Mass of the Ages – Part II

Before Mass

Liturgical prayer is the obligatory, outward profession of man’s faith and love for his Sovereign  Master.  As the Liturgy lavishly makes use of all created things, profound gestures, reverences, poetic speech and song, aromatic incense, colorful flowers and vestments, man submits his faculties and energy to God’s Majesty.  By employing these signs, the Liturgy appeals to our whole human nature.

By our Baptism we are consecrated in our mission to worship God, effecting in us the image of Jesus Christ, and it is through the Liturgy that we fulfill this sacred role.  No private prayer compares, because the Liturgy is the tribute made by the whole Mystical Body, to which we are united.  Liturgical prayer must be offered in communion with our brethren, joined in our efforts to give God glory, and bring his blessings upon the whole Church.

From a theological viewpoint, the Liturgy is the exercise now on earth of Christ’s priestly office, as distinct from his role as teacher and rule of her people.  Christ performs this priestly office as Head of his Mystical Body, so that Head and members together offer the sacred liturgy.

The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, which was recently presented anew to the Church by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, embodies all of these qualities of the Liturgy with a special attention to detail, and spares no effort in helping to stimulate the senses, in order to keep our thoughts elevated towards heaven.  Let us now examine in greater detail the Low, Sung, and High Masses of the Extraordinary Form.

Preparation for Mass

The acolytes and priest have much to get ready before Mass.  The sacristan makes sure the purificator is laid across the mouth of the chalice, and on it, the paten with the hosts to be consecrated.  On the paten, the pall is laid.  All is completely covered by the chalice veil, with the burse containing the corporal placed on top.  The veiled chalice is placed in the center of the altar, along with the closed Missal, facing straight out with edges towards the cross.  The six candles are lit (or two at Low Mass), which finishes the altar preparations.

By God’s command the Jewish priests wore a distinctive garb when they ministered in the Temple.  Scripture tells us they were vested in violet and purple, scarlet twice dyed, and fine linen.  Gold and precious stones were also used to give the person of the priest that dignity demanded by his exalted office.

No special dress was at first prescribed for the Christian priesthood.  During the early days the garments worn at the Holy Sacrifice were not dissimilar in form to the clothing of civilians.  They were distinguished, however, from profane apparel in richness and beauty of decorations and of course, their use was restricted to divine worship.

Secular fashion changed, but the Church clung to the ancient style.  Thus it was that garments once common to all, presently became the privileged dress of the clergy.  Faith then saw in each particular vestment a symbol relating to the Passion of Our Lord, and a reminder of some Christian duty.

The priest first takes the amice, a piece of fine linen in the form of a rectangle, places it for a moment on top of his head and prays, “Place, O Lord, on my head the helmet of salvation, that so I may resist the assaults of the devil.”  (cf. Eph 6:17). It then rests on his shoulders.

He puts on the Alb, a wide linen robe reaching to his feet and covering his whole body.  The vesting prayer is:  “Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may deserve an eternal reward.” It signifies the purity of conscience demanded of the priest.

The Cincture, a cord of linen, is fastened about his waist to confine the alb.  The vesting prayer is:  “Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me.” It symbolizes continence and chastity, and also readiness for hard work in God’s service.

The Maniple is a strip of silken cloth worn on the left arm of the priest.  The vesting prayer is: “May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors.” The maniple is an emblem of the tears of penance, the fatigue of the priestly office and its joyful reward in Heaven.

The Stole is a long band of silk of the same width as the maniple, but three times its length.  It is worn around the neck and crossed on the breast.  The vesting prayer is:  “Restore to me, O Lord, the state of immortality which I lost through the sin of my first parents and, although unworthy to approach Thy Sacred Mysteries, may I deserve nevertheless eternal joy.” The stole is a reminder of the yoke of Christ.  The priest’s burden is a heavy one, which Christ nevertheless makes sweet.

Finally, the Chasuble, the outer and chief vestment of the priest.  It is essentially the Mass vestment and is now exclusively reserved to the priest.  The vestment is familiar to all by reason of the cross usually embroidered on it.  The vesting prayer is:  “O Lord, who has said, ‘My yoke is sweet and My burden light,’ grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace.” The word chasuble is derived from the Latin word meaning “little house”.  An emblem of charity, it must encompass the priest completely.  When the ordaining bishop gives it to the new priest, he says: “Receive the priestly garment, for the Lord is powerful to increase in you charity and perfection.”

