The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
From the July AD 1995
Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Sacred Faith - Part VI
Early in this series on the sacred aspects of our Catholic Faith, we
discussed the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Jesus
Christ. In addition to the real presence of our Lord in the Sacred Host, we must
have an understanding of the means by which this Presence is brought into our
churches, Holy Mass; and the sacrificial nature of this most sacred of
In the Beginning
To understand the Holy Mass, we must return to the very
beginning of the human race; to the account given of Adam and Even in the Book
of Genesis. We read that God created us "in His image and likeness."
This means that we were created as beings with an immortal soul, a spirit very
much like God Himself. Even though he was of lower degree, Adam our Father was
able to communicate with God on a direct basis -- a sort of personal friendship.
What we do so obscurely in the dark veil of prayer, Adam was able to do clearly
in the brilliant light of God's presence. This wonderful state of affairs which
Adam and Even enjoyed is called "Original Justice." That means that
they were found just in the eyes of God; that the things that they did were
pleasing to God, and merited His favors. And God was generous with His supreme
work of material creation -- Adam and Eve were given an abundance of God's
special gifts, including wisdom, freedom from disease or want, and great mastery
We know that, unfortunately, this state of Original
Justice did not endure. Adam and Eve had free will -- indeed, had to have free
will if they were to do things pleasing to God -- and they used their free will
to sin against God by yielding to the temptation of the devil. In their foolish
pride they thought that they could "become gods." This Original Sin
deprived them, and the whole human race, of the state of Original Justice and of
God's special gifts. Finite man had offended infinite God, and in so doing, lost
the ability to merit God's graces by his actions. There was nothing that the
insignificant Adam and Eve could do to repair the enormous insult. They had
nothing to offer as a token of apology.
We also know, of course, that all was not lost, as the
good God promised that one day He would send a Redeemer -- someone who could
represent the human race, while simultaneously offering an infinite gift to God.
He would send someone to crush the head of the serpent. And further, we have
seen that "God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son ...
that the world might be saved by Him" (Jn. iii). Our Lord Jesus Christ
took our nature upon Himself by assuming human flesh, lived a life that
demonstrated God's love for us, and then offered Himself up on the Cross as the
infinitely perfect reparation for the sins of mankind.
In Time and Place
This infinite Sacrifice transcended all barriers of time
and space. This one single sacrifice served to redeem those of the past, present
and future, throughout the world. It was the means by which all those who
believed in Him could be restored to something like the state of Original
Justice. (While the "special gifts" are not restored, those who
believe in Christ are said to be "justified," that is, capable of
meriting God's graces through their good works. c.f. Romans iv, v.) God is not
bound by time, and as the Father accepted this gift of His Son, He looked down
upon all creation, from the beginning of time until its end, and was appeased.
As an event in human history, however, the Sacrifice of
the Cross was effected in a particular time and place. To merely human observers
it took about three hours on an afternoon in the spring of the year 33, on the
outskirts of Jerusalem in the out of the way Roman province of Palestine. Even
the exact date is subject to discussion. Our Lord, sharing our human nature,
knew that men, with their limited perspective of here and now, would have
difficulty sharing in this Sacrifice if they could only read about it in history
books. It was for this reason that our Lord established His Priesthood, enabling
His Apostles and their appointees to renew this one same Sacrifice of the Cross
anywhere and at any time down through the ages. "For as often as you eat of
this Bread and drink the Chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord until He
comes" (1 Cor. xi).
The Rite of Mass
Our Lord gave His Apostles the essentials of the Mass at
the Last Supper. He gave them His Body and Blood to eat and drink, and then went
out to be captured by the Jews and Romans who would complete the Sacrifice. Over
the years and in different places the precise ceremonies of the Mass would vary,
but they would always contain the same essentials: offering wheaten bread and
grape wine; their separate consecration by a priest acting in the place of
Christ to utter His words, making them His Body and Blood; and their reception
in Holy Communion. The Scriptural accounts of the Last Supper vary slightly, but
all contain these basic elements of the Mass.
The first Mass was offered in conjunction with the
Passover Seder, a ritual that for a thousand years had commemorated the
liberation of the Jews from bondage in Egypt. The Passover was the annual
sacrifice of a young lamb, eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. It was
observed with ritual precision by Jews sitting at a table facing the Temple in
Jerusalem, and voiced in the changeless Hebrew language—the liturgical
language of Jewish worship. This departure from their customary Aramaic tongue
helped to underline the importance of the question asked by the youngest member
of the family: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" It
was different, of course, not only because it meant escape from the Egyptians,
but because it was to be the night on which mankind would slip the bonds of sin.
The sacrifice of the Passover lamb would forever cease and give way to the
Sacrifice of the true Lamb of God.
