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

by touching his forehead, breast, left and right shoulder, as he says, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, amen”—that is, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen.” When he touches his forehead he says, “In the name of the Father”; when he touches his breast, “and of the Son”; and as he passes his hand from the left to the right shoulder he concludes by saying, “and of the Holy Ghost, amen.” We call the reader’s special attention to this distribution of the words, for they are very frequently misplaced, it being quite common to hear nothing but “Amen” said as the right shoulder is touched. This is wholly incorrect, as may be seen at once from the rubrics describing the manner of making the sign of the cross. It is hardly necessary to add that it is always the right hand which is used in going through this ceremony.

Ancient Customs regarding the Manner of Making the Sign of the Cross.—In the Christian Church in early times the custom of making the sign of the cross on the forehead only was very common. Tertullian (A.D. 200) alludes to it in his De Corona Militis, cap. iii., as does also the Roman Ordo in its directions for saying Mass. Sometimes, too, only the mouth was signed, and sometimes nothing but the breast. Customs varied in different places. Anxious, however, to retain vestiges of all these ancient and pious practices, the Church still preserves them in some part of her sacred offices. The three may be seen united in one ceremony at the reading of the Gospel, where the priest signs himself on the forehead, mouth, and breast as he pronounces the initial words. The signing of the mouth only is seen in the Divine Office of the Breviary at the words “Domine, abia mea aperies”—“Lord, thou wilt open my lips.”

When all the ancient practices died away, and the present discipline was introduced, for quite a long time it was the rule to trace the right hand from the right to the left shoulder after having touched the breast, instead of, as now, from the left to the right. The latter came into general use in the time of Pope Pius V. (sixteenth century).

The Spanish peasantry, in making the sign of the cross, use the formula, “By the sign of the Holy Cross deliver us from our enemies, O God our Lord! In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen, Jesus.”

Regarding the disposition of the fingers in making this sacred sign, different practices existed, too, at one time. The most general way, however, in the Latin Church was to close the small and annular fingers of the right hand and extend the other three; then to make with the hand thus disposed the required sign. Bishops and the members of the Carthusian and Dominican orders have retained this custom. The two fingers united in this way symbolize the duality of natures in our Divine Lord, against the Eutychians, who maintained that there was but one; and the three other fingers typify the Blessed Trinity (Romsee, iv. 56; Bona, De Divina Psalmodia, p. 507). It will interest the reader to know that our Holy Father the Pope always observes this ancient disposition of the fingers whenever he imparts his blessing, as may be seen from any correct picture representing him in this attitude.

Customs of the Oriental Church.—The ancient practice of touching the right shoulder before the left is yet in vogue with all who follow the Greek Rite, but the disposition of the fingers is entirely different. In making the sign of the cross the Greek priest first crosses his thumb on the annular or fourth finger of the right hand, and bends his little finger so as to have it resemble the curve of a crescent; he allows the index finger to stand perfectly erect, and, having bent the middle one so as to form the same figure as that formed by the little finger, raises his hand aloft, and then traces the sign. The interpretation of all this is very interesting. The outstretched finger stands for the Greek letter I; the bending of the middle finger represents the letter C, one of the ancient ways of writing Sigma, or the English S; the letter I, and this C or S, form the well-known contraction for “Jesus,” being its first and last letters. The thumb, crossed upon the fourth finger, is the Greek letter X, equivalent to our ch; and this, with the small finger shaped as the middle finger, and representing C or S, forms the contraction for “Christus,” or Christ. Hence, “Jesus Christ” is the interpretation of the whole action. The Greeks are so careful to keep the fingers thus adjusted when making the sign of the cross that we find them so disposed when blessing the people with the Dikerion and Trikerion (see figure).

 

In the great church of Holy Wisdom at Constantinople, of which we have said so much already, there was a very celebrated painting of our Lord in the inner porch over the central door, with St. John the Baptist on one side and the Blessed Virgin on the other, in the act of blessing the Emperor Justinian, who lay prostrate before him. The manner in which our Lord’s fingers are adjusted in this painting is in accordance with the practice we have just described. Although the great temple itself is no longer a house of Christian worship, it being converted into a Mahometan jami, traces of the ancient painting may yet be seen there, though in a very dingy condition.

The Maronites, in making the sign of the cross, use the formula, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, one True God” (Syriac Maronite Breviary, Ferial Office).

The Monophysites, in order to give as much prominence as possible to their heresy of holding that there was but one nature in our Lord, make the sign with one finger only. The orthodox of the East, as a set-off against this, make it with two (Smith and Dwight, Researches in Armenia, i. 159, note; Bona, De Divina Psalmodia, pp. 507, 508). According to the first-mentioned authority, the Armenians make the sign of the cross exactly as we do.

We will now return to where we left off. Having made the sign of the cross upon his person, the priest, alternately with the server, recites the “Judica me, Deus,” or Forty-second Psalm. The peculiar adaptation of this Psalm for this part of the Mass is very happy when we consider that, according to the most general acceptation, it was originally written by King David when exiled from his house and home by the treachery of his son Absalom and his kinsman Saul. The only consolation that was left him in his misery was the hope he fondly cherished of returning again to the tabernacle where, better than anywhere else, he could pour out his soul to God in humble prayer.

Before the time of Pope Pius V. the recital of this Psalm was entirely at the option of the priest, somewhat in the same way as the “Benedicite” after Mass is at present; but in the new edition of the missal, published by order of the Council of Trent and supervised by the pontiff named, its recital was made a red letter, and since that time it has become obligatory. Those who were allowed to retain their ancient rites by the above-mentioned pontiff, such as the Carthusians, Carmelites, Dominicans, Ambrosians, etc., do not recite it now, at least not before the altar as we do. The Carmelites say it on the way out as they are going to celebrate, and that in an undertone of voice, without the antiphon “Introibo.” Inasmuch as it is more or less a psalm of jubilation, it is omitted in Masses for the dead and in those of Passion-time. Such expressions as “Why art thou sad, O my soul?” and “Why dost thou disquiet me?” are but ill-suited to Masses which are said on mournful occasions. According to Pouget, another reason may be given for its omission in these cases—viz., that a vestige of the ancient custom of not reciting it at all may be preserved (Romsee, iv. 60).

The Psalm is concluded with the minor doxology, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

Regarding the antiquity of the “Gloria Patri,” there, seems to be unanimous consent that, with the exception of a few words, it originated with the Apostles themselves, who in conferring Holy Baptism had frequent occasion to pronounce the greater part of it at least in the sacred formula (Kozma, 164). Up to the Council of Nicæa, A.D. 325, its form was this: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.” The part, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,” was added by the fathers of that council against the heretic Arius, who denied that our Lord was coequal in eternity and in glory with God the Father (Selvaggio, l. ii. p. i. c. 10). According to Durandus (Rationale Divin., p. 330), Pope Damasus (366–384), at the suggestion of St. Jerome, ordered the “Gloria” to be said after every psalm. The Greeks say it only after the last, and then not precisely as we do, but as follows: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, now and ever, and to all ages.” They, in common with ourselves, call it the minor doxology, in contradistinction to the “Gloria in excelsis,” which is denominated the major, or greater. It is never said in the Masses or offices of the dead, on account of their lugubrious nature. With the Nestorians it is recited thus: “Glory be to thee, O God the Father! Glory be to thee, O God the Son! Glory be to thee, O thou all-sanctifying Spirit. Amen” (Burder, ii. 236).








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