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

THE priest, having reached the Epistle corner of the altar, after the “Oramus te, Domine,” stands before the missal and reads from it the Introit, or beginning of the Mass of the day. In pronouncing its initial words he makes the sign of the cross upon himself, thereby calling to mind a memorable ancient custom so often alluded to by the early Fathers—viz., of making the sacred sign at the beginning of every important work. “At every step and movement,” says Tertullian (second century), “whenever we come in or go out, at the bath, at table, whatever we are doing, we make the sign of the cross upon our foreheads” (De Corona Militis, c. ii) Strictly speaking, the Introit is the beginning of Mass, for all that precedes it may be considered as a preparation for celebration; and we have seen that the greater part of it has not been long of obligation. With the Ambrosians, or Milanese, the Introit is called the Ingress. The Mozarabic Missal calls it the Office, as does also that of the Carthusians, Dominicans, and Carmelites; and by this name was it designated, too, in the ancient Missal of Sarum (Church of Our Fathers, vol. iii. p. 147).

According to Merati (Thesaur. Sacr. Rit., p. 70), the introduction of Introits into the Mass is to be ascribed to Pope Celestine (A.D. 423–432). Previous to this pontiff’s time Mass began with the lessons, and in some cases with the litanies, vestiges of which custom we have yet in some Masses of Lent. All liturgical writers are agreed in ascribing the arrangement of the Introits as they stand now, at least of all those that are taken from the Psalms, to Pope Gregory the Great. He placed these, together with the Graduals, Offertories, Communions, etc., in a separate book by themselves, called the Antiphonary, and afterwards drew upon them as occasion demanded. It is well to note here that in compiling this Antiphonary the pontiff made use, not of the Hieronymian translation of the Vulgate that was then in circulation, but of that which was in general use before St. Jerome’s time, and called indifferently the Versio Communis, Vetus Itala, and Editio Vulgata. This accounts for the difference in wording between those passages of the Psalms used in the Mass and those that are said at Vespers and at other parts of the Divine Office. For example, the psalm “Beatus vir,” or the Cxith, has, in the version that is used in the Mass, “metuit” and “cupit” where, according to St. Jerome’s version, we read “timet” and “volet.” And in the Cxlviith Psalm, or the “Lauda Jerusalem,” instead of St. Jerome’s rendition, “Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas,” that read in the Mass has “Emittit christallum suam sicut frusta panis, and so on with many others. Those of the Mozarabic and Ambrosian rites, though not following closely the ancient Versio Communis, yet approach nearer to it by far than to St. Jerome’s version in the portions that are used in the Mass. The versions used by them (they are not the same) are evidently some of those of which St. Augustine speaks as being innumerable about his time.

Whence the Introits are taken.—We have said that Pope Gregory is the author of all—at least so far as regards their arrangement—the Introits that are taken from the Psalter. There are several which are not taken from the Psalms at all, and a few which are taken from no part of Scripture, being the composition of some pious individuals. Nay, more, there is one which is taken from an apocryphal book—viz., the fourth book of Esdras—of which we shall presently speak. Those Introits which are not from the Psalms but from other parts of Scripture are by Durandus termed irregular, probably because they are not found in the Gregorian Antiphonary. Of such is the Introit for the third Mass of Christmas morning, the “Puer natus est nobis,” taken from Isaias, chapter 9, and that for the Epiphany, “Ecce advenit Dominator Dominus,” from Malachias, chapter 3. Those that are not Scriptural at all are the “Salve sancta parens,” common to nearly all the Masses of our Blessed Lady, the Mother of God, and the accredited composition of the Christian poet Sedulius, or Shiels, who flourished in the fifth century; the “Gaudeamus omnes in Domino” of the Feast of the Assumption; and the “Benedicta sit Sancta Trinitas” for the Feast of Holy Trinity. This latter is generally marked in our missals as being from the book of Tobias, chapter 12, but this is a mistake; in no part of Scripture do we find the Adorable Trinity mentioned expressly by one name. That the greater part, indeed, of this Introit is framed on the sixth verse of the said chapter is undoubtedly true, but it is incorrect to say that all of it is taken thence. We have said that there is an Introit which is taken from an apocryphal book; this is the one used in the Mass for the third feria after Pentecost Sunday, beginning thus: “Accipite jucunditatem.” It is from the fourth book of Esdras, chapter 2.