Another Jewish influence on the Mass is what we know today
as the "Mass of the Catechumens" or the "Liturgy of the
Word." Reading from Sacred Scripture was a daily morning occurrence at the
synagogue. It didn't take long before the Apostles found themselves unwelcome in
the synagogues, and incorporated their Scripture reading into the celebration of
the Mass. As time went on, the books of the New Testament were recognized by the
Church and began to supplement the Old Testament lessons. Even today,
particularly during Lent, the Old Testament readings are retained in the Roman
As the Apostles spread out from Jerusalem, bringing
Christianity to the various peoples, they established rites for Mass which
retained the essentials while reflecting local customs. In the East we have the
Byzantine Rite (of Constantinople) which serves Catholic Greeks, Ukrainians,
Russians, Arabs, and others. Egypt produced the Coptic and Ethiopic Rites.
Antioch and Jerusalem were largely responsible for the Syrian, Malankarese,
Maronite, Chaldean, and Malabar Rites, used through the mid-East and India. The
Armenians have a Rite all their own. These various "Rites" are all
legitimate ways in which Catholic people celebrate Holy Mass -- and have been
recognized as such by the Church since their beginnings.
In the West there were similar variations in the
development of the rite of Mass. Various religious orders (e.g. in modern times,
the Dominicans, Trappists, Carmelites, and Norbertines) had their own rite, as
did the major cities of Europe (e.g. Milan, Toledo, Lyons). The Roman Rite did
not become standard for all of the West until mandated by Pope
St. Pius V in 1570. Even then, a diocese or religious order having a
rite two hundred years or more old was allowed to retain it. Of course the
beauty, orthodoxy, and standardization of the Roman Rite, codified by Pope
St. Pius has much to commend it—and indeed, by virtue of his Bull Quo
Primum, no priest can ever be forced to use any other rite for Mass.
Catholics living close to our larger American cities may
find one or more non-Roman rites being used in their area. Canons 866 and 905 of
the Code of Canon Law permit Catholics to receive Holy Communion and make a
sacramental Confession in any Catholic rite (canons 912 and 991 in the 1983
Code). The Easter duty should normally be fulfilled in one's own parish.
Participation in the Mass of one of our Eastern Catholic Churches is a good way
to more fully understand the universality of the Catholic Church.
The Holy Sacrifice
One of the "great lies" of the Modernists is
that the Mass is primarily a "Christian fellowship"; a meal rather
than a sacrifice. While there was, no doubt, a great deal of mutual joy felt at
the Passover Seder, as there is brotherly love in the celebration of Holy Mass,
the primary aspect of both is offering sacrifice to Almighty God. Indeed, it
didn't take long before St. Paul felt it necessary to require his
parishioners to do their eating at home, for some would go hungry while others
would over-indulge: "Have you not houses to eat and drink in? Or despise ye
the Church of God and put them to shame that have not?" (1 Cor. xi)
All legitimate rites of Holy Mass clearly express the idea
that they constitute a renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross. The Roman Mass
leaves no doubt in its offertory prayers and in its Canon:
Accept, O holy Father, almighty and eternal God, this
spotless victim, which I, Thine unworthy servant, offer Thee, my living and
true God, to atone for my numberless sins, offenses, and negligences; on
behalf of all here present, and likewise for all faithful Christians living
and dead, that it may profit me and them as a means of salvation unto life
In a humble spirit and a contrite heart, may we be
accepted by Thee, O Lord, and may our sacrifice so be offered in Thy sight
this day as to please Thee, O Lord God.
Come, Thou Sanctifier, + almighty and eternal God,
and bless this sacrifice prepared for the glory of Thine holy Name.
And this do Thou deign to regard with gracious and
kindly attention, and hold acceptable, as Thou didst deign to accept the
offerings of Abel, Thy just servant, and the sacrifice of Abraham our
Patriarch, and that which Thy chief priest Melchisedech offered unto Thee, a
holy sacrifice and a spotless victim.
The nature of the Mass is seen equally in the Byzantine Rite, which opens
with its sacrificial offertory:
In memory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He was
led as a sheep to slaughter. And as a spotless lamb, dumb before His shearer,
He opened not His mouth. In His lowliness His judgment was lifted up.... The
Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world is sacrificed for the life
of the world and for its salvation.
Because of Thine ineffable and boundless love for
mankind Thou didst become man without change or alteration of Thy divine
nature, and Thou didst become our High Priest and Master of all. Thou hast
given us the priestly power to offer this liturgical and unbloody Sacrifice.
It should not surprise anyone that when the Protestant
"reformers" came to power their attention was immediately directed
toward making the Mass into a meal and removing its sacrificial character.
