Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Q&A  August AD 2013
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

Origins of the Canon; Saint Joseph in the Canon?

Altar Stone?

Immaculate Heart of Mary

Q&A Archives

Our Lady of the Rosary
Saint Joseph's Name in the Canon?

Question:  I read that putting Saint Joseph's name in the canon was an insult to the Apostles, for they composed the Canon, and to “improve” it would be an act of contempt.  Did the Apostles actually write the Canon?

Answer:  One of the common mistakes of amateur historians is making the assumption that things were always as they are now.  Occasionally one meets a fundamentalist who thinks that the Bible come down from heaven—a nicely leather bound King James edition with the emblem of the Gideons on the cover.  Our Lord did not pass out copies of the Missale Romanum to the Apostles at the Last Supper, and there is virtually no reason to believe that the Apostles authored the canon of the Mass as we know it.

The Council of Trent gives the Canon a threefold origin:

    For it [the Canon of the Mass] is composed, out of the very words of the Lord, the traditions of the apostles, and the pious institutions also of holy pontiffs.[1]

    The descriptions of the Mass of the early church are very sketchy, for the ceremonies of the Mass we're not discussed in any detail with outsiders.  A discipline of secrecy—disciplina arcana—was observed for several centuries, with only the baptized being permitted to attend the Mass of the Faithful.  The earliest description of the Roman Mass is found in St. Justin Martyr's second century First Apology.[2] It is a broad outline that could be "filled in" in a variety of ways. The earliest existing western Mass text is thought by modern scholars to be the work of Hippolytus, the third century antipope.  As one might expect, the Mass was in Greek, the international language of the time; necessary considering the missionary nature of the Church at Rome and the cosmopolitan makeup of the City's population  It is possible, though, that the text is Egyptian in origin, or even the work of a later forger.[3]  The Canon of Hippolytus bears scant resemblance to the Roman Canon.  We have no extant liturgical books before the Leonine Sacramentary, collected sometime between the fourth and sixth centuries.[4]  We do have a number of non-Roman but Catholic liturgies, with significantly different Eucharistic Prayers, all tracing their origins back to the Apostles.

    Beyond the lack of an early written Canon, the fact that all of the Apostles are named would be in conflict with apostolic humility if they were the authors.  Others named are known by history to have lived in a later age, and the Church has never claimed that they were included in the Canon through prophecy!  Clement and Cyprian, for example, were Pope and Bishop of Carthage, martyred respectively, in 253 and 258.  Cosmas and Damian, brothers and physicians, were martyred by Diocletian in 283 for miraculously healing the sick in our Lord's name.  Chrysogonus was a, layman imprisoned for the Faith, and martyred under Diocletian in 303 A.D.  John and Paul,  brothers and officers in the Army of Julian the Apostate, were martyred in 363 after leaving the service and giving their goods to the poor.

    Every Catholic wants their children to be saints, but if the Canon were considered prophetic, few parents would have named their daughters Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, or Anastasia.

    We also know that some of the earlier Popes felt free to add to or rearrange the Canon.[5]  Pope Gregory the Great (690-704) is generally held to be the last Pope to modify the Canon.  Yet, The Catholic Encyclopedia says:

    From the tenth century people took all manner of liberties with the text of the Missal. It was the time of farced Kyries and Glorias, of dramatic and even theatrical ritual, of endlessly varying and lengthy prefaces, into which interminable accounts of stories from Bible history and lives of saints were introduced. This tendency did not even spare the Canon; although the specially sacred character of this part tended to prevent people from tampering with it as recklessly as they did with other parts of the Missal. There were, however, additions made to the "Communicantes" so as to introduce special allusions on certain feasts; the two lists of saints, in the "Communicantes" and "Nobis quoque peccatoribus", were enlarged so as to include various local people, and even the "Hanc igitur" and the "Qui pridie" were modified on certain days.

"Famulo tuo Papa nostro N. et Antístite nostro N.
et Rege nostro N."

 Pope Saint Pius V changed the Canon back to what liturgical scholars believed it to be after the revision of Pope Gregory I.  Nonetheless, in Pope Saint Pius’ Missal there are seasonal variations in the “Communicantes,” “Hanc igitur” and the “Qui pridie”; the reigning Pope and diocesan bishop are named in the “Momento” of the living, as may be a reigning Catholic sovereign: "Rege nostro N." (image above).