The Procession

Once the altar is prepared, the priest and acolytes assemble in the sacristy for a prayer, and the procession begins.  The procession of the priest and acolytes to the Altar is one of reverent approach to the place of sacrifice.  The priest wears the biretta, a black hat with three peaks surmounted by a tuft or pom.  Upon reaching the altar, the biretta is given to the acolyte, and they kneel at the foot of the altar.

The Asperges

The opening ceremony at Sunday Sung or High Mass gives clear indication of our disposition towards preparation for Mass, with the sprinkling of sacramental holy water upon the people and the church.  This practice was a later addition to the Mass, near the eighth century or thereabouts.  Holy water protects, purifies and cleanses us, just as the water we wash with every day, and the salt used during the blessing of the holy water represents our desire to be preserved from corruption.  Salt was the primary means the ancients knew of to preserve food from decay, and is the one of the first elements of symbolism we see employed in the Extraordinary Form.

The priest, who dons the cope, which is held away from him by the accompanying Master of Ceremonies, goes from one end of the nave to the other, sprinkling the faithful.  During the sprinkling, an ardent prayer-chant for purification is sung, the Asperges Me… “Thou shalt sprinkle me…”, except during Pascaltide when the antiphon draws instead from the prophet Ezechiel, in the Vidi Aquam…  “I saw the water coming from the right side of the temple.”  This makes reference to the water from the side of Christ on the cross.  At the Gloria Patri, the Priest and MC turn and bow to reverence the altar.

After the Asperges, the priest takes off his cope, and puts on his chasuble for offering Mass.  He ascends the steps to the high altar, goes to the Missal, and opens it.

For purification and preparation before Low Mass, after making the Sign of the Cross, the Judica Me from Psalm 42 and other prayers, including the Confiteor, are prayed at the foot of the altar, instead of the Asperges.

The priest makes the Sign of the Cross 52 times during Mass.  It is the universal symbol of the unbloody sacrifice perpetuated on the Altar.

The Introit

The Asperges is immediately followed by the Introit, or the Entrance prayer-chant.  It is the first of the four Proper prayers of the given day, and is sung by the schola from the Liber Usualis, or other suitable book of chant.

During the Introit, the altar is incensed, in an act of adoration.  The rising, fragrant smoke of incense reflects our prayers mounting towards God.  The fire of our love for Him burns in the thurible, turning the sacramental crystals of incense into a rich perfume offering.  Every piece of the altar is singled out, one by one, by swift motions of the thurible.  Even the six candlesticks on the high altar are incensed.

Formerly, after saying the prayer “May the Lord kindle in us the fire of His love and the flame of everlasting charity,” the deacon would go to incense the people uttering the words Bonus odor Christi, or “Behold the Fragrance of Christ.”

The Kyrié

Next the schola breaks out into an ancient prayer in Greek.  At this moment in the days of the Early Church, there was an indefinite litany of invocations in long form, crying out for the needs and intentions of the faithful, and for mercy, intermingled with the Kyrie Eleison.

This form of prayer was known to exist in the fourth century in the East, and came to be adopted in Rome about the fifth century.  In the Oriental liturgies the Kyrie Eleison can be found to be said up to one hundred times in succession.

Gradually, the litany was limited to nine supplications, the Kyrie Eleison being sung three times, followed by three times the Christe Eleison, and then three more times the Kyrie Eleison.  The number obviously honors the Blessed Trinity, and perhaps too the nine choirs of angels.  Due to the ornate nature of the chants which correspond to the Kyrie, quite a bit of time is spent during this invocation of God’s mercy.

The Gloria

The Gloria is sung after the Kyrie. From the fourth century it was sung at Lauds, but did not appear in the Mass until about the sixth century.  The Gloria was once reserved to the Papal Mass, eventually allowed to Bishops, and is now common to all priests and the faithful alike.  During the Gloria, the name Jesu Christe is sung frequently.  At the name of Jesus, all of those on the altar turn towards the crucifix and gently bow.  The schola slows down to sing more profoundly and distinctly the name of our Savior.

