Pray the Mass.
By Grieg Taber.
New York: St. Mary's Press, 1953.
"Blessed, praised and adored be Jesus Christ on His throne of glory and in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar."
THE Mass is admittedly the very core and mainspring of the Catholic’s devotional life. Happy is that Catholic worshipper who prays the Mass better and better as he continues his faithful attendance at our blessed Lord’s own service.
It is well to remind ourselves that every Mass is a new devotional experience. At every Celebration Jesus in a very real sense descends again into the Virgin’s womb and hangs again on the Cross for our salvation, since the Mass is our blessed Lord’s own way of continuing the blessings and graces both of the Incarnation and of Calvary. Every time a priest goes up the altar steps to celebrate Mass, he is happy to be the human agent for bringing anew into the midst of the faithful Jesus Christ in His glorified humanity as well as His divinity. Every time a faithful worshipper attends Mass he is greeting anew his Lord who descends so humbly to the altar. So it happens that whether a worshipper be priest or layman he cannot callously consider presence at Mass just the routine business of Catholic duty, but rather the means of welcoming afresh Him Who comes down from heaven.
You see when you and I go to Mass we are really lifted up to heaven. We therefore find ourselves quite naturally joining in with the worship of angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven where God is fully present. At the same time heavenly glory shines upon the earthly signs and veils on the altar during Mass and further this glory illumines the spiritual darkness of us humble and unworthy worshippers. To put it differently, at Mass we worshippers are exalted to heaven and at Mass Jesus Christ descends to earth. Thus at Mass we praise Jesus enthroned at the right hand of the Father in heavenly glory and we supplicate Him as He dwells in our very midst here on earth. This is why our prayers at Mass do not represent dreamy ecstasy on the one hand or formal lip-service on the other, but rather a genuine consecration of our minds and our emotions and our wills to Jesus and His love. We then with utter confidence let that love carry us where it will. We find to our great joy that it carries us through sacrifice to glory, for the Mass is the Sacrifice of the Cross made accessible to us.
What is the relation between the priest who celebrates a Mass and the worshipper who assists at a Mass? It is a very close one. The priest is a representative of the whole congregation and he acts for them and they take part in what he does. A celebrant however cannot pray the Mass for you. This means that as a worshipper in the congregation you need not follow every word and gesture of the celebrant. God help you if you do. You will naturally be saying private devotions (do not, however, rattle a rosary so that the worshipper next you cannot even think) and these private devotions are all right provided that you find yourself joining again and again in the corporate parts of the Mass. These parts of the Mass are indeed the voice of the Church Catholic as she expresses that which neither priest nor congregation is able to express fully. Surely we must not be content with expressing ourselves for our prayers at Mass would then be too trivial if not too sordid. After all prayer is the lifting up of the soul to God and the lift will be great if it is not centered on self.
Our gracious Mother, Holy Church, fears that her children may become too solemnly individualistic at Mass. She provides therefore for the overpowering of the ego. She does not permit those who would stress self-expression to say and do at Mass just what they like. If she did the Mass would be earthward bound. But the Mass is heavenward bound. So’ Mother Church catches her children up into color, ceremonial and music. She does not allow them to withdraw into their selfish selves but takes them into the corporate intercession for the Church on earth and bids them pray for the departed and assures them that the saints are praying for them and joining their prayers with those of earth’s pilgrims. She even helps her children to worship in the highest of spirits amid a blaze of lights and the glory of music and the majesty of the Liturgy which lifts her poor, half-hearted, weary and wandering children heavenward. She supplants their critical faculties with adoration for they are in the Throne Room of the King of kings. This is why we do not spend our energies at Mass criticising the quality of incense or the light from stained glass windows or the music or the language of the Prayer Book or the gestures of priest and acolytes or the behavior or dress of fellow worshippers. No, we are not at Mass to express ourselves because it requires the poet, the musician, the artist, yes, the saint to do this for us. Wisely the Church uses in the Mass the best that can be produced by all of these combined. It is for us to say a grateful Amen.
Let us never forget that in the Mass we adore Jesus and He prays his Father for us, showing Him His wounds. Thus in the Mass we learn to pray as He prays and for what He prays. And so praying we quite naturally find ourselves striving to make our interior sacrifice correspond with that exterior sacrifice sacramentally renewed in the Mass. Further, we feel ourselves prompted to make our whole lives correspond to that interior sacrifice and in Holy Communion we gain the strength to do so. In the words of our own Liturgy we “offer ourselves, our souls and our bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice.” We place ourselves on the altar as victims with the Divine Victim,—our self-will slain that His will may be done. This is why the Mass may not be rightly thought of as private prayer such as could be said at home or public prayer of a holier-than-thou congregation. It is Jesu’s perfect prayer of self-giving in which we are privileged to take part. As we pray the Mass, thus we give ourselves. When we hesitate to give ourselves, sin-stained as we are, then let us remember that we may offer ourselves to the Father in union with the merits of the great and perfect Self-Giver, Jesus Christ.
May we at every Mass we attend really pray the Mass. May we lift up our souls in prayer as did a Christian poet who wrote:
“For see the rapturous moment
Approaches, and earth’s best endowment
Blends with heaven’s . . .
Earth breaks up, time drops away,
In flows heaven with its new day
Of endless life.”
NOW all that constitutes the Preparation for the Mass is not to be considered lightly as something to be hurried over or to be avoided through tardiness in arriving. The Sign of the Cross properly begins the Preparation,—the Cross whose mystery all are about to experience with grateful awe as the Mass unfolds. This sign is to be traced with reverence, with wonder, with glad gratitude and with calm recollection for without all that the Cross stands for we should indeed be men without hope. It is traced above all with humility as we recognize that friendship with God forfeited through man’s rebellion has been regained through the Sacrifice of the God-man Jesus Christ on Calvary and that not in our own name but in His name can we merit atonement.
