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 Sub-Deacon remaining much further off from the Celebrant.
The Priest, on receiving the Paten and whilst 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. 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 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 Sub-Deacon 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 mirabililer condidisti. 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 we it was, who 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: Constituisti 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. viii.). 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. 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 site 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 no 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 exercise 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 odour 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 be come. 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 odour 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 this Sacrifice is truly that of the Cross. In the Latin 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. The 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 hoc sacrificium 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 (iii. 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 (saying this word, he makes the sign of the cross on all the things offered) hoc sacrificium in tuo 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.
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