Catholic Teaching


In a previous issue of The Defender we discussed the history of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from the time of the first Mass at the Last Supper until the early Middle Ages. During this period various changes and additions to the Mass were instituted, but the five essentials remained; they have never been changed! First, the Word of God was read and discussed. The gifts were presented to the priest. The gifts were offered to God. The gifts were consecrated, changing them into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Jesus, the sacrificed victim, was consumed by the faithful.

During the thirteenth century Communion was not received as frequently as it is today. One reason is that there was a new regulation calling for Confession prior to reception of communion. Another reason was the call for a period of continence between spouses in marriage for a specified time prior to receiving Communion. During this period the people thirsted to see the Blessed Sacrament as compensation for not being able to receive Communion. Many people, superstitiously, even thought that if they didn't see the Host, they had not attended Mass!

Bishop Eudes of Sully, in 1208 wrote: "When the priest takes the host into his hands as he begins the Qui pridie (Who, the day before He suffered, ...), he is not to immediately elevate it very high so the congregation can see it. Rather, he is to hold it in front of his breast until he has said the words: "this is My Body," and only then raise it higher so all can see It." He promulgated this instruction to both satisfy the peoples' desire to see the Sacred Host, but more importantly, to refute the error being taught by Peter the Cantor and Peter Comestor, doctors of the University of Paris, that the transubstantiation of the gifts did not take place until the elevation of the chalice. When he instructed the priests to hold the Host high after the consecration it is interesting to note that he carefully used the word hostia, meaning 'victim', instead of the more commonly used word, oblatio, meaning 'offering'. This has a deep theological source, for it is dogmatic teaching of our Church that Jesus is a victim at every Mass celebrated throughout the world. He sacrificed Himself on the cross for us, and this sacrifice is re-presented to us at every Mass. The elevation of the Sacred Host in this manner spread rapidly through all parts of the West. Sometimes people just came to Mass to witness the elevations. In England, during this period, at the time of the elevations, a bell, called the Sanctus bell, was rung to inform those in the neighborhood of the consecration; or else a server opened a window near the altar and rang a hand-held bell.

Toward the end of the thirteenth century the Church gradually abandoned the practice of giving the Blood of Christ to the people. St. Thomas Acquinas observed in 1274 that the practice was prudently discontinued in most Churches.

Pope Paul III convened the Council of Trent, in 1545, to defend the Church against the heresies taught by Martin Luther, during the Protestant reformation.

Pope Pius IV succeeded Paul III during the council, and stressed many points of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Notable among these is chapter 5, in which we read: "And since such is the nature of man that he cannot easily, without external means, be raised to meditation on divine things, and on that account holy mother Church has instituted certain rites, namely, that certain things be pronounced in a subdued tone in the Mass, and others in a louder tone; she has likewise made use of ceremonies such as mystical blessings, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind in accordance with apostolic teaching and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be commended, and the minds of the faithful excited by these visible signs of religion and piety to the contemplation of the most sublime matters which lie hidden in this sacrifice." He obviously placed a high value on the 'externals' of the Mass. (Reference Candles and Bells, Angels and Smells from a previous issue of The Defender.)

Pope St. Pius V codified and promulgated what is known today as the Tridentine Mass. When he published it, he also stated that any rite which had been in use for two hundred years or more could licitly continue to be celebrated. Some of these rites are still in use today such as the Ambrosian Rite in Milan, Italy, and the Mozarabic Rite of Toledo, Spain.

Originally the priest bowed after each consecration; genuflection scarcely appeared before the fifteenth century. However, Pope St. Pius V made this genuflection obligatory, which still remains in force today, in all Eucharistic liturgies of the Latin Rite, with no exceptions, except for physical inability to genuflect!

The prayers in the Tridentine Mass were originally recited only by the priest and altar servers. Gradual changes over the years, especially during the reign of Pope Pius XII, included certain responses to be made by the people as well. In a sung Mass they could join the choir in the singing of the Kyrie (Lord have mercy), Gloria (Glory to God...), Credo (Creed), Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy), and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God...), as well as saying aloud the "Lord I am not worthy... (Domine, non sum dignus...)." The people would also respond "and with your spirit (Et cum spiritu tuo)" to the "The Lord be with you (Dominus vobiscum)" by the priest. They were instructed to recite the other prayers in silence, with the priest.

The priest and servers, at the foot of the altar, bless themselves, and say: "I will go to the altar of God, To God, Who giveth joy to my youth." The priest and the servers then alternately recite the verses of the 42 Psalm. This is followed by the Confiteor, recited by the priest, and then by the servers. At the end of the servers' recitation, the priest says: "May almighty God have mercy on you and, having forgiven you your sins, bring you to life everlasting." The priest signs himself, saying: "May the almighty and merciful Lord grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins." At this time the people bless themselves, for they had just received absolution from their venial sins.