Following upon the Sign of the Cross the Preparation proceeds with the treasured psalm “Give sentence with me, O God, etc.” This song we join in with for it is the song of the exile, the song of him who is withdrawn from God into the loneliness of self-pleasing with all of its attendant agony of soul. We cry “Why hast thou put me from thee and why go I so heavily while the enemy oppresseth me?” Yes, the song takes us out of the self-chosen darkness into the God-chosen light as it continues—“I will go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness.” Out of the sorrow that we experience as we see Love ignored in our daily living we draw near again and with confidence to that Love. Yes, Jesus Lover of our souls will soon restore us to union with the love of the Father. To put it differently, the life of the prodigal will soon be the life of the son at home again. Indeed, the journey home to the father is about to begin and our fears take their flight as Jesus takes us by the hand and leads us to our heavenly Father.
Even so, we honestly hesitate. We wait till we make our confession. So the Confiteor begins. We must own up to our sinfulness,—own up before God the Father whose wayward sons and daughters we have been, own up to Our Lady, the Mother of us all, for we have been of little credit to her, own up to the angels and the saints as not worthy of their guardianship and prayers. As we think of our sins we do not even look up, either toward the Cross or the altar, for our own weakness makes us oh so ashamed. If we are to be ready to look up to those symbols that represent the Sacrifice of the Mass, namely the Cross and the Altar, we need forgiveness. Confidence comes, for we know of the merits of Jesus, and so we dare pray twice for pardon. But we are not through with our Preparation. We join in the Collect for Purity, reminding ourselves that outward purity of conduct is one thing but that inward purity of heart is quite another and a much higher thing. You see our ideals must be deeper than those of the world which for the most part looks on outward appearance. The Gospel is our standard and by that standard we know that it is only the pure in heart who will see God. So we pray that the thoughts of our hearts and not merely the words of our lips, may be made clean for our blessed Lord has said “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” These thoughts will be clean if our motives are centered on God’s glory and if our primary vocation is that of being Christians, with other callings mere avocations.
Then we hear the Summary of the Law as the Preparation draws to a close. “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith,” the celebrant says. Gladly do we listen for our blessed Lord alone speaks with authority. We spend hours on earthly studies seeking an adequate explanation of life but life can be explained only by Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He alone could say as He did say “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” And what do we hear? We hear that it is love alone that matters, love of God first and then love of man who is made in the image of God. What wonderful Christians we would be if we were to put love in our lives in the place of conceit and envy and anger and all the other forms of self-centeredness. Now if at the beginning of the Mass we hear what our Lord Jesus Christ says we shall perhaps be the more ready to hear all else that He says during the Mass, especially as His holy Gospel spreads forth in its loveliness. We shall not wish to become heretics, picking and choosing from our blessed Lord’s teaching that which particularly appeals to us, but rather we shall arrive at that confident state in which we recognize that life guided by Jesus leads to the enjoyment of perfect communion with God. A life so guided will often have its difficulties and always its mysteries but it will also have its buoyant optimism rising from the winning gentleness with which the divine Saviour woos our souls away from the control of the world, the flesh or the devil.
Now the Preparation ended, we are ready with the celebrant in the spirit of supplication to ascend the altar. On arriving there the priest bows low and kisses the altar. This Kiss symbolizes the union that is brought about between God and Man in and through Jesus Christ. This Kiss represents the union of the priest with Jesus Christ since only in that union does he presume to enter the Holy of Holies, there to offer an oblation. This Kiss signifies too that the Cross must be embraced (and the altar has five crosses carved in it representing the five wounds of the Redeemer) if we would reach the joy of the Resurrection in newness of life. At this point in the Mass kiss in spirit the altar reminding yourself that you are involved in Christ’s death so that you may share in His Resurrection. Yes kiss in spirit the altar as you aver that you will die with Christ and for Christ so as to live no longer your own life but His. At this precious moment commit your heart to God.
Now the Mass begins with the Introit. God is coming to meet us and to introduce us into the mystery of the day. The Introit draws us into contact with His presence which fills the texts of antiphon, psalm and Gloria. Indeed, He who is waiting for us speaks. Follow the Introit and you will be lifted into the presence of God. Imagine yourself at Mass on the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity as you hear for the Introit “When all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne. Ps. 93. The Lord is King, and hath put on glorious apparel: the Lord hath put on his apparel and girded himself with strength. Glory be etc.” Would you not be ready to regard the altar as another Bethlehem after hearing such an Introit as this? Or imagine yourself at Mass on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi as you hear for the Introit “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world. Ps. 42. I cried unto the Lord with my voice: yea even unto the Lord did I make my supplication. Glory be etc.” On hearing this Introit would you not wish at Mass to share with the saint who received the stigmata of strong union with the Crucified? Or imagine yourself at Mass on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple as you hear the Introit “We have waited O God for thy loving kindness in the midst of thy temple; according to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the world’s end: thy right hand is full of righteousness. Ps. 48. “Great is the Lord and highly to be praised: in the city of our God, even upon his holy hill. Glory be etc.” As you hear this Introit would you not rejoice as you share with Anna and Simeon the blessing from the Sun of Righteousness as He comes in the Blessed Sacrament? Yes, pray the Introit and be caught up into the Divine Presence.
WHEN we reach the Kyrie in the Holy Mass, we vividly remind ourselves that we are mendicants here on earth and mere creatures needing mercy and vision from God the Creator,—mercy because of our sins and vision because these sins of ours do blind us to God’s love and goodness. Once we forget that we are beggars in need and mere creatures to be moulded as clay by the heavenly Potter, our lives become upside-down and the truth is not in us. So in the Mass we cry “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Yes, Lord have mercy on us and our friends and our enemies and the whole race of mankind for all have sinned and failed to respond with fullness of love to the perfect love of God. Lord have mercy on us who are in some way responsible for the broken mystical Body of Christ, the Church, which by man’s sin has been split into three Catholic bodies and shattered into numerous Protestant sects. Mercy it is that we need for we have sinned and are not worthy that Jesus should come into our midst in the Blessed Sacrament. When we join in the Kyrie we must certainly be reminded of Saint John the Baptist, the brunt of whose teaching was repentance and confession of sins since the Redeemer, the Lamb of God, was drawing, nigh to sinful men.
