Ebook - The Holy Mass Explained


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Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB - EBOOK - PDF

There has never been a book that so well elucidates how the active participation in the Holy Sacrifice, which is the duty of all the laity, can best be accomplished. This was written after The Liturgical Year and was the last book translated by Dom Laurence Shepard, Guéranger’s disciple, before his own death. This book is meant to be a companion volume to the The Liturgical Year, and it perfectly matches the set.


The well-known translator of The Liturgical Year has gone to his rest, but in a twofold sense we may say: his works follow him. This, his last and unfinished work, must therefore come to the readers of The Liturgical Year as a loving farewell from him, a memento of him and of his life-long labors in the cause of Holy Church.
To many, it will be of consoling interest to know that, up to the day of his death, as long as speech was his, Rev. Dom Laurence Shepherd was full of the great passion of his heart — to gain souls to the love of Holy Church. Several times, within even the last month of his painful illness, did he strive to master sinking nature, and once more guide his trembling pen, to tell the faithful something more of the Bride of Christ, the Church of God. Those last pages which came from his failing hand close with the word Lucia, in the explanation of the Nobis quoque peccatoribus, page 158. Before the month was out, his friends had poured forth the consoling prayer put on their lips by Mother Church, et lux perpetua luceat ei! Hope had kindled in every heart the reverential confidence that the Champion of Holy Church had received the “corona justitiae” — had passed to the patria lucis aeternae.

St. Mary’s Abbey, Stanbrook,
June 14, 1885.



The great bishop of Poitiers, Msgr. Pie, in his funeral oration on our father, Dom Guéranger, said: “You have long been feasting at a royal board, where you were daily regaled with the most delicate and varied food. Those Conferences on the Christian Life and Virtues, and that incomparable Commentary on your Rule, you have no right to keep them to yourselves.”

Notwithstanding so pressing an invitation on the part of so competent a judge, as was this devoted friend of our Father, we have long hesitated before yielding up the secret of our family treasure to public gaze. It seemed to us that such notes as these would only do for his own sons, eager of paternal instructions and never likely to carp at either the simplicity of the form or at the incorrectness of the language.

But so very many friends, assiduous readers of Dom Guéranger’s The Liturgical Year, by their repeated solicitations and earnest appeals, have succeeded at length in dissipating our first fears. They are fully aware that they cannot expect to find once more the eminent writer himself, as we have mere notes, jotted down at the time, almost on the sly, and, afterwards hastily put together in a form, the faultiness and inexactitude of which can never be imputed to anyone, save to the more or less faithful copyists. But there is one thing they are sure to find in these pages — the teacher and the father, who in intimacy with his friends or his monks, ever with lavish hand, distributed that sure and luminous doctrine which leads souls to God.
We here open our proposed publication, by a short commentary on the ceremonies of Holy Mass, incomplete though we certainly know it to be, in many points, and characterised, as were all our Father's conferences, by a total absence of all pretension to erudition: we have not, therefore, presumed to change or add anything. Yet mere notes, as these are, seem to us calculated to do good of no little importance.

In order to render them of more practical utility, we have given, in the Appendix, the Ordinary of the Mass, interspersed with the same paraphrase which has already appeared in The Liturgical Year of Dom Guéranger.

Thus will the faithful be provided in this small work, with an efficient means of uniting themselves with the priest in an enlightened manner, and be helped to derive more fruit from their assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


The Offertory

When the Symbol of faith has been chanted by the faithful, the priest kisses the altar and, turning towards the people, he says: Dominus vobiscum, to which the usual response is given: Et cum Spiritu tuo. Wherefore does the priest kiss the altar? Because being on the point of turning to the faithful, he wishes to salute them with the kiss of Christ, and Christ Himself is represented by the altar.

