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

Following closely upon the “Gloria Patri” is the Confiteor, or Confession, which the priest recites bowed down in profound humility. It is worded as follows: “I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and 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. Therefore I beseech the blessed Mary ever Virgin, the blessed Michael the Archangel, the blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the Saints, and you, brethren, to pray to the Lord our God for me.”

Although the form of confession precisely as it now stands is not of very high antiquity, yet all are agreed that its main structure is of apostolic origin. It must not, however, be supposed that ever since the days of the Apostles it has formed part of the Mass; the best authorities say that it was not introduced into it until about the eighth century (Romsee, iv. 69). Cardinal Bona conjectures that some form of confession must have been in use all the time, but what it was and where it came in he ventures not to say (Rer. Liturg., p. 310). According to Merati (Thesaur. Sacr. Rit., p. 158), the Confession was reduced to its present form of wording, out of the many then in use, by the third Council of Ravenna, held in the year 1314, and all the others were suppressed.

Of the many that formerly appeared and were used in the Mass we select the following from the celebrated Missal of Sarum, as being the shortest: “I confess to God, to blessed Mary, to all the Saints, and to you, that I have sinned grievously in thought and in deed, through my fault. I beseech blessed Mary, all the Saints, and you to pray for me.”

With the Dominicans the form of confession is as follows: “I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to our blessed father Dominic, and to all the Saints, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, in speech, in work, and in omission, through my fault. I beseech the blessed Mary ever Virgin, and our blessed father Dominic, and all the Saints to pray for me.” As the priest says, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” he strikes his breast three separate times in token of the sorrow that he feels for having offended God in the manner specified. This is a very ancient practice, for we find it done by the poor publican when he entered the Temple to pray, and by the people who witnessed our Lord’s crucifixion on Calvary; for, as the Holy Scripture says, “They returned striking their breasts” (Luke 23:48). The custom, too, was very prevalent in the early Church. “We enter the temple,” says St. Gregory Nazianzen, “in sackcloth and ashes, and day and night between the steps and the altar we strike our breasts” (Bona, p. 311). According to Durandus (Rationale, p. 163), striking the breast three times at the Confiteor is intended to remind us of the three essential parts of the Sacrament of Penance—viz., contrition, confession, and satisfaction.

Confession in the Old Law.—That confession also preceded the offering of sacrifice according to the Aaronic ritual the Rabbi Moses Maimonides and other Jewish doctors assure us (Bona, p. 309). The manner in which this confession was to be made was fully explained in the Mishna, and the Cabala unravelled its spiritual signification. The form of its wording was as follows: “Truly, O Lord! I have sinned; I have acted iniquitously; I have prevaricated before thee, and am ashamed of my deeds; nor shall I ever return to them more.” This the Jews called “Viddin Haddenarin” (Merati, Thesaur. Sac. Rit., p. 158).

Without the express permission of the Holy See nothing can be added to the Confiteor. The privilege of adding the names of their founders to it is enjoyed by several religious orders, such as the Benedictines, Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Augustinians.

Confession in the Oriental Church.—All the Eastern churches, as we see from their liturgies, observe the practice of making some sort of confession before the beginning of Mass. Save that of the Armenians alone, the form in no case agrees, as far as words are concerned, with ours, but the sentiments are the same. The confession used by the Maronites is as follows: “I ask thee, O God! to make me worthy of approaching thy pure altar without spot or blemish; for I thy servant am a sinner, and have committed sins and done foolish things in thy sight. Nor am I worthy to approach thy pure altar nor thy holy sacraments, but I ask thee, O pious, O merciful, O lover of men, to look upon me with thine eyes of mercy.” After the Confiteor, which the server also recites, the priest says: “May Almighty God be merciful unto you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting!” The server having answered “Amen,” the priest subjoins, “May the Almighty and merciful God grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins,” to which “Amen” is also responded. In beginning the last prayer, or “Indulgentiam,” the priest makes the sign of the cross upon his person to show that it is only through Him who died upon the cross for love of man that he expects indulgence and pardon. He then recites a few verses taken from Holy Scripture, principally from the Psalms, and ascends the altar-steps repeating that beautiful prayer, “Take away from us, we beseech thee, O Lord! our iniquities, that we may be worthy to enter with pure minds the Holy of Holies, through Christ our Lord.”

The expression “Holy of Holies,” or, as it is in קדפ קדשים, Kodesh Kodeshim, refers away back to that portion of the Temple of Solomon which was inaccessible to all save the high-priest alone, and even to him unless on the great Day of Atonement, which was celebrated yearly in the month of Tisri. At all other times it was considered sacrilegious even to look into this hallowed place, whence the very light of day itself was excluded, and where nothing was allowed to remain save the Ark of the Covenant, over the lid of which, or Propitiatory, as it was called, shone the divine Shechinah, or visible manifestation of Jehovah’s presence, in the form of a luminous cloud.