The Kyrie is often said or sung in Greek which carries us in spirit back to the earliest Masses which were in Greek and reminds us too of the universality of God’s mercy extended to all the members of the Church be they of Eastern or Western origin. The Kyrie is usually ninefold and as the nine cries for mercy go up to God from our penitent hearts we may well think of the nine heavenly choirs who forever praise God as an atonement for the sin of Lucifer and his fallen angels. Then too, the Kyrie is uttered in threes,—three Kyries addressed to God the Father, three Christes addressed to God the Son, and finally three Kyries addressed to God the Holy Ghost. Thus each of the persons of the Blessed Trinity is supplicated by us creatures, humiliated and unworthy and grovelling by reason of our sins.
Gloria in Excelsis
The Kyrie ended, the Church bids us cheer up for we are meant to be joyful, radiant Christians. So she begins the Gloria in Excelsis, that very early Greek hymn of praise and adoration. It begins with the message of Christmas given by the angels at the very dawn of redemption. When the celebrant starts “Glory be to God on high” and we go on “and on earth peace, good will towards men” we can in our mind’s eye get a glimpse of angels heralding Jesu’s birth even amid the blackness of Bethlehem’s night. It is no far cry to lift up our souls to glory even amid the darkness of our sins. Oh, let us put our souls into the Gloria that Christmas may yet be for the world. Let us unite with all men as we stand as one and let us join with the poor in spirit in these modest yet exultant words “We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we glorify thee” and then lose ourselves in “we give thanks to thee for thy great glory.” Yes, it is this glory that brings home to our minds and hearts the infinite distance God’s love has crossed to reach us in our unworthiness.
Now as the Gloria in Excelsis goes on, we in awe and wonder address ourselves to Jesus Incarnate with the words “O Lord, the only begotten Son Jesus Christ.” In spirit we are taken from Bethlehem through a flight of thirty years to the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth. With blessed John the Baptist as he preaches repentance for the shadow of sin on the earth we behold Jesus approach and we cry “O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.” Then we are carried on in spirit years later and unite with Saint John the Divine and see Jesus in glory and beg for mercy of Him “that sittest at the right hand of God the Father.” What a sweep of devotion for the worshipper who is not bound to today!
The Gloria in Excelsis draws to its close with “For thou only art holy, thou only art the Lord, thou only O Jesus Christ with the Holy Ghost art most high in the glory of God the Father.” Is it any wonder that the average composer of a musical setting for the Mass lavishes all his genius at this part of the Gloria to try to make the worshippers feel the triumph of it all? This final burst of praise gathers up in words all that the Holy Mass is to be, namely, the one sacrifice by which we may give to God the Father what is His due—Jesus Christ in union with the Holy Ghost—that through this perfect Gift our imperfect offerings may be accepted. This is worship at its height! Let the Gloria in Excelsis lift us off our feet. It can if we will.
THE Collect is introduced by the celebrant’s “The Lord be with you.” As he stretches out his hands he includes all, even those too lazy to get up and go to Mass, and in so doing he symbolizes our blessed Lord and His invitation to all sinners “Come unto me.” To the celebrant the congregation replies “And with thy spirit,” thus uniting themselves with the celebrant as he proceeds further in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Whenever worshippers say “And with thy spirit” they are trying to get themselves out of themselves and their individualism and join with the priest who is representing the whole body of the faithful. This is important, else the individual worshipper would remain just the individual worshipper—”me and God,” no one else!
Whereas each Mass has its own proper Collect, or Collects if commemorations are being made according to the full Christian Kalendar, the Collect must always be thought of as the breath of the soul sighed Godward. The Collect is prayer, indeed it is the height of prayer for its purpose you will find is never to inform God nor to move His will but rather to make us become more capable of receiving His gifts by opening our eyes to the love of the King of Glory. The Collect is always wonderfully simple. Yes, it is a bare, pure, brief expression of devotion intended to carry us over the abysses of light and darkness, sorrow and peace. It is never petty for it represents the soul stripping itself to such an extent that she wills nothing save the will of God.
Pray devotionally any Collect and you will find that it will illumine your mind afresh, increase your faith, cast out a perverse reasoning, banish a crooked desire, and enable you to take up your cross and follow the divine Saviour in the happy company of the saints. The Collect will also catch you up into the Body Corporate, the whole Church Catholic, and force you to feel relatively unimportant as an individual. It will help you to recognize needs as general and not personal. It will release unto you great spiritual force by urging you to bring your human will into cooperation with the divine Will as you become a fellow worker with God. At Mass, then, Pray the Collect and experience the flow of grace into your devotional life.
The Collect ended, the Epistle is read. Never think of this as a stuffy dissertation but rather as a homely letter written you from a distance that God’s voice may come to you through one of His saints who has lived a life of union with Him. This voice may come to you as it does more usually from Saint Paul, or it may come from Saint Peter or Saint John or possibly Saint James. Sometimes it comes from an Old Testament prophet or from the first Christian history book written by Saint Luke and called The Acts, or from the vision of Saint John the Apostle called the Revelation. In these cases it is called the Lesson instead of the Epistle. Call it by what name you will, when it is ended you say “Thanks be to God” not because it is finished but because as you sat and listened to it you received some practical advice as to how to live more godly in this world, how to keep yourself without spot, how to place the business and profession of being a Christian along with any other business and profession. You learned something perhaps about the sort of charity and purity and mercy and faith you must have if you would witness to the God who made you. Yes, receive the Epistle or Lesson as a primary manual of the spiritual life and it will never become worn out or stale, and don’t forget to say “Thanks be to God.”
Gradual and Alleluia or Tract
After the Epistle the Gradual is read. This is to help the worshipper to reflect for himself on what may have been received in the Epistle. The next time you hear a Gradual listen carefully, for the Gradual will inevitably proclaim for you “Arise and come.” Yes, take to yourself the lesson learned.
In festal seasons the Alleluia follows upon the Gradual. This is at once a cry of joy and of humility. The soul bursts into praise and yet its voice is lost in joy. It finds itself incapable of defining the meaning of its joy and yet it cannot be kept silent. This is why the Alleluia in the High Mass often takes so long in the singing and the singers seem to be lost at times, but it comes out all right in the end. As a worshipper do not lose your religion at this point, but lose yourself through your incapability of expressing all that you would. In ferial seasons, the Tract replaces the Alleluia. It is solemn and pours forth sorrow and love, delicately intermingled.
