Sunday, March 17, 2013

Symbolism and Summary of the Mass so far

Altar of Sacrifice

Before we begin reflecting and meditating on the Liturgy of the Catechumens (a.k.a. Liturgy of the Word), I wanted to kind of summarize in more detail the symbolism of the actions of the priests and the servers, as well as consolidate what we've reflected on so far into a main thesis.

Ascending the Mountain of Sacrifice
In the Old Testament, the mountain is symbolic of so many things.  Moses received the Ten Commandments on a Mountain.  Moses also commanded a battle on a mountain.  Elijah observed God on the mountain.  Abraham and Isaac ascended the mountain for the sacrifice.

These are types, which are fulfilled in the New Testament.  Our Lord gives the New Law at the Sermon on the Mount.  A mountain is where He is transfigured, and a mountain is also where He prays in his agony.  He is also crucified on a mountain.  Even the Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles and Our Lady in an "upper" room.  The Church itself is a city on the hill! (cf Matthew 5:14).

The Old Testament types were not lost on the Jews.  When sacrificing a goat or lamb, the altar was raised very high (in fact, I believe it was about ten to twenty feet above everything else).  It was a place where something was consumed.  In fact, worship is defined as offering something that is consumed and lost, in order to please God, and from which nothing is salvageable for man's use.  (Ordinary sacrifices that we make every day become true, perfect sacrifices when we completely relinquish something in faith and love and thus do not have anything left over or that can be taken back for further use.)

Because the Catholic liturgies take so much from the early Jewish liturgy, it is no wonder that altars have for the vast majority of the Church, until recent times, been raised higher than all by several steps.  This symbolizes all of which I mentioned above, because all of these things, even the Old Testament types in the past, flow out of the sacrifice on the Cross, which is represented on the altar in the Mass.

We Look For the Resurrection of the Body...
The altars are even situated so that the priest offers the Mass facing east.  The Jewish sacrifice also faced east, which the Church maintained primarily throughout most of its history.  This essential posture was changed by a lot of Protestants in their revolutions, such as Thomas Cranmer.  Facing east or ad orientem was so integral to the concept of the sacrifice that Thomas Cranmer faced the people in order to undermine the sacrificial belief in the Mass.

Facing east also symbolizes the anticipation of Our Lord descending upon the clouds from the east.  It is also fitting that, since the sun rises in the east, we perceive the true light as coming from the east.  This idea makes it especially crucial because, with the priest and all the people facing east, they are explicitly open to God.  Otherwise, things become a closed circle.  We never want to be closed to God, content in our own ways, eating without Him.

In fact, the Apostles and Our Lord even faced ad orientem at the Last Supper!  The tables of that time were such that, being situated somewhat in a "U" shape, all the participants faced the same direction.  This allowed servers to come directly to the diners and bring them things.  How beautiful that this is seen in the liturgy, when the priest and people face the same direction, towards God, and He sends his angels to minister to them!

The Sacrifice of Hands
The priest places his hands together in front of him very frequently, such as immediately after crossing himself, when bowing in prayer, etc.  This positions shows that the priests hands are consecrated for offering a sacrifice, and thus are themselves a sacrifice (priests don't have other jobs, for example).  It also shows a willingness to offer our hands to God.  This is why the laity traditionally prays with their hands in front and together, rather than folded at the lap, or in the orans position (hands up while praying).

Summary of the Mass to this point
We can summarize the prayers of the Mass, and their meaning--from the Asperges to before the introit--in the following way.

Lord, I am unworthy to approach you, but let me come properly to you through your protecting grace.  Lord, wash me with the water that flows out of your side, from your very being, and cleanse me.  I am afflicted from all sides, from within and without.  Send your angels to me.  Hear my humility and forgive me my sins, and then draw me into your very home.  Show me the way to you.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Confessing Before All of Heaven and Earth

I confess...
Today we continue with the public confession, called the Confiteor (again with the Latin prayers, because "Confiteor" is the first word).