After the Gloria, the priest kisses the altar, and greets the people from the center of the altar with Dominus vobiscum, or “The Lord be with you.”  The priest first kisses the altar to renew his affirmation of the unity of all in Christ, and to show that the source of his priestly blessing is not from within, but from Christ.  Bishops will use Pax vobis instead, as the Lord himself said upon meeting his disciples after the resurrection.  While the meaning is the same, the Church wishes to reserve in her hierarchical nature Christ’s own words to her spiritual heads, the Bishops.  The congregation responds, Et cum spiritu, tuo, or “And with thy spirit.”

The peace spoken of in this greeting is the peace attained only through unity with our Christian brethren, both at home, and also in the sanctuary.  To live in sweet accord with one another, and to feel at home in the Church with our family of faith is what will bestow this peace, and allow us to offer it to others.

After the Gloria, as a continuation of the old litanies and the Kyrie, a collective prayer called the Collect is prayed on behalf of all the faithful.

The Priest Stands at the Epistle Side of the Altar

After being united in common devotion through the preceding prayers, Holy Mother Church now presents for our instruction the Holy Scriptures – the Epistle and Gospel.

It was the custom in the synagogue to read and explain two Scripture passages.  First, one from the Law, and the other a moral lesson, about which the rabbi preached.  Since reading from the Old Testament soon ceased after being abolished by Christ’s sacrifice, they heard instead from their pastors, the Apostles.  Communicating with the Church through letters became the common custom, passing from one community to another.  These were eventually recorded in the form of the Epistles.  Of course, the early Christians desire for eye-witness accounts of Jesus were unquenchable, so the “good news” of the Gospels, once spoken first or second hand, were truly some of the most effective ways to teach Christianity.

By the seventh century, singing of the Epistle was reserved to the deacon or sub-deacon, with the rest left to the lector.  The Missal is held by the one who proclaims it.  The Gospel was from the beginning the role of the Deacon, and is sung with hands together, with the book being held by the sub-deacon.

In ancient times, it was a sign of honor to have the book of laws carried before a dignitary, signifying their power to make laws, and carry them out.  This is why a richly bound Book of Gospels was commonly carried before the Holy Father at Solemn Mass.

Before the Gospel, the priest prays the Munda Cor Meum, that the Lord be on his lips and in his heart, to worthily and fittingly proclaim His Gospel.

Between the readings, there were chants sung usually from the Psalms, by the schola.  These chants of magnificent melodies are now called the Gradual, Alleluia or Tract, and are the most elaborate chants of the Liturgy.  The Gradual, Alleluia (or Tract during Lent) is the second Proper prayer of the day.

The Introit and Collect, and also the Epistle which follows are all prayed from the Missal from the right side of the altar, called the Epistle side.  For the Gospel, the book is reverently moved during the Gradual to the left, or Gospel side.  The acolyte takes the book, reverences the cross, and goes diagonally down the steps to genuflect.  Ascending the steps again in the same manner to the Gospel side, places the book at an angle towards the priest.  The torchbearers and thurifer accompany the Gospel Book with light and incense, signifying the presence of Christ in the Word, the light of the world.  This gesture symbolizes the turning away from the old law, and towards embracing the New Covenant, in the spirit of obedience through love, the value of redemptive suffering, and salvation through free repentance and subsequent forgiveness.

The Priest Stands at the Gospel Side of the Altar

After the Gospel, the priest moves to the center of the altar, takes off his maniple, and gives the homily to further instruct, clarify and relate the lessons to the faithful.

The Credo

The Creed of Constantinople was formulated from core elements of Catholic doctrine and inserted into the Mass at the beginning of the sixth century to combat heresies of the fourth and fifth centuries, “to purify by faith the hearts” of the faithful before communion.

Since it was essentially a profession of Faith, it had to be placed into the Mass after the Catechumens, those not yet baptized into full communion with the Church, had left the assembly, so it was positioned just prior to the Canon, at the commencement of the Offertory.

This change began in the East, and quickly was adopted in Spain.  It took two centuries to move into Europe, and two more until Rome, who was notorious for resisting change, followed suit.

The Credo is sung by the choir and congregation after the homily, and the Celebrant intones the first line from the center of the altar, after putting his maniple back on.