On certain great occasions a Sequence follows upon the Alleluia or Tract. On Easter Day you hear the “Christians to the Paschal Victim,” on Pentecost the “Come, thou Holy Spirit, come,” on Corpus Christi the “Laud, O Zion thy Salvation,” on the Compassion of Our Lady or the Seven Sorrows “By the Cross, her Station keeping” and on All Souls’ Day and at certain Requiems “Day of wrath and doom impending.” If the worshipper would follow carefully these Sequences, many of them of considerable length, he would be lifted to a higher plane, both devotionally and theologically speaking.
Now we come to the Gospel. It is such good news—news of life and liberty and joy—that we greet its announcement by standing and saying “Glory be to thee, O Lord” while we sign our forehead, lips and breast each with a cross in token that the message of the Gospel may control our thoughts and words and inmost feelings. A worshipper can never listen to the Gospel without being challenged to do away with illusions and all wishful thinking. He is reminded of his great privilege and duty as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. He takes courage as one united to Christ. God’s love shines forth for him as Jesus by His own words invites him to come unto Him and to make His words and His life a model for daily living. Yes, in the Gospel the worshipper finds the proper basis for his work as a Christian missionary. The whole positive Christian life is illustrated in crystal clear fashion in the life of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For him through the pages of the Gospel his Lord Jesus becomes real as His holiness goes into action in human life and human language. Is it any wonder that before reading the Gospel the priest prays “Cleanse my heart and my lips, O thou Almighty God, who didst purge the lips of Isaiah the Prophet with a live coal: and of thy sweet mercy vouchsafe so to purify me that I may worthily proclaim thy holy Gospel: through Christ our Lord”? Is it any wonder too that, after the Gospel is finished, all burst into gratitude saying “Praise be to thee, O Christ” while the celebrant in loving reverence kisses the book from which the Gospel is read?
Following the Gospel, the congregation, still standing and ready to battle for the Faith, recites the Nicene Creed, kneeling in lowly adoration at the memorial of the Incarnation “And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” Where would we be without this fact? We should be men without hope, drifting on a sea of uncertainty and spiritual poverty. The Incarnation is the central fact of the Creed, yet the entire Creed comprises an orderly expression of the Christian Faith. To those who approach life only from the external viewpoint the Creed is a stumbling block, but to those who would believe in the reality of the supernatural it is the bread of life, for all such approach life with humility and reverence and from their soul’s desire. It has been said that the Creed is Christ for it strives to utter Him. Indeed, it contains His teaching in its most compact form. The Creed does not remove mystery, thank God, for mystery must of necessity be the setting of the life of God, but the Creed does enlarge our vision of the mystery of the Infinite. What the Creed really says is “God is love” and it says it again and again—love in three Sacred Persons of the one Deity, love in the Holy Catholic Church, love here and love hereafter. Occasionally one hears the remark “But why should the Creed be part of worship” and we reply that the recitation of the Creed is one way to worship God with the mind. The intellect goes out to God as the Creed unfolds. After all, the intellect must travel on right lines and these are set by the Creed. Truth does matter. So may we never be ashamed to profess our belief. This profession very often cost the early Christians their lives, but this profession costs us nothing in comparison. In our country today the men of the world merely try to offer inducements to draw us away from the Catholic Faith and follow that broad path which our blessed Lord assures us leads to destruction. Always must we treat the Creed with reverence and respect. It is not for us to speculate about it or water it down, or merely argue about it, for it is the Catholic Church’s statement of Divine Revelation of which she is by Christ’s own command the authoritative custodian. It is the Church’s Creed first and our Creed only as members of that Church. Every time we recite the Creed we should let it revive memories, each one calling out our gratitude, deepening the pride with which we recite it and renewing our determination to hold it unsullied before God and man. These memories will often be memories of the saints and confessors who framed the Creed and then, refusing to treat it with remote respect, lived it. Shall we too live the Creed in our daily lives in the world and thus live on the only sure foundation that there is? God grant that we may!
If there is to be a Sermon at Mass it follows the Gospel and the Creed. Woe be to that preacher who preaches anything other than that which could harmoniously fit into the framework which the Gospel and the Creed together establish. God have mercy on the congregation that would seek any truth other than the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Let the words of blessed Paul ring in the ears of preachers and hearers alike: “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord: and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
AS members of a praying congregation and not merely spectators at the Holy Mass, what do we do at that important part of the Mass called the Offertory? Well, we keep in mind that the altar, the center of the Divine Liturgy, is literally the poor man’s table. Thereon is placed just some bread and a little wine, food and drink that are easily provided, yet into this bread and wine has gone the labor of man. It was the famous King Wenceslas who made it his habit to make in person the altar bread for his own chapel, since he believed that any king should be proud to labor with his hands for so lofty a purpose. Undoubtedly he felt as we should feel when the celebrant offers bread and wine that Jesus seems to say “Give Me your life as it is and I will make it My life as it is.”
Indeed, our religion is the religion of the little things, bread and wine offered to God that He may give them back to us clothed about with His presence as He gives His life, commingling It with ours. Beneath that delicate wafer offered at Mass we are to feed upon the immortal King of the ages and from that chalice offered at Mass we are to quench our thirst by drinking Jesu’s Blood which springs up into life eternal. As both are offered, if we ourselves are caught up into the true spirit of offering we shall place on the paten and in the chalice which the priest lifts up all that we possess and all that we are,—yes, our sins, our faults, our negligences, our virtues, our prayers and the needs of all the members of the family of God, be they living or departed. Thus we have a share in the great Divine Act of our most Holy Redeemer.
In making our offering we must make it for the whole world. The Sacred Heart of Jesus has no bounds for its love and our hearts must have no bounds for their love. So at every Mass we may make our offering for those who cannot or will not make their own offering, just as at the time of Holy Communion we shall receive the Body and Blood of Christ for those who cannot or will not receive the Blessed Sacrament. We would do well to remember this when we pick up the daily paper and read the continued tale of the sorrows and the crimes and the burdens of the children of the world.