The priest is our leader in the Mass.  It's important to remember this.  Even though he may be our friend in other aspects of life, his consecration should give him respect.  In fact, he is set apart ontologically than us because of the indelible mark of his priestly ordination. (nota bene: we should thus always refer to an ordained person with the proper address, such as Fr. X, Deacon Y, Msgr. Z, etc).

And so in the Confiteor, the priest is clearly set apart because he prays his own confiteor separate from the people.    He joins his hands and bows down.  "Joining the hands" in prayer, like the picture above, indicates a humble offering of oneself.

Priest: "I confess to Almighty God, to the blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you, brethren, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed [smack, smack, smack on the breast] through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.  Therefore I beseech the blessed Mary, ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you, brethren, to pray to me for the Lord our God."

What you may notice is that here, the priest confesses to many in both Heaven and on Earth: not just to God and to each other, but also to Our Lady, St. Michael, St. John the Baptist ("no man greater than he has been born of women"), Sts. Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and then to us.  This is before he asks for their prayers of forgiveness.

Why confess to the saints?  Well, many are priests, bishops, and popes: can't they hear confessions?  But in the economy of salvation, all the saints in Heaven, not just ordained, have a role in hearing our humility: it is by expressing humility to them that they can more properly pray for us.  Such is the great exchange between the holy and unholy, the strong and the weak, the great and the small: humility empties ourselves so that we can be filled with good things.

Furthermore, at the end, all things under Heaven and Earth will be exposed.  So why excise prayers to the great saints?  No, let us rather expose ourselves before all infinity and greatness, stripping bare our soul and laying the faults at the feet of our intercessors.

After this, and only after, does the priest approach all the same saints with requests for humility.  He also asks us for prayers, as well as admitting fault, because although he is the head during the Mass, we are all in this together.

The server then says the "misereatur" (more later), and then it is the server's turn.  He says the same thing, although he confesses to the priest and asks for his prayers instead of the brethren.  The people can confess silently along with the server; the server acts as a proxy for the people.

The server says this to the priest after the priest's confiteor, and the priest says the following to the server:

"May almighty God be merciful unto you, and forgiving you your sins, bring you to everlasting life."
Server: "Amen."

Now the priest only says to the server and the people  while making the sign of the cross toward and facing toward the server: "May the almighty and merciful Lord grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins."
S: "Amen."

Note that this is actually from the second Confiteor, before communion (the priest and servers are up at the altar, which they would not be at this time).

Some saints actually say that this can forgive venial sins (I would assume if the confiteor was said sincerely).

The priest bows again and continues:

P: Thou wilt turn, O God, and bring us to life.
S. And Thy people shall rejoice in Thee
P: Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy.
S: And grant us Thy salvation.
P: O Lord, hear my prayer.
S: And let my cry come unto Thee.
P: The Lord be with you.
S: And with thy spirit.

Having been properly cleansed and cloaked in humility, the priest is confident to say that God will indeed turn toward us.  We had offended him before in our pride, in our obstinacy, and in our sin.  Yet when we confess our sins, he will cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  So God faces us again, and only when His gaze is directed serenely and propitiously on us are we brought to life.

Let us see you, Lord!  This is really what we want.  Your people--baptized in Your Son's death and sealed by Your Holy Spirit in the sacraments--are hungry for the Lamb that will soon be slain!  And only thus can we truly rejoice--in the proper order, once we have humbled ourselves.

Only when God turns to us can we see His mercy.  But wait!  The amazing thing about this is the strange, mysterious reality.  God is repulsed by our sin, yet He greatly, greatly desires us to return and be with Him. So is it really God who has turned away and then back to us, or is it us who has turned and then come back to face Him?

Assured through the priest that God has turned, we can see His mercy, and then we can receive thy salvation.  But note the "grant" here.  We cannot presume God's mercy.  Even though He gazes at us with love, is it not right for us to take or assume we have what is ours.  We must ask.

Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry, like a child, your child, come to thee!

And thus we encounter the first Dominus vobiscum.  The Lord be with you, people!  And we wish the Lord to be with the priest's spirit, for what he will approach is a spiritual matter indeed.

To Calvary We Go
It is time to carry our cross to Calvary.  It is time to go up the mountain with Moses and Aaron.  It is time to sacrifice the Lamb.  It is time to encounter the Most High up high.  The priest ascends the altar.

As a last act of humility, the priest prays:

P: Take away from us our iniquities, we beseech the, O Lord, that with pure minds we may enter worthily into the Holy of Holies.  Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Lord, please take away our sins and cleanse us, so that we may be pure in the mind.  A pure mind has experience and performed true metanoia, changing of the mind.  We've changed our thoughts from evil deeds and now we think only of the Father, in the Blessed and Holy Trinity, as we approach Him to sacrifice His son, just like Abraham and Isaac.  We leave our minds and take on the mind of Christ, with which we will know the Lord in the Mass (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16).

Before we continue, notice that we are asking to enter into the Holy of Holies.  Do we really think this way any more?  Really.  How many people bow before the altar when they pass the axis of the sanctuary, instead of genuflecting to the tabernacle.  The altar is to be respected, no doubt.  But that little golden box, back in the wall?  That's where God lives.  That's the Holy of Holies!  Please genuflect.  Also, please do not approach willy nilly.  If a priest should purify himself so intently, why should we gallivant around the altar and the home of God, the Holy of Holies.  Dwell on your faith in God and take it to it's logical conclusion.  We aren't minimalists, we are maximalists--living sacrifices to God.  Sacrifice completely.  Don't enter the sanctuary.

I've Got Friends In High Places
Finally, the  priest spreads his hands above the altar, bows his head, and says,

P: We beseech Thee, O Lord, by the merits of Thy saints, whose relics are here, and of all the Saints, that Thou wilt deign to pardon me all my sins.  Amen.

In the Extraordinary Form, altars must have at least one first-class relic of a saint.  This saint in particular will pray for us during the Mass, to make sure we maintain a pure and holy mind, a contrite and humble heart, and a soul full of thanksgiving and praise throughout the sacrifice and worship of Almighty God. The prayers of the righteous are strong indeed (James 5:16).  We're not holy, remember that.  We need all the help we can get!

I apologize for the extreme delay in the posting.  With Lent and several other events that have been going on, it's been hard to really sit down and focus.  I am sure this post will probably seem rushed and sub-par as well.

Next time, we'll discuss the introit and the kyrie and probably the Gloria.

Friday, March 1, 2013


I know I have a few more readers, but I wanted to say sorry for the delay!  I have been very, very busy as of late, but I hope to resume posting soon.  I may even have the current post I'm working on up tomorrow.  It is about the Confiteor.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Introibo ad altare Dei...who gives joy to my youth

St. Padre Pio offers prayers at the foot of the altar to be cleansed in humility before ascending the mountain.  
The Approach
You're about to go on your first date.  This person has brought such joy to your youth, and really makes you feel alive.  It's almost a blind date.  You know who you're being set up with. The other person knows who you are, but based on what the other person has seen, you're not really worth it.  And yet, they know something about you that makes them desire to be with you.  The idea of you, if you were the perfect person, simply enamors them.  It's quite a conundrum, but the idea of you makes them want to sell everything, even their finest pearls.  But that's just the idea of you.  What they see isn't great.

You're going to pick the person up at their house.  You've put on your finest clothing, but that's about it.  You haven't brushed your teeth, your feet are caked with mud, and to top it all off, you walk in without knocking at the door!  You just barge right in and begin talking to the pets without acknowledging your date.  And that is supposed to impress your date's Father?  Good luck with that.

