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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 Catholic Church of to-day celebrates the holy sacrifice of the Mass in nine different languages—viz., in Latin, Greek, Syriac, Chaldaic, Sclavonic, Wallachian, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopic.

Latin.—This is the language of the Mass in the entire West and in a few places in the East, and has been so, without change, from the beginning of Christianity. It may, in fact, be called the vernacular language of the Western Church.

Greek.—At the present day Mass is said in Greek by the Uniat or Melchite Catholics of the East. They are to be found in Syria, Jerusalem, Russia, in the kingdom of Greece, in Italy, and in several places of Europe; and they comprise the Mingrelians, Georgians, Bulgarians, Muscovites, and others. These Catholics are allowed by Rome to retain all their ancient rites, such as consecrating the Holy Eucharist in leavened bread, giving Communion in both kinds, saying the Creed without the “Filioque,” and putting warm water into the chalice after Consecration. Nay, more, the Holy See even allows their clergy to marry.1 They have three patriarchs, residing respectively at Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem; and they use three different Liturgies for the celebration of the Mass—viz., the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, or that most generally used; the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, used on all Sundays in Lent except Palm Sunday, on Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday, the Vigils of Christmas day and of the Epiphany, and, finally, on the Feast of St. Basil, January 1. The third Liturgy is denominated the Presanctified. It is only used during those days of Lent upon which there is no Consecration, but only a Mass similar to that which we have on Good Friday.

Syriac.—Mass is said in Syriac by the Maronites1 of Mount Lebanon and the Syrian Melchites of the East. It is, in fact, the liturgical language of all those places where the Liturgy of St. James is used as the norma. It is the proud boast (and truly it is something to be proud of) of the people who say Mass in this language that they are using the very same language that was spoken by our Divine Lord himself and his Blessed Mother, as well as by the majority of the Apostles. The Maronites are allowed by the Holy See to retain all their ancient ecclesiastical rites and customs. They are governed by a patriarch, whose style is “Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites.” This dignitary is elected by the people themselves; but before he is installed in office his election has to await the confirmation of Rome. They use unleavened bread, as we do, in confecting the Holy Eucharist, and, like the rest of the Orientals, they communicate the people under both kinds; but when communicating the sick only the species of bread is used.

They use incense at Low Mass as well as at High Mass, and read the Gospel in Arabic after it has first been read in the Syriac, for Arabic is the language of the day in those parts.

Their secular clergy number about twelve thousand, and their regular about fourteen thousand. All the latter live in monasteries; and as they must be unmarried (for it is only the seculars who are allowed to have wives), it is from their body that the patriarchs and bishops are taken (Vetromile, Travels in Europe and the Holy Land, 77).

Chaldaic.—This language is peculiar to the Babylonian Catholics, who are chiefly converts from Nestorianism,1 and who inhabit principally Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Kurdistan. They have a patriarch, who is titled “Patriarch of Babylonia.” His residence is at Bagdad. All the liturgical books of this people are written in the Chaldaic, in that peculiar character known as the Estrangelo1—for the Chaldaic itself has as many different alphabets as eighteen (Antrim’s Science of Letters, p. 88).

Sclavonic.—Mass is said in this language by the Catholics of Istria, Liburnia, and the maritime parts of ancient Dalmatia. It is, in fact, the liturgical language of all in union with Rome who belong to the Sclavonic nation. This privilege the Sclavonians first received from Pope Adrian II. in the ninth century, and it was confirmed by Pope John VIII., Adrian’s immediate successor. This latter Pontiff, in renewing the grant, made it a condition that the holy Gospel, on account of its superiority over the other parts of the Mass, should be first read in Latin, and after that in Sclavonic. In A.D. 1248 Pope Innocent IV. acquiesced in all these concessions of his predecessors, as also did Pope Benedict XIV. in A.D. 1740; so that at the present day Mass is said in Sclavonic by quite a large body of Catholics. It is also the liturgical language of schismatical Russia and of thousands of Christians within the Turkish dominions (Bona, Rer. Liturg., 216; Kozma, Liturg. Sacr. Cathol., 112, note; Wouters, Historia Ecclesiast., 258; Brerewood, Languages and Religions, p. 235; and Gavantus, Thes. Rit., p. 25, xix.)

