1. The holy sacrifice of the Mass is only offered to God; it may be offered to Him with a fourfold intention; by way of atonement, of petition, of praise, or of thanksgiving.
When we offer sacrifice, we acknowledge that He to Whom we offer it is the Author of all being, the sovereign Lord of all things, and that we consequently owe Him homage. The sacrificial act is therefore an act of adoration, which can be offered to no created being, be he saint or angel. No one has ever offered sacrifice except to the true God, or to one whom he erroneously supposed to be the true God. Under the Old Dispensation there were various sacrifices: Sin-offerings, burnt-offerings, sacrifices of praise, etc.; we have but one sacrifice, which answers all these ends. To make atonement is pre-eminently the object of the sacrifice of the Mass; this is the chief intention for which it is celebrated. The sacrifice of the Mass has also an immense potency if we would ask for anything; no gift or favor is too great to be obtained by means of it. For what we implore is something finite, something created, whereas what we offer is something divine, something infinite. It cannot be imagined that God, Who is so generous that He richly rewards a cup of cold water given in His name, will not reward us when we offer Him the chalice containing the blood of His divine Son. St. Bonaventure says: “If a commander is taken prisoner, he is not liberated until a large sum has been paid for his ransom;” now in holy Mass we can say: “Be hold, O eternal Father, Thy only-begotten Son, Whom all the earth cannot contain, is now a prisoner in our hands: we will not release Him until that which we earnestly implore of Thee has been granted to us for His sake.” The holy sacrifice of the Mass is also a sacrifice of praise. That alone can be praised which is praiseworthy; the more good there is in a man, the more praise can be given to him. God is the supreme and infinite Good; all the creatures He has made cannot praise Him enough. “Glorify the Lord, exalt Him as much as you can, for He is above all praise” (Ecclus. xliii. 32). Yet there is one means whereby we can worthily praise God, and that is by the sacrifice of the Mass. Upon the altar Christ praises the Godhead as He ought to be praised, as neither angel nor saint, much less mortal man. is able to praise Him. One single Mass gives more glory to God than all the angels and saints in heaven are capable of rendering Him: the glory given Him is as much greater as God is more exalted than His creatures (Cochem). In no way can God be more honored than by the spotless Victim upon the altar; Christ instituted the Mass for this end, to enable the Church to give glory to God. An other intention for which Mass may be celebrated is to give God thanks. “If any one has done thee a kindness,” says Cochem, “thou art bound to make him a fitting return, unless thou wouldst appear ungrateful.” Now consider what countless benefits we have received from God; think how admirably He has made the earth, fashioned man; how He provides continually for our sustenance. Think, above all, of the work or redemption, the institution of the sacraments, and of the many graces He has conferred on us. Will we not say with Tobias: “What wages shall we give Him, or what can be worthy of His benefits?” (Tob. xii. 2.) See, you have the sacrifice of the Mass; therefore it is in your power to make a worthy return for the divine benefits. For as Our Lord gave thanks to God at the Last Supper, so He now gives thanks in the Mass; and the thanksgiving offered by God is infinite, surpassing in value that of all angels and all mankind. If the whole company of heaven and all good men on earth were to unite with you in one unceasing act of thanksgiving, you would not give God as much thanks as is rendered to Him in one Mass by His divine Son. How great is the love of God towards us! Not only does He lavish innumerable benefits upon us. but at the same time He places within our reach an excellent means of repaying worthily the great blessings we have received.
2. The holy sacrifice of the Mass may also be offered in honor of the angels or saints.
When we offer holy Mass in honor of the saints, it is the same as when a play is acted in honor of a prince. Although no allusion may be made in it to the prince, yet he accepts it graciously. Even so the blessed take special delight in the Mass when it is celebrated in their honor, although the Passion of Christ alone is re-enacted in it, and it is offered solely to God (Cochem). When offered in honor of the saints, the Mass is essentially a sacrifice of thanksgiving and of petition; for we give thanks to God for the graces bestowed on the saints, and beseech Him to grant us grace through their intercession. When Mass is celebrated with this intention, the accidental glory of the saints is increased, but not the degree of happiness they enjoy. St. Gertrude often had Mass said in honor of the saints, and they generally appeared to her to thank her. During the Mass she was permitted to see them shining in greater glory, arrayed in garments more resplendent. The renewed presence of her Son upon earth also gives the Mother of God a thousand times more joy than all the psalms, litanies, prayers, you could recite in her honor; and doubt less she will show you special favor if you hear or celebrate Mass in her honor.
