Prayers and Ceremonies of the Mass





A SOLEMN silence highly befitting the consummation of a mystery of love which no created intellect can fathom, no created tongue adequately express, constituted a striking feature of the portion of the sacred liturgy upon which we have just concluded our considerations. That silence called forth a spirit of holy and inexpressible awe at the power and majesty of the Almighty -- a spirit of the most earnest gratitude for the priceless gift of God's boundless love for us -- a spirit, in fine, of salutary humility, which awakens in our inmost souls an acknowledgment of our nothingness, and leads us to exclaim with the inspired Psalmist: "What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him!"

We now pass to the consideration of the third and last part of the Mass -- the Communion and Thanksgiving. This portion of the liturgy may also, for greater clearness, be subdivided into three parts -- namely, the Preparation for the reception of the holy Eucharist; the Reception itself, or Communion; and the Thanksgiving.

In this work it is question only of that preparation which is made in the Mass. At the outset we notice the priest raising his voice and saying: "Per omnia saecula saeculorum," -- "For ever and ever." These are the concluding words of the preceding prayer. Then, with uplifted and outstretched hands, again, in a loud voice, be says: "Oremus," -- "Let us pray." All are invited to unite with him in the prayer which he is about to say in an audible voice. What is this prayer? The Pater Noster -- Our Father, or Lord's Prayer -- which is prefaced with a few words in which he avers that it is solely in consideration of the divine command, and of the fact that Jesus Christ Himself taught us this form of prayer, that we presume to address God in such terms of filial confidence and childlike familiarity. "Being thus instructed," says the priest, "by Thy saving precepts, and following Thy divine directions, we presume to say: 'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.'"

It is hardly necessary to remind you again of the wisdom which characterizes the Church's choice of prayers. We know -- from our infancy we have been told -- that the Our Father, or Lord's Prayer, is the best of all prayers; the best, because taught by our blessed Redeemer Himself; the best, because it combines simplicity and sublimity -- a simplicity which makes it easily understood by the most illiterate -- a sublimity which renders it suitable to the most intelligent and spiritual; the best, in fine, because so comprehensive. It is said in a loud voice, in the hearing of the entire people, in order that all may unite in it, because it concerns the congregation as well as the celebrant to be well prepared for the holy Communion. This is the case even when the faithful do not intend to receive actually, for even then they would do well to receive spiritually -- that is, by an ardent desire to be united to Jesus Christ by actual communion. The Lord's Prayer is followed by another in some respects similar to it. "Deliver us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, from all evils, past, present, and to come; and by the intercession of the blessed and everglorious Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and of the holy Apostles, Peter, Paul, and Andrew , and of all Thy saints, mercifully grant peace in our days, that through the assistance of Thy mercy we may be always free from sin , and secure from all disturbance. Through the same who, Christ, Thy Son, our Lord , with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, God, world without end. Amen." This prayer is simply a development of the last words of the Our Father. The faithful, through their representative, the clerk, had, by the words, "Deliver us from evil," united with the priest in that prayer. Now he implores deliverance from all evils, past, present, and to come. This favor the Church directs her minister to ask through the intercession of the "blessed and everglorious Virgin-Mother of God," because we are taught to believe that the Mother of Jesus has influence with her divine Son, and that she is willing and ever ready to use that influence in behalf of those whose, salvation He most ardently desires. The intercession of three of the holy Apostles who shed their blood for the faith, is then also asked. Will their petitions addressed to the throne of Mercy be in vain? In fine, all the blessed are invoked in the same sense -- as intercessors. As God's faithful and honored servants, we feel that their supplications will be hearkened to, when ours, owing to our sinfulness or imperfect dispositions, would not be entitled to the notice of the all-holy God. But whilst we beg these or any other favors of the peerless Queen of heaven and of the blessed inmates of that abode of bliss, we never forget that it is through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord that all grace is obtained.

During this prayer, the priest having wiped or purified the Patena, or little plate, makes with it the sign of the Cross upon himself. The patena is wiped through respect for the sacred body of Jesus Christ, which is in a moment to repose upon it. By following the ceremonies attentively, we will also observe that the priest kisses the patena. This he does whilst imploring God to grant us peace -- "mercifully grant us peace in our days" -- in order to receive from Jesus that true peace which He brought on earth to men of good-will, and secured for us on the Cross, at the price of His blood. "He is our peace" (Ephesians ii. 14). The peace here prayed for is peace with God, peace with our neighbor, and peace with ourselves -- spiritual peace -- that peace which is the fruit of justice, and which the wicked man knoweth not: "There is no peace for the wicked, saith the Lord" (Isaias xlviii. 22). He prays for peace as a preparation for the holy Communion, because it is a most indispensable disposition for the worthy and salutary reception of the holy Eucharistic Sacrament -- indispensable, because inseparable from that state of grace, justice, and holiness which constitute the first prerequisite of a good Communion. He prays for that peace through the Cross of Christ, because the Cross is the pledge of our true peace -- the instrument and mighty weapon by which the Conqueror of the world, the flesh, and the devil, triumphed over these three deadliest foes of true, lasting, and supernatural peace; because, again, that Cross, like the rainbow of old, is, and ever should be, to the Christian the sign of God's covenant that He wills not the death of the sinner, but that he should live.

Is there not wisdom displayed in the choice of the prayers and ceremonies by which our divinely-guided Mother, the Church, prepares us for the solemn moment of the Communion? And do we not owe a debt of gratitude for the solicitude which she evinces?

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