At the time of the Et incarnatus est, or the doctrine of the incarnation, everyone kneels, and the chant slows more and more until ETHOMOFACTUSEST which proclaims that Jesus became man.  After a slight hesitation, the chant resumes, and all stand.

The Offertory

Genuflection During Incense

The Offertory begins with the third Proper prayer of the day chanted by the schola, while the preparations are made at the altar for the prayers before consecration, and the consecration itself, which form the Canon of the Mass.  After the incense is blessed, the bread and wine are incensed, followed by the crucifix, and the altar itself, while reciting Psalm 140:“Welcome as incense-smoke let my prayer rise up before Thee, O Lord.  When I lift up my hands, be it as acceptable as the evening sacrifice.  O Lord, set a guard before my mouth, a barrier to fence in my lips.  Do not turn my heart towards thoughts of evil, to make excuses for my sins.” The washing of hands, the lavabo, takes place to symbolize the purity and inner cleanliness required to participate in the Sacrifice. Psalm 25 is prayed:“I will wash my hands among the innocent, and Iwill encompass Thine Altar, O Lord. …”

The bread and wine, or the oblata, are then offered to the Trinity with a majestic prayer which states the purpose for the sacrifice.

Feeling his unworthiness, the priest turns around to the people for a moment and requests their prayers at the Orate Fratres.

The Secret ends the Offertory, and introduces the oblation of Sacrifice.

The Canon

The Preface of the Most Holy Trinity then gives praise and thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ, in union with all of Heaven, and introduces the Canon.  Canon is a word derived from the Greek Kanon meaning order, direction and rule.  The Preface, sung from the center of the altar,  is followed by the “Trisagion”, or “thrice holy”, the hymn of the angels, the Sanctus.  All kneel at the Sanctus, and remain in a heavy silence until the Pater Noster, or Our Father.  Three bells chime, one with each Sanctus sung.

The Canon is the oldest part of the Mass.  The order of the prayers were fully defined by the sixth century, or perhaps the fifth.  The central theme here is thanksgiving.  The Greek word Eucharistia literally means thanksgiving or gratitude.

During the Canon, the MC assist the priest a great deal, turning pages in his Missal, and assisting in his genuflections.  The priest may not disjoin his fingers after they touch the consecrated host until washing them at the ablutions, and thus the MC assists as necessary.  However, the MC gives the priest a moment of privacy during the Memento, the prayers of commemoration of the living and the dead, when the priest can offer his own personal intentions for the Mass.

Unity Between Heaven and Earth

At Mass, especially during the Canon, The Church Militant kneels in the pews with the entire Church Suffering and Church Triumphant, which span peoples and cultures of all time.  All of the Angels accompany us to the altar of sacrifice, and we stand with them, imperceptibly outside the bounds of time, where only there can be seen the whole story of salvation history.

The Faith we possess today is the same Faith held by the early Church, and thus it too transcends time and space.  Even more so does the supernatural gift of the Eucharist unite Catholics of all time.

This is why the Church relishes in her history  and that of mankind, and preserves with fervor her Traditions, such as the prayers of the Canon.  With each new generation comes bountiful graces, an ever increasing understanding  and development of divine revelation, and additional Saints who go on to join the ranks of Heaven.

The mind of God is always constant, and does not evolve.  Thus, anything the Church declares good and holy must forever remain as such, because her authority instructs us unerringly.

The priest, just before the consecrations, implores the Church Triumphant – the Saints of heaven, and especially Our Blessed Mother, the Apostles and Martyrs, laying claim to their merits  and prayers.  The bells are rung once now at the Hanc Igitur, indicating the Consecration is near, and that at last, God is being urgently implored to be pleased, and to change our offering into his dearly beloved Son.

The Consecrations

The Consecration

The bread is consecrated lying flat on the corporal,  in a similar fashion to Christ, when he was clothed on the cross with only one loincloth.

The altar corporal was once was a huge cloth extending the length of the altar and hanging over the sides, to cover the altar.  Today the altar is always clean and indoors, thus the corporal is only a small piece of linen large enough to hold the chalice and host.

The torchbearers assemble behind the priest, and the thurifer gets ready to incense the Host after consecration.

