Pax Domini and Agnus Dei
WHILST the priest was saying the last words of the prayer upon which reflections were made in the foregoing chapter, he performed ceremonies worthy of our attention, because full of salutary mystic signification.
Having placed the spotless Host upon the purified patena, kneeling down, he adores the sacred body and blood present upon the altar. This bending of the knee occurs several times between the awful moment of the Consecration and the holy Communion. In every instance, it is expressive of adoration. After the genuflection, the priest takes the sacred Host, and, whilst saying the words, "Through Jesus Christ, OUR Lord," etc., breaks it over the chalice, and then makes the sign of the cross three times with the particle of the Host, saying aloud: "Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum -"May the peace of our Lord be always with you." To these words the clerk answers: "Et cum spiritu tuo"-"And with Thy spirit." Then one part of the Host is put into the consecrated chalice, and the following prayer is said. "May this mixture and consecration of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ be to us that receive it effectual to eternal life. Amen." It is to be noticed that in taking the sacred Host, it is only with the thumb and forefinger, or index, that the priest touches the consecrated species. Indeed, in ordination, those fingers are especially anointed with holy oil, and sanctified for the touching of the sacred body and blood of Jesus Christ. There is a rubrical prescription requiring him not to touch any thing else with those fingers from the moment of the Consecration until they have been washed after the Communion. Hence those fingers are kept joined together, except when the sacred species are touched. Why is the Host broken? In conformity with what Jesus did when taking bread; He blessed, broke, and gave to His disciples, and said: "Take ye and eat. This is my body" (Matt. xxvi. 26). Why is one part put in the consecrated chalice? The separate consecration of the element of bread by which its substance is converted into the body of Jesus Christ, and of the element of wine by which its substance is made the blood of Christ, represented the separation of the body and blood of Jesus, which took place in His death. Now the blending or commingling of the two species signifies the reunion of that body and blood and soul in His resurrection. Whilst thus commemorating those two great mysteries of our blessed religion, we should resolve to profit by them. By this means only will the expressive ceremonial here considered contribute to the realization of the Church's wish: "May this mixture and consecration of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ be to us that receive it effectual to eternal life." The death of Jesus was the ransom paid for our sins, "who was delivered for our sins" (Romans iv. 25), and His resurrection is the means of our justification: "and rose again for our justification" (Romans iv. 25). How salutary would not reflection on those two great truths, as often as we assist at the holy Mass, prove.
The next prayer is the Agnus Dei. The priest, after having again bended the knee and adored Jesus really present on the altar, bowed down in the attitude of profound reverence, says thrice: "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis"-"Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. " At the end of the third Agnus Dei, the priest says: "Dones nobis pacem"- "Give us peace" - instead of "Miserere nobis" or "Have mercy on us." Every circumstance in this ceremonial is worthy of our attention. The bending of the knee express faith and adoration. The bowing down is a most appropriate attitude for penitents, and is expressive of humility. The sentiment of humility is itself peculiarly becoming, at a moment when we are preparing for the most sublime and intimate union with Jesus Christ - a union by which we are exalted to a position so incomprehensibly high, that the mightiest created intelligence could never have conceived its possibility. Then humility is becoming, for "he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." "The Lamb of God," etc., is said thrice, to signify the earnestness of our petition and our holy importunity. Each time he strikes his breast, to express compunction and contrition of heart. By humility we acknowledge our sinfulness. That acknowledgment should be accompanied with sorrow, contrition: "A contrite and humble heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Ps. 1. 19). In requiem Masses, instead of the "Have mercy on us" and "Give us peace," the celebrant says: "Give them rest," "Give them rest," and "Give them eternal rest."
The prayers which follow the Agnus Dei convey very useful instructions. Those prayers are: "Lord Jesus Christ, who saidst to Thy Apostles, I leave you my peace, I give you my peace, regard not my sins, but the faith of Thy Church, and grant her that peace and unity which are agreeable to Thy will; who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen."
This first prayer is not said in Masses for the dead.
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, according to the will of Thy Father, hast, by Thy death, through the
co-operation of the Holy Ghost, given life to the world, deliver me by Thy most sacred body and blood from all my iniq-uities and from all evils, and make me always adhere to Thy commandments, and never suffer me to be separated from Thee: Who, with the same God the Fa-ther and the Holy Ghost, livest God for ever and ever. Amen."