3. The holy sacrifice of the Mass can also be offered for the souls of the departed, who have been members of the Catholic Church, and have not died in a state of mortal sin.
The Council of Trent expressly declares that the sacrifice of the Mass may be offered for the dead (C. -22, 2). It is unquestionably true that the departed may be assisted by holy Mass; that God is thereby induced to deal with them more leniently than their sins deserve (St. Augustine). From the earliest ages of Christianity it was customary to offer the holy sacrifice for the faithful departed, and give them a memento in every Mass, as is done now after the consecration. Tertullian states that this was the practice of the apostles themselves. We know that Monica begged St. Augustine to remember her at the altar of God after her departure. “She was not concerned,” says St. Augustine, “about the embalming or preparing of her body for burial; she was not solicitous about her sepulchre or the monument to be raised to her memory; her only anxiety was that intercession should be made for her at the altar.” What a contrast to Christians in the present day! Holy Mass may not be publicly celebrated for non-Catholics, such as Jews and Protestants, after their death. “We cannot,” says Pope Innocent III., “hold communion after their death with those with whom we held no communion during their life.” To offer the holy sacrifice for such persons by name, as we do for Catholics, would be out of harmony with Catholic teaching. It is, however, permitted to offer up holy Mass privately even for non-Catholics, and it will avail them if they were free from mortal sin at the time of their death.
4. The holy sacrifice of the Mass can, however, be offered for the living, whether Catholics or non-Catholics.
Holy Mass may be said for the living; we know that it is well to pray for our brethren when we are present at the holy sacrifice, and in every Mass a memento is made for the living. Father Cochem tells us that prayer for others is far more efficacious if offered during Mass, and we can even obtain the conversion of sinners by saying Mass, or having Mass said for them. No better assistance than this can be given to the sick and dying. We may also offer the holy sacrifice for unbelievers during their lifetime, because Christ died for all men, and the Church intercedes for infidels, e.g., on Good Friday. The greater the number of persons for whom a Mass is said, the less profit does each individual derive from it. For this reason priests are strictly forbidden to accept more than one gratuity for one Mass. From time immemorial Mass has been offered for individuals, for it could not be supposed that a Mass which is said for hundreds or thousands of people could profit each one as much as if it were said for him alone.
5. Not the priest alone, but all the faithful who are present at Mass, may offer the holy sacrifice for a special intention.
The people who are present when Mass is celebrated offer it with the officiating priest. The priest offers the sacrifice in his own person, the people offer it by his hands. Hence St. Peter speaks of Christians as a kingly priesthood (1 Pet. ii. 9), and the Jews of old were called a priestly kingdom (Exod. xix. 6). In the prayers of the Mass the priest includes the people with himself as those who offer the oblation (Orate Fratres); in fact the priest must of necessity have some one to offer it with him, for on no account is it permitted to say Mass without a server, who represents the people. And as those who assist at Mass are fellow-sacrificers with the priest, it follows that their prayers have the same power as his. The faithful ought therefore, whenever they hear Mass, to offer it for some definite intention. This may be done either at the commencement of the Mass, or at the offertory, or immediately after the consecration. Take heed, O Christian, that in the Mass you frequently offer up the divine Victim to His heavenly Father; the more often you do this, the more abundantly will you be enriched. Those who neglect thus to offer the holy Mass in word or in thought, lose much that they might gain. The due blessing of Mass does not consist in merely being present at it, but in uniting one’s self in spirit to the priest who offers it.
This article, 7. THE CELEBRATION OF HOLY MASS is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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