The Sacred Liturgy
Holy Mass brings sanctity to the living on earth and
remission of punishment to those in Purgatory. It is the source of our spiritual
strength. It is of infinite value. If man were perfectly responsive, the
offering of but one Mass would bring us the fullness of God's grace. If the Mass
seems sometimes ineffective in bringing forth holiness it is because we place
obstacles between its graces and ourselves.
We should be particularly attentive to the needs of the
souls in Purgatory -- especially our friends and relatives -- having Masses
offered for their early release to Heaven. Even when Mass is not offered
specifically for our loved ones, we still do well to attend as often as possible
and to unite our intentions with those of the priest. In every Mass, no matter
what the priest's specific intentions may be, he always remembers all the living
and the dead at least in a general way. Don't fail to take advantage of the
occasions when the priest offers Mass for all the deceased of the parish. Your
attendance is important!
Catholics must realize that their attendance at Holy Mass
is always important. It is a mortal sin to miss Mass on a Sunday or other day of
Obligation; only a serious reason will excuse. ("Too early," "too
late," "don't like the sermons," "don't like the
priest," "don't like the people," "too hot," "too
cold," and so forth are not valid excuses!) The Church tries to make this
easy for us. For good reason, and provided our faith won't be disturbed we may
attend virtually any valid Mass. (Old canon 2261; New canons 844, 1335.) Of
course, we must not view Mass simply as an obligation -- something we must do
under pain of sin. It is an opportunity as well as an obligation. We should view
the Holy Mass as our most prized possession. This means daily Mass as often as
possible, in addition to those Masses we are required to attend. Mass can be
offered by the priest, quite by himself -- it is still the infinite Sacrifice --
but think of how much more pleasing it is to God to see a number of faithful
Catholics standing at the foot of His Son's Cross with the priest. And how
sincere will Jesus Christ judge your petitions to be if you don't bother to
present them before the throne of the Cross in person? It is a serious mistake
to ask a priest to offer Mass for your intentions and make no effort to attend
We must pity the Modernists and their
"Reformation" forerunners in their desire to eliminate the Sacrifice
of the Mass. There can be no Holy Sacrifice when Man is the object of worship --
when the Eucharist is no more than fellowship. This is most unfortunate
precisely because the Mass is mankind's most sacred treasure. The Mass is one
with the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross, which restored fallen man to friendship
with God. There can be no more sacred moment than the moment in which the priest
whispers in Jesus' name -- nay, for this is no mere narration -- the moment in
which he whispers as Jesus: "For this is My Body... For this is My
Blood," and bread and wine become the humanity and divinity of Christ. Can
we afford to turn our backs on the Mass? Can we afford to turn our backs on the
Our Sacred Faith (Part VI - Continued)
Rather coincidentally, the feast of Corpus Christi was observed while we were
preparing the first section of part VI on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The
hymns in the Mass and Office of that feast were composed in the thirteenth
century by the Church's foremost theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas (sometimes
making use of earlier sources). In addition to their haunting beauty these hymns
are an elegant summary of Catholic Eucharistic theology. The reader is invited
to notice how often St. Thomas reminds us of the Real Presence, the sacrificial
nature of Holy Mass, and special office of the Priesthood.
Two of the hymns are presented in a meter similar to the original Latin
texts. The others are simply translated from the Latin, as we were unable to
find a rhythmic text that remained faithful to the original.
Hymn, Sacris solémniis, from Matins
In this holy solemnity may our joy be joined
to hymns of praise from our
Old Testament rites must give way and everything renewed;
and words, and works.
This night recalls that new Supper,
in which, we believe,
Christ gave His
brethren lamb and (unleavened) bread
according to the Law of the Patriarchs.
After giving them the lamb in figure, and having supped,
the Body of the Lord
was given to His disciples,
in such a way that Its entirety was given into the
hands of all;
Its entirety to each.
In their fragility He gave His Body as food,
In their sorrow He gave them His
Blood to drink:
"Receive this vessel that I give you;
Drink of it, must all
Thus He instituted this Sacrifice,
and willed to commit It only to His
that they might receive for themselves;
that they might minister it to
Bread of angels, made the Bread of men;
Bread from Heaven ends all figure;
the poor and humble servant feeds upon his Lord.
We ask Thee, God, three in one,
that Thou wouldst come to us, even as we come
Lead us along Thy paths into the light
in which Thou doest dwell. Amen.
Sequence, Lauda Sion, from the Mass
Praise, 0 Sion, praise the Savior,
Shepherd, Prince, with glad behavior,
praise in hymn and canticle;
Sing His glory without measure
For the merit of Thy treasure
Never shall Thy praises fill.
