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Missale Romanum - Holy Mass - Sacrifice - Pusillum - Pater Noster

hanc igitur, Angus Dei

Rev. Rama Coomaraswamy


At this point the priest washes his hands, or rather, his fingers. As he has already washed his hands prior to vesting, his action now, as the words of the Psalm he recites make clear, is concerned with inner purity. As St. Cyril of Jerusalem tells us 'Do not imagine that this is for the sake of corporal cleanliness. Not so at all. We are not accustomed when entering the church to be in such a state as to need the washing in order to be clean. This washing of hands reminds us that we ought to be free from all our sins because our hands mean our deeds. To wash our hands is nothing else than to purify our works.' Moreover, as Gueranger notes, this is a Messianic psalm. 'Ego autem in innocentia mea ingressus sum: I have walked in mine innocence, proves this. The Priest, therefore, says it in the Name of Christ, with whom he is but one and the same, during the action of the Great Sacrifice. Up to now the priest has been inviting the faithful to join themselves to him in offering the sacrifice. He makes this clear by the words of the prayers and his frequent turning to the congregation in order to impart blessings. The last time he will do this is when he says the Orate Fratres - Pray brethren that your sacrifice and mine may be acceptable. Now clearly, it is not the acceptability of the Sacrifice of Christ that is in question. What Sacrifice is the priest referring to? It is the sacrifice of himself and of ourselves which is joined to that of Christ's.

From here on, the Mass re-presents the passion of our Lord and His resurrection. The priest will not turn to the faithful till after he communicates. He now enters into the secret of the sanctuary, there to treat alone with God. He can be likened to a Moses climbing the mountain. He now says the Secret, so-called because he says it in a low voice like Jesus Christ Who, in the Garden of Olives, who moved a stone's throw away from His disciples, in order to enter into the silence of recollection and prayer. The Preface follows. The Preface is as it were the introduction to the Canon and invites us to assume the proper attitude for attending the Sacrifice itself. Lift up your hearts. It is truly meet and just. It terminates with the Sanctus, the song of angels, and indeed the bell is rung to remind us that at this point the angels are present.

We have already pointed out that the Canon (which means 'rule') is the core and essence of the Mass can be traced back to Christ and the Apostles. It is in the early part of the Canon that the priest prays for the Church and hierarchy as well as 'all the orthodox believers and professors of the Catholic and Apostolic faith.' Next he mentions the names of the persons and the intentions for which the Mass is offered. It is in the Canon that we find the Diptych or list of saints whose intercession we beseech. In the early Church the names of those whose lives had been especially saintly were incorporated into this prayer, whence it is that we have the term canonize. This prayer, the Communicantes, reminds us of the consoling doctrine of the Communion of Saints.

We now come to the prayer Hanc igitur where the priest extends his hands over the chalice as Aaron did during the HATTAT thousands of years ago. In this action our sins are transferred onto the sacrificial victim who is to die in our place - die that we might live. It is here that the priest asks that we be preserved from the eternal damnation that our sins deserve.

At the Consecration the priest takes the Host into his hands, just as Jesus Christ, at the Last Supper, took the bread and wine into His holy and venerable hands. Then the priest's words cease, his personality disappears (Father Arminjon) and the voice of Jesus Christ replaces that of His minister. It is no longer the priest who speaks or lives: the body of the priest has become the very body of God.37 Leaning over the Host, the priest does not say 'This is the body of Jesus Christ, this is the blood of Jesus Christ,' but 'This is my body, this is my blood.' Some will point to the fact that these words are retained in the Novus Ordo Missae, as in fact they are in the Lutheran and Anglican services. But in the Novus Ordo Missae, as I have already explained they are part of the 'narration of the institution' or in plainer English, part of the story of the Last Supper. If a priest were to read you the story of the Last Supper as is found in the Gospels, he would say these same words, but would in no way consecrate. Nowhere in the General Instruction which accompanies the new mass and provides its rubrics, is it made clear that these words are said in persona Christi. If you look at the Eucharistic Prayers in the 'Peoples Mass Book' used in the Novus Ordo churches, you will note that the supposed words of consecration are in no way distinguished from the rest of the narration.