I Go to the Altar of God
The prayers at the foot of the altar are those of such sublime humility that it takes my breath away every time I witness it--not that truth is based in our feelings, mind you.  But I think it's safe to say that the prayers at the foot of the altar pretty much fly in the face of everything we understand today.  "Why can't I do what I want?  Why can't I see who I want?  Why can't I talk to who I want?"  The prayers at the foot of the altar show not only humility, but also patience by properly ordering things.  Not only that, they speak of sin--personal sin!  We're not sinners anymore, are we?  Even if not explicitly said, there is implication when sin is omitted or deflected.  No sin, no Gospel, after all.

Catholicism is not a religion that speaks like this.  We know we can't just do anything we want.  We know that words are precious; indeed, the Word Himself is He who was enfleshed; and although the temple curtain is torn in twain, allowing God to come to us and us to God, that does not mean that there aren't certain ways things are done.  We have a Church, we have the Son who intercedes for us to the Father, without whom we do not have access to the Father ("...this we pray through Christ Our Lord"), we have the Blessed Virgin and the Saints who intercede for us with Our Lord.

I bind myself today...the strong name of the Trinity.
The priest and the main server begin at the foot of the steps.  The server kneels while priest stands.  Although technically a priest can offer Mass alone for validity--it's not ideal.  Although God, the angels, and the saints are present, another person really helps represent the corporate nature of the Church and climbing the mountain of salvation.  We must do it together.

The priest invokes the name of God with the sign of the cross--"In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  I have seen people cross themselves and just say "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."  But we must understand the great difference.  The true formula says so many things.

  • In the Name (singular) emphasizes the indivisible Trinitarian Nature of God.
  • In the Name of shows a strong invocation of God in something we are about to undertake.  It calls Him not only as a witness, but a backer, a patron--our foundation.
  • The idea that God has a Name is something that is both so personal and so transcendent.  We are all named--and yet God's name is Holy, unspeakable, and even directly indicative of Who He is.  I'm not a tailor, yet my name is Taylor.  How many of us have names that have an ancient meaning to which none of us ascribe?  Yet knowing God is an I AM yet also Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is mysterious.
  • Personally, I have always found names and naming to be powerful
He immediately says, "I will go unto the Altar of God."  The Server replies, "To God, who gives joy to my youth."  The psalmist is immediately quoted.  It is God who makes us truly joyful and makes us feel young.

Found Worthy through Humility
They continue with Psalm 42.

Priest: "Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy; deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man."
Server: "For Thou art God, my strength; why hast Thou cast me off? and why do I go sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me?"

Completely scriptural but also completely un-politically correct.  There are nations that are not holy?  That's not very nice.  Don't they get a pass for ignorance or something like that?  

Some people and nations are simply not holy.  In fact, they do not have the same "cause" or desire that we do--quite the opposite.  Lord, please realize what I hope for through faith and distinguish it from those who hate you; give me an increase in grace.

We also ask that we may be delivered from the unjust and deceitful man.  Being tied into "nations" in the previous sentence, we could say that we are speaking of the world, and the people therein who are both unjust (literally; see the HHS mandate) or deceitful (literally; see the HHS "compromise").  

Although not a man, we could also view this in reference to the devil.  The original unjust one and deceiver, the father of lies, we ask that we may be spared from him, as though from a jailer, one who chains and shackles people in their sin: the enslaver.  

Yet there is another aspect, which you probably have realized by now.  There's the world, the devil, and...the flesh.  Yes, deliver us from ourselves!  We struggle against ourselves and are not only unjust to others and deceive them, but to ourselves and God as well.  How often do we examine our conscience and try to give ourselves passes for certain things?  Do we lie to ourself on what we have done?  Or better yet, lie to ourselves and God about the degree of faith and trust we have in God, and actually do not render to God what we should?  Yes, above all, we need to be delivered from ourselves!

