Catholic Teaching

HISTORY OF THE HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS

We refer to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a 'mystery'. The word 'mystery' in theological or liturgical usage means a divinely revealed truth which cannot be completely understood by human, finite minds. The word comes from the Greek word mysterion, meaning something closed or secret.

The priest acts in persona Christi, (in the person of Christ), when he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. How this is done is a mystery. The Mass is a complete re-presentation of the sacrifice on Calvary, but in an unbloody manner, again and again, all over the world; this is a mystery. Under the accidental appearance of bread and wine, the Body of Jesus is given to us in its entirety; this is a mystery.

There are five essentials present in all forms of the Mass recorded from earliest times; the Word of God is read, the gifts are presented, they are blessed and offered to God, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and Christ is given to the faithful; His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the accidental appearance of bread and wine. It is His flesh and blood, not bread and wine!

Permit me to digress here for a moment. In recent years many 'conservative' (whom I consider, possibly, more dangerous to the faith than 'liberal') Catholics have denied the validity of the Novas ordo missae, incorrectly called, 'the new Mass'. This is a very dangerous denial, indeed, for it questions the guidance of the Holy Spirit given to the Magisterium. Denial of the Holy Spirit is a sin which cannot be forgiven, for forgiveness of sins depends on belief in the Holy Spirit! Jesus was very clear when He stated: "...every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come." (Matt, 12:31-32)

Keep the above words of Jesus in the forefront of your consciousness before you ever deny any authoritative teaching of our Holy Mother Church, for when you deny the validity of any definitive Papal pronouncement on faith and morals, directed to the whole Church, you are denying the Holy Spirit! This is dogmatic teaching, not to be denied by the faithful, under any circumstances, if they desire to remain in the Catholic Church! Don't let any so-called theologian tell you otherwise!

Our first recorded Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is in the Gospels. In Matt, 26:26, Jesus is celebrating the Passover in the upper room with his disciples. Jesus and His disciples were Jews, and there were certain requirements to be fulfilled in order to properly celebrate the pasch; the Passover feast. In accord with the customs of the time, the pasch was celebrated in the evening hours, after sunset.

In this first record of the Sacrifice of the Mass we are told that the Word of God was read and studied, wine and unleavened bread were brought to the table and presented, and the gifts were blessed and offered to God. At this point Jesus deviated from the prescribed formula for the rites, and, after the blessing, broke the bread and said: "Take this and eat, this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them. "All of you must drink from it", He said, "for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." They then sang songs of praise and walked to the Mount of Olives.

Note: Some conservative readers will complain that the words of the Consecration in the Novas ordo missae, (today's' Mass) are slightly different, and therefor not licit. This is an incorrect position to take, and will be addressed in a future issue of The Defender.

The next record of the Mass was written by St. Justin, a martyr in the second century. At this time the Mass was celebrated in the morning hours, and the fasting from food and liquids was instituted. St. Justin recorded the sacrifice of the Mass in the middle of the second century. A few years before he died he wrote to the Emperor Antonius Pius: "On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.

When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.

Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain salvation. When the prayers are completed, we exchange the kiss.

Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He then takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.

When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying 'Amen'.

When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the 'eucharisted' bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent."

We see in the letter of St. Justin one of the earliest records of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, following very closely, the account contained in the Gospel of Matthew. After the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost upon the Apostles, they went out to spread the Word of God to all corners of the Earth. It is safe to assume that the Mass described by St. Justin and St. Matthew is the same Mass taught to the evangelized faithful by all of the other Apostles and their disciples.

The Apostles and disciples who went out into the world to gather and harvest the faithful for Jesus, probably followed the basic essentials for the Mass listed above, but also it is more than likely that they would perhaps add to it, or embellish it in some way, according to their own inclinations. However, I can't recall reading of any deviations which would have rendered the Mass illicit, or not valid; they kept the essentials. It is only natural that when a person performs a task again and again, eventually he will develop a pattern, and continue to follow the pattern. This was true in the early Church.

In the fourth century, with the crowning of Constantine as Emperor, the Church was permitted to come out into open. There was a great evangelization and a new age was begun for the young Church. Many beautiful churches were erected and the rites began to be more organized and to be finally put into 'writing'.

The first written parts of the Mass were known as a diptych, a Greek word meaning twice folded. It was a tablet with the names of the living to be prayed for on one side and the names of the dead to be remembered on the other side. The deacon would read these names. The Word of God was read and continued until the bishop would give a sign to stop. After a while the readings began to be organized and to be of a certain length. St. Jerome (324-420) is credited with writing the first list of readings to be used during the liturgical year.

Near the end of the fourth century St. Ambrose compiled a collection of instructions for the newly baptized known as De Sacramentis, which contained the core of the original Roman Canon. It is interesting to note at this time the words of the first canon, known as the Roman Canon, are almost the same today, as they were in the fourth century. By the end of the fourth century the prayer from the quam oblationem, (the prayer before the Consecration), including the sacrificial prayer after the Consecration, of the Roman Canon was in use, as it is today.

During this period of development, different sacramentaries were used, known as the Leonine, Gelasian, and Gregorian, attributed to Pope St. Leo, Pope Gelasius and Pope St. Gregory (the Great), respectively. At this time in history there were also small booklets written, known as Libelli Missarum. They contained formularies for some parts of the Mass unique in certain dioceses but not the Canon. The Canon was fixed, as it is now. The added canons of the Mass today still contain the same words of consecration.

We have now arrived at the early Middle Ages and from this time, until the sixteenth century there were very few changes made in the order of the Mass. It had become a sacred and inviolable inheritance. Pope St. Gregory, although he made some changes, did not alter any of the essentials of the Mass; they remained as they did in the first recorded Mass. After Pope St. Gregory no notable changes or additions took place. Benedict XIV (1740-1758) said: "No Pope has added to or changed the Canon since St. Gregory."

However, some of the rites did continue to develop after the reign of St. Gregory. As an example, we have the prayers at the foot of the altar, which were contained in the first printed edition of the Roman Missal in 1474. The Gloria was slowly introduced, and mainly at bishops' Masses on feast days. The Creed came to Rome in the eleventh century. The Offertory prayers and the washing of hands, the lavabo, were introduced from Gaul or Germany probably around the end of the thirteenth century.

During the reformation, the Protestants abolished many prayers of the Mass, because they could not accept what they taught. The confiteor was particularly unacceptable, because it called on the intercession of Our Lady and the Saints. The Offertory prayers and the prayer after Communion were totally incompatible with Protestant theology, so they were removed. They could not be accepted by Protestant theologians because of the principle; lex orandi, lex credendi, ("the law of prayer is the law of belief") and they could not accept the dogmatic teaching resulting in the use of these prayers because the liturgy of a Church is a sure guide to her teaching.

The dogmatic teachings of our Holy Mother Church have never changed (and this cannot be questioned by Catholics) therefor, using the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi, we must agree that the essentials found in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in any given era of our history have never changed. There is no 'new Mass'!

Fred Pascall

 

 

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