The Sacrifice of the Mass is a holocaust. 'According to the conception of the ancient liturgies, the Eucharistic act of sacrifice is effected by the fire of the Holy Spirit which called down by the Church, falls upon the bread that represents mankind. From this bread it forms the body and blood of the true sacrificial Lamb as once it formed Him in the womb of the virgin, thereafter to offer Him on the cross and in the resurrection as the perfect holocaust.' The Pontificale Romanum specifically refers to the altaris holocaustum, and St. John Chrysostom compares the priest with Elias, who called fire down from heaven to consume the victim.38

The two-fold elevation of the Consecrated Host and Chalice was not always the practice of the Roman Church. Before the twelfth century, they were elevated together as in the Greek rite. This is still done in what is called the minor elevation. However, after the attacks on the Real Presence by the heretic Berengarius, the Church decreed that both Consecrated Host and Chalice should be exposed for the veneration of the faithful.

After the elevation the priest directs his prayer to the Real Presence on the altar, the Unde et memores Domine referring to the injunction of Our Lord to 'Do this in commemoration of me.' In compliance with this charge, Christ's oblation of himself is offered to God by the priest (nos servi tui) and by the congregation (et plebs tua sancta). The second part, the Supra quae, entreats that the oblation be graciously accepted though offered by sinful hands. If the gifts are to be acceptable, they must be presented with the sentiments of Abel the innocent and just, of Abraham the humble and obedient, and of Melchisedech, dead to the world. Again, these references point to the perpetual nature of the Sacrifice which has been offered in different ways throughout the ages. After this prayers for the Church suffering are offered.

The Nobis quoque peccatoribus is a prayer for the Church militant, that they might have a part with the Church triumphant. The saints here mentioned belong to all the walks of life - an encouragement to all, no matter what their station in life: John the prophet, Stephen the deacon, Matthias the apostle, Barnabas the disciple, Ignatius the bishop, Alexander the pope, Marcellinus the priest, Peter the minorist, Felicitas and Perpetua of the married state Agatha, Lucy, Agnes and Cecilia the virgins, and Anastasis the widow.

After this the priest makes multiple signs of the Cross over the Host and Chalice -the per ipsum - Christ, the God-man is the Mediator between God and man; cum ipso - Christi is one with God; in ipso - Christ is of one essence with God. The signs of the cross indicate that all these effects were accomplished through the original sacrifice of the Cross. All this is said quietly. The priest now raises his voice and says Per omnia saecula saeculorum. the congregation answers with its Amen, as if to say, all that you our sacrificing priest have said and done, we endorse and approve. Up to this point of the Canon, the celebrant has been praying alone. Now the priest and the people are again acting together.

The priest, an alter Christus (another Christ) now extends his hands as did Moses praying for victory; as did Our Lord on the Cross, and likens the sacrifice accomplished to that prefigured by Abel, Abraham and the high priest Melchisedech. This is followed by prayers for the faithful departed, the priest begging admission into Heaven for the dead as well as for those still journeying on the road of life: the Priest asks earnestly for himself and the Faithful the happiness of Heaven.

As the Pusillum39 points out, the Pater Noster (Our Father) is a splendid summary of ascetics and at the same time a practical guide for wayfarers to heaven. Our excessive familiarity with this prayer - despite its being directly provided by the Logos - often leads us to ignore is metaphysical content. The first invocation is addressed to our Father in Heaven and induces a childlike love of God in Heaven, and a brotherly love of our neighbor on earth. The two petitions which follow deal with the objective of our wayfaring: the honor of God and our soul's salvation. For as the same source states, Nomen stands for God himself, in his essence and majesty and the Adveniat regnum tuum for the kingdom of grace here (and as Eckhardt says, primarily in our hearts) and the kingdom of glory hereafter. Next we are introduced to the very best guide for our way through life, doing the will of God. Having provided the principles for the spiritual life, the necessary supplies for the journey are considered Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie (Give us this day our daily bread). We ask for necessary food, for both body and soul. How appropriate that this prayer should just proceed Communion. Next follow the obstacles that beset our journey, Forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others. Christ taught us the importance of this repeatedly in the various Gospel parables and finally on the Cross itself. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, or as the French translate it, from the evil one. What better preparation for our souls than to say and believe the contents of this prayer prior to Communion.

One of the seeming inconsistencies of the traditional Mass is that the priest mentions Christ's breaking of the bread prior to consecration, but does not fracture the host until well after the Consecration. The reason for the fracturing of the host after the Pater Noster is that it signifies Our Lord's death. The Sacrifice has occurred. It is followed by placing a particle of the host in the chalice which is significant of the reunion of Our Lord's Body and Blood in the Resurrection.