Next comes the reading of the Offertory: this is a modern custom, because formerly whatever was sung by the choir was never said at the altar. The distinctive functions of the different clerical orders are very clearly marked at this portion of the Mass: to the deacon it belongs to present the paten, with the host upon it, to the priest. The deacon cannot consecrate, but he may carry the Holy Eucharist. He may even touch and administer It; so we are not astonished to see what he is now doing, whereas we see the subdeacon remaining much further off from the celebrant.

The priest, on receiving the paten, and while offering the host, says the prayer: Suscipe, sancte Pater. This prayer dates from the eighth or ninth century.

In order the better to understand all these prayers which now follow, we must keep steadily before us the Sacrifice Itself, although it is not as yet offered in all its august reality. As a first instance, we have in this prayer, the host spoken of as being presented to the Eternal Father, although our host at this moment is not yet the divine Host Itself. And it is said that this host is without spot: immaculatam hostiam. In these words allusion is made to the victims of the Old Testament, which were obliged to be without blemish, because they were a type of our Lord, who was one day to appear before us as the Immaculatus.

In this prayer the thought of the priest runs far on from the present moment; he is thinking of the Host which will be on the altar after consecration, the Host which alone is the true Victim. And for whom does he offer it? Here we see the advantage of our being actually present and assisting at the Mass; for not only does the priest offer it for himself, but also, for those who are surrounding him: pro omnibus circumstantibus(for all Christians, living and dead). He continually keeps mentioning all those who are here present. But more than this; the action of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass extends so far that the priest speaks also of all the faithful, and takes care not to omit the dead. Of these last, he presently makes mention saying: pro omnibus fidelibus christianis vivis atque defunctis; for not only is the Sacrifice intended to give glory unto God, but it is meant likewise to procure good things for man.

The four prayers of the Offertory are not very ancient. It was formerly left to the option of the different churches to choose their own formula of prayer for this moment. The Canon alone has undergone no local changes; it has always been the very same everywhere. Since Pope St. Pius V issued his missal, which is the one now in use, nothing may be altered in any of the formulae accepted therein by him; but the variety of epoch from which the several prayers date, explains the vast difference observable in the Latin of their composition and in that of the Canon, which is far more beautiful.
The priest having finished the oblation prayer, makes the Sign of the Cross with the paten and places the host on the corporal. This form of the Cross expresses the identity existing between the Sacrifice of the Mass and that of Calvary. Next, the deacon puts wine into the chalice, and the subdeacon approaches to fulfil his office, which consists in putting the water into this same chalice; this act is the highest of all his functions.

The prayer which accompanies this ceremony is very ancient; it dates back as far as the first ages of the Church, and indeed it is easy to see that the Latin was a spoken language at the time it was composed. In it is strongly brought before us what is the importance, what the dignity, of the water here used in the Holy Sacrifice. Why is water put in the chalice? Because, according to tradition, our Lord Himself, when instituting the Holy Eucharist, mixed water with the wine, as the abstemious are wont to do, and the Church continues to observe this custom. She avails herself of this opportunity to speak to us in wonderful language, unfolding to us sublimest mysteries.

Thus says Mother Church: Deus, qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti (O God, You Who have wonderfully created the dignity of the human substance, and still more wonderfully re-created it). Why speak here of the dignity of man? Why recall here the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ? Because the wine and water here used are figures: the wine represents Jesus Christ as God, the water represents Him as man. The weakness of the water, compared with the strength of the wine, expresses the difference which exists between the humanity and the divinity of Jesus Christ. We must see ourselves, too, in this water, since it was our race, which by Mary, furnished our Lord with the humanity. Thus does Holy Church express herself on this subject in sentiments of admiration; thus does she love to put forward the true dignity of man.

Already had the royal prophet sung this, our dignity, in his psalm: Constituisi eum super opera manuum tuarum, omnia subjecisti sub pedibus ejus (Lord, Thou hast placed man over all the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet. Ps. 8). And if we recollect the manner of his creation by God, we are not surprised to hear Holy Church here saying that he was created in an admirable manner. When there is question of man, God speaks this word: “Let Us make man to Our Own Image and Likeness.” And as He said, so hath He done.