"Let not the participation of Thy body, O Lord Jesus Christ, which I, though un-worthy, presume to receive, turn to my judgment and condemnation, but through Thy mercy may it be a safeguard and remedy both to soul and body; who, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen."
Upon these most excellent prayers a few reflections are proper. The truly fervent children of the Church, animated by a lively faith, firm hope, and ardent char-ity, will make a host of others which brevity here precludes. The mercy and peace of God having been implored through the Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, two things, in particular, are prayed for in the first of these three prayers-the peace of God and that unity which is agreeable to the Divine will. That peace is asked of Jesus in virtue of His own promise: "Peace I leave you; my peace I give you" (John xiv. 27). This seems to have been the Redeemer's favorite salutation to His beloved disciples. The reader of the Epistles of the great Apostle of the Gen-tiles must also have noticed that this peace is his frequent and most earnest salutation and wish in behalf of those whom his zeal and labors introduced into the Christian family. This blessed peace must, then, have been of great impor-tance. The world, too, has its peace to offer. The Prince of the world has for worldlings a salutation of peace. But the peace offered by the world is unreal and delusive, as all its votaries have experi-enced. Solomon, the renowned monarch of the lsraelite people, sought peace in worldly honors, in worldly riches, and in worldly pleasures. No one, in all prob-ability, made a fairer experiment of what manner of peace this world can give. His decision is a lesson for us: "Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes i. 2). St. Augustine, previously to his conversion, essayed that peace which worldly pleasures pretend to impart, and his testimony deserves to be written in letters of gold: "For Thyself, O God, hast Thou made us, and our hearts cannot rest till they rest in Thee." Well, then, may we supplicate the hidden God of our altar for that supernatural peace-that essential disposition for the worthy reception of the holy Communion.
In the same prayer we ask for that "unity which is agreeable to the Divine will"-a unity of faith, which excludes all heresies, schisms, and unbecoming wranglings from the Church of the living God-a unity of charity, by which all the children of the Church of our day may, like the first Christians, have but "one heart and one soul" (Acts iv. 34).
In the second prayer, commemorating the action of the eternal Father and of the co-eternal holy Spirit in the work of man's redemption, we implore other great blessings of Jesus, the second adorable Person of the living, triune God. We ask these blessings through the mystery of love being commemorated on the altar. What are these other blessings? First; deliverance from "all our iniquities and from all evils." If these our mysteries are viewed with the eye of faith, with what earnestness will we not appeal to Him who is able and willing to aid us-the Son of God. Secondly, that He would always make us adhere to His commandments- that He would, each time that we assemble around the altar impress deeply upon our minds that the burden of His commandments is light, and the yoke of His holy name sweet. Thirdly, that He will never suffer us to be separated from Himself-that He will enable us to see most vividly, and always to bear in mind, that as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, so neither can we unless we abide in Him (John xiv. 4). But if we pray most fervently and most properly for union with Jesus Christ in time during this life, oh! how much more reason have we to beseech Him in accents of the most heartfelt prayer, that it may never be our wretched lot to be separated from Him during eternity.
In the third prayer there is more special allusion to the holy communion, for which preparation is being made. The thought and the consciousness of his unworthiness rush upon the priest. He begs the Lord Jesus to make allowance for that unworthiness. A sense of holy fear seizes upon him! The solemn warning of St. Paul is vividly before his eyes: "Therefore, whosoever shall eat of this bread or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord" (1 Cor. xi. 27, 28, 29). With fear and trembling he implores that such may not be his fate, but that the holy Communion may be for him "a safeguard and remedy both to soul and body"-the pledge of everlasting life and of a glorious resurrection: "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up in the last day " (John vi. 55).
Such are a few of the edifying reflections suggested to the priest and faithful by the prayers and ceremonies of this portion of the Mass. Let us enter into the spirit of the Church, or rather of the Holy Ghost, who guides and inspires her in all things pertaining to the sanctification of the children of God. Thus shall we most effectually prepare ourselves for the reception of the holy Communion.
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