The Mass

Rev. Joseph A. Dunney



Having made the sign of the cross, the priest joining his hands before his breast begins the antiphon, Introibo. That said, he recites the psalm, Judica me, Deus, as a prelude to the Confiteor. With joined hands and humbly bowing down, the Confiteor is said: then the absolution is given and other prayers recited before the priest ascends the altar steps.

At the foot of the altar the priest and altar boy recite this beautiful antiphon and psalm,

P. Introibo ad altare Dei.

A. Ad Deum qui lætificat juventutem meam.

P. Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta; ab homine iniquo et doloso erue me,

A. Quia to es, Deus, fortitudo mea: quare me repulisti? et quare tristis incedo, dum affligit me inimicus?

P. Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam: ipsa me deduxerunt et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernacula tua.

A. Et Introibo ad altare Dei ad Deum, qui lætificat juventutem meam.

P. Confitebor tibi in cithara, Deus, Deus, meus: quare tristis anima mea? et quare conturbas me?

A. Spera in Deo, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi : salutare vultus mei, et Deus meus.

P. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.

A, Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.

P. I will go in unto the altar of God

A. Unto God, who giveth joy to my youth.

P. Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy; deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man,

A. For Thou, O God, art my strength: why hast Thou cast me off? and why do I go sorrowful, whilst the enemy afllicteth me?

P. Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have led me and brought me unto Thy holy mount, and into Thy Tabernacles,

A. And I will go unto the altar of God: unto God, who giveth joy to my youth.

P. I will praise Thee upon the harp, O God, my God: why art thou sad, O my soul? and why dost thou disquiet me?

A. Hope thou, in God, for I will yet praise Him: who is the salvation of my countenance, and my God.

P. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,

A. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Hundreds of years ago the above prayer was composed by a poor exile, enlightened by God's holy spirit. Nothing could be more appropriate for this time and place than the very plea of this psalm. First said by the pious servant of God, the Judica Me is a prayer from a heart heavy with sadness. It, bespeaks a longing to return and take part in the service of God's temple, a heartache to pour itself forth in public worship, a burning desire to go to the altar of God Who alone can wipe away every tear. The author of the psalm had been cast among heathen enemies who taunted him about his God. It is almost impossible to exaggerate how much the good man suffered. He recalls the time when he served at God's altar. He grieves he is so far away from the temple. To add to his grief his foes scoff at him. It was very common for the enemies of the chosen people to do that. Thus when the Jews were exiles in Babylon, the natives took malicious joy in heckling them. "Sing us a song of Sion," they scoffed.

Another time the exiles, looking back to their old home, wept in this sad strain.

By the waters of Babylon,

There we sat down, and wept

When we remember Sion.

In that land, on the willows,

We hung up our hams.

It was there that our tyrants

Demanded of us songs,

And our tormentors a song that was merry

"Sing us a song of Sion!" (they said)

How could we sing God's songs

In a land that was strange! (Psalm cxxxvi)

Who can forget that psalm, so doleful, so pathetic in every line? What the pagan Babylonians did to the chosen people when they were in exile, that same thing do scoffers and bitter critics nowadays attempt when they malign Catholics who are true to their faith in Jesus Christ, and His Church.

The one thing for all of us is to keep close to our Lord, confident that He will vindicate us against all the world. God and yourself make a majority that can overcome a host of enemies. It pained the exile in the Judica Me to know that he was debarred from worshiping God before the tabernacle. Only sin can debar us from that great privilege. We are far from perfect We need many helps from our Lord. But, most of all, we need His constant friendship; his forgiveness for all our sins. Better beseech the Lord, like the psalmist, to bring us back to His good graces, back to Sion. And let us use every means to please him who in our God, the health of our countenance, the joy of youth. This we can do by approaching God with a humble, contrite heart and with a confession of unworthiness upon our lips. We shall need to have this spirit of a contrite heart, which God will never despise. We must ask, too, for fullest forgiveness from God before whose altar we kneel. Hence the Church urges us in the Mass to say the Confiteor,

That is just what the priest does here in the Mass. And when he has finished the altar boy says the same prayer:

A, Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatæ Maria, semper Virgini, beato Michaeli Archangelo, beato Joanni Baptistæ, sanctis Apostolis Petro et Paulo, omnibus Sanctis, et vobis, fratres: quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem, beatum Michaelem Archangelum, beatum Joannem Baptistam, sanctos Apostolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes Sanctos, et vos, fratres, orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.

