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

We have mentioned in our Preface that where validity of orders prevails the power of consecration exists independently of either schism or heresy; and that, consequently, in all the churches of the East a true sacrifice of the Masr may be looked for, and as veritable a Real Presence as that which we have the happiness to enjoy.

Strangely enough, nearly all the Oriental liturgies mention the mingling of water with the wine in the form of consecration. “Thou didst take,” says the Liturgy of St. Gregory of the Alexandrine family, “the chalice and mingle it of the fruit of the vine and water”; “In like manner, also,” says the Syro-Jacobite Liturgy of St. Marutas, “he took wine, and when he had mingled it in just proportion with water,” etc., and so on with several others.

It is customary all through the East for the priest to pronounce the words of consecration aloud, and for the people to answer “Amen” after each assertion of the narrative portion. Thus, according to the Liturgy of St. Basil, the arrangement is as follows: “Priest: He blessed it; People: Amen. Priest: And sanctified it; People: Amen. Priest: And tasted it, and gave to his disciples.” Whereupon it is also worthy of remark that nearly all the Eastern liturgies mention our Lord’s communicating upon this occasion as well as his disciples.

In an Ethiopic Liturgy, called the Athanasian, the sacred words of consecration are thus given: “This bread is my Body, from which there is no separating”; and of the chalice: “This cup is my Blood, from which there is no dividing. As often as ye eat this Bread and drink this Chalice, set forth my death and my resurrection, and confess my ascension to heaven and my coming again with glory whilst ye await.” The Armenian form thus reads: “Taking bread into his holy, divine, spotless, and venerable hands, he blessed, and gave to his holy, elect, and fellow-disciples, saying, ‘This is my Body, which for you and for many is given for remission and pardon of sins.’ ” The consecration of the chalice is worded in nearly the same way. According to the Liturgy of St. Basil, the narration thus goes on: “In the night when he gave himself up for the life of the world, taking bread into his holy and spotless hands, having shown it to thee, his God and Father, having given thanks, blessed, hallowed, and broken it, he gave it to his disciples and apostles, saying, ‘Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for you unto the remission of sins.’ ” And of the chalice: “Likewise taking the chalice of the fruit of the vine, having mingled, given thanks, blessed, and hallowed it, he gave it to his holy disciples and apostles, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it, for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” In the Coptic Liturgy of St. Cyril the form is worded as follows: “He took bread into his holy, immaculate, pure, blessed, and quickening hands, and looked up to heaven, to thee his God and Father, and Lord of all, and gave thanks, and blessed, and sanctified it, and broke it, and gave to his holy disciples and pure apostles, saying, ‘Take, eat ye all of this; for this is my Body, which shall be broken for you, and for many shall be given for the remission of sins.’ ” The form according to the Liturgy of St. James is almost word for word like this; and as that of the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom differs hardly in anything from our own, we do not deem it necessary to give it.

The Elevation in the Eastern Church.—Nowhere in the East does the elevation take place immediately after consecration, as with ourselves, but only before the Communion. As the solemn moment draws near, the deacon turns round to the people and cries with full compass of voice, “Attendamus!”—“Let us be attentive.” In some places this admonition is worded: “Let us attend with the fear of God.” The Ethiopians say, “Inspiciamus!” After the admonition follows the elevation, which all the churches of the East observe just as we do, with this difference: that while perfect silence pervades our congregations at this solemn moment, in theirs the noise is deafening, for both priest and people are shouting at the highest pitch of their voices.

When the Sacred Host is first raised on high, the priest cries aloud, “Ἅγια ἁγίοις,” Hagia hagiois—that is, “Holy things for holy people”—to which the people, or rather the choir, respond, “One Holy, one Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.” According to the Syriac Liturgy of St. James, which all the Jacobites follow, the priest exclaims, “Holy things are given for holy persons in perfection, purity, and holiness”; to which the people respond, “One Holy Father, one Holy Son, one Holy Ghost; blessed be the name of the Lord, for he is one in heaven and on earth; glory be to him for evermore.” At the elevation which takes place with the Maronites the priest, raising the sacred Host aloft, cries out, “Holy things are given for holy people in perfection, purity, and sanctity”; to which the people respond, “One Holy Father, one Holy Son, one Holy Ghost; glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.” When elevating the chalice the priest says, according to the same rite, “Thus, O Lord! in truth we verily believe in thee just as believes in thee the Holy Catholic Church, that thou art one Holy Father, to whom belongeth glory, Amen; one Holy Son, to whom belongeth glory, Amen; one Holy Spirit, to whom belongeth glory and thanksgiving for ever, Amen.” The elevation with the Maronites takes place at the same time as it does all over the East—viz., before Communion. In some of the Oriental churches it is customary for the priest to turn round to the people and bless them three times before the elevation takes place, and after the elevation to move around, with the sacred Host in his hands, at the centre of the altar, just as we do when giving benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This especially obtains throughout Syria (Renaudot, Liturg. Orient., ii. p. 114).

