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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, in making this oblation, holds the chalice with both hands raised before his face while he recites the following prayer: “We offer thee, O Lord! the chalice of salvation, beseeching thy clemency that it may ascend in the sight of thy divine Majesty with the odor of sweetness for our salvation and for that of the whole world. Amen.” He then lowers the chalice, and, placing it on the corporal immediately behind the Host, covers it with the pall. Up to the fifteenth century the practice was very much in vogue of placing the chalice not behind the Host, as now, but at the right of it—that is, opposite the left of the priest—and this with a view to catch the Precious Blood, as it were, as it flowed from the body of our Lord when opened by the soldier’s spear. The tradition in the Eastern Church as well as the Western, has always been that it was our Lord’s right side that was pierced on the cross, and not the left (Rock, Church of Our Fathers, i. 261; Translation of the Primitive Liturgies, p. 182, note 12, by Neale and Littledale). The plural form “we offer” used in this prayer, instead of the singular “I offer,” is retained here, some say, from Solemn High Mass, where the deacon touches the chalice with his hand while the celebrant is making its oblation, and thus offers it conjointly with him (Romsee, iv. 141). Others see in the retention of the plural a special reference to the duty of the deacon—viz., of dispensing the chalice to the people when the custom of communicating under both species was in vogue (Bona, Rer. Liturg., p. 338). And as to the retention of the plural form when no deacon assists, as is the case in Low Mass, authors tell us that Pope Gregory the Great was very fond of employing the plural instead of the singular, and that very likely he allowed this to stand untouched, as he did the form “benedicite, Pater reverende,” instead of “benedic, Pater” (Le Brun, Explication des Prières et des Cérémonies de la Messe, ii. p. 60, note a).

After the oblation of the chalice the priest inclines slightly, and, placing his hands united, palm to palm, on the altar, recites the following prayer: “In a spirit of humility and with contrite heart may we be received by thee, O Lord! and grant that the sacrifice we offer this day in thy sight may be pleasing to thee, O Lord God!” The priest then becomes erect, and presently, raising, then lowering his hands, invokes the Holy Ghost, saying: “Come, O Sanctifier, Omnipotent, Eternal God! and bless this sacrifice prepared to thy holy name.” Upon saying “bless” he makes the sign of the cross over the Host and chalice conjointly. This prayer affords the only instance in the whole Mass where the Holy Ghost is invoked expressly by name, for which reason some have supposed that it is God the Father who is meant; but, as Romsee very well says, we do not apply the term come to the Father, but only to God the Son, or God the Holy Ghost, both of whom are always sent, or implored that they might come; but God the Father, who sends them, is never addressed in this way (Romsee, iv. p. 146). In many ancient missals the Holy Ghost used to be mentioned in this prayer expressly, and is so mentioned yet in the Mozarabic Rite, where the prayer of invocation thus begins: “Come, O Holy Ghost, Sanctifier!” etc. In commenting on this prayer Pope Benedict XIV. says, in his treatise on the Mass, that it is addressed to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, in order that, as the Body of our Blessed Lord was formed by the power and operation of this Holy Spirit in the chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin, it may be formed anew by the same Spirit upon the altar of God (Enchiridion de Sacrif. Missæ, p. 53).

At Solemn High Mass incense is brought on the altar after this prayer, and the oblation, as well as the altar itself and its ministers, are incensed. Then follows the incensing of all in the sanctuary, and, finally, of the people of the congregation. We have not deemed it necessary to enter more minutely into this ceremony, as our book is not a treatise on rubrics.

Having recited the prayer “Come, O Sanctifier!” the priest goes to the Epistle corner, and there washes the tips of his fingers—not of all his fingers, but only of the thumb and index-finger of each hand, as it is these, and these only, that are allowed to touch the Blessed Sacrament, for which reason they are sometimes called the canonical fingers; and it is they which were anointed with holy oil by the bishop when the priest was ordained. While performing this ablution the priest recites that portion of the twenty-fifth Psalm which begins with “I will wash my hands among the innocents.” Besides the literal reason of this ablution, there is a beautiful mystical reason also—to wit, that in order to offer so tremendous a sacrifice as that in which the victim is none else than the Son of God himself, the priest’s conscience must be free from the slightest stain of sin. “This signifies,” says St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his fifth book of Catechesis, “that our souls must be purified from all sins and wickedness. For, as the hands are the instruments of action, the washing of them shows the purity of our desires.” St. Germanus says to the same effect: “The washing of a priest’s hands should remind him that we must approach the holy table with a clean conscience, mind, and thoughts (the hands of the soul), with fear, meekness, and heartfelt sincerity.” It is worth noting here that the priest does not remain at the middle of the altar while washing his hands, but goes to the Epistle corner, and this out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament enclosed in the tabernacle and for the crucifix. In case the Blessed Sacrament should be exposed, to show a still greater degree of respect, he descends one step at the Epistle side, and, standing so as to have his back turned to the wall and not to the altar, performs the ablution there. The Church is very particular in all that concerns the reverence due to the Holy Eucharist.

Having performed this ablution, the priest returns to the middle of the altar, where, bowing down slightly, he recites the following prayer: “Receive, O Holy Trinity! this oblation, which we offer thee in memory of the passion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ; in honor of Blessed Mary ever Virgin; of blessed John the Baptist; and of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, of these and of all the Saints, that it may tend to their honor and to our salvation, and that they whose memory we celebrate upon earth may deign to intercede for us in heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.” During the first four centuries the Church was very careful in alluding to the Blessed Trinity, for the reason that she feared it might lead the pagans and infidels to suppose that she worshipped a plurality of Gods. She wisely abstained, therefore, from addressing her public prayers to any of the three Divine Persons but the Father only. This prayer, although not of as high antiquity as some of the others, is yet very old, for we find it in the so-called Illyric Missal, supposed to date as far back as the seventh century (Romsee, p. 156).

ORATE FRATRES”

Having finished this prayer, the priest turns round to the congregation and salutes them with “Orate fratres,” or “Pray, brethren,” which he continues reciting as follows: “That my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty.” The reason generally assigned for only saying the first two words of this prayer in an audible tone is that the singers may not be disturbed while going through their offertorial pieces (ibid.) To this prayer the server answers, “May the Lord receive this Sacrifice from thy hands, to the praise and glory of his name, for our benefit also, and that of his entire holy Church.” At the end the priest says “Amen” secretly.

Although there should be none but females assisting at a priest’s Mass, as is frequently the case in convents, still the form of salutation must not be changed from the masculine gender; nor must any addition whatever be made to it by reason of the attendance of the opposite sex. In ancient times, however, such a change used to be made in some places, for we find that the Sarum Rite used to say, “Orate fratres et sorores”—“Pray, brethren and sisters”; and the form may also be seen in a Missal of Cologne edited in the year 1133.








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