Wallachian.—Since the seventeenth century, when a great number of them came into the Church, the Wallachians, with the tacit consent of the Holy See, have been saying Mass in their own native language, which, however, is no longer that in daily use, but the old classic tongue. Concessions (if we may call that a concession which is allowed by tacit consent) of this kind are very rarely granted; and when granted at all, it is always in favor of some newly-converted people who cling with great tenacity to their national language and customs (Kozma, Liturg. Sacr. Cathol., p. 112, note 9).

Armenian.—This is the liturgical language of all who are called by that name in the East to-day. They inhabit Armenia proper, or the modern Turkomania, and are found also throughout Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Turkey, Georgia, Greece, Africa, Italy, and Russia. In the last-named empire their sees were arranged by a ukase, March 11, 1836. They are at present governed by a patriarch, who is styled “Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians,” and who resides at Bezourmar. In the island of San Lazaro, at Venice, they have a monastery which is famous all over the world for its printing-presses. Here most of the Armenian ecclesiastical books are turned out.

The Armenians, unlike all the other Christians of the East, save the Maronites, use unleavened bread in the Holy Eucharist as we do. The heretical Armenians, all of whom are Monophysites1 (that is, believers in but one nature—viz., the divine—in our Lord, after the teaching of Eutyches), abstain from mingling water with the wine in the Mass, in order to give as great a prominence to their belief as possible; for water is symbolical of the human nature of our Saviour, which these people maintain was wholly absorbed by the divine, so that a vestige of it did not remain (Burder’s Religious Ceremonies, p. 180; Smith and Dwight’s Travels in Armenia, passim; Vetromile, Travels in Europe and the Holy Land, art. “Eastern Rites”).

Coptic.—This language, which the natives maintain to be the same as the ancient language of the Pharaohs—that is, the Egyptian—is used by the Christians along the Nile in the celebration of their sacred rites. This people are called Copts from a paring down of the name they were given by the Greeks, viz., Αἰγύπτιοι—i.e., Egyptians—which in many ancient manuscripts is written Ægophthi, Copthi, and Chībthi. This, at least, is the origin assigned by some of the ablest Oriental scholars, and Renaudot among others (see Liturg. Orient Col., dissert, de Ling. Coptica, tom. i. p. cx.) But, according to Scaliger, Simon, and Kircher, the Copts are so called from an ancient city of Egypt known as Coptos, once the metropolis of the Thebaid. Renaudot, however, has clearly proved that this is at best nothing more than a guess; and the vast majority of modern linguists adhere to his opinion.1

The Copts use three different Liturgies in the celebration of Mass—viz., those of St. Basil, St. Cyril, and St. Gregory. The first, which is considered the most elegant and elaborate, and the one best suited to grand occasions, is dedicated specially to the Person of the Omnipotent Father. The second is dedicated to the Person of the Father also, but not in so special a manner. The third, or that of St. Gregory, is dedicated to the Person of our Divine Redeemer, for it dwells particularly on his Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. These are the three principal Liturgies; in fact, they may be said to be the only ones used by the Copts, for, although they have as many as twelve altogether, yet they never bring any others into requisition but the three specified (Renaudot, Comment ad Liturg. Copt S. Basilii, vol. i. p. 154).

The Copts at the present day—that is, the Catholic Copts—are governed by a vicar-apostolic residing at Cairo, but there is a movement on foot to give them a regular hierarchy of their own, with a patriarch at its head.

The schismatic Copts, all of whom are Monophysites, number about one hundred and fifty thousand—that is, about eighty thousand more than those in communion with the Holy See. They are governed by a patriarch, who is styled “Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts”; but besides him they have another who resides at Cairo and takes his title from Jerusalem. He is, of course, subordinate to the Patriarch of Alexandria (see Vetromile, Eastern Rites, 87; Renaudot, De Patriarcha Alexandrino, passim, tom. i.) We shall have frequent occasion to refer to the Copts throughout our work.