    Perhaps the greatest modern controversy about modifying the Canon of the traditional Mass came in November of 1962.  For some time, there had been a low key movement to include Saint Joseph’s name in the Canon.  Pope Pius IX had been asked to make the addition, to which he is supposed to have replied:  “I am only the Pope. What power have I to touch the Canon?”[6]  Those at Vatican II—Catholics and non-Catholics—differed on the proposal made by Bishop Peter Čule from Mostar, Yugoslavia.  As a result of years of torture by the Communists Bishop Čule tended to repeat himself and was laughed at by his fellow bishops.  It has been suggested that Pope John XXIII made the addition out of compassion for Čule and the way he was treated. [7]  Traditional Catholics have often raised the possibility that Pope John acted only to demonstrate that the Canon could, indeed, be changed—this would prepare the way for the Novus Ordo and its newly manufactured Eucharistic Prayers.  This writer is no fan of the Novus Ordo, but Pope Saints Gregory I and Pius V had already claimed the right to alter the Canon in more significant ways than the mere addition of the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin, Foster Father of Jesus Christ and Patron of the Universal Church.


    Our Lady of the Rosary
What is an Altar Stone?

Question:  What is an altar stone?

    Answer:  In the early days of the Church, during the time of Roman persecution, Mass was often celebrated in the Catacombs, on the tombs of the martyrs buried there.  Roman law prohibited the enforcement of civil law in these underground burial grounds.  When the persecutions ceased, the association of the Mass with the martyrs was preserved by placing their relics within the altar.  The Office for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica suggests that these altars were wooden boxes up till the time of Pope Saint Sylvester:

    The Blessed Sylvester afterwards decreed, when he was consecrating the Altar of the Prince of the Apostles, that Altars were thenceforward to be made of stone only, but notwithstanding this the Lateran Cathedral hath the altar made of wood. This is not surprising. From St Peter to Sylvester the Popes had not been able, by reason of persecutions, to abide fixedly in one place, and they celebrated the Holy Liturgy in cellars, in burial-places, in the houses of godly persons, or wherever need drove them, upon a wooden altar made like an empty box. When peace was given to the Church, holy Sylvester took this box, and to do honor to the Prince of the Apostles, who is said to have offered sacrifice thereon, and to the other Popes who thereon had been used to execute the mystery even unto that time, set it in the first Church, even the Lateran, and ordained that no one but the Bishop of Rome should celebrate the Liturgy thereon for all time coming.[9]

    The Catholic altar is made of stone, and has a cavity cut into it so that it can contain “a relic of the Saints.”[10]  The relic and its documentation are sealed in the cavity with a piece of stone.  The altar must be consecrated by the diocesan bishop with a rather elaborate rite given in the Roman Pontifical.   The main altar in a church is dedicated to the same saint as the church itself—lesser altars will be dedicated to other saints.

    The stone altar, supported by a stone base or stone columns, is called an immoveable or fixed altar.  It is also permitted to consecrate a smaller stone (wide enough to support the host and most of the chalice) with a relic in its cavity for use when no fixed altar is available.  This stone might fit into the top of a permanent wooden altar, or might be carried by a priest who must celebrate Mass outside of the church (e.g. a missionary or military chaplain).

    In the Byzantine rite the antimension takes the place of the altar stone.  This is a silk or linen cloth, usually decorated with an image of Christ taken down from the cross and symbols of the four Gospel writers.  There is a pocket in the cloth to hold relics like those in an altar stone.  It is consecrated by the bishop and signed with his signature.  In some rites the antimension is placed permanently under the altar cloths, while in others it is folded like a corporal and opened on top of the altar cloths when needed to hold the host and chalice.  Some Western Rite priests have permission to celebrate Mass in the field on an antimension, which in its western iteration resembles an oversized corporal—white linen with a red embroidered cross.


