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

As he begins to recite this prayer the priest moves his hands slowly before his face, so as to have them united at the words, “in somno pacis.” This gentle motion of the hands is aptly suggestive here of the slow, lingering motion of a soul preparing to leave the body, and the final union of the hands forcibly recalls to mind the laying down of the body in its quiet slumber in the earth. As this prayer is very beautiful, we transcribe it in full. It is thus worded: “Remember also, O Lord! thy servants, male and female, who have gone before us with the sign of faith and sleep in the sleep of peace, N. N.; to them, O Lord! and to all who rest in Christ, we beseech thee to grant a place of refreshment, light, and peace; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.” At the letters “N. N.” the names of the particular persons to be prayed for among the departed were read out from the diptychs in ancient times. When the priest comes to them now he does not stop, but pauses awhile at “in somno pacis” to make his private memento of those whom he wishes to pray for in particular, in which he is to be guided by the same rules that directed him in making his memento for the living, only that here he cannot pray for the conversion of any one, as he could there, for this solely relates to the dead who are detained in Purgatory. Should the Holy Sacrifice be offered for any soul among the departed which could not be benefited by it, either because of the loss of its eternal salvation or its attainment of the everlasting joys of heaven, theologians commonly teach that in that case the fruit of the Mass would enter the treasury of the Church, and be applied afterwards in such indulgences and the like as Almighty God might suggest to the dispensers of his gifts (Suarez, Disp. xxxviii. sec. 8).

We beg to direct particular attention here to the expression “sleep of peace.” That harsh word death which we now use was seldom or never heard among the early Christians when talking of their departed brethren. Death to them was nothing else but a sleep until the great day of resurrection, when all would rise up again at the sound of the angel’s trumpet; and this bright idea animated their minds and enlivened all their hopes when conversing with their absent friends in prayer. So, too, with the place of interment; it was not called by that hard name that distinguishes it too often now—viz., the grave yard—but was called by the milder term of cemetery, which, from its Greek derivation, means a dormitory, or sleeping-place. Nor was the word bury employed to signify the consigning of the body to the earth. No, this sounded too profane in the ears of the primitive Christians; they rather chose the word depose, as suggestive of the treasure that was put away until it pleased God to turn it to better use on the final reckoning day. The old Teutonic expression for cemetery was, to say the least of it, very beautiful. The blessed place was called in this tongue Gottes-acker—that is, God’s field—for the reason that the dead were, so to speak, the seed sown in the ground from which would spring the harvest reaped on the day of general resurrection in the shape of glorified bodies. According to this beautiful notion, the stone which told who the departed person was that lay at rest beneath, was likened to the label that was hung up on a post by the farmer or gardener to tell the passer-by the name of the flower that was deposited beneath. This happy application of the word sleep to death runs also through Holy Scripture, where we frequently find such expressions as “He slept with his fathers”; “I have slept and I am refreshed,” applied from the third Psalm to our Divine Lord’s time in the sepulchre; the “sleep of peace”; “he was gathered to his fathers,” etc. (For a very interesting article on this subject see The Catholic World, November, 1872.)