When the priest celebrant is preparing the chalice he pours a drop or two of water into the wine, thereby signifying that we are identifying ourselves with Jesus by partaking of His divinity, symbolized by the wine, as He shares our humanity, symbolized by the water.
Up to the Thirteenth Century it was the custom for worshippers to bring to Mass gifts in kind, namely, bread, wine, oil, incense, etc. The priest would keep of these gifts that which was needed for worship and distribute that which remained to the poor. After all, Christ could not and must not be separated from His poor. Since that time, gifts in kind have been replaced by gifts of money. It is of course possible to think of money as filthy lucre, but it is just as proper to regard money to be as holy as bread and wine and the labor that goes into the making of bread and wine. Indeed, money in our modern world is the substitute for labor and when used for the worship of the Church and the support of her poor children it becomes a veritable expression of love. To this day in some parish churches money placed loose on the collection plate at Mass, and apart from the pledge envelopes containing one’s church dues, is used solely for things needed in the celebration of the Mass and as alms for the poor.
After the gifts are assembled on the altar at the Offertory the celebrant says the Secret, the prayer used after other private prayers of the priest, in which he begs God to accept these gifts. One of the best examples of this Secret is that appointed for the Christmas Mass at Daybreak: “We pray thee, O Lord, that these our oblations may be worthy of the mysteries which we celebrate on the Birth of thy Son, and may evermore shed forth thy peace within our hearts: that, even as he who was born in the substance of our manhood did shew forth therein the glory of the Godhead, so we, in these thy earthly creatures may be made partakers of that which is heavenly . . . .”
As the priest offers the paten he offers the Host for sins and negligences and for all Christians living and departed that It may bring to them and to the present worshippers eternal salvation. He offers his life and he offers his love that he too may be one with Christ Crucified. As he offers the chalice, he reminds himself of Christ’s Blood that was drawn out by the scourge and by the crown of thorns and that was_ so copiously shed on Calvary’s Cross for all of the children of men. Now as the celebrant makes this offering, the worshipping congregation offer themselves as one with Christ, ready to meet the demands of God and ready to actually seek the next opportunity for sacrifice in God’s name, be it a sacrifice of time or money or energy.
The Offertory draws to its conclusion as the priest celebrant washes his hands before proceeding with the Immaculate Sacrifice, while the prayers-he says bid him to remember that purity of heart is required by his sacred office. This done, he asks the Most Holy Trinity to accept his sacrifice. Then he turns to the congregation, some of whom by now have become inattentive and others forgetful, as he says “Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty,” to which an aroused congregation replies “May the Lord receive this sacrifice at thy hands to the praise and glory of His name, both to our benefit and that of all His Holy Church.” What a wonderful conclusion to the Offertory!
In our liturgy, before the Communion Devotions there comes the Prayer for the Church. During this prayer all intercede for the whole Church Catholic, the mystical body of Christ, mindful that this Church, though shattered into fragments by man’s sin, must strive to become one again through man’s submission to the will of the Captain of his salvation.
The Communion Devotions consist of the Invitation, Confession, Absolution and Comfortable Words. When the Invitation is read, remember that it is given even to a Judas in the congregation. It is a reminder of the requirements for a good communion, one that will bring salvation and not damnation to the soul of the communicant. These requirements are repentance, charity, obedience and faith. Now this does not mean that the repentance and charity and obedience and faith of any communicant must be perfect before he presumes to receive Holy Communion. He would never receive were this to be the case. No one is ever good enough! However, every communicant who heeds this invitation can by God’s .grace stir up his repentance and obedience and faith and charity to such an extent that he can kneel in love beside another communicant whose sin he hates but whose soul he loves because God loves that soul.
The Invitation is followed by the Confession. You see we are Publicans and not Pharisees before God’s altar. Let us as a corporate group say “God be merciful to me a sinner” even though we have as individuals sought His mercy on our mortal sins in the Sacrament of Holy Penance a few hours before. After the Confession comes the Absolution, the assurance of God’s pardon.
The Communion Devotions reach their conclusion in the Comfortable Words, those words of God Incarnate or one of His saints which remind us that whereas we fail God does not fail and that whereas we are discouraged God is not discouraged. Yes, Jesus is about to offer Himself anew as the unfailing resource of our failing wills. His word abides for ever. We take courage and plunge presently into the depths of the Holy Mass.
AS we wend our way through the Holy Mass we come to the Preface which leads to or prefaces the most important part of the Mass, the Consecration. Actually the Preface may be thought of primarily as an act of thanksgiving. We think of our blessed Lord as having gone on before us to lighten with His love our path from earth to heaven. When the Incarnate Lord was here on earth, the heart of His prayer life was thanksgiving and as a form of that thanksgiving he instituted the Blessed Sacrament and that is why we so fittingly call the Holy Mass the Holy Eucharist,—the Holy Thanksgiving. As He celebrated the first Mass in the Upper Room in Jerusalem He was about to die a death absolutely unique in its frightful suffering and yet He gave thanks for the love which this death should express and the fruitfulness promised this saving death. How natural then for us in the next and every succeeding celebration of the Mass to send up our hearts! “Lift up your hearts” the celebrant bids us and our reply comes tumbling along “We lift them up unto the Lord.” By the Sacred Heart of Him who is to be both Priest and Victim in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we send up an infinite thanksgiving, for Jesu’s thanksgiving is infinite since it is the thanksgiving of the Infinite God and we send up our thanksgiving as happy redeemed children. Yes, the celebrant says “Let us give thanks unto our Lord God” and we readily respond with “It is meet and right so to do.” We know that God, whose love is infinite and surpasses the greatest human love, never wills for us anything save that which is for our good. With confidence we can say beforehand “I thank Thee,” knowing that later on we shall understand.
The Preface takes us on from praise to praise, from thanks to thanks. ^What a world of gratitude is put into a small space! And just stop and think. At Christmas we give thanks because God has made Himself visible here on earth. At Epiphany we give thanks in that God as man is the light to bring the children of men out of darkness into His own resplendent light. At Passion-tide we give thanks because the Redeemer conquers even if by the Tree of the Cross. At Easter we give thanks in that the Risen Christ is the Paschal Lamb indeed who takes away the sins of the world and destroys death and restores everlasting life. At Ascension we give thanks because in the ascended Christ man is reunited with God in heaven where he is given final victory-after struggle on many an earthly battlefield. At Pentecost we give thanks because Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to make the whole world thrill to His sweet influence and to His light and power. Even at a Requiem we give thanks in that Christ has given a sure promise of immortality to come. On the Feast of our Lady we give thanks that she has been chosen through the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost to bring forth for the race of men the light eternal, Jesus Christ. There are other Prefaces providing for never ending thanks.