But if man has been thus created, he has been moreover, raised up in a still more admirable manner, after his fall, and Holy Church fails not to say so: mirabilius reformasti(more wonderfully re-made). Yes indeed, God has up-raised him in a manner far exceeding, in wonder, that of His creation, in espousing human nature by His Son, and so reforming fallen man.

Da nobis per hujus aquae et vini mysterium, ejus divinitatis esse consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps, Jesus Christus, Filius tuus, Dominus noster (make us, by the mystery of this water and of this wine, participators of the divinity of Him, who hath deigned to make Himself participator of our humanity, Jesus Christ Thy Son, our Lord). Holy Church here puts before us, first of all, in bold relief, the mystery of the Incarnation, by means of this thought of the water and the wine being mingled together in one potion. Thus does she recall the union of the humanity and the divinity of our Lord, and she asks of God that we too may participate in the divinity of the Lord Himself, just as St. Peter expresses it, in his second Epistle: ut per haec efficiamini divinae consortes naturae, that is to say, that by the promises which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, we may be made participators of the divine nature. This deification, begun on earth by sanctifying grace, will be completed in heaven in glory. In the terrestrial Paradise, the devil told Eve that if she and Adam would only follow his counsel, both of them should be as gods. Herein he lied; for then, as now, by the faithful fulfilment of the divine precepts alone can man ever attain unto God. In heaven, we shall be as gods, not that we shall become so by nature, but that in the beatific vision we shall see God even as He sees Himself, and our state will be that of creatures placed immediately below the divinity. Holy Church is bent on holding this truth before our mental gaze, and she does so in this prayer, while speaking to us of the Incarnation of the Word, the very principle of man’s true greatness.

In Masses of the dead, the priest does not bless the water, and here we are touching a second mystery. As we have said, the water represents the faithful, and the wine, our Lord Jesus Christ. The use of water and wine is then the figure of two mysteries at once: the mystery of the union of the human with the divine nature in our Lord; then, the union of Jesus Christ with His Church, which is composed of all the faithful. Now, the Church has no jurisdiction over the souls in Purgatory; she can no longer exercise over them the power of the keys. So long as her children are on earth, she makes use, in their regard, of the power given her, by our Lord, of binding and loosing; and thus does she lead each soul, either to the Church Triumphant — and then the Church on earth bows down in honour before that happy soul or, to the Church Suffering –– and then the Church on earth prays for that poor soul. But as to exercising any jurisdiction whatsoever over that soul, she can do so longer; intercession is all she now has to offer. This is what Holy Church expresses by omitting the blessing of the water in Masses of the dead; she thereby shows that she can excercise no authority over the souls in Purgatory.

Water is so indispensable for the holy sacrifice of the Mass, that if it should happen that none could be procured, it would be necessary to abstain from saying Mass, even were it Easter Day.

On the other hand, water may never be mingled in so large a proportion as to alter the wine itself; for in such case, Consecration would not take place.
The Carthusians who follow the liturgy of the eleventh century, and the Dominicans who follow that of the thirteenth, do not perform this ceremony in the Church; they do so in the sacristy, and sometimes at the altar, but always before commencing the Mass.

The water and wine being mingled in the chalice, the priest offers this chalice to God saying these words: Offerimus tibi, Domine, calicem salutaris, tuam deprecantes clementiam: ut in conspectu divinae majestatis tuae, pro nostra, et totius mundi salute cum odore suavitatis ascendat. Amen (We offer to Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation, invoking Thy clemency, that it may ascend as an odor of sweet fragrance, before Thy divine majesty, for our salvation and that of the whole world. Amen).