Memento of the Dead in the Oriental Church.—The prayers of the Orientals for the faithful departed are singularly touching. In the Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil the memento is worded thus: “In like manner, O Lord! remember also all those who have already fallen asleep in the priesthood and amidst the laity; vouchsafe to give rest to their souls in the bosoms of our holy fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; bring them into a place of greenness by the waters of comfort, in the paradise of pleasure where grief and misery and sighing are banished, in the brightness of the saints.” The Orientals are very much attached to ancient phraseology, and hence their frequent application of “the bosom of Abraham” to that middle state of purification in the next life which we universally designate by the name of Purgatory. In the Syro-Jacobite Liturgy of John Bar-Maadan part of the memento is worded thus: “Reckon them among the number of thine elect; cover them with the bright cloud of thy saints; set them with the lambs on thy right hand, and bring them into thy habitation.” The following extract is taken from the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom, which, as we have said already, all the Catholic and schismatic Greeks of the East follow: “Remember all those that are departed in the hope of the resurrection to eternal life, and give them rest where the light of thy countenance shines upon them.” But of all the Orientals the place of honor in this respect must be yielded to the Nestorians; for, heretics as they are, too much praise cannot be given them for the singular reverence they show toward their departed brethren. From a work of theirs called the Sinhados, which Badger quotes in his Nestorians and their Rituals, we take the following extract: “The service of the third day of the dead is kept up, because Christ rose on the third day. On the ninth day, also, there should be a commemoration, and again on the thirtieth day, after the example of the Old Testament, since the people mourned for Moses that length of time. A year after, also, there should be a particular commemoration of the dead, and some of the property of the deceased should be given to the poor in remembrance of him. We say this of believers; for as to unbelievers, should all the wealth of the world be given to the poor in their behalf it would profit them nothing.” The Armenians call Purgatory by the name Gayan—that is, a mansion. The Chaldeans style it Matthar, the exact equivalent of our term. By some of the other Oriental churches it is called Kavaran, or place of penance; and Makraran, a place of purification (Smith and Dwight, i. p. 169).

We could multiply examples at pleasure to prove that there is no church in the East to which the name of Christian can be given that does not look upon praying for the faithful departed, and offering the Holy Mass for the repose of their souls, as a sacred and solemn obligation. Protestants who would fain believe otherwise, and who not unfrequently record differently in their writings about the Oriental Christians, can verify our statements by referring to any Eastern liturgy and examining for themselves. We conclude our remarks on this head by a strong argument in point from a very unbiassed Anglican minister—Rev. Dr. John Mason Neale. Speaking of prayers for the dead in his work entitled A History of the Holy Eastern Church (geneeral introduction, vol. i. p. 509), this candid-speaking man uses the following language: “I am not now going to prove, what nothing but the blindest prejudice can deny, that the Church, east, west, and south, has with one consentient and universal voice, even from apostolic times, prayed in the Holy Eucharist for the departed faithful.” Would that we had more of such candid-speaking men instead of those modern sciolists who travel east and west and afterwards record their observations as if they had eyes and saw not!


At the initial words of this prayer the priest breaks silence for the first time since he began the Canon, but only while he is saying the words “to us also sinners,” at which he strikes his breast as the poor publican in the Gospel did When he went up to the temple to pray. In many parts of Ireland it is customary for the person serving Mass to answer, “Parce nobis, Domine”—“Spare us, O Lord!”—at this place; but the origin of the custom we have never been able to trace, nor is it spoken of by any liturgist whom we have consulted. The precise reason for breaking silence here has never been satisfactorily explained. All that liturgical writers say of it is that it is intended to commemorate the humble cry for mercy of the penitent thief on the cross; but from all we have seen about it in the ancient Roman ordinals, and in other works of a like nature, we are inclined to think that it was originally intended as a sort of signal for the minor ministers of the Mass to attend to some particular duty at that time. Romsee intimates that it might have been used as an admonition for the people to enter into themselves and bewail their offences together with the priest. An ancient Roman ordo has the following words upon this matter, from which our opinion derives some strength: “When he shall say, ‘Nobis quoque peccatoribus,’ the subdeacons rise.” The Carthusians do not raise their voice here at all, but simply strike the breast; and this is also the custom at the cathedral church of Lyons.

The force of the word quoque, “also,” employed here, depends on the connection of this prayer with the preceding one, as if it were said, “We have prayed for a place of rest and peace for our departed brethren; we also pray for a similar favor in behalf of ourselves, in order that we may become associated with thy holy apostles and martyrs,” etc. As it is necessary for a priest to know exactly who the saints are that are mentioned in this prayer, and also in the “Communicantes,” in order to be able to bow the head when Mass is celebrated on the recurrence of their festivals, or a commemoration is made of them in another Mass, we have deemed it proper to give a brief sketch of their lives.