These three things way us down heavily.  God, you are my strength, why have you not let me cling to you?  My enemies laugh and spit and scourge me!  I should rejoice for your sake, but it's've abandoned me!

And yet, has God really cast us off?  O Lord, deliver me from my unjust and deceitful self!  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not within us (1 John 1:8)!  It is not you, Lord, who has cast me off, but it is me in my sin and obstinacy therein.  I only lament that my enemies afflict me because I care too much about the world and the comfort of my flesh, and because my faith is weak.  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!

P: "Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have conducted me and brought me unto Thy holy hill, and into Thy tabernacles."
S: "And I will go in to the altar of God, to God who giveth joy to my youth."
Lord, your light scatters the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome the light: it reveals all things in truth.  Send me your light and your truth, your Son himself, and I'll be free from my slavery and made into an heir of life.

"They have conducted me" is a phrase I find interesting.  Who is this they (I'm sure there are commentaries IDing them).  Is it the light and truth?  Is it the angels?  Is it the Apostles, and the Church, and Her bishops and priests?  Whoever they are, they all have brought me to Thy holy hill--and in the context of the Mass, I think we could reasonably say that this holy hill is Golgatha!  After all, we are about to ascend the mountain of sacrifice, aren't we?  And what lies atop, but none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is with us in all the tabernacles of the world.

Furthermore, the Church is the "city on the hill."  So the light and truth also bring one to the Church.  And Church and the Mass are inseparable.  

And then we make our circle: at Golgotha and in the Church, during the Mass, we approach the altar of God, approach His very home--humble and tabernacular.  We then realize that out of this suffering, with faith, we find He who gives joy to us, a joy that rejuvenates our soul no matter how old or weary.

P: "To Thee, O God, my God, I will give praise upon the harp; why are thou sad, O my soul, and why dost though disquiet me?
S: "Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him, the salvation of my countenance and my God.
P: "Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit."
S: "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen."

Having humbled ourselves and realizing that we are sinful, we have called upon God to really help us.  Only be acknowledging our lowliness will God will we be able to rejoice--just as with Our Lady (read the Magnificat).  His love and mercy filling us, we are able and desire greatly to praise him in a high manner as possible--with the cords of a harp rather than strings of a guitar.

And yet, in this world, we won't be free completely from the sin that plagues us, that troubles us, that afflicts us.  Even when praising, even when trusting, there is some unease in our very soul.  We haven't finished the race yet--we aren't yet truly saved.  But with that confidence we have by being brought before the tabernacle, we will continue to hope and "still" give praise to God--whether we emotionally feel joy or not.  We will praise the Lord, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has saved our countenance, our face--who in fact, by His resurrection and glorious ascension, has restored humanity's likeness in Heaven.  We will reap this when too are resurrected in glory, personally--your countenance and mine.

Glory to God, then, who has done these great things, who has restored us!  Glory forever!  Isn't it beautiful that these prayers at the foot of the altar already encapsulate the kernel of the Gospel?  We have sinned and cast God off, but God restores us and draws us to himself once we realize what we have done.  And once restored, we praise him now, and "still"--forever!  Glory to God indeed!  What a complete teaching moment of salvation history does the Extraordinary Form have from the very opening prayers itself.

P: I will go in to the altar of God.
S: To God, who giveth joy to my youth.
P: Our help + is in the name of the Lord.
S: Who made Heaven and Earth.

A personal note, but if I were to get a tattoo, it would say "adjutorium nostrum + in nomine Domini qui fecit caelum et terram."

Another circle has been closed here: we began in the Name of God and we also close this part with His name.  Our help is in Him and His Holy name--not ourselves.  He made Heaven and Earth, and His name is bound up in the prayers of the Church, at the altar in the Mass--where we find help for our souls and joy--we go to Him who relieves the burden of us who are weary (Matt 11:28).

Next: The Confiteor Onwards
This post is getting long, so I'll end this part here.  Next, we'll examine in the confiteor in the Extraordinary Form and onward.  

