΗ ΜΟΝΑΝ ΟΨΙΝ”—that is, “Wash away your sins, and not your countenance only” (Neale, i. 215). In the Oriental Church the ablution of the hands is performed after having vested, and not before as with us. On such occasions the Oriental priests recite the psalm. “Lavabo inter innocentes.”

Whenever a bishop celebrates he washes, according to our rite, four different times: the first before vesting; the second, after he has read the Offertorium; the third, after the Offertory; and the fourth time, after Communion.

After the priest has washed his hands he goes to prepare the chalice by first placing upon it a clean purificator, over which he also places the paten with a large Host resting upon it, and over this the pall. He then covers all with the chalice veil, and rests the burse with the corporal in it on the top. The chalice is then said to be dressed.

The priest proceeds now to vest himself, putting on each article in the order which we have described already, and with the same ceremonies. This is done in the sacristy; but should the celebrant be a bishop, he always vests at the altar.

Having put on all the sacred vestments, he takes the chalice in his hands and proceeds to the altar with a solemn, dignified gait; and, to show the great importance of the work he is about to engage in, he must salute no one as he passes along, unless the person be some great dignitary, and then only by a moderate bow of the head. We have a remarkable precedent for this in the solemn discourse made by our Lord to his disciples when sending them to preach the Gospel; he commanded them to “salute no man by the way” (Luke 10:4).

When the priest has arrived in front of the altar he takes off his cap, or berretta, and having made a low bow to the crucifix, or a genuflection if the Blessed Sacrament be in the tabernacle, he ascends the steps, and, having spread out the corporal in the middle of the altar, places the chalice with its appurtenances on it. (At Solemn High Mass the chalice is not brought to the altar until the Offertory.) After this he proceeds to the Epistle side, and, having opened the missal at the Mass of the day, returns to the front of the altar, at the lowest step, and there begins the service. (A server, or altar-boy, kneeling at his left, answers the responses in the name of the people.) He first makes a low bow, or a genuflection if the Blessed Sacrament be present, and then








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