Byzantine Rite Antimension

    Finally, instead of a stone, those Eastern Rites derived from Antioch in Syria (e.g. Malankara, Maronite, etc.) use a wooden block known as the Thabilitho, which contains no relics but, being wood, represents the Cross of our Lord.  “The Thabiltho is consecrated with Holy Chrism by a Bishop during the consecration of a church. Each tabalitho has the same message inscribed on it, "The Holy Ghost has hallowed this tabalitho by  the hands of Mar..." and the year.”[11]


    Our Lady of the Rosary
Immaculate Heart of Mary


Writings of the Saints Appropriate to Our Time

    From a Sermon by St. Bernardine of Siena on the Visitation

    What man, unless secure in a divine oracle, may presume to speak with impure, indeed with polluted lips, anything little or great about the true Parent of God and of man, whom the Father before all ages predestined a perpetual Virgin, whom the Son chose as his most worthy Mother, whom the Holy Ghost prepared as the dwelling place of every grace?  With what words shall I, a lowly man, give expression to the highest sentiments of the virginal Heart uttered by the holiest mouth, for which the tongues of all the Angels do not suffice?  For the Lord says : A good man brings forth good things from the good treasure of his heart; and this word can also be a treasure.  Among pure mortals who can be conceived of as better than she who was worthy to be the Mother of God, who for nine months had as a guest in her heart and in her womb God himself? What better treasure than the divine love itself, which was burning in the Heart of the Virgin as in a furnace?

    And so, from this Heart as from a furnace of divine ardor the blessed Virgin brought forth good works, that is, words of the most ardent charity.  For as from a vessel full of the richest and best wine only good wine can be poured ; or as from a furnace of intense heat only a burning fire is emitted; so indeed from the Mother of Christ no word can go forth except of the greatest and most intense divine love and ardor.  It is also the mark of a wise woman and matron to speak few words, but words that are effective and full of meaning ; and so seven times, as it were, seven words of such wonderful meaning and virtue are read as having been uttered by the most blessed Mother of Christ, that mystically it may be shown she was full of the sevenfold grace.  To the Angel twice only did she speak ; to Elizabeth also twice ; with her Son likewise twice, once in the temple, and a second time at the marriage feast ; and once to the attendants. And on all those occasions she always said very little; with this one exception that she spoke at length in the praise of God and in thanksgiving, namely, when she said: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” But here she did not speak with man, but with God. Those seven words were spoken in a wonderful degree and order according to the seven courses and acts of love ; as if they were seven flames from the furnace of her Heart.[12]

 The Immaculate Heart of Mary

    The liturgical worship, through which due honor is given to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, and for which many holy men and women have prepared the way, the Apostolic See itself first approved in the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Pope Pius VII instituted the feast of the Most Pure Heart of the Virgin Mary, to be piously and reverently celebrated by all the dioceses and religious families who had asked for it.  Afterwards Pope Pius IX added an Office and a proper Mass to it.  But an ardent desire and longing, which had arisen in the seventeenth century, grew day by day, that namely, the same Feast, given greater solemnity, might be spread to the entire Church.  In 1942, Pope Pius XII, graciously acceding to this wish, and during the terrible war then ravaging almost the entire world, pitying the infinite hardships of men, and because of his devotion and confidence in our heavenly Mother, in solemn supplication earnestly entrusted the entire human race to her most generous Heart, and in honor of the same Immaculate Heart he ordered a Feast to be kept forever with its proper Office and Mass.

    Let us pray:

    Almighty everlasting God, who hast prepared in the heart of Blessed Virgin Mary a worthy dwelling of the Holy Ghost, grant favorably to us that we may keep the feast of the same immaculate Heart devoutly, and may be able to leave according to thy heart.  Through the same Lord Jesus Christ.


[1]  Council of Trent, Session XXII, Chapter 4, sub Pius IV., 17 September MDLXII

[2]   St. Justin, Martyr, _First Apology,_ c. 165-167 In Joseph A. Jungmann, S.J., The Mass of the Roman Rite, (NY: Benziger, 1951), Vol. I, pp. 22-23.

[9]   Dedication of the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior,

November 9th, First Nocturn, lesson vi.

[10]   Canon 1198 §4.

[12]   Second Nocturn, Office of the Immaculate Heart of Mary


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