In this prayer, Holy Church is thinking, in advance, of That which this chalice is to become. As yet it holds only wine; but, later on, there will remain of this wine only the accidents, the species or appearances; the substance will give place to the very blood of our Lord Himself. Holy Church, therefore, prays God to vouchsafe to look beyond that which she is actually offering to Him at this moment, and she begs that this chalice may be in His sight as an odor of sweetness, that is to say, that it may be agreeable to His divine majesty, so as to operate the salvation of us all.

The prayer of the Offertory being ended, the priest places the chalice on the corporal, making the Sign of the Cross with the paten, first of all, on the spot whereon it is to stand, in order, thereby, to show, yet once again, that the sacrifice is truly that of the Cross. In the Church, the bread is placed on the altar in front of the priest, the chalice between the bread and the altar cross: thus, the two offerings are in a line, one in front of the other. Greeks, on the contrary, place them one beside the other, in a parallel line: the host to the left, the chalice to the right. The chalice once placed on the corporal is again covered with the pall. The pall is a linen cloth, stiffened so as to give it a certain degree of consistence, and which is placed on the chalice to prevent anything falling into it, specially after Consecration. Formerly, the pall was not used; the corporal being then large enough to be drawn up over the chalice. This custom is still observed by the Carthusians. Convenience and economy led to the adoption of the pall, but in order to show that it is really no other than a part of the corporal itself, the pall is treated with the very same degree of dignity. The blessing which it receives puts it in a rank apart from such common things as may be handled by anyone; and what shows further that it is one and the same with the corporal, is that the same form of blessing is used for both. At Rome, the pall is made of two pieces of linen sewn together and starched. In our countries it is more usual to put thin cardboard between the two pieces of linen.

Another prayer follows the offering of the chalice, which is recited by the priest at the middle of the altar, having his hands joined and his head somewhat inclined: In Spiritu humilitatis, et in animo contrito suscipiamur a te Domine: et sic fiat sacrificium nostrum in conspectu tuo hodie, ut placeat tibi, Domine Deus (In a spirit of humility and in contrite heart, we beg of Thee, O Lord, that we may be received by Thee, and that our sacrifice may be such, this day in Thy sight, that it may be acceptable to Thee, O Lord, our God). This is a general prayer placed here by Holy Church to complete the sacred rites. The words are those of the three children in the fiery furnace, as related in the Book of Daniel (3:39, 40).

Next follows a very important benediction; the Holy Ghost must needs be invoked that He may deign to come down and operate in the holy sacrifice. The priest does so in these words: Veni, sanctificator omnipotens, aeterne Deus; et benedic (when saying this word, he makes the Sign of the Cross on all the things offered) hoc sacrificium tuo sancto nomini praeparatum.

As it is the Holy Ghost Himself who operates the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, it is right that this divine Spirit should be mentioned in the course of the sacrifice. Holy Church here invokes Him by this prayer, in order that as He produced our Lord Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary, so He would deign to produce Him again here upon our altar. She expresses this her request in the form of craving a blessing. Bless, says she, this sacrifice, that is to say, make it fruitful, so that it may be pleasing to the divine Majesty.

Incensing of the Altar, etc.

We have already seen how the altar represents our Lord; this explains why it is treated with so much honor; the rest of the Church represents the members of the Mystical Body of which Christ is the Head, that is to say, the faithful of whose aggregate Holy Church, the Bride of Christ, is composed. On first going up to the altar, the priest has already incensed it in every direction, thus paying homage to Christ Himself. Now again, this ceremony is performed with sacred pageantry; just as the Eastern Kings laid their rich gifts at the feet of the Divine Infant, as the Gospel tells us, so too is the priest about to burn incense, in his turn, as a homage to his Master and his King.