Sanctus and Benedictus
The Preface, be it common or proper, always comes to one point at which we the worshippers are invited to think of the heavenly choirs of angels and unite our praise and thanks with theirs. After all, the redeeming work of Christ fills heaven too with thankfulness.
Thus we come to the Sanctus when with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we say “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.” We are about to look into heaven, for the Holy Mass is heaven on earth. We are to witness the veiled presence of God, veiled in the humble earthly elements of bread and wine. However, the song with which we greet Jesu’s sacramental approach is the same song as that which acknowledges His heavenly glory. Away then with our tired bodies and our dulled souls and our weighted hearts and our distracted minds. Out of ourselves we go heavenward, purified by penitence and uplifted by joy. So the bells begin to ring betokening our joy at arriving at the gate of heaven. Incense and lights too are brought in. Holiness is enjoined upon us as Jesus seems to say “Be ye holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” Holiness is necessary you know, else no one of us can see the Lord!
Truly the Sanctus is the symphony of heaven. It is the minstrelsy of angels and archangels. Myriad voices of saints are included in this harmony as they answer and re-echo one another across the celestial spaces. Indeed, day and night they cry, while we sleep or forget to praise, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
The Sanctus lifts us into heaven, so to speak, but the Benedictus which is added to it allows us to sink back again to earth. Filled with just one thought we cry “Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” Yes, the Holy Mass is not of heaven but of earth. We are getting ready to hear “This is My body—this is My blood.” Thus on our lips come the words of the children of the Hebrews as they welcome our Lord “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” As we say these words we sign ourselves with the cross for we, unlike those Hebrew children, know that His crown is of thorns and His Throne the Tree of the Cross set up for a gallows.
Then a moment of thoughtful silence is ours when we prepare ourselves to recognize our King in whatever form He may choose to present Himself. This time it will be the form of bread and wine. We pray for humility that will help us to recognize the humble God. Jesus of Nazareth is about to pass our way. O blessed is He that cometh and blessed also is he who expects the coming and expects too that He who comes will abide with him and leave a blessing behind Him. Think of it, it is our daily privilege to have a share in that blessedness. Happy shall we be as we pray the Mass.
The Prayer of Consecration
WE now come to that part of the Mass in which Jesus takes unto Himself the praying. This is the Canon, or the standard to which strict obedience is given to that command of our blessed Lord “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The Canon is more popularly known as The Prayer of Consecration. This prayer is the mighty climax of the drama of the Mass. At this most solemn moment of the offering of the Holy Sacrifice each humble worshipper in his mind’s eye sees Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, on His knees at prayer, sweating blood at the awful vision of Himself as Victim of the sins of the whole of mankind. Each worshipper sees, too, Jesus hanging on the Cross of Calvary, offering there Himself as “a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world” as He suffers death so as to redeem or buy back into union with the Father at the price of His own blood every sinful soul. Then again each worshipper sees Jesus in the Upper Room the night before His crucifixion, that dread night in which He was betrayed, as He institutes the Sacrament of His Body and Blood which shall be a perpetual memorial, as long as time shall last, of His death and sacrifice to be accomplished the next day. One spiritual writer has aptly put it “In the Upper Room time drops away.”
And now, no longer with the eye of faith but with the physical vision, the worshipper looks up and sees the priest celebrant of the Mass with his hands outstretched in the prayer of sacrifice. The priest is poignantly mindful of sin for he knows that it is for his sins and those of the members of the congregation present at Mass and those of the whole world that he must offer the Holy Sacrifice (there is no other way for Christians) and feed upon the Lamb of God. With the physical vision, too, the worshipper sees flickering candles bearing witness to the Light that streams from Calvary to penetrate the darkness of the world and the souls of those who “love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” He also sees clouds of incense, a pall so to speak, hanging over the Holy of Holies as if to hide the sight of the suffering Son of God. He sees the priest celebrant bow low and he hears him in a subdued voice fulfill the divine Saviour’s command “This is my Body, which is given for you: Do this in remembrance of Me . . . This is my Blood of the New Testament which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins; Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of Me.” The celebrant genuflects in lowly adoration, elevates the Body and Blood of Jesus and genuflects again in lowly adoration. Bells ring out, for the greatest joy of all the world is being experienced by men of faith.
Now at the Elevation, first of the Sacred Body and then of the Precious Blood, it is a mistake to try to pray overmuch. Indeed it is quite impossible to pray adequately and so we should let our dear Lord pray for us. We may well be content with an ejaculatory prayer at this moment of the Mass, namely, “My Lord and my God.” We should be content with just welcoming Jesus again to this earth. We should rejoice in meeting Him, that is what we have gone to Mass for, as He comes to his own. We should make certain that it is no longer a question of “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” We should adore His humility in coming as One helpless, speechless, in the hands of an unworthy priest, yet with all the appealing love with which He won men’s souls at the Manger in Bethlehem. At the Elevation we look up, “lost in wonder, love and praise.” We can almost hear Jesus say “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Yes, the merciful Redeemer if lifted up as a sacrifice for sins in the Mass and the worshipping congregation may well unite themselves in spirit with the Roman Centurion in charge of the crucifixion and smite their breasts and exclaim “Truly, this was the Son of God.” Shall we have the courage to look on Him whom by our, sins we have pierced? Shall we dare to gaze on Him smitten, stricken of God and afflicted? Oh, it should be our delight to adore Him who is the Sacrifice of sacrifices. We must not be like the soldiers who stood callously at the foot of the cross and continued to shake dice while their redemption was being won. We must not be like the crowds on the hill of Calvary who left as soon as their curiosity was satisfied. No, we must continue to gaze as we ponder and adore.
