In the last two chapters some practically useful reflections on the Communion were offered. The attention was to a considerable extent, diverted from strict reflections on the prayers and ceremonies of the Mass. It is, however, hoped that the profit which may be derived from these doctrinal considerations will be more than sufficient to compensate for the interruption.
The priest, after having received the most precious blood and given holy Communion to the faithful (when there are any communicants), taking the first ablution, says: "Grant, O Lord, that what we have taken with our mouths we may receive with a pure mind that of a temporal gift it may become to us an eternal remedy." The ablution here spoken of consists of a little wine put into the chalice in order to purify it so that none of the sacred blood may remain therein. He prays during the ablution, and his prayer refers to the holy Communion. He cannot lose sight of that most august and consoling action. Then raising the chalice to his lips, he consumes the wine with which he purified it. Immediately afterward you will notice him taking the sacred cup with both hands and bowing reverently to the Cross upon the tabernacle. After these ceremonies he goes to the Epistle side of the altar, and has wine and water poured upon the fingers which touched the adorable Host. Whilst purifying his fingers he says another prayer, which clearly shows that his whole mind is still filled with the thought of the adorable Sacrament. "May Thy holy body, O Lord, which I have received, and Thy blood which I have drank, cleave to my bowels, and grant that no stain of sin may remain in me who have been fed with this pure and holy Sacrament." The term bowels is borrowed from the Sacred Scriptures, and signifies inmost soul (Ps. 1. 12; Jeremias xxxi. 33). At the end of this prayer he repairs to the middle of the altar and consumes the second ablution as he did the first. Then, having wiped and dried the chalice, he arranges it as it was before the Offertory. The ceremonies of the ablutions are well calculated to show how minutely exact the Church requires her minister to be in all things pertaining to the respect and reverence due to the most holy Eucharistic Sacrament.
After the purification of the chalice and of his fingers, the priest goes to the Missal, or Massbook, on the Epistle side, and reads the prayer, termed in the language of the Church the "Communion." This short prayer, which now consists of a verse or two from the Psalms or other parts of the Sacred Scriptures, was formerly an entire psalm sung by the choir during the Communion of the faithful. Hence its present name.
As you perceive, the Church, in the earlier ages of Christianity, even as she now does, availed herself of the powerful aid of music to elevate the hearts of her children to God. At one time, it was the alleluia or hozanna of exultation, awakening sentiments of joy and gladness; at another; it was the plaintive lamentation of a Jeremias, or the penitential strains of the contrite Royal Prophet, filling the hearts of her people with salutary sadness and suffusing the eye with the tears that tell of sorrow and of love. In fine, at other times, it was the funereal chant in which "you imagine that you hear the hollow murmurs of the grave." If a psalm was sung whilst the faithful were receiving the body and blood of Jesus, it was to inspire faith and hope and charity; it was to aid those assisting at the altar, in their efforts to adore with all the fervor of the adoring spirits that environ the throne of the Lamb.
The next prayer is called the Post-Communion. Before saying this prayer, the priest goes to the middle of the altar and kisses it, and, having turned to the people, salutes them, saying: "Dominus vobiscum" "The Lord be with you." This salutation, which we have heard so often during the Sacrifice, is a most appropriate wish after the holy Communion. Having returned to the Book and made the usual reverence to the Cross, he invites the faithful to unite with him in the Post Communion, or prayer, in which he returns thanks to God for the holy Sacrifice and Sacrament, and implores the grace necessary to profit by them. Whilst making mention of the thanksgiving here made by the priest in the Mass, it is proper to remind the faithful that they too, after having received the holy Sacrament, should, if possible, spend at least fifteen minutes in returning thanks for this ineffable blessing. The practice of leaving the church as soon as Mass is finished, is much to be deplored.