In completely poor form, I will probably post my mind-vomit and clean it up later.  I think it is presentable enough--no red squiggly underlines on my words at the moment!

A blessed Quinquagessima to you.  St. Issac of Syria, pray for us.

in nomine Patri et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, amen

Friday, February 8, 2013


I was about to put up a new post, but I thought it would be very important to mention my "sources."

I do not have any sources I am using, really, since most of these are my reflections.  I absorb a lot that I read and hear, so it is hard for me to pull apart the coalesced thoughts to identify inspiration and information.  And when I do really want to quote someone, I intend to source it.

That said, a few things that do come to mind are a book and a talk.

The book, The Mass and the Saints, by Fr. Thomas Cream, OP is simply excellent.  It quotes saints talking about every piece of the Mass, including some of the trappings and rituals surrounding it.

Also great was a talk by Fr. Dennis Gordon, FSSP, about the Mass, which was heavily based on not only Scripture but also St. Thomas Aquinas' analyses during the Mass.

Should I have more definitive sources during the blog, I will be sure to give credit where credit is due.

I hope to have a new post up by tomorrow.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Asperges

His Blood Be On Us and Our Children!

What an odd acclamation to begin a post about the "sprinkling rite", but it's apt.  

The Asperges (ah-sper-jes) Rite, named after the first few words of the intonation (nota bene: we name so many things after the first few words of a prayer or document in the Latin Church, such as Humanae Vitae (PP Paul VI Encyclical), Pater Noster (Our Father), Ave Mary (Hail Mary), Credo (I Believe in one God...) and so on)., is the beginning of the principal Sunday Mass, aside from Eastertide, in which the Vidi Aquam is sung--but that's for another post.

What does this have to do with blood being all over us and our children?  Well, the Jews shouted this to Pilate when they were clamoring for Jesus's death.  Ironically, this is exactly what they would have wanted--being sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb makes one white as snow.

And hence we begin the opening words of the Asperges: 

Asperges me, Domine, et hyssopo et mundabor...
Full credit where due: this pic is from, but one of the best I found on Google image search.

What Happens During This Rite?

The priest begins at the foot of the altar; he does not approach, but is on the lower steps.  He kneels and sings the first few words of the antiphon, Asperges me.  Then the choir takes over.

The priest then uses the aspergilium, or a little bulb on a rod which is dipped in a bucket of holy water, to toss sprinkles of water on the altar, and then the servers.

He then leaves the sanctuary and shakes the aspergilium in the air, sending holy water upon the congregation.  Depending on the priest, he can either alternate sides as he goes, or choose to sprinkle one side of the congregation while he retreats the sanctuary, and then sprinkle the other side as he approaches again.

I find this to be a very intimate way to begin the Holy Mass.  Each one of us (OK, some might not get splashed with water) is particularly touched with holy water that comes from one source: the aspergilium, used by the priest.  Out of one bucket is thrown droplets.  Great symbolism there.  Out of one becomes many, and then out of many becomes one.  Christ died and sprouted the life of souls, which is made up of many who become the Church.

Also, I like that the aspergilium looks very much like a scepter, being wielded by those that stand in the person of Christ.

The Prayers

(I take my translation from the Baronius Press edition of the 1962 Missal) 
"Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed.  Thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow."

A beautiful way to begin the High Mass.  Obviously, we would be remiss if we did not mention the baptismal character that this really imparts, for we are sprinkled with holy water, in remembrance of baptism.  How does this tie into the sprinkling of blood, above?
  • Blood and water flowed out of the side of Christ on the cross, symbolizing the Eucharist and Holy Baptism.  Although water is seen as being sanctified for baptism by Christ's own baptism, there is really no Eucharist without Baptism, for Baptism opens the way to the Eucharist. 
  • We see many times in Holy Scripture that both blood and water are cleansing, and supernