1. In the course of time many ceremonies of deep significance grouped themselves around the holy sacrifice of the Mass, which were not to be omitted without absolute necessity.
As early as the third century, certain prayers and ceremonies were added to the essential part of the sacrifice of the Mass. The service began with psalms sung by the people (at the present time the priest says the psalm Judica me at the foot of the altar); this was followed by the petition for mercy (the priest now recites the Confiteor at the foot of the altar, and the Kyrie Eleison standing in front of the altar). Then came the thanksgiving for the pardon of sin (now the Gloria is said immediately after the Kyrie). The officiating bishop next turned to the people and pronounced the salutation: Dominus vobiscum, “the Lord be with you,” and then with extended arms offered a prayer in the name of the people (the collect). After this one of the acolytes read a portion of one of the epistles, then a portion taken from one of the gospels, as is done in the present day, the congregation standing meanwhile, and the bishop gave a short explanation of the gospel of the day. When this was ended, one of the ministers, generally the deacon, called upon the catechumens (i.e., the Jews or heathen who were under instruction for Baptism) to leave the church; if he did not feel sure about any one who remained, he required the watchword of him, that is, he made him repeat the confession of faith, that was known only to the Christians. This division of the Mass, up to the Creed, was the preparatory part, and used to be called the Mass of the catechumens. At this point the actual sacrifice of the Mass began. The faithful presented offerings of bread and wine, from which the deacons took what was required for the Mass; this the bishop then offered to God and blessed (the offertory). He then washed the fingers with which he had touched the bread, and one of the acolytes called upon the people to pray for the catechumens who had just departed, for the clergy and the Church in general, for friends and for foes. (The Orate Fratres is now said by the priest.) Then followed a prayer of thanksgiving, in imitation of Our Lord, Who gave thanks before consecrating the elements (the preface of the present day, which ends with the Sanctus, an ascription of praise to the Holy Trinity), and all present prayed, as had been enjoined upon them, for the Pope, the bishop, the emperor, invoking the intercession of the Mother of God, of the apostles and holy martyrs. Then came the consecration, the ceremonial for which was the same as it is now; the people prostrating themselves in lowly adoration at the elevation of the Host and of the chalice. The prayer for the dead came next, some of the martyrs being commemorated; the Pater Nosier was said aloud, and the Agnus Dei three times: “O Lamb of God, Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.” Upon this the communion followed, the bishop received the body and blood of Christ, and gave communion to the faithful; they crossed their hands, the sacred Host being placed on the palm of the left hand. During the communion appropriate psalms were sung (the priest now recites some verses from the psalms at the right hand side of the altar, which are called the post-communion). The Hosts that remained over were placed in a chest, or a vessel in the shape of a dove beside the altar. After a concluding prayer, the bishop saluted the people with the words, Dominus vobiscum, and dismissed them, saying: Ite, missa est: “Depart, the Mass is ended.” The blessing being given, the commencement of St. John’s Gospel was generally read, in which occur the words: “The Word was made flesh,” and: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” the former being an allusion to the presence of Our Lord in the holy sacrifice, the latter having reference to the sin of those who, without good reason, absent themselves from Mass. In the course of the Mass, which, if a low Mass, lasts from twenty-five to thirty minutes, the celebrant has to observe no less than five hundred ceremonies, such as bowing down, smiting his breast, making the sign of the cross, etc. All this ceremonial is intended to impress the faithful more deeply with the majesty of so great a sacrifice; also to incite them to the contemplation of those most sublime things that are hidden in the Mass (Council of Trent, 22, 5). Each of the ceremonies has its own special meaning.
2. The whole story of the Redemption is symbolically represented by the ceremonies of the Mass.
The opening prayers, said by the priest at the foot of the altar, and at a little distance from it, are emblematic of the 4000 years during which man was comparatively far from God, and looking for the redemption. The Kyrie, repeated nine times, and the Gloria, signify the book of Christ, and the song of praise sung by the nine choirs of angels at Bethlehem; the Orationes, the youth of Our Lord, which was passed in prayer and seclusion from the world. The Epistle, the carrying across of the missal, the Gospel and the Creed, are to remind us that the Gospel was first preached to the Jews, and being rejected by them, was proclaimed to the Gentiles, many of whom believed and were baptized. The offertory represents Our Lord’s preparation for His Passion and His willingness to surrender His life. The preface, which ends with the words: “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest,” represents Christ’s entry into Jerusalem; the prayer for the living, His prayer for the Church before the Last Supper. The five crosses which the priest makes over the oblation are symbolical of the five times that Our Lord was mocked, before Annas, Caiphas, Herod, Pilate, and once again before Herod. The elevation of the bread arid wine, of His lifting up on the cross; the five crosses made from time to time over the elements, of the five sacred wounds. The seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer represent the seven wounds upon the cross; the breaking of the Host, the death of Christ, when His soul and body were parted. When the priest says the Agnus Dei and strikes his breast, it recalls the action of the soldiers and others present upon Calvary, who, amazed at the stupendous convulsions of nature, struck their breasts, while the centurion exclaimed: “Indeed this man was the Son of God!” (Luke xxiii. 48; Mark xv. 39.) The communion represents the burial of Christ; the Dominus vobiscum, twice repeated, His salutation of the apostles on His twofold appearance to them after His resurrection; the words of dismissal, Ite, missa est, His ascension, when He sent His apostles forth to evangelize the world, and blessed them for the last time; and the Last Gospel, the propagation of the Gospel after the descent of the Holy Ghost. Thus the Mass is seen to be a brief compendium of Our Lord’s life; in one half hour all is depicted which He did during thirty-three years upon earth (Cochem).
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5. THE RELATION WHICH THE MASS BEARS TO THE SACRIFICE OF THE CROSS
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