P. Misereatur vestri omnipotens Deus, et, dimissis peccatis vestris perducat vos ad vitam æternam.

A. Amen.

A. I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michæl the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you, brethren, that I have sinned exceedingly thought, word, and deed; through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore I beseech the blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michæl the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, all the saints, and you, brethren, to pray to the Lord our God for me.

P. May Almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you unto life everlasting.

A. Amen.

Signing himself with the sign of the cross, the priest says:

P. Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum nostrorum, tribuat nobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus.

A. Amen.

P. May the almighty and merciful Lord grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins.

A. Amen.

The Mass speaks to us of the need of contrition and confession. These are made manifest at the earliest moment. The priest, standing before the lowest step of the altar, recites the liturgical confession; bowing down, he prays to God for forgiveness of his sins. As we say the same prayer let us recognize that we are co-actors in this divine drama, "the most wonderful and impressive drama in the world."

The individual soul, conscious of its weakness and its unworthiness, approaches the high court of Heaven. Saints and angels numberless are ranged about the throne of the great King. And the soul, throwing itself down in the presence of that splendid company, makes its humble avowal of guilt, to God, to the Most Blessed Mother, to individual angels and saints, to all the assemblage of the blessed. It bows lower and lower, the dramatic contrast of its own sinfulness with the purity of the just making itself more and more vivid. And from the beautiful climax of "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa," it rises to a series of invocations, fittingly concluding with an appeal for intercession before the Lord our God.1

A great English statesman used to say that the worst curse on his age (nineteenth century) was that it had lost its sense of sinfulness. To have this "spirit of insensibility: eyes that they should not see, ears that they should not hear" is a terrible thing. It means that pride has made people so blind to their real selves that they are thoroughly self-satisfied; they imagine they are perfect, that there is no room for improvement. Such pride is simply "borrowed majesty, stolen arrogance."

Let no one boast that he is faultless or without sin. We need the help of God and His angels and our patron saints to keep us upright. For all have faults and frailties and if we confess our sins, God is just, and will forgive. God is ready to forgive us when we are honest and open in our acknowledgment of guilt. Heaven knows we have need of repentance and confession. Certainly God likes us to show the sorrow of our inmost being. Wise Mother Church likes to see us do just that. Even though it is not easy, still it is part of the way we secure forgiveness. Somebody truly said: "It is impossible to forgive one, in the strict sense of the term, who excuses himself for the injury he has done us; or who does not acknowledge, at least inwardly, that he is inexcusable." Hence the necessity of frankly admitting to God our sins, offenses, negligences.

Nothing is more necessary in religious life than a practical realization of our sinfulness, as also the knowledge that sin is more than the folly of self-hurt; it is an offense against God. It is natural to confess sin and unworthiness before engaging in so solemn an act as the Mass. God's anger against sin and the sinner is a deep, awful truth. Thus one must appeal to His gentleness and mercy, one should seek forgiveness. This is done in the Mass when the priest bends low and makes open confession of his sins.

The custom is not in any way new. The Isrælite priests of the Old Law confessed their sins before offering sacrifices, in such terms as these: "Verily, O Lord, I have sinned, I have done amiss and dealt wickedly: I repent and am ashamed of my doings, nor will I ever return to them."

There is, of course, nothing unseemly in the priest making this public and official confession. It is right, proper, and becoming to do this, since it is a self-cleansing in preparation for the great sacrifice with its graces. When the priest says the Confiteor, he assumes an attitude of humility, he appears as a humble penitent, acknowledging his sins and striking his breast, the usual gesture of sorrow; after which he petitions God, and asks all to petition Him for the one thing he most needs, forgiveness. For only in this spirit of humility and with a contrite heart will he be able worthily to offer the holy sacrifice. The same feeling prompts the people to say the Confiteor, in which you not only say "I have sinned," but you say "I confess that I have sinned," implying that you feel the need and know the nature of the act of confession.