The words, “One Holy Father, one Holy Son, one Holy Ghost,” common to all the Oriental liturgies with hardly an exception, is employed as a profession of faith in the Adorable Trinity. The Copts at this place make a profession of faith in the Real Presence, which, on account of its singular beauty, we give word for word. It is as follows: “I believe, I believe, I believe, and confess to the last breath of my life, that this is the real, life-giving flesh of thy Only-Begotten Son, our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ; he received it from the blessed Lady of us all, the Mother of God, and ever Virgin Mary.” It is customary, too, in the East, as with many of our own congregations, to strike the breast with the hand as the Host is elevated. In one of the Coptic versions of the Liturgy of St. Basil a rubric on this head thus reads: “Then [that is, at the elevation] the priest will take the Isbodicon [i.e., the Holy Body] in his hands, and will raise it aloft as far as he can stretch his arms, with head inclined, and will shout with full compass of voice, ‘Holy things for holy people!’ All the people will incline their heads, adoring their Lord in fear and trembling, and asking with tears, with earnestness, and with the striking of their breasts the remission of their sins, and their confirmation in the orthodox faith unto the last breath of life” (Renaudot, i. p. 245). On Sundays the rubric calls for only a simple genuflection, but on week-days the Copts are required to bow their heads down to the ground at this place. The crying out at the elevation, which varies slightly with the different churches, is intended by the Orientals to commemorate the cry of the penitent thief when our Lord was raised on the cross beside him. In many places they exclaim: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Sometimes the very words of the holy thief are used, viz.: “Lord, remember me when thou reachest thy kingdom” (ibid. i. p. 246). That the ringing of bells, also, is observed in the East when consecration takes place we learn from various writers. Neale makes special mention of this practice as prevailing among the Ethiopians and Syrians (Hist. of the Holy Eastern Church, i. p. 517).

The Orientals say but little about the elevation of the chalice, for the reason that they look upon itself and the Host as one and the same thing; but that the elevation of it is observed by them their liturgies clearly show. In that of St. Xystus, for example, the chalice is elevated with these words: “O Lord! we believe, and believe in truth, just as thy Holy Catholic Church believes in thee, that there is one Holy Father; one Holy Son; one Holy Ghost; glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, who are one for ever and ever.” This agrees almost wholly with what is said at the elevation of the chalice in the Maronite Church.

We have said that the words of consecration are pronounced aloud in the East. It must not, however, be supposed that the rest of the Mass is pronounced in this manner. Not so; for the Orientals say a great number of prayers in secret, as we ourselves do, and only break silence at those places where the people are accustomed to join in and respond. Nothing is more common in the liturgies of the East than the admonition, “Let all in fear and silence stand and pray.”


This is the first prayer the priest recites after the elevation has taken place, and he does so with hands extended as when reciting the collects, only that, as we have already stated, the thumb and index finger of each hand are joined together. The Carthusians, Carmelites, and Dominicans recite it with outstretched arms in the form of a cross—a custom which was also in vogue under the Sarum Rite. At the words “a pure Host, a holy Host, an immaculate Host; the holy Bread of life eternal, and the Chalice of perpetual salvation,” the sign of the cross is made five different times—three times over the Host and chalice conjointly, and once over each of them singly. Many curious questions are asked about the meaning of these crosses at this place. That they are not intended as blessings all are agreed, because neither Host nor chalice needs a blessing now; but as to their precise import opinions vary very much. According to the majority of liturgists, they must be accounted for wholly in a mystic manner, as commemorative of the Passion of our Lord, the five recalling to mind, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, and others repeat after him, the Five Wounds. Father Le Brun, in that truly excellent work of his entitled Explication des Prières et des Cérémonies de la Messe, tom. ii, p. 232, gives as beautiful an explanation of these crosses as any that we have seen. His words are: “When we make five signs of the cross at this prayer, the first, in saying ‘Hostiam puram,’ points out that there lies the pure Victim which was nailed to the cross; the second, in saying ‘Hostiam sanctam,’ indicates that there lies the Victim which was offered up on the cross; the third, in saying ‘Hostiam immaculatam,’ indicates that this is the Victim without blemish which was immolated on the cross; the fourth, at ‘Panem sanctum,’ shows that we have before us the holy Bread of Life—that is to say, Him who said, ‘I am the true Bread of Life, who descended from Heaven and died upon the cross to give you life’; and the fifth, at ‘Calicem salutis,’ is intended to show that the Blood which is contained in the chalice is the very same that was shed upon the cross for the redemption of the world.” In one word, then, crosses made before consecration are always symbolic of blessing or are such in reality; after consecration they signify that the blessed Victim who suffered or the cross is now lying before us on the altar.