First, as to who the St. John is that occurs here. For quite a long time it remained undecided whether this was St. John the Evangelist or St. John the Baptist, and many weighty opinions lay on both sides. Pope Innocent III., speaking as an ordinary liturgical scholar, maintained that it was St. John the Evangelist. He was named first, according to this Pontiff, as an apostle in the prayer “Communicantes,” and here, again, as a virgin disciple. Others held, too, that it was the Evangelist who was mentioned, not on account of his virginity, but simply because he was looked upon as having, in a manner, died twice: first, when plunged into the caldron of boiling oil by order of Domitian, from which, however, he was miraculously preserved; and, secondly, when he died a natural death at Ephesus. This latter opinion never had many supporters, and, we think, deservedly. The principal objection to naming St. John the Baptist here was that he was not, strictly speaking, a saint of the new law, having been put to death before the Passion of our Lord. The question remained thus unsettled for a long time, with opinions on both sides (by far the weightier, however, on the side of the Evangelist), until at last the decision of the Sacred Congregation of Rites was asked in the matter. When the question was first proposed—viz., in April, 1823—it responded, “Dilata,” that is, that the answer was held over for further consideration. In March, 1824, it replied that the saint mentioned, and at whose name a reverence should be made, was St. John the Baptist. After this decision had appeared all further discussion ceased. The question was settled. The Church has instituted two special feasts in honor of the Baptist: the one, that of his nativity, on June 24; the other, of his decollation, or beheading, on August 29. Part of the precursor’s head is said to be kept in the Church of St. Sylvester at Rome, and another part at Amiens, in France.

St. Stephen, December 26.—This saint is generally distinguished by the title of protomartyr, from the fact that he was, strictly speaking, the first martyr of the new law who Suffered publicly for the faith. His relics were conveyed from Jerusalem to Rome some four hundred years after his death; and when deposited beside those of the holy martyr St. Lawrence, a pious legend says that the latter moved to the left in order to yield the place of honor to the protomartyr, for which reason the Romans styled St. Lawrence Il cortese Spagniolo—that is, the polite Spaniard—for he was of that nation. The Feast of St. Stephen used anciently to be called “straw day” in the South of France, from a custom that prevailed there of blessing straw on that day. Throughout England and Ireland it was known as “wrenning day,” from the very singular custom of hunting and stoning a wren to death in commemoration of St. Stephen’s martyrdom. Wren-boy day in the South of Ireland was a regular gala-day for the young folks; it is still celebrated to some extent in many places.

St. Matthias, February 24.—A vacancy having occurred among the twelve by the apostasy of Judas, Matthias was chosen by lot to fill it. The manner of his death is not exactly known, but it is generally believed that he ended his days by crucifixion. The reason for not naming this apostle with the others in the “Communicantes” is that he was not associated to the apostolic band until after the Passion of our Lord; nor is he named in any of the Gospels. And if it be objected to this that St. Paul was neither an apostle nor even a Christian until after the Passion, and still he is mentioned in the “Communicantes” with the other apostles, we reply that this was done in order not to separate him from St. Peter; for the Church sings of both of them: “In life they loved each other; in death they are not separated.” This is the reason given by all.

St. Barnabas, June 11.—St. Barnabas was a native of Cyprus. His first name was Joses, which he himself changed to Barnabas, an Aramean name meaning “son of consolation.” He was the friend and companion of St. Paul in the holy ministry. The Feast of St. Barnabas was, according to the old style, the longest day in the year, and hence the familiar rhyme:

Barnaby bright, Barnaby gay,

The shortest night and the longest day.”