Gracious theme of mortal singing,
Living Bread, and Bread life-giving,
Do we sing this joyful day;
At the Lord's own table given
To the twelve as bread from heaven,
Doubting not we firmly say.
Sing His praise with voice sonorous;
Every heart shall hear the chorus
Sweet in melody sublime;
For this day the Shepherd gave us
Flesh and Blood to feed and save us,
Lasting to the end of time.
As the new Ring's sacred table
The new Law's new Pasch is able
To succeed the ancient rite;
Old to new its place has given,
Truth has far the shadows driven,
Darkness flees before the Light.
And as He has done and planned it
"Do this" -- hear His love command it,
"My own memory to renew."
Taught so Lord, in Thine own science,
Bread and wine in sweet compliance,
As a host we offer You.
In faith thus strong the Christian hears:
Christ's very Flesh as bread appears,
And as wine His precious Blood,
Though we feel it not, nor see it,
Living faith does so decree it,
All defects of sense makes good.
Yes, beneath the species dual
(Signs not things), is hid a jewel
Far beyond creation's reach!
Though as food His Flesh He hides,
Beneath the wine His Blood abides--
Undivided under each.
He who eats of It can never
Break the Body, rend, or sever;
Christ entire our hearts does fill:
Thousands eat the bread of heaven,
Yet as much to one is given:
Christ though eaten, is with still.
Good and bad, they come to greet Him:
Unto life the first ones eat Him,
Unto death the latter go,
These find death while those find heaven;
See, from like white Host is given
Harvest yielding weal or woe.
When at last the bread is broken,
Do not doubt what Christ has spoken:
In each part the same love-token,
That same Lord our hearts adore
No powers can this thing divide--
The symbols are what He provides,
The Savior all the while abides
Undiminished as before.
Bread of angel spirits, hail!
Pilgrim's hope in life's dark vale,
Food for children who are frail,
To the dogs must not be thrown:
In old figures contemplated,
It was with Isaac immolated,
By the Lamb was antedated,
In the manna it was known.
O Good Shepherd, all confessing
Love in spite of our transgressing
Here your blessed food possessing,
Make us share in every blessing
In the land of life and love.
Lord, whose power has all completed,
And Thy Flesh as food has meted,
Make us, at your table seated,
By Thy saints, like friends be greeted,
In that paradise above. Amen. Alleluia
Hymn, Pange Lingua from Vespers
Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory
Of His Flesh they mystery sing;
Of His Blood, all price exceeding,
Shed by our immortal King,
Destined for the world's redemption,
From a noble womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin,
Born for us on earth below
He as Man with man conversing,
Stayed the seeds of truth to sow.
Then He closed in solemn order
Wondrously His life of woe.
On the night of that last supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He, the Paschal Victim eating,
First fulfills the Law's command;
Then as food to all His brethren
Gives Himself with His own hand.
Word made flesh, the bread of nature,
By His Word to Flesh He turns;
Wine into His Blood He changes:
What through sense no change discerns.
Only be the heart in earnest,
Faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the Sacred Host we hail,
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.
To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high
With the Holy Ghost proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might and endless majesty. Amen.
Hymn, Verbum supérnum pródiens, at Lauds
The divine Word coming forth,
without leaving the right hand of the Father,
went out to do His work, and came to the evening of His life.
Before His "friend" gave Him over to death,
He gave Himself over as
food of life
to those who were His friends.
Those who, under both species,
He gave His Flesh and Blood;
that these two
substances should feed the whole of man.
By birth He gave to man's society,
By His Supper He became man's food.
died to pay man's price;
His reign provides man's prize.
O saving Victim, opening heaven's gate, the foes of war come down upon us;
give us strength, make us help.
To One and Three, O Holy Lord,
be sempeternal gloria,
Who lives forever
and gives us to dwell in the Father. Amen.
Hymn, Adoro te devote, thanksgiving at Mass
O Godhead hidden, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth's own word there is no truer token.
God only on the Cross lay hid from view;
But here lies hid at once the manhood too:
And I, in both professing my belief,
Make the same prayer as the repentant thief.
Thy wounds, as Thomas saw, I do not see;
Yet Thee confess my Lord and God to be:
Make me believe Thee ever more and more;
In Thee my hope, in Thee my love to store.
O Thou, memorial of our Lord's own dying!
O living bread, to mortals life supplying!
Make Thou my soul henceforth on Thee to live;
Ever a taste of heavenly sweetness give.
O loving Pelican! O Jesu Lord!
Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy blood!
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Can purge the entire world from all its guilt.
Jesu! whom for the present veiled I see,
What I so thirst for, O vouchsafe to me:
That I may see Thy countenance unfolding,
And may be blest Thy glory in beholding. Amen.