The priest then goes up to the altar and kisses it, asking the Lord, by the merits of the saints whose relics are in the altar stone, to forgive him his sins.

The Kyrie Eleison is said alternately with the servers, and this is followed by the Gloria in excelsis, and the prayer appointed for the day.

The Epistle and tract or sequence for the season is followed by a reading of the Gospel for the Mass he is celebrating.

After the sermon, the Creed is recited and the priest says the Offertory for the Mass being celebrated.

Following the Offertory prayer, the priest offers the host to God, saying: "Receive, O Holy Father, almighty and eternal God, this spotless host, which I, Thine unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, my living and true God, for my countless sins, trespasses, and omissions; likewise for all here present, and for all faithful Christians, whether living or dead, that it may avail both me and them to salvation, unto life everlasting. Amen."

He then goes to the Epistle side of the altar and pours wine and water into the chalice, saying: "O God, Who in creating man didst exalt his nature very wonderfully and yet more wonderfully didst establish it anew; by the mystery signified in the mingling of this water and wine, grant us to have part in the Godhead of Him Who hath vouchsafed to share our manhood, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost; world without end. Amen."

He then offers the chalice, saying: "We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation, beseeching Thy clemency, that it may ascend as a sweet odor before Thy divine majesty, for our own salvation, and for that of the whole world. Amen."

At the Epiclesis, where he holds his hands above the offering, the priest says: "Come Thou, the Sanctifier, God, almighty and everlasting; bless this sacrifice which is prepared for the glory of Thy holy name."

He then returns to the Epistle side of the altar and washes his fingers, saying: "I will wash my hands among the innocent, and will compass Thine altar O Lord. That I may hear the voice of praise, and tell of all Thy wondrous works. I have loved O Lord, the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth... ."

After the prayer asking that our sacrifice be pleasing to God (Oratre fratres), the priest says the Secret prayer, and then he recites the Preface for the Mass, which is followed by the Sanctus, and the Canon of the Mass. During the Canon the transubstantiation takes place, at which time the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This is an awesome event, and when devoutly done, frequently brings tears of joy to our eyes, for our Blessed Savior, Jesus Christ, is being held aloft for us to adore. There is only one greater gift in the world; when we receive Him in Communion, and He enters our unworthy bodys.

Following the Consecration in the Canon, we remember the living and the dead, and ask God to admit us to the company of His saints, not by weighing our merits, but by forgiving our sins. We end the Canon with the 'Great Amen'.

After the Pater noster, the priest drops a particle of the Sacred Host into the chalice, saying: "May this commingling and consecrating of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ avail us who receive it unto life everlasting. Amen."

The priest genuflects, rises and says: "I will take the bread of Heaven and will call upon the name of the Lord." He strikes his breast three times and says: "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed. (Domine, non sum dignus...)." The bell is rung three times. He then makes the sign of the cross with the Sacred Host and receives Holy Communion. After a brief meditation he takes the chalice, makes the sign of the cross with it, and receives the blood of Christ from it. He then holds a Host above the ciborium, and facing the people, says: "Behold the Lamb of God... ( ecce Agnus Dei etc)." The response is: "Lord, I am not worthy..., (three times)."

Holy Communion is then distributed to those who desire and are worthy to receive. The priest says: "May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep you unto life everlasting. Amen."

After the faithful receive communion, the priest then goes to the Epistle side, where the server pours water over his fingers. As this is being done, the priest says: "May Thy Body which I have received, and Thy Blood which I have drunk cleave to mine inmost parts; and do Thou grant that no stain of sin remain in me, whom pure and holy mysteries have refreshed. Who liveth and reigneth... ."

The priest recites the Communion verse, and the Post-Communion prayer at the Epistle side, returns to the middle, kisses the altar, turns, and blesses the people, dismissing them.

After the Ite missa est, (go, the Mass is finished) the priest, from the Gospel side, reads the beginning of the holy Gospel according to John: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God... ." Our response is: "Thanks be to God."

Following a low Mass we recite the Hail Mary three times, the Hail Holy Queen, the prayer to St. Michael, and the invocation by the priest: "Most Sacred Heart of Jesus," to which the people respond: "Have mercy on us (three times)."

The Sacrifice of the Eucharist is the central act of worship of the Catholic Church. The word Mass is a late form of missio, (sending), from which the faithful are sent to put into practice what they have learned and use the graces they have received.

As defined by the Council of Trent, in the Mass, "The same Christ who offered Himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, is present and offered in an unbloody manner."

Fred Pascall



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