St. Ignatius, February 1.—According to a pious tradition, it was this saint whom our Lord took into his arms when he said to his apostles: “Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name receiveth me.” He became Bishop of Antioch in the early part of the second century, and suffered a glorious martyrdom under Trajan in the year 107. He is said to have been the originator of responsive singing in the Church—a practice which he learned, it is said, from the angels, whom he frequently heard chanting after this manner.

St. Alexander, May 3.—This saint succeeded Evaristus as Pope in the year 109, and is named as a martyr in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory the Great.

St. Marcellinus, June 2.—St. Marcellinus was a priest of Rome, who, with St. Peter the Exorcist, suffered martyrdom in the persecution of Diocletian, A.D. 304.

St. Peter, June 2.—This saint, generally styled “Peter the Exorcist”—for he was not in full orders—suffered martyrdom under the Emperor Diocletian, together with St. Marcellinus, in A.D. 304.

St. Perpetua, March 7.—St. Perpetua suffered martyrdom at Carthage, in Africa, in the year 202, at the age of twenty-two. The instrument of her torture was a wild cow let loose upon her, by which she was tossed about and frightfully mangled in the amphitheatre. Her name and that of her companion, St. Felicitas, were added to the Canon of the Mass by Pope Gregory the Great.

St. Felicitas, March 7.—There is little to be said of this saint further than that she suffered martyrdom with St. Perpetua. She must not be confounded with the St. Felicitas who suffered under the Emperor Antoninus Pius.

St. Agatha, February 5.—She is said to have been a Sicilian by birth, and to have suffered martyrdom in the persecution of Decius, about the year 251.

St. Lucy, December 13.—St. Lucy was a native of Syracuse, in Sicily, and suffered martyrdom about the year 304. Her body is said to be preserved at Metz, where it is exposed for the veneration of the faithful on certain occasions of the year. In art she is generally represented with a palm-branch in one hand, and in the other a burning lamp expressive of her name, which comes, it is said, from the Latin lux, light.

St. Agnes, January 21.—There are two saints of this name in the calendar, but the one named here is the saint generally meant when St. Agnes is spoken of. She is said to have suffered martyrdom about the year 305. Her church on the Via Nomentana, at Rome, gives title to a cardinal, and furnishes the lambs annually from whose wool the palliums of archbishops are made. In ancient art she is represented in her miraculous snow-white garment, with an executioner by her side armed with a halberd. Her feast was once a holyday of obligation in England.

St. Cecilia, November 22.—According to the best accounts, this saint suffered martyrdom in the year 230. From the great love she manifested for singing the divine praises she is generally looked up to as the patroness of music, and is always represented in art with a lyre in her hand. So eminent a saint was she held to be in the early Church that a special preface was composed for her feast and inserted in the Sacramentary of Pope Gregory the Great. She is said to have always carried a copy of the Gospels with her—a pious custom very prevalent among the primitive Christians, and not entirely extinct yet.

St. Anastasia, December 25.—This saint is said to have met her death by being burnt at the stake by order of the prefect of Illyria in the year 304, during the persecution of Diocletian.


At each of the words “sanctify,” “vivify,” and “bless,” of this prayer, a cross is made over the Host and chalice together. The chalice is then uncovered, and the priest, taking the sacred Host between the thumb and index finger of the right hand, makes three crosses with it over the chalice as he says “through him,” “with him,” and “in him,” and two between the chalice and himself in a direct line at the expression “to thee, God the Father Almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory.” As he says “all honor and glory” he raises the chalice and Host a few inches from the altar. This is called the minor elevation, and here the Canon ends.

According to Pouget (Inst. Cathol., tom. ii. p. 869), when the ancient discipline of elevating the Host and chalice together at this place prevailed, they were raised high enough to be seen by the people. He is about the only author who ventures to assert this, but there is very good reason to think him right.

It was long customary in the early days to bless new fruits and products of various kinds at this part of the Mass, such as grapes, milk and honey, oil, wine, etc. This was done just before the “per quem hæc omnia,” and the commodities to be blessed were placed on the altar by the deacon.

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