Crosses made after Consecration in the Oriental Church.—From the fact that many, even within the Church, have looked upon these crosses as an idle and useless observance it is a great relief to us to find that they are also employed by the Orientals. A rubric on this head in the Liturgy of St. Basil reads as follows: “Then the deacon, bowing his head, points to the holy bread with his stole and says secretly, ‘Sir, bless the holy bread,’ and the priest, standing up, signs the holy gifts, saying secretly, ‘This bread is the Precious Body itself of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ ” Deacon: “Sir, bless the chalice.” Priest: “This chalice is the Precious Blood itself of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” After this both Host and chalice are blessed conjointly, as with ourselves; so that, in fact, our interpretation of these crosses entirely agrees with that of the Orientals. We do not deem it necessary to lengthen our pages by giving any more examples of this practice; let it suffice to say that it may be seen in all the Eastern liturgies.


The only thing that deserves special notice in this prayer is the allusion made to the sacrifices of Abel, Abraham, and Melchisedech; and these are mentioned because they refer more directly than any of the other sacrifices of the old law to the sacrifice we offer in the Mass. For, in the first place, the blood of Abel, the just man, wantonly shed by his brother Cam, very forcibly recalls to mind the iniquity of the Jews in shedding the blood of our innocent Saviour, who, according to the flesh, was a kinsman of their own. Then, again, as Abel offered to God the firstlings of his flock (Genesis 4:4), he aptly prefigures our Lord, who, as St. Paul says, “was the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). The holy Patriarch Abraham leading up his only son, Isaac, to immolate him on the mount, specially prefigures the Eternal Father immolating his Only-Begotten Son, our Lord and God, for our sake; and Isaac carrying the wood upon which he was to be sacrificed represents our Saviour carrying his cross to Calvary.

The allusion to the sacrifice of Melchisedech is full of import. He is mentioned in Scripture as a priest of the Most High, without father or mother, without genealogy of any kind, and without beginning or end of days. Herein he is a most striking figure of our Lord, of whom the Scripture says: “Who shall declare his generation?” But there is yet a still closer resemblance between Melchisedech and our Lord. The former was king and priest at the same time. Our Lord is king and priest also. The king of Salem offered bread and wine in virtue of his being a priest of the Most High; our Lord offers himself in the Holy Mass under the same species, and is styled by the royal Psalmist “a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech” (Ps. 109) The last words of the prayer—viz., “Sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam Hostiam”—were added by Pope Leo the Great (fifth century). They refer, as is evident, not to the sacrifices of the old law here mentioned, but to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where our Lord, the Immaculate Lamb, is the victim.


Whilst reciting the first part of this prayer the priest is bowed profoundly, with his hands resting upon the altar, and when he comes to the words, “ex hac altaris participatione,” he kisses the altar, and, having become erect, makes the sign of the cross upon himself at the same time that he pronounces the words, “omni benedictione cælesti et gratia repleamur.” In English this entire prayer is rendered as follows: “We humbly beseech thee, O Almighty God! that thou wouldst command these gifts to be carried by the hands of thy holy angel to thy altar on high, before the sight of thy Divine Majesty, that all of us who by this participation shall receive the most holy Body and Blood of thy Son may be enriched with every heavenly blessing and grace, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.” As to who the holy angel mentioned here is, a diversity of opinion exists. Some say that it is the angel deputed by God to watch over the Sacrifice after the manner in which blessed spirits of this name were appointed to watch over the sacrifices of the old law, as we read in various parts of Scripture (see Genesis 22:11; Judges 6 and 13; and St. Luke 1); but, according to the vast majority of commentators, the holy angel referred to is none other than our Lord himself, who is styled “the Angel of the Great Council” in Holy Writ (Romsee, iv. p. 231). The Carmelites and Dominicans, while reciting the first part of this prayer, bow down and cross their arms one over the other (brachiis cancellatis) before their breast.

When an explanation was demanded of the Greeks at the Council of Florence, in 1439, of their prayer which asks God to make the bread the Precious Body and the chalice the Precious Blood of Christ, and all this after they had become such already by consecration, they objected the wording of the prayer now under consideration—viz., the “Supplices te rogamus”—contending that theirs could be as easily defended as this. As they fully acquiesced, however, in the teaching that the sacred words of institution—viz., “τοῦτο γάρ ἑστι τὸ σῶμα μοῦ,” touto gar esti to soma mou—are alone the efficient cause of transubstantiation, the Fathers of the Latin Church did not deem it necessary to push the motion before the council any further, and so they allowed the prayer alluded to to stand where it was in all the Greek liturgies, instead of changing it to some earlier part of the Canon.

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