On some occasions the Post Communion consists of several prayers. At the end of these fervent expressions of gratitude and supplication, you see the priest going again to the middle of the altar; and kissing it. Then rising and turning towards the people he again salutes them, and immediately adds: "Ite missa est" "Go, you are dismissed." Here the prayers of Mass ended ordinarily. On some particular occasions, in which the faithful continued in prayer for some time after the termination of the holy Sacrifice, instead of "Ite missa est," the priest, turning to the altar, invited the flock to continue in prayer: "Benedicamus Domino" "Let us bless the Lord."
Though the Mass, strictly speaking, is finished at the words "Ite missa est," still, at the request of the faithful, the priest's blessing and some verses of the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John were added. To impart his blessing, the priest, turning to the altar and bowing down in the attitude of reverence, says the following prayer: "Let the performance of my homage be pleasing to Thee, O holy Trinity; and grant that the Sacrifice which I, though unworthy, have offered up in the sight of Thy Majesty, may be acceptable to Thee, and through Thy mercy be a propitiation for me and all those for whom it has been offered. Through Christ our Lord. Amen." Then, rising, he invokes the blessing of the Omnipotent God upon the faithful, and, turning to the congregation, as the vicegerent of the Most High, he imparts that benediction in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The people desired the priest's blessing, knowing full well that "to bless" is one of the privileges of the priest of the Gospel Dispensation one of the special powers conferred upon him in his ordination.
Special devotion to the Gospel of St. John led to the introduction of the first verses of it into the Mass. Indeed it is a solemn and admirably opportune profession of our faith in the great mystery of the Incarnation the fountainhead of all the other mysteries consummated in time through the mercy of God in behalf of mankind. Those fourteen verses of the admirable Gospel of St. John are "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men: and the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness to bear witness of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him; and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name: who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we saw his glory, the glory, as it were, of the onlybegotten of the Father), full of grace and truth (St. John i. 114). To these divinely inspired words, to this sublime account of the mystery of the Incarnation, the assembled faithful, by their representative, the clerk, respond in heartfelt gratitude, "Deo gratias" "Thanks be to God." At these words the priest returns to the middle of the altar, bows to the Cross, goes down to the foot of the altar, bends the knee once more in adoration, and retires to the sacristy, where he unvests.
It is only at this moment, when the officiating minister has retired, that the faithful should begin to go out of the church. Indeed they would do well to remain a few moments to utter words of thanks for the great mysteries at which they have assisted. This would be to enter into the spirit of the last words of the sacred liturgy: "Deo gratias" "Thanks be to God."
y purpose in penning these pages was sufficiently stated in the Introduction. However, I once more beg leave to remind my readers that I have written for such as, for one reason or another, have had very little opportunity to obtain instruction on the important subject treated in this volume. Moral reflections predominate, because my chief purpose has been to move the Catholic heart to the most fervent devotion toward the adorable Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Altar. Liturgical explanations of the principal ceremonies prescribed for the oblation of the great Christian Sacrifice were deemed equally important, and perhaps no less conducive to the securing of earnest piety in those assisting at the holy Mass. The grandeurs and salutary significance of our incomparable ceremonial have been unveiled, it is hoped, to the advantage of both Catholic and Protestant readers. The doctrinal considerations, found here and there, were designed: (1) to point out to Catholics the teachings of that Church which they revere and love; (2) to show the faithful how groundless, futile and unjust are the objections made by our separated brethren against one or other article of our faith or ceremonial observance; (3) to enable Protestants to see the Catholic faith and ceremonial as they are in reality, in order that they may learn to distrust the misrepresentations which ignorance or malice has made.
Will my humble efforts be productive of the good results which I most ardently desire? I am, of course, unable to say. However, if they conduce to make one Catholic more fervent at the foot of the altar during the adorable Sacrifice, one Protestant more earnest in search of God's holy truth, my labor will have been repaid.
Love for the hidden God of our altar prompted me to write. Love now prompts me to place what I have written as an offering of love at the feet of that same hidden God abiding in the Eucharistic Tabernacle. May He bless it and render it conducive to the spiritual interests of those whom He loves so well.
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