The liturgical confession, as it is called, is made at the lowest step of the altar. It was a form of general confession (before everybody) and was called the "Confiteor." The double form is used in Mass - that is, the priest says the prayer to the people, the people say it (through the server) to the priest. In so doing they are following a very ancient practice. "Confess your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved" (James v,16). That is just what is done before the priest ascends the altar steps.

If we keep our sins in sight, we will be less likely to fall easily into them again. - If we say the Confiteor from the bottom of our heart, God will cast our sins behind His back; if we remember them, God will forget them. And if we truly love Christ, the deeper will be our regret that we should have offended Him by our gross and selfish conduct. "A faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief" (I Epistle to Timothy i, 15). If we are truly aware of our sins, that will be our feeling. The parable of the Pharisee and the publican makes clear how greatly God is pleased by the honest, heartfelt acknowledgment of sin. Study that parable in Luke xviii, 9-14.

From now on, two things must be kept in mind

1. The priest stands throughout the Mass. As a rule the ancients prayed standing and mostly with upraised hands. But the congregation kneel for the most part, because kneeling came to be considered a more fitting attitude of worship for all in whose name the priest was offering sacrifice. In one history of the Mass, we read:

As a general rule the churches of early days had no seats for the people to sit on, as that position was deemed ill in keeping with the gravity becoming the house of God. As the services, however, were much longer than at present, those who, through feebleness of health or other causes, could not stand, were allowed the use of staves to lean upon, and in some rare cases even of cushions to sit upon - a practice which is yet quite common in the churches of Spain and in many of those of the rest of Europe. It was the rule to stand always on Sunday, in memory of our Lord's glorious resurrection, and to kneel the rest of the week. As kneeling is a sign of humiliation, it was the rule to observe it during the penitential seasons and on all occasions of mourning. According to St. Jerome, St. Basil the Great, Tertullian, and others, these rules were derived from the Apostles themselves. Whenever any important prayer or lesson was to be read, and the people had been kneeling beforehand, the deacon invited them now to stand, by the words, Erecti stemus honeste; that is, "Let us become erect and stand in a becoming manner." During the penitential season the congregation was invited to kneel by saying, "Flectamus genua," and to stand up afterwards by "Levate." The same custom may yet be observed in Lent and on some other occasions.

2. Many times you hear psalms or parts of psalms recited in the Mass. Even before the Confiteor the priest recited the "Judge me, O God" (Psalms xlii). The early Christians made great use of the psalms, learning them by heart or repeating them over, or singing them while at work. St. Paul tells his early Christians to "speak to themselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord " (Epistle to the Ephesians v, 19). They would sing snatches of psalms, certain verses easy to be understood. These verses came to be the recognized form, and were gradually taken over and used in the Mass and in the liturgy generally. The priest would begin the verse and the people would take it up and finish it. Thus you find fragments of the psalms incorporated in the Mass liturgy.

Forever and ever, Amen.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth!

Apart from the verses found in the Mass it were well for every Catholic to form a literary and spiritual acquaintance with the Psalter or Book of Psalms. They form the framework of the Church's liturgy and they are the flower of a great literature. Dom Cabrol, one of the greatest recent authorities on the Roman liturgy, says:

The, psalms, as is well known, belong to the lyric poetry of the Hebrews, who, in this branch of literature, have never, in the opinion of excellent, judges, been surpassed by any people, not even by the Greeks. No other lyric poet soars with so strong and bold a flight as David or the prophets, nowhere do we find strains more full of vigor, more heartfelt or more profound. These divine psalms breathing forth such varying accents of prayer and praise, of humble supplication, of true contrition, and of every emotion of the human soul in the worship of God, have been repeated by each generation of Christians, and in them the saints have found the truest expression of their aspiration. Study, then, this book.

How many young Catholics have, we wonder, ever dipped into the Book of Psalms? As an illustration of some of the gems there, take the following

Psalm xxii The shepherd's song to God

Psalm xxxiv The war song of Israel

Psalm xliv A wedding song

Psalm lxxi A prophecy concerning Bethlehem

Psalm lxxxiii A pilgrim's chorus

Psalm cxxx A song to be sung before your examinations

Psalm cxxxii A song of good fellowship

1 Brother Leo, "Religion and the Study of Literature," pp. 74, 75.

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