But, another ceremony must precede that of the incensing of the altar itself. This bread and wine just offered by the priest have been raised above the order of common things by this very offering made of them, so much so indeed, that were the priest to die at this moment of the function, this bread and wine must be disposed of in the piscina. To show her reverence for them, Holy Church sheds on them the perfume of her incense, as if she were doing so to Christ Himself. This custom of using perfumes in Church ceremonies began in the East, where they can be procured in rich abundance. But in our cold countries, though it is much more difficult to get them, Holy Church will not allow our ceremonies to be utterly deprived of them, and so she prescribes the use at least of incense (just as for the chrism, she will at least have balsam mixed with the oil). After the incensing of the bread and wine, incensatio super oblata, the altar itself is honored in like manner. Before making use of the incense, it must be blessed; the priest does so by the following prayer: Per intercessionem beati Michaelis Archangeli stantis a dextris altaris incensi (through the intercession of Blessed Michael the Archangel standing at the right hand of the alter of incense . . .) The angel who holds the golden thurible in the Apocalypse is not named. Holy Church here names Saint Michael, prince of the heavenly hosts. Some have thought that there is an error in this passage, because in St. Luke, the Angel Gabriel is named standing at the right of the altar; but Holy Church pays no heed to these their objections as St. Luke does not say that Gabriel held a golden thurible. The first blessing of the incense was less solemn; the priest then only said: Ab illo benedicaris in cujus honore cremaberis (mayest thou be blessed by Him in honor of whom thou art to be burned). But in this place, the angels are called upon because the mystery of incense is no other than the prayer of the saints presented to God, by the angels, as St. John tells us, in his Apocalypse (8:4): The smoke of the incense ascends as does the prayer of the saints before the throne of God: Et ascendit fumus incensorum de orationibus sanctorum de manu angeli coram Deo.

The priest incenses the bread and wine in such a way that its odor may perfume and wholly cloud in fragrance the things offered; while so doing, he says these words: Incensum istud a te benedictum, ascendat ad te, Domine: et descendat super nos misericordia tua (May this incense, blessed by Thee, ascend to Thee, O Lord, and may Thy mercy descend upon us). This prayer, while being a homage paid to God, is a wish expressed for ourselves also. The priest divides these words, at intervals, while incensing the several parts to be thus honored, in performing which ceremony, he follows what the rubrics prescribe. When he first incensed the altar, the priest said no prayer; but now, when thus honoring it a second time, Holy Church bids him repeat a portion of Psalm 140, which she selects, chiefly on account of these words which occur therein, and which are the first she puts on the lips of the priest: Dirigatur, Domine, oratio mea, sicut incensum in conspectu tuo (May my prayer, O Lord, ascend as incense in Thy sight). It is thus she always does, ever selecting with wonderful appropriateness whatsoever suits the circumstance, whether in psalms, or in Gospels and Epistles. The priest begins by incensing the cross, or the most holy sacrament if exposed; he then bows before the cross, or genuflects, if the most holy sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle of that altar; then, if there be relics there exposed, he incenses them with two throws of the thurible, first on the Gospel side, then on the Epistle side; after which he incenses every part of the altar. In all other respects, this incensing differs in no way from the first, nor from that which is performed at Lauds and Vespers.

On returning the thurible to the deacon, the priest gives expression to a good wish in his regard as well as in his own, saying: Accendat in nobis Dominus ignem sui amoris et flammam aeternae caritatis (May the Lord enkindle in us the fire of His love and the flame of everlasting charity). On taking the thurible, the deacon kisses the priest’s hand, and then the top of the chains; he does the contrary, on presenting it. These customs have come to us from the East and, inasmuch as they are marks of reverence and respect, it is to the liturgy we owe the preservation of them. The deacon then honors the priest with incense, who receives it standing sideways to the altar; but if the Most Holy Sacrament be exposed, as, for instance, at the Mass of Reposition, the priest comes down from the altar, and with his face turned to the people, he receives the said honors from the deacon, who likewise suits his position to the occasion. Then follows the incensing of the choir, beginning with the bishop, if present; next the prelates, if there, then the priests and clerics; and, finally, all the faithful, to show that all form but one body, of which Jesus Christ is the Head. All, whether bishops, prelates, or simple faithful, should rise on receiving the incense; the pope alone remains seated for its reception.

Dom Guéranger

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