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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 use of the Preface in the Mass is, according to the best-authorities, of apostolic origin. For quite a long time it was customary to have a special one for every feast that occurred, so that the number was once very great. According to Neale, as many as two hundred and forty are yet preserved.

In the Mozarabic Rite there is still a proper Preface for every Sunday and festival; and the Ambrosians, or Milanese, have a different one every day in the week (Neale, Holy Eastern Church, i. p. 467). Towards the eleventh century the Roman Church reduced the entire number to nine, to which two others were subsequently added, making in all eleven, which is the number of distinct Prefaces that we use to-day. Their names are as follows: 1st, the Preface of the Nativity, or Christmas day; 2d, the Preface of the Epiphany, or 6th of January; 3d, the Preface of Quadragesima, or Lent; 4th, the Preface of the Cross and Passion; 5th, the Preface of Easter Sunday; 6th, the Preface of the Ascension; 7th, the Preface of Pentecost; 8th, the Preface of the Blessed Trinity; 9th, the Preface of the Blessed Virgin; 10th, the Preface of the Apostles; 11th, the Preface of the Common.

Preface of the Blessed Trinity.—It is admitted by all that this Preface is a masterpiece of composition. It reads very like a work of inspiration, and is, as far as its theology goes, the most profound of the eleven. We subjoin a translation of it in full, but we beg to remind the reader that to be fully appreciated it must be read in its original tongue, the Latin. When rendered into English much of its sublimity is lost: “It is truly meet and just, right and salutary, that we should always, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Father omnipotent, Eternal God, who, together with thy Only-Begotten Son and the Holy Ghost, art one God and one Lord; not in the singularity of one Person, but in a Trinity of one substance. For what we believe of thy glory as thou hast revealed, the same we believe of thy Son and of the Holy Ghost, without any difference or distinction. So that in the confession of the True and Eternal Deity we adore a distinction in the Persons, a unity in the Essence, an equality in the Majesty. Whom the Angels and Archangels praise, the Cherubim also and the Seraphim, who without ceasing cry out daily with one accord, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed be he who cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Looking at this Preface from a theological point of view, it would appear that some of its phraseology must have been changed subsequent to the General Council of Nicæa, held in the year 325, for it is a well-known fact that, prior to that period, the Church, as we have already intimated in another place, wisely abstained from giving too much publicity to her doctrine concerning the exact relations existing between the three Persons of the Adorable Trinity. She declared, it is true, by her solemn definition against Arius at the above-mentioned council, that the Son of God was homoousios—that is, consubstantial with the Father; but it was not until nine hundred years and more had passed away that she openly defined as de fide Catholica that the unity of the Godhead was a numerical unity, and not a generic or specific unity, as the writings of many of the ancient Fathers would be apt to lead one to suppose. “Not till the thirteenth century,” says Dr. Newman, “was there any direct and distinct avowal on the part of the Church of the numerical unity of the Divine Nature, which the language of some of the principal Greek Fathers, prima facie, though not really, denies” (University Sermons, p. 324). The cause that led to the definition of this numerical unity in the thirteenth century—that is, at the fourth Council of Lateran, A.D. 1215—was the opposite teaching of the Abbot Joachim (Dublin Review, 1845, “Difficulties of the Ante-Nicene Fathers”).

The Preface of the Blessed Virgin.—This is called the Miraculous Preface; for, as the story goes, the greater part was miraculously put in the mouth of Pope Urban II. as he was one day singing High Mass in the Church of our Blessed Lady at Placentia. He began by chanting the Common Preface, but when he had come to that part where the Prefaces generally turn off to suit the occasion he heard angels above him singing as follows: “Who, by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, conceived thine Only-Begotten Son, and, the glory of her virginity still remaining intact, brought into the world the Eternal Light, Christ Jesus, our Lord.” The holy pontiff caused these words to be afterwards inserted in the Common Preface at the council held in the above place in 1095, and for this reason the Preface of the Blessed Virgin is ascribed to him (Ferraris, Bibliotheca; Bona, p. 341; Merati, Thesaur. Sacr. Rit. p. 94). A custom once prevailed in many places of bowing solemnly to the ground at the words, “Adorant dominationes.” There was a rubric to this effect in a Roman ordo of the eighth century, composed for the use of monasteries (Martène, De Antiq. Eccl. Rit., f. 31).








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