Prayers and Ceremonies of the Mass



In the preceding chapter, when reflecting upon the prayers uttered in preparation for the holy Communion, we beheld a holy fear and sentiments of confidence contending alternately for the mastery over the priest.

Confidence triumphs. Kneeling down, he adores the Incarnate God really present on the altar. Rising, with all that confidence which the invitation of Jesus warrants, he takes the sacred Host, and says: “I will take the bread of heaven, and call upon the name of the. Lord.”

He trembles at the thought of his unworthiness, but adverts to the threat which love for man prompted the God of love to make: “Amen, amen, I say to you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you” (John vi. 54). He also remembers the consoling assurances of the same loving Redeemer: “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him.” “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.” “He that eateth this bread, shall live forever” (verses 57, 58, 59). With these or similar confidence-inspiring reflections, holding the consecrated Host, he bows down in the attitude of profound reverence, and says: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.” This little prayer, with the attitude in which it is uttered, is solemnly impressive. The moment has arrived in which he is to receive Jesus, true God and true man, under the sacramental forms. Though he has endeavored to approach the altar with purity of heart and soul; though the mandates of a loving and loved Redeemer inspire confidence; though he has, from the Confiteor, at the beginning of the Mass, to the present moment entertained and expressed sentiments of humility like those of the poor publican, still a salutary fear, a holy and befitting awe, prompted by a lively faith, causes him to exclaim: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.” These words, with a little alteration, taken from the sacred Word of God, are beautifully appropriate, and admirably calculated to awaken sentiments proper for the moment of the holy Communion.

They were first uttered by the centurion on an occasion infinitely less solemn. Need I remind you how much our Savior was moved by this simple, heartfelt expression of the centurion’s faith? Need I remind you that this fervent expression was immediately followed by the recompense due to faith? This short prayer elicited from the God of truth that remarkable exclamation: “Amen, I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel” (Matt. viii. 10). Whilst, therefore, the success that attended the centurion’s fervid appeal inspires confidence, have we not too many reasons to fear that the lukewarmness of our faith, contrasted with the lively and persevering faith of the centurion, should draw down upon us the withering, but most just rebuke administered by our divine Redeemer to His chosen people: “Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel.” Amen, I say to you I have not found so great faith in any chosen Christian people.

Apart from the reflections suggested by the words now commented upon, what a host of others, equally salutary and becoming this solemn moment, present themselves to the minds of the faithful. “On whatsoever side I cast my eyes, I behold nothing but proofs of my unworthiness. If I turn them inward, what multiplied prevarications. How many weaknesses fostered and indulged. How many inspirations neglected — how many duties unfulfilled. How many irregular thoughts and inordinate desires — how many faults unwept, unexpiated, unrepented! Will the thought of what I am and what Thou art inspire confidence? Can it be God that I am about to receive? Yes, my faith tells me so, and with most unfaltering belief I assent. I am to receive Him whom the immensity of the heavens is too bounded to contain; Him whose footstool this vast and magnificent universe is. However vast and inexpressibly grand the splendor of that court formed by the myriads of radiant spirits that surround His throne, it is infinitely disproportionate to His supreme Majesty; however deep, and solemn, and majestic the canticles chanted by this countless multitude of saints and angels it is infinitely short of what is due Him” Overwhelmed with these awe-inspiring considerations, what motive of confidence can I find to encourage my poor soul? Prostrate at the foot of the holy altar, I will exclaim: Here, O Lord, Thou art a hidden God; Thou hast, in mercy and love, concealed the overpowering grandeurs of Thy divinity. Still, beholding Thee even through this veil, I am again forced to exclaim: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.” One word, O Lord! Say that one word, and my poor soul shall be healed of all her maladies. Thy omnipotent word sufficed to create — to cure the blind, the lame, and the afflicted of every kind. Thy word sufficed to restore the dead to life, and, more than all, to institute the adorable Eucharistic Sacrament and Sacrifice.

Having by prayer, and humility, and sorrow of heart prepared for the reception of Thy sacred body and blood, he proceeds with childlike confidence to partake of the heavenly banquet to which Divine love invites him The moment of the holy Communion has arrived. Elevating the sacred Host and making the sign of the Cross with it, he says: “May the body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul to life everlasting. Amen” Then bowing down with all that reverence and devotion which so divinely solemn a moment demands, he receives the consecrated Host. He rises immediately, and, with his hands devoutly joined, spends a few moments in silent adoration. The prayer, “May the body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul to life everlasting. Amen,” is not to be understood as expressing any doubt in the mind of the priest as to the efficacy of the sacred body of Jesus to produce the blessed results promised by Him, “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever” (John vi. 52), but rather that in his case there may be no obstacle in his heart to the Divine food which he is on the point of receiving. The silent adoration is also very instructive. The priest, fully conscious that no human mind can comprehend the Eucharistic mystery, or human tongue do justice to its greatness, prefers to remain in a silence more eloquent than words, and to let the heart with its own more prayerful language discharge the duty of adoration. Ah! if mortal eyes could see what transpires in the heart of the fervent, well-prepared recipient of the holy Communion — that ineffable union between the creature and the Creator — that sweet, indescribable communing going on during that silent adoration —that lavish profusion of God’s choicest graces -— that enrichment of the poor sojourner in this land of exile — that astounding abasement of the Almighty, Eternal God, and deification of lowly man! This privilege is denied, for reasons worthy of Divine Wisdom.

After the few moments of silent adoration, the priest says: “What return shall I make to the Lord for all He has given me.” He then makes another genuflection preparatory to receiving the precious blood. With the patena he carefully gathers up whatever particles of the sacred Host may have remained on The corporal, and puts them into the Consecrated chalice. Then taking the chalice, he says: “I will take the chalice of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. Praising, I will call upon the Lord, and shall be saved from my enemies.” Immediately afterward, raising the chalice and making the sign of the Cross with it, he says: “May the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul to life everlasting. Amen.” The prayers and ceremonies here are much the same as those already spoken of in connection with the receiving of the sacred Host, and suggest like reflections, even as the act demands like sentiments of devotion, reverence, and adoration. Hence here again the priest pauses a little in silent prayer.

The Communion is deemed essential to the integrity of the Sacrifice. Hence, notwithstanding the strict law requiring the receiver of the Holy Eucharist to be fasting, the Church allows another priest, even not fasting, to consume the consecrated species in the event of the celebrant being unable to do so, owing to sickness, sudden death, or any other cause.

To what a multitude of perfect dispositions do not the prayers and ceremonies here prescribed give rise? Here, again, is the Church, in virtue of her admirable ceremonial legislation, entitled to our profoundest gratitude.

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