The Bread of Life is the 'Word made flesh.' Through the power of the Holy Spirit this earthly bread is remade into the mystical body of Christ - the bread is transubstantiated, recreated as the newly incarnate flesh of the primal victim. But this bread must also be identified with the human being, the sacrificer himself. Man himself is the oblation. In order to truly consume the flesh of Christ, man must first be remade and reformed in the image of Christ. For we are all one body, the body of the Church, of whom Christ is the head. As St. Augustine said, 'You have received that which your are; become that which you have received.' Man, too, must be transformed -transubstantiated - into the body of Christ, made one with the flesh of the Son. The wheat must be separated from the chaff. As St. Augustine says: 'First there is the threshing. Then it is ground, kneaded, baked; in the kneading it is refined, in the baking it becomes solid. Where is your practice of sifting [the flour]? In fastings, in vigils, in exorcisms. Kneading is not done without water: you were baptized. Baking is troublesome but essential. How are you baked? In the fire of temptations which are an intimate part of life' (Sermon on the Day of Easter). Man must be purified and newly formed as a sacrificial offering. In Romans 12:1 St. Paul tells us to 'present our bodies as a living sacrifice,' and in Corinthians V, 6-7 he writes, 'Purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new dough.' St. Gregory makes this clear: 'When a man vows to Almighty God all that he has, all his life, all his knowledge, it is a holocaust'(XX Homily on Ezekiel).

Communion follows. St. Leo the Great speaks of Communion in the following terms: 'Nothing else is aimed at in our partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ than that we change into what we consume, and ever bear in spirit and in flesh Him in whom we have died, been buried, and have risen' (Sermo 63). St. Cyril of Jerusalem says 'in the Eucharist we are made con-corporate, and of the same blood with Christ' (Cateches., 4, Myst). In even stronger terms, St. Symeon the New Theologian says: 'when we receive the grace of Jesus Christ our God, we become participants in His Divinity (II Peter 1:4), and when we eat his most pure Body, that is, when we receive communion of the Holy Mysteries, we are of one body with Him, and in truth akin to Him, as also the divine Paul says, For we are members of his body, of His flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:30), and as St. John the evangelist says, 'of His fullness we have all received. Thus by grace we become like unto Him, our man-loving God and Lord, and in soul are renewed from being old, and brought to life from being dead as we were.' Mathias Sheeban tells us 'Christ is reproduced at the Consecration, that He may unite Himself with individual men in Communion and become one body with them, so that the Logos may, as it were, become man anew in each man by taking the human nature of each into union with His own... we must be overwhelmed with the fullness of the Godhead; we must be deified.' Lest the reader think the term deified to strong, consider the declaration of the Council of Trullo: 'God, who is offered and distributed for the salvation of souls and bodies, deifies those who receive Him.'40

Similarly with the wine. Just as Christ Himself so humbled Himself as to be 'trodden upon and pressed' in the winepress, allowing the blood to flow from His own side into our chalice, so also man must follow his Lord through the press, threshing out his sins and freeing the Divine within him. After the pressing the skins are discarded. It is Christ who will 'lead them, at last to the wine presses where the blood of grapes is poured out (Genesis 49:11). It is this Divine Presence within us that we must press out from our own sinful skins, from out of the raw stalks of our worldliness and pride. In order to truly share the feast of the Eucharist upon the innermost altar of the heart, man must slay the old Adam of self and mingle his blood with the Divine Blood of the true Self, Jesus Christ, for, as St. Augustine points out, 'the wine is formed by being pressed, and many individual drops unite in a single flow.' Christ dies to the world and gives His blood to man, while man dies to sin and releases the Divine Nature, the spiritual blood, within his own heart. This is a communion wherein the consumer becomes the consumed, the sacrificer becomes the sacrifice, and man and God mingle together as the very water and wine of the chalice.

What follows is the Angus Dei, the Lamb of God. Here the Lamb of God is actually on the altar and the faithful join the priest in yet once again in recognizing the Divine Presence and paying it homage. Subsequent to this the priest thrice declares his unworthiness and communicates.

Communion of the faithful follows, but not before another Confession which implicitly implies a certain atonement. The saying of the Confiteor removes from us the stains of venial sins, and who of us has not let his mind wander during the service. Thus it is that we are allowed to communicate in the purist possible state. Communion literally means 'in union with.' We are made one with Christ in this act. This brings us back to the essential nature of 'atonement' which is really being made 'at-one-with.' (Again, atonement also implies being in tune or harmony with.) We actually 'partake of God' in order to be born again with Him by means of His life. He has died for us that we might live in Him. 'Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.' The soul's relationship to God is often described by mystics in terms of the Bride and the Bridegroom. This nuptial symbolism is most apt as an expression of communion between the soul and Christ because as it were, we are made one flesh.