Holy Church helps us in our pondering adoration as she continues the Canon of the Mass. Straightway she brings to our minds the Passion, now re-presented but without suffering, the Resurrection, for now our blessed Lord who has risen comes back in a different form, and the Ascension, for in the Mass He who went back home to heaven has returned. As we continue our pondering we find ourselves calling upon the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify in order that receiving bread and wine we may veritably partake of the Blessed Body and Blood of Jesus. We then call on God the Father to accept this Sacrifice so that by the merits of Jesu’s Passion we and men of faith may obtain forgiveness of sins and countless other blessings of that Passion. We soon call on the Father even to receive us, ourselves and our souls and our bodies, that in spite of all of our stains and imperfections we may be acceptable as united to the Spotless Redeemer. We go on to pray that as we receive the Blessed Sacrament we may be made one with Christ, so much so that He may dwell in us and we in Him. We thus surrender our lives with Jesus, become victims with the Divine Victim, that God the Father may dispose of us as He will. Clay we become in the hands of the heavenly Potter. It is well to remind ourselves that at Mass we do not so much concern ourselves with worshipping Christ present on the altar,—this we do in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament,—but rather we offer Christ to the Father and ourselves united to our divine Victim. How grateful we are that the Father’s claims of justice have been fully satisfied by the Sacrifice of the Divine Son and that by that Son’s oblation of Himself the debts incurred by the sins of men have been fully paid!
At this point in the Canon we remember the faithful departed. With the eye of faith we see our holy dead around the altar since the Holy Sacrifice wherever offered brings them refreshment and light and peace. We must not be selfish and earthbound at Mass and so we are pleased to remember those who have entered Purgatory along the heavenward journey. We know that they, like the Penitent Thief on Calvary, share in the graces of the redemptive love of the Passion and so we tenderly bring them with us to the Throne of Grace.
Then we beg for ourselves fellowship with the saints, with apostles and martyrs. That we may be definite in our begging, Holy Church names for us a few representative saints with whom along with all the company of heaven we hope for fellowship—John the Baptist and fourteen martyrs, seven men and seven women. How wonderfully the list builds up,—Stephen, deacon and first Christian martyr; Matthias, who took the place of the traitor Judas; Barnabas, a fellow worker with Saint Paul; Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch; Alexander, a bishop and Marcellinus a priest and Peter an exorcist; Felicitas, a Roman martyr; Perpetua from Africa; Agatha and Lucia from Sicily; Agnes and Cecilia from Rome and Anastasia from the East whose name means “resurrection” and who is associated with the Mass of the Dawn at Christmas. If you do not like this list think up one for yourself, but have a list and put into practice your belief in the communion of saints during the Mass. The family circle is never broken, that is, that of the family of God. Earthward the saints bend toward us and heavenward we stretch our love towards them as we unite with them in the mystic act of worship and atonement.
As the Canon draws to its close we rejoice that in spite of our own unworthiness we do not have to depend on our own merits, such as they are, but rather that as we fulfill our duty and service in assisting at the offering of the Holy Sacrifice we may soar to the Father through the merits of His Divine Son. We finish up by giving praise to the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost for the privilege of being caught up out of ourselves into Jesus as He re-pleads His Passion and all of its merits in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This praise we offer through Jesus since all good descends from the Father through Jesus and all glory re-ascends to the Father through Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the Mediator of our redemption. Our life and the life of the world hangs on this blessed fact. Thanks be to God!
The Lord’s Prayer
Immediately at the close of the Prayer of Consecration comes the Lord’s Prayer. Surely the Church would have us say this prayer over the Body of Christ. United to Him we are indeed sons of the Father. Through Him is our reconciliation effected for sin has carried us far afield. “Deliver us from evil” we plead. Yes, the effect of evil is nullified for in Christ we are one with the Father. Oh joy unspeakable!
THE Lord’s Prayer ended, the celebrant of the holy Mass takes the consecrated Host in his unworthy hands and breaks it over the chalice. This Fraction of the Host is highly symbolic for it calls to mind the breaking of our Most Holy Redeemer’s, body on the Cross, with the separation of body and soul in death, and thus Jesu’s Passion is commemorated. Then almost immediately the priest celebrant drops a fragment of the broken Host into the chalice and this action is equally symbolic for it calls to mind the reuniting of Christ’s Body and Soul as the two sacred species are reunited, and thus Jesu’s Resurrection is commemorated. At this point of the Mass the worshipping congregation which has heretofore been thinking mostly of the Passion and Death of Christ now fixes its attention on the Resurrection of Christ as He triumphs over sin and hell, our Mediator and High Priest forever. Oh, the joy of this part of the Mass for without the Resurrection the Passion would have indeed been in vain.
At the Fraction the worshippers may well be praying the good Lord to break their wills. They may well ask Him to allow them to do unpleasant but needful work, to meet disagreeable but necessary people, and to accept the loss of dear ones through the gate of death. When they hear the celebrant say “The peace of the Lord be always with you” they will then perhaps recognize that it is only the mending of the broken will that leads to peace. We can have no peace until our wills that so often turn in on self are broken and then are reassembled in union with the will of the good God. At this point we might well recall again the song of the angels “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.”
And now we talk to Jesus in the Holy Mass, whereas up to this time we have been addressing God the Father. We make a humble, almost plaintive appeal as we say the Agnus Dei. “O Lamb of God” we cry three times, and twice we beg for mercy and finally we beg for peace. How wonderful that we can appeal to Him who in the Mass is Victim as well as Priest, loaded down willingly with the world’s and our sins and guilt, that through Him as sin-bearer we may receive mercy and pardon. Peace too we beg for,—the peace that never fails to accompany the growth of the indwelling Presence of God within our souls. This blessed Presence leads to peace with ourselves, that peace which is ours when we are guided by holy principles and not torn apart by conflicting aims and fancies, that peace which we inherit when we are single-minded, sincere and straightforward, seeking only to fulfill the purpose of our creation, namely, that we may know, love and serve God. This blessed Presence also leads to peace with our fellow men. It impels us to become peacemakers in our contacts with our neighbors. It drives us into acting always as members of the Household of Faith and not as individuals with inflated egos. Then too, this blessed Presence brings us peace with God which is the peace that passes human understanding, the peace that no mortal can take away from us and that no mortal can give us, the peace that follows on pardon of sin, the peace that directs us as little children to lean on God’s loving and sure care.