Ethiopic.—This is the liturgical language of the modern Abyssinians, who differ but very little from the Copts either in discipline or ecclesiastical customs. Of the language there are two dialects—viz., the Amharic and the Gheez. The former, or court language, is considered much easier than the latter, in which nearly all the Abyssinian books are written. The Gheez is principally spoken in the kingdom of Tigre.

By some authors the Ethiopic is called the Chaldaic, from an opinion current among the natives that it originally came from ancient Chaldea; and it is generally said that a fair knowledge of it is easily acquired by one skilled in Hebrew, for the principal difference, they say, that exists between both consists in the formation of the letters of the alphabet (Burder, Rel. Rites and Customs, p. 175; Brerewood, Languages and Religions, 300).

The Catholic Abyssinians now number about two millions. They are under a vicar-apostolic. The schismatics, who are Monophysites like the Copts, number about five times as many as the orthodox. They are governed by an official called the Abouna (from a Syriac word meaning “our Father), who ranks as a bishop and is sent them by the Patriarch of Alexandria. The great redeeming feature of this people is their extraordinary devotion to the Mother of God. So great is their reverence for her that when the common street-beggars fail to exact an alms for the love of God or for any of the saints, an appeal is at once made in honor of “Lady Mary,” which is always sure to receive a favorable hearing (Dublin Review, July, 1863, p. 50). Furthermore, an oath taken in her name is considered the most solemn that can be administered, and, if taken rashly, is subject to the highest penalty the law can inflict (see Lobo’s Voyage to Abyssinia, p. 26). Their Liturgy is called the “Liturgy of All the Apostles,” but its official title is the “Ethiopic Canon.” It is considered to be an amplification of that of St. Cyril.

It may be well to say that the Abyssinian ordinations are the only ones in the East which are held doubtful by the Holy See. For this reason priests coming into our Church from theirs are, in nearly every case, ordained under condition. I say in nearly every case, but not always; for where it is found that the Abyssinian ritual has been followed to the letter, no conditional ordination is needed. Their rituals have the valid form, but carelessness on the part of their bishops often causes it to be either badly vitiated or wholly disregarded (see Denzinger, Ritus Oriental., p. 139).

Before we dismiss this subject we have some remarks to make that cannot but be of interest to the reader. We have said that the Catholic Church of to-day celebrates the holy sacrifice of the Mass in nine different languages, all of which we have given. We have said that the Greeks celebrate in Greek, the Armenians in Armenian, the Ethiopians in Ethiopic, etc. The reader must not understand by this, as some, such as Usher,1 would fain do, that the language in anyone case is the vernacular.

The Greeks, who celebrate in Greek, speak Greek, it is true, but so different is it from their liturgical language (for the latter is the ancient classic Greek) that hardly a man can be found who understands one word of it. The same may be said of the Armenian, the same of the Ethiopic, the same of any one of the nine specified. The Copts, for instance, are so little skilled in the Coptic used in the Mass that it has been found necessary to print the rubrics of their Missals in Arabic (the language of those regions) for the benefit of the clergy; for neither the clergy nor the people are much versed in the language used in the sacred offices. (The reader who wishes to see this subject fully discussed would do well to consult Renaudot, Liturg. Oriental. Collectio, tom, i., dissert, de Liturg. Orient. Origine, xxxviii.)

We do not consider it necessary to quote authorities for our assertion, for we challenge anybody to gainsay it. Protestants—we mean those who are not biassed and blinded by prejudice—and Catholics bear testimony to it. And since it is an indisputable fact that there is not to be found in Christendom a single instance of a people celebrating the Holy Mass in the language of the day, how is it that we of the Latin Church are called to task so often for “celebrating in an unknown tongue”? Why not call the Greek Church to task? Why not call the Armenian Church to task? Why not call the Russian to task? And yet, if there is reprehension deserved anywhere, these people deserve more than we, for the most illiterate of our congregations know far more about our liturgical language—there are translations of it in every prayer-book—than the most educated of the nations we have mentioned know about theirs. Ask a Nestorian or a Copt to roll you off only a few short sentences of the liturgical Syriac or Coptic; he could as easily tell you his thoughts in the language of the “Celestial Empire.”

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