As Father Marmion says, 'when we assimilate the food of the body, we change it into our own substance, while Christ gives Himself to us as food in order to transform us into Himself. St. Leo teaches us that 'participation in the Body and Blood of Christ produces in us none other effect than to make us pass into that which we take. St. Augustine is still more explicit; He makes Christ say: 'I am the Food of the strong; have faith and eat Me. But thou wilt not change Me into thyself, it is thou who wilt be transformed into Me.' St. Thomas Aquinas also makes this clear: 'the principle of arriving at a clear understanding of the effect of the Sacrament, is to judge of it by analogy with the matter of the Sacrament... The matter of the Eucharist is a food; its proper effect must then be analogous to that of food. He who assimilates corporal food transforms it into himself; this change repairs the losses of the organism and gives it the necessary increase. But the Eucharistic food, instead of being transformed into the one who takes it, transforms him into Itself. It follows that the proper effect of the Sacrament is to transform us so much into Christ, that we can truly say: 'I live, not I, but Christ liveth in me'.... The efficacy of this Sacrament is to work a certain transformation of ourselves into Christ by means of charity. And this is the fruit proper to It... the property of charity is to transform the one who loves into the object of his love.' As St. John said, 'He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him' (IV,16).

Father Marmion continues: 'Without this there is no real 'communion'. Without this we receive Christ with the lips, it is true, but He means us to be united to Him with mind and heart and will and all our soul, in order that we may share His Divine life in as far as is possible here below, and that, by the faith we have in Him, by the love we bear towards Him, it may be really His life, and no longer our ego that is the principle of our life.... Do not let us lose sight of the fact that Communion is not a human invention but a Divine Sacrament instituted by Eternal Wisdom. Now it belongs to wisdom to proportion the means to the end. If, then, our Divine Savior instituted the Eucharist in order to unite Himself to us and make us live by His life, we may be assured that the Sacrament contains all that is needful to bring about this union' providing we ourselves place no obstacle to its achieving its purpose. This was made clear by Pope Saint Pius X writing on Daily Communion: 'Whereas the Sacraments of the New Law, thought they take effect ex opere operato, nevertheless produce a greater effect in proportion as the dispositions of the recipient are better; therefore, care is to be taken that Holy Communion be preceded by serious preparation, and followed by suitable thanksgiving.'

Christ gave His body and blood separately at the Last Supper. He did this to signify His death on the Cross, for when the blood is separated from the body, death is certain. That does not mean that actually in themselves the two were separated at the Last Supper, because He was not yet actually dead, only symbolically. For this reason the Mass can be celebrated only under the two species, that both His death and His sacrifice be thereby signified. But the Sacrament can be received under one species. Christ Himself gave His body and blood under one species to the two disciples at Emmaus. While communion was ordinarily distributed under both forms in the early Church, it was administered outside of Mass to the sick and others under the form of bread alone. Infants were given communion only under the form of wine, which is still the practice in some of the Eastern Churches. This is of course a disciplinary decision of the Church depending on the needs and various circumstances of the faithful. What is important is that under each species alike is contained the entire Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity.41

A brief caveat: the post-Conciliar church frequently proclaims that the Eucharist is a 'Sacrament of Unity,' meaning by this, the unity of the People of God. It is indeed a Sacrament of Unity, as St. Paul makes clear: For we being many are one bread, one body, all that partakes of one bread' (I Cor. X,17). But this is not a unity of some vague community consisting of Protestants, nominal Catholics and 'atheistic Christians.' Rather it is, as the Council of Trent makes clear, a unity of the faithful with Christ. As the Council of Trent says: 'Our Lord has willed to leave us this Sacrament as a symbol of the intimate union of this mystical body of which He is the Head.'

One of the most significant prayers the priest says after communicating is the following: 'I will take the Bread of heaven and will call upon the Name of the Lord... What return shall I make to the Lord for all He has given me? I will take the chalice of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.'42 We have already seen that His Name is an 'unblemished sacrifice.' Now there is an intimate relationship between the Eucharist and the divine Name - that Name given our Lord when He first shed blood at his Circumcision. (By adding S to the middle of the Tetragammon or Hebrew Jehovah, one gets the name Jesus. This name was so holy that it was forbidden to be pronounced in the Old Dispensation.) The invocation of the Name of Jesus, so often referred to in the Psalms and New Testament, and so frequently on the lips of the saints, is but another way in which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is carried forward through our daily lives. The repetition of this Name is itself an oblation, replacing all our wayward thoughts with the divine presence in our hearts.

hanc igitur - john - stephen - matthias - barnabas - ignatius - alexander - marcellinus - petert - felicitas - perpetua - agatha - lucy - agnes - cecilia - anastas - angus dei

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