Scope of the Introit.—As a general rule the scope of the Introit is a key to the entire Mass of the day. If the occasion be one of great solemnity, and the Introit be taken from the Psalter, it is generally from those psalms that are most expressive of joy and exultation. Thus, on Easter Sunday, when the whole earth bursts forth in songs of praise over the glorious Resurrection of our Divine Lord, the Introit is taken from one of the most beautiful psalms among the entire one hundred and fifty—viz., the Cxxxviiith.

On occasions of great sorrow the Introit is generally from those psalms known as the elegiac, such as that for Septuagesima Sunday, when the Church puts on her penitential garments, and earnestly exhorts her children to prepare themselves by fasting and penance for the sorrowful tragedy that is to be enacted the last week of Lent.

On the feasts of particular saints it is generally formed so as to favor some special feature in the saint’s career. Thus, for instance, in the case of St. Jerome Æmilianus, who was known the world over for his singular compassion in behalf of forlorn children, the Introit is taken from the Lamentations of Jeremias: “My liver is poured out upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people, when the children and the sucklings fainted away in the streets of the city” (chap. 2:11).

Structure of the Introits.—The Introits, as a general rule, are made up of a few verses from some of the Psalms or other portions of Holy Scripture, followed by the minor doxology. Formerly the entire psalm used to be repeated at this place (Bona, p. 312), either by the priest himself of more generally by the choir. Pope Benedict XIV. is our authority for saying that this custom prevailed in the majority of churches up to the sixteenth century (De Sacro. Missæ Sacrif., c. xvii.)

When the priest has read the entire Introit he reiterates it as far as the psalm appended to it. Taken in a mystic point of view, this initiatory prayer recalls to mind the clamors and anxious expectations of the patriarchs and prophets of old for the coming of the Messias, and its double repetition signifies the renewed earnestness with which this great event was looked for (Durandus, Rationale Divin., p. 153). In many of King David’s Psalms we find examples of this holy importunity, where we see the most important verses recited sometimes twice and thrice over; see, among others, Psalm 41. The Canticle of Canticles affords many more instances, and striking ones at that. Thus, in the fourth chapter the spouse is invited from Lebanon three different times: “Come from Lebanon, my spouse, come from Lebanon, come.”

The priests of the Carmelite Rite repeat the Introit as we do, on ordinary occasions; but on the more solemn feasts of the year they repeat it three times. According to Le Brun, the literal or natural reason of thus lengthening out this part of the Mass was to give time for the incensing of the altar, etc., at Solemn High Mass, where the duty of singing the Introit always devolved upon the choir (see Explication des Prières et des Cérémonies de la Messe, i. 176).

Almaricus, Bishop of Treves, as related by Fortunatus (De Ord. Antiph., cap. xxi.), says that Almighty God, in order to testify His approval of this portion of the Mass, caused His angels to sing for the Introit of the Mass in the Church of Holy Wisdom, at Constantinople, on the Feast of the Epiphany, the ninety-fourth Psalm, or the “Venite exultemus.”

In Masses for the dead the priest does not make the sign of the cross on himself when beginning the Introit, but rather over the book, towards the ground, as if to bless the earth where the dead lie sleeping (Kozma, p. 226).

Introits in the Eastern Church.—In the Mass of the Eastern, Church there are two Introits, although neither is precisely the same thing as ours, but rather a minor and greater procession. The former takes place a little before the expulsion of the catechumens, and consists only of the translation of the book of the Holy Gospels to the altar by the deacon. The latter, or greater Introit, called by the Greeks ἡ μεγάλη εἴσοδος, megale eisodos, follows the expulsion of the catechumens, and is attended with such a gorgeous display of ritual that many have taken umbrage at it. To understand the ground of offence it must be borne in mind that on the occasion of this major Introit the unconsecrated elements are carried in solemn procession from the prothesis, or cruet-table, to the main altar amid fumes of incense and a multitude of blazing torches. An army of deacons and acolytes accompanies the procession, and the people of the congregation as it passes along prostrate themselves in silent adoration. It was this latter feature that formed the chief cause of complaint, and that led the censors sent out by the Holy See to the Eastern regions to abolish this rite in the liturgies of the orthodox. The Orientals attempt a defence of their seemingly strange custom by saying that no adoration whatever is here intended, but only what may be termed a sort of anticipatory reverence in view of what the elements will be changed into in course of the Holy Sacrifice—viz., the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the explanation given by Gabriel, Exarch of Philadelphia, in Lydia, Asia Minor (Neale, Holy Eastern Church, i. 375).








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