After the Agnus Dei the celebrant prays secretly for the peace and unity of the mystical Body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church. Then in some Rites the Kiss of Peace is given by the celebrant to those in the Sanctuary and through them to the whole congregation. Thus all are one and reconciled in Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Now at Communion Masses, after the celebrant has said the Prayer of Humble Access on behalf of those who are to receive and after he has received his own communion, he turns to the congregation and repeats the wonderful cry of Saint John the Baptist “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him that taketh away the sins of the world.” Then immediately he three times utters the words of the Centurion “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof” and the congregation each time replies “But speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.” This gives the lie, does it not, to those who say they are not good enough to receive Holy Communion. Of course, none of us is ever good enough. Always we approach the altar rail as needy and poor beggars, hungry and thirsty from the journey through this vale of woe. That is why we plan to make our communions regularly and frequently. In so doing we receive the Body and Blood, the Soul and Divinity and Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ who offers Himself to us that with blessed Paul we may joyfully exclaim, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Saint Paul prefaced that exclamation with these words “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.” So as we go to receive the Blessed Sacrament we offer our wills, we are crucified with Christ, we are victims with the divine Victim in the very act of receiving Holy Communion. Thus we become Jesu’s sanctuary and by the strength of a good communion we go forth into the world to do His work and reflect His life. Saint John once wrote these telling words “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” Yes, when you and I receive Holy Communion He who gives Himself to us and comes into as lowly a place as the manger of Bethlehem or the cottage home at Nazareth gives us the power to become sons of God that we may live no longer as mere children of the world.
AFTER the distribution of Holy Communion and the reverent consumption of all that remains of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the celebrant of the Mass says the Thanksgiving. What worshipper can fail to be reminded of Jesus who thanked His Father daily for all the homely joys of life on earth and even in the hour of humiliation and betrayal thanked this same Heavenly Father to the full by instituting the newer rite, the Eucharist, that Great Thanksgiving which should be the perpetual memorial of His life and work and death here among the sons of men. Yes, each worshipper thrills to express thanks since by the grace of heavenly food he has been made strong in his incorporation into Christ’s mystical body, the Church. His thanks goes out of bounds as he regains his hope of heaven, for the Body and Blood of his Lord Jesus has indeed been a pledge of future glory. Praises are on his lips in that he has again laid hold on eternal life which began for him at his baptism. He rejoices in that he has received strength for his future work as a Christian out in the world. Yes, he is grateful in that he has escaped death in sin and in that he has conquered the despair that weakness fosters. He is glad to be really alive so that with blessed Paul he can exclaim: “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
Postcommunion Prayers and Dismissal
The Thanksgiving ended, the celebrant says the Communion Antiphon. This is usually a portion of a Psalm, or a passage of Holy Scripture, reminding the worshippers of the relationship between the interior life strengthened by Holy Communion and the life of the world about them. It points also to the mystical union experienced by any soul enveloped by Christ the Host, for such a soul is enveloped indeed by boundless love.
The Communion Antiphon introduces the Postcommunion Prayers. During the recitation or singing of these Prayers the congregation surrender themselves in silence so as to appreciate the Gift that heaven has brought them. These Prayers do not dictate the sentiments the congregation should have. They merely ask God to make the worshippers pliant to His Divine Action. A good example of a Postcommunion Prayer is that appointed for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity: “We beseech thee, O Lord, that we which have received this holy sacrament may in such wise feel the effectual succor of the same; and that we being preserved both in body and soul may glory in the fulness of thy heavenly healing.” You see, after the manner of the disciples who on the first Easter Day walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, our hearts burn within us since we have been in company with Jesus in the Holy Mass and our mother the Church lifts these burning hearts closer to the Sacred Heart in her Postcommunion Prayers.
Then comes the Dismissal which normally is uttered by the celebrant as “Depart in Peace” to which the congregation replies “Thanks be to God.” On Ferias the celebrant instead says “Let us bless the Lord.” The worshipping congregation are bidden to go out into the busy, noisy, tinsel-loving world as Christ-bearers. They are bidden to communicate Him to others through radiant, holy living made possible by the gift of the Blessed Sacrament. Yes, they are to go out on mission and find the field ready to harvest and gather the grain scattered over the face of the earth into God’s granary. They are to go fearlessly for in the words of Saint Paul “All things are yours and ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.”
Pax and Blessing
But wait! Before the worshippers leave, the Pax and Blessing are given by the celebrant. Can you not, dear worshippers, as you hear the words of the Pax, “The Peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” hear Jesus whispering to you ever so hopefully “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”? Then as peace descends on the worshippers God blesses them through the lips and hands of His unworthy priest-celebrant: “The blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost be amongst you and remain with you always.” Indeed, God blesses His children to help keep them holy. As the priest gives God’s blessing he makes the sign of the cross over the congregation, flinging open to the world represented by them the arms of the cross—arms wide enough to embrace all sinners everywhere. Who would escape this saving embrace?
Then, loath to bring to a close this most blessed of all spiritual experiences, the worship of the Holy Mass, the celebrant recites the Last Gospel (the opening fourteen verses of Saint John’s Gospel). The congregation is carried up to the spiritual heights during this recitation. Would you like a summary of this Last Gospel? Saint Paul gives it to you in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” Yes, Christ issues forth from the silence of eternity to bring eternal love to our souls through His poverty, His holiness and His redeeming death. Through the Incarnation and by the graces flowing therefrom He has raised us from the dust. The Last Gospel brings so beautifully to our minds and hearts the great mysteries of creation and redemption. It opens to us a new vision of the eternity and the majesty and the power and the love of Jesus our God. It takes us back in simplicity of spirit to the manger at Bethlehem where “the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.” It takes us back to the Mass we have just attended since that same Word, full of grace and truth, has dwelt among us, thereby keeping His most gracious promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
The author gratefully acknowledges his indebtedness to many spiritual writers of the past and of the present who have helped him appreciate the greatness of the Holy Mass.