The Elevations

 In adoration after each consecration, while the  congregation is still in silence, the priest genuflects twice, before and after the Elevation, and the bells are rung three times, representing the real presence of the Blessed Trinity.  The MC, kneeling directly behind the priest, elevates the priest’s chasuble, an act of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament, and the .

For ten centuries, it was enough for the faithful to appreciate the presence of Jesus on the altar.  During the Middle Ages, a wave of desire to see the body of Christ came over the faithful.  It was Archbishop Eudes near the year 1200 who first prescribed the practice of the Elevations.  It was much later that the elevation of the chalice was adopted.

At the Elevation

While the elevation plays no part in the act of consecration, which has already taken place, St. Pius X encouraged the private act of devotion to pray the ejaculation“My Lord and my God,” while the Host is being elevated, and enriched it with indulgences.

The only words said aloud by the priest during the Canon are those three of self-humiliation, while striking his breast, to acknowledge his own faults and contrition.

The Canon ends as it began, with thanksgiving and praise during the minor elevation, when the priest holds the host over the chalice, and makes the sign of the cross with it five times.

The Communion

To place the Sacrifice of the Mass in the proper context, that of the Last Supper, it is appropriate to pray the Pater Noster, or the Our Father.  After the priest prays the Libera Nos, which expands upon the final words of  etition in Our Lord’s prayer, he breaks the host.

The breaking of the consecrated Host has always been an important rite, so much so that in early times it was used as the name of the Eucharist itself, the Fractio.  At one time, the bread offering was brought by the people in a variety of shapes and sizes, and had to be divided.  Today, only the host of the priest is broken.

The ancient Mass contained two events when a mingling of the body with the blood of Christ took place.  The first was a fragment held over from the previous Mass, to signify the unbroken oneness  of the perpetual Sacrifice.  The second was performed to show the unity of the Sacrificial Victim, despite his representation under two species, consecrated separately.  The two species are consecrated separately to represent the separation of the Body of Christ from his Blood, when hanging from the cross, his side was pierced.  The Agnus Dei is sung immediately thereafter.

Domine Non Sum Dignus

The Communion must begin with the priest’s communion, which completes the sacrifice.  The priest prays for holiness, for grace, and then three times the Domine Non Sum Dignus, to both admit of his unworthiness to receive the sacrament, and commemorate the prayer of the humble Centurion.  Then the priest makes his communion.

The priest then turns around to display the Lord saying, Ecce Agnus Dei, or behold the Lamb of God…  The people then say three times their own Domine Non Sum Dignus, and approach the communion rail to receive.  There have been many ways to receive communion over the years, however the norm today is to receive kneeling, and on the tongue.

The Post Communion

After communion, the schola chants the fourth and final Proper prayer of the day, the communion antiphon and verse.  A short time of Thanksgiving is provided to the faithful as the ablutions take place.  Out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament, wine and water are poured into the chalice, and then over the fingers of the priest, which have not been separated since much earlier in the Canon.  The priest disjoins his fingers, drinks from the chalice, and dries it.

After the ablutions, the priest goes to the Epistle side of the altar once again, prays the post communion prayers,  and then moves to the center to give the dismissal.  In the Placeat, he petitions that our Sacrament be beneficial to himself and all the people, and then sings Ete Missa Est, or “Go, the Mass is ended,” bringing theSacred Liturgy to a close.  The final blessing is given, ending with the Sign of the Cross.

Before Communion

There is one more reading from scripture, which takes place at the end of every Sung Mass.  It is taken from the Gospel of St John, and tells the story of the Incarnation of Jesus, when the Word was made Flesh.  It is during these words that we kneel briefly, to acknowledge this great act of salvation by our Savior.  After the Last Gospel is sung, the server answers, Deo Gratias.  The priest and MC, accompanied by all of the acolytes, reverently process back to the sacristy.

Request the Extraordinary Form

If you remember this Mass from your childhood, or are a young Catholic who would like to experience the splendor of the Extraordinary Form first hand for the very first time, go to your parish priest and request that the Extraordinary Form be celebrated.  There are many resources available to help priests and the laity alike learn this Mass.

To begin, you will find it very helpful to contact an UnaVoce chapter in your area for assistance.  You may go to for a list of parishes who are Una Voce chapters, along with many other helpful links and publications.

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