The adaptation of this prayer to this part of the Mass is admirable. In Solomon’s Temple the Holy of Holies was entirely shut in from the rest of the building, and from the gaze of everybody, by a thick veil, which no one was ever permitted to draw aside but the high-priest on the Day of Atonement, and not then until after much time had been spent in prayer and in performing the purifications required by the law. In asking Almighty God, therefore, to take away from us our iniquities, we, as it were, ask him to take away the veil alluded to, for our sins as a veil keep us from seeing Him as He is, and keep us from the true Holy of Holies, where not a mere Shechinah resides, but the great Jehovah of the New Testament, the Son of God himself, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. By as much, then, as a substance exceeds its shadow, by so much does our Holy of Holies exceed that of Solomon’s Temple; and the Tabernacle in which the Holy One is kept is infinitely more holy and more precious than ever the Ark of the Covenant was. The prayer alluded to is very ancient, as it may be seen in all the early Roman Ordos, and mention is made of it by Micrologus, who wrote in the eleventh century (Romsee, iv. 75).

When the priest has reached the altar he places his hands upon it, and, having made a slight inclination, recites the prayer “Oramus te, Domine,” which may thus be rendered in English: “We pray thee, O Lord! through the merits of thy saints whose relics are here present, and of all the saints, that thou wouldst vouch-safe to forgive me all my sins.” As he pronounces the words “whose relics are here present,” he kisses the altar out of respect for the sacred relics themselves, as well as to testify his love for our Divine Lord, whom the altar mystically represents. As we have already devoted several pages to the custom of enclosing relics in the altar, we shall only say here that, even though for some reason or other there should be no relics at all enclosed, as is often the case in this country, still the prayer “Oramus te, Domine,” must not be omitted. At Solemn High Mass the altar is incensed at this place, but at Low Mass the priest, after having recited the “Oramus te,” goes immediately to the missal, placed on its stand at the Epistle corner.

Ancient Customs.—Although the prayer we have been speaking of may be found in missals which date as far back as the ninth century, still with many churches it was never customary to recite it at all, and we see that it is not recited now by either the Carthusians or the Dominicans. The former say in its stead a “Pater” and “Ave”; the latter kiss the altar simply, and say nothing but the “Aufer a nobis.”

In ancient times the custom prevailed of kissing at this place, instead of the altar itself, a cross which used to be painted on the missal (Romsee, iv. 77). A vestige of this is yet to be seen in Pontifical Mass, where the bishop, after he has said the “Oramus te, Domine,” kisses the altar first, and then the Gospel of the day, presented to him by a subdeacon. Some used to kiss a sign of the cross traced upon the altar with the finger. The Dominicans observe this practice yet.

Oriental Customs in this Respect.—The Nestorian priests kiss the altar, as we do, upon first reaching it, and repeat this act of reverence frequently through the Mass (Smith and Dwight, Researches in Armenia, ii. 261 et passim). The Armenians kiss a beautifully-wrought cross on the back of the missal (ibid. 112). The practice with the rest of the Orientals is precisely like our own, as we see from their various liturgies.

Here we beg to call the reader’s particular attention to a fact well worthy of remembrance—viz., that there was hardly a ceremony or liturgical custom ever used which may not yet be found, either whole or in part, in the ceremonies employed by the Church to-day. What is not seen in Low Mass may be seen in High Mass; and what is not seen in the Mass of an ordinary priest may be seen in that celebrated by a bishop; then, again, what a bishop’s Mass has not a pope’s has. We shall illustrate what we mean by examples. In ancient times the “pax,” or kiss of peace, was common to every Mass, and every member of the congregation received it in due order; now it is only given at Solemn High Mass, and then only to the members of the sanctuary. The custom once prevailed, too, of pinning a handkerchief or maniple to the priest’s left wrist a little before he ascended the altar-steps, for purposes that we have already explained; this custom is now reserved for a bishop’s Mass, where the maniple is fastened to his lordship’s arm at the “Indulgentiam.” Again, when the people communicated under both species, other chalices besides that used by the priest were employed, which received the name of ministerial, from the fact that the Precious Blood was administered from them by means of tubes or long reeds; these tubes are yet employed whenever the pope celebrates Grand High Mass. Many things, too, may be seen in Masses for the dead which date away back to the early days, such as not saying the opening psalm, or “Judica me, Deus”; omitting the blessing of the water at the Offertory, and of the people at the end of Mass. Many other vestiges of ancient practices might be enumerated, but we rest content with the citation of one more, taken from the Divine Office of the Breviary. It is a well-known fact that while the Disciplina Arcani, or “Discipline of the Secret,” prevailed, the Lord’s Prayer was one of those things that the catechumens were not allowed to learn, or even hear recited. Now, as all these were allowed to be present at the recital of the Divine Office, this prayer was never said aloud, lest it might be heard by the uninitiated: but at Mass the case was otherwise. No catechumen could remain in church after the Gospel, and hence, as no fear was to be apprehended from the presence of any but the faithful, when the priest came to the “Pater Noster” he said it loud enough to be heard by all. The same is observable in the Office and Mass of to-day.








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