The Adorable Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Four Ends for which Every Mass Is Said.
UNLESS we have a just idea of the Mass, and a lively faith in the great mystery, we shall never appreciate the blessings of hearing Mass, nor assist at it as we ought. The angelic Doctor teaches that we owe to God four infinite debts. The Mass adequately pays the four; and for these four debts or ends every Mass is celebrated.
The First End.
Supreme honor, perfect homage, sovereign adoration, infinite praise belong to the Majesty of Almighty God. How pay this debt? Of ourselves, what have we to offer? What is all creation in the sight of the Omnipotent? Poor miserable creatures we depend on God for the very air we breathe. But in the holy Mass we have all. The Mass pays to God perfect homage sovereign, infinite adoration, Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word made Flesh, humbles himself to the Holy Trinity in the most profound manner by lying a victim on the altar. The Divinity imparts infinite value to each act and humiliaation of the Humanity, and both are concealed under the forms of bread and wine. A God is offered to God! By the holy sacrifice, therefore, we pay to the Almighty the first debt we owe. Infinite goodness and love of Jesus! St. Leonard exclaims and let us repeat it over and over again, since it never can be too deeply graven on our memories. "Certainly, certainly, by hearing holy Mass with proper dispositions, we offer unto our God homage and honor that is infinite." And concludes: "O blind world, when wilt thou open thine eyes to a truth so grand, so important?" Hidden Treasure, p. 19.
Second End. The Mass a Sacrifice of Infinite Thanksgiving.
The second debt we owe to God is to thank him, as he deserves, for all benefits he has bestowed upon us. The gifts of grace and nature, so lavishly showered upon us by the bountiful hand of God, are countless the gifts of soul and body, senses, reason, health, nay, life itself ; the graces of sacraments and sacrifices, his patience, providence, and mercy to us; in a word, the merits of the life and death of Jesus made over, so to speak, on us. How thank God as he deserves, and as we ought, for all these and numberless other favors? What have we to offer? Nothing of ourselves, but everything in the Mass. "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits to me?" cries the Royal Psalmist ; and seeing with prophetic eyes the holy sacrifice, answers: "I will take the chalice of the Lord" (Ps. cxv.) that is, I will offer him the adorable sacrifice of the Mass, which is of infinite value, and by which I can thank God as he deserves for all his countless favors and blessings. " Jesus Christ," says the Apostle (Heb. x. 4), "offered himself for us to God, to be an oblation and victim of sweet odor." The Blessed Sacrament is emphatically called the Eucharist, which means "thanksgiving." A holy writer concludes: "O great and most loving God! would that each of us had countless tongues, to return thee infinite thanks for this inestimable treasure of the holy Mass, with which thou hast enriched us."
The Third End.The Mass is a Sacrifice of Infinite Atonement or Satisfaction.
The third great debt we owe to God is to satisfy his justice for our sins. Our sins! How countless and enormous! "The just man falls seven times in a day." How often we sinners! How many shall find their sins more numerous than the very hairs upon their heads! How many shall find their first mortal sin in the very morning of life, at the first full use of reason; and year after year only added crime to crime, guilt to guilt. And yet without true repentance there is no salvation. "Unless you do penance," says the Redeemer, "you shall all likewise perish." Luke, xiii. 3. Where shall we find this repentance, this sorrow and pardon for our sins? At the Cross and at the altar. On Calvary Jesus Christ by his death, blotted out the handwriting that was against us, fastening it to the Cross. "He satisfied the justice of his Father. All the merit of our repentance flows from the death of the Redeemer. On the altar, the very same blood that was shed on Calvary is offered up. When instituting the holy sacrifice, Jesus said: "This his is my blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins." Matt., xxvi. 28. On the altar is "the Lamb standing as it were slain." Jesus offers his death and blood for the salvation of the world. The guilt and enormity of our sins need not cast us into despair. The blood of Jesus is sufficient to satisfy for the sins of a million of worlds. "With him is plentiful redemption." Ps. cxxix. "He," says St. John (I. ii. 2), "is the propitiation for our sins; not only for ours, but for those of the whole world."
Through the merits, therefore, of the holy sacrifice of the Mass we are sure to obtain from the Almighty true sorrow and repentance, a meek and contrite heart which God will not despise. St. Chrysostom says that the angels always pray for us, especially during the holy Mass. St. Augustine says: "Whoever hears Mass devoutly shall receive great strength to avoid the commission of mortal sin, and shall likewise obtain remission of all his venial sins." "O thrice holy Mass," concludes St. Leonard, "which ennobles us with the liberty of the Son of God, and satisfies for all the penalties which our sins deserve." p. 21.
Fourth End.The Mass is a Sacrifice of Infinite Supplication or Impetration.
The fourth great debt we owe to God is to supplicate him constantly in order to obtain of him all graces and blessings we stand in need of. As without God's preserving hand we could not exist one instant, and the same Will that created us preserves us; so, also, without God's holy grace we cannot perform one supernatural act, nor conceive one good thought, nor advance one step on the road that leads to life everlasting.
"Without me," says Christ, " you can do nothing." John, xv 5. And St. Paul adds: "We are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves., but our sufficiency is from God," II. Cor., iii. 5.
Our wants, temporal and eternal, are countless: graces to repent of our many sins; graces to sin no more; graces to live in his love and die in his friendship; the grace of final perseverance. In the holy sacrifice of the Mass Jesus obtains all for us. On our altars, where his death and passion are represented and renewed, Jesus obtains of his father all graces and blessings we need for soul and body. Jesus is the "beloved Son, in whom the Father is well pleased;" and "is heard on account of his own reverence." In the holy Mass, Jesus himself is our advocate as well as our High Priest. He presents our wants and petitions to his Father, and with the petitions his precious blood as a price to obtain them. The Church ends every prayer, and asks everything, "through our Lord Jesus Christ," because in Jesus we have everything. "He that spareth not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also with him given us all things." Rom. viii. St. Jerome says: "Assuredly the Lord grants all the favors for which we petition him in the Mass, provided they be suitable to us; and, what is far more admirable, he very often grants us that for which we do not petition him, provided we place no obstacle to his holy designs." "O thrice blessed Mass!" adds St. Leonard, "thou art the exhaustless mine of all our good." p. 28. We shall conclude this section by a passage from the infallible decrees of the Council of Trent, (c. ii.) : "The holy Synod teaches that this sacrifice (the Mass) is truly propitiatory, and by means thereof this is effected, that we obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid. For the Lord, appeased by the oblation thereof, and granting the grace and gift of penitence, forgives even heinous crimes and sins. Wherefore, not only for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not yet fully purified, (Mass) is rightly offered, agreeably to a tradition of the Apostles." Canon iii. defines: "If any one saith that the sacrifice of the Mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving, or that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the Cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice, or that it profit him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other penalties; let him be anathema."
How to Hear Mass Devoutly.
We cannot hear Mass devoutly unless we have a just idea of what the Mass is, and a lively faith in the divine mystery. Thus far this has been our object to enliven the faith of our pious reader, and fix the eyes of his soul on the Lamb bleeding and dying on Calvary and on the altar. What infinite treasures of Divine mercy and love! With St. Paul we must exclaim: "O the depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God!" Rom. xi. 23. And with St. John: The Lamb that is slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and benediction. He hath redeemed us to God in his blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation." Apoc. V. 12. How can we give to the Lamb this honor and glory and benediction? By hearing devoutly all the Masses we can!
There are various methods of hearing Mass devoutly. Each person is left to his free choice to select the method most agreeable to his devout inclinations and capacity that which he finds, from experience, best excites him to fervor and piety. We suggest three, taken from pious writers, that the reader may choose what best suits his devotion.
The first method is to employ the whole time of Mass in reading our prayerbook; that is, to accompany all the actions and prayers of the priest with the most profound attention, reciting suitable vocal prayers, uniting the fervor and attention of our souls with the accents of our lips. This is doubtless an excellent method of hearing Mass, and especially for those who cannot meditate, or who know not how to meditate, and who find from experience that they become distracted when they take their eyes off the prayerbook.
The second method is, to occupy the whole time of the Mass in meditation and pious affections of the soul. Those who observe this method use no book, read nothing. With eyes of faith they behold Jesus bleeding and dying on the altar, as on Calvary. They spend the whole time of the Mass in devout contemplation, in interior recollection, in meditating the sacred mysteries of our Blessed Lord's passion and death, and in acts of sorrow for sin, love of God, and other pious affections. They assist at Mass in the same spirit as the Blessed Virgin, St. John, St. Mary Magdalene, standing at the foot of the Cross. They see Jesus dying for sin; they weep over their own; Jesus gives them the tears of true sorrow. They see Jesus dying through love; they love him; Jesus gives them true charity. They know that sin offends him; they beg the grace never to offend Jesus more. God alone sees and counts the number of holy thoughts and acts which divine grace operates in their souls during one Mass heard in this most holy manner.
The third method is to unite with the priest in offering the holy sacrifice for the four great ends for which every Mass is said. This method, pious writers say, is, if not the most perfect, at least most in accordance with the spirit of the Church and the ends of sacrifice. St. Thomas teaches that the Mass is the most efficacious way of paying to God the four great debts we all owe him.
Let us here make a remark of great importance. Although it is true that the priest alone, as the officiating minister, offers the holy sacrifice he alone consecrates and celebrates still it is equally true that the sacrifice is offered for all and in the name of all. The people present call and ought to join the priest, and offer the Mass for themselves and their intentions. The priest reminds the congregation of this; for after the offertory he turns to the people and says: "Pray, brethren, that mine and your sacrifice may be pleasing to God the Father Omnipotent." All, then, share in the Mass, and ought to join with the priest in offering it to God.
How, then, do this? With God's holy grace it is very easy. Divide the time of Mass into four distinct periods, in order to be able to think on the four great ends of the holy sacrifice. In the first period, say from the beginning to the Gospel, we can pay the first great debt. Acknowledging the abyss of our own nothingness, having nothing worthy of heaven, we can offer the Mass, the Victim on the altar, the humiliations of Jesus, in adoration, praise, homage, and supreme worship to the Almighty Father.
In the second period of time, which maybe from the Gospel to the Canon, we can pay the second great debt. We can call to mind the countless gifts, graces, and blessings we have received from the hands of God during our whole lives creation, redemption, preservation, the true faith, the sacraments and sacrifices of the true Church, preservation from hell, which our sins deserved a thousand times, God's mercy and patience with us, his divine Providence over us. How many the hidden graces we know nothing of! Blessed be God a thousand times by all creatures, at every instant, that we have the means to thank him as he deserves for all his infinite graces and blessings. We offer him in the Mass the Lamb that was slain from the beginning of the world. The Almighty Father is satisfied our debt is paid!
The third period of time, which may be from the Canon to the Consecration, may be occupied in paying the third great debt atonement for our sins. We call to mind our numberless sins sins of thought, word, and deed, sins of omission, the sins of "our youth and our ignorances," our hidden sins and the sins of others. When we examine our souls in the light of God's grace, what a mountain of sin rises up before the eyes of the soul! But where find atonement? All the blood the martyrs ever shed could not of itself wash out one venial stain; but one drop of the blood of Jesus, shed on Calvary or the altar, is sufficient to atone for the sins of a thousand worlds! During Mass, then, we can offer to the Eternal Father the precious blood of Jesus for our sins, and through the merits of his passion and death, renewed on the altar, beg the tears of true sorrow and sincere repentance for our offences. Through the merits of the blood of the Lamb, we shall obtain perfect contrition, true conversion the contrite and humble heart which heaven never despises.
In the fourth period, which may be from the Consecration to the Communion or end of Mass, we pay the last great debt, by supplicating the Almighty for all the graces and blessings we need. We want everything, and of ourselves we can get nothing, all must come through Jesus. We want at every moment strength to conquer, not only the devil and the world, but even ourselves. Through the Mass we can obtain all. In the Mass we offer to the Father his Divine Son, our Advocate and Mediator, and by his merits we obtain pardon for the past and grace for the future. We beg the grace of a holy life, happy death, and final perseverance. We offer to the Almighty the blood of Jesus for the conversion of pagans, heretics, infidels, and sinners. We supplicate heaven for our holy Father the Pope, for the wants of the Universal Church, and for our own dear Irish Church; and, finally, we offer the superabundant merits of Christ for the relief of those in pain the poor suffering souls in purgatory. When the priest communicates, all should communicate spiritually. The advantages of spiritual communion we shall explain hereafter in a separate section.
Such are the three methods of hearing Mass devoutly. Each person can select what best suits his piety and capacity. If all Catholics adopted any one of those ways, what treasures of graces they would draw down from heaven on their souls? What pious thoughts the Holy Ghost himself would excite in their hearts! How holy would be their lives! Sinners would be converted, sin and scandal would be less frequent, our churches would be thronged, virtue and piety would bloom, as in the primitive ages in the Church of God, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus would be consoled. May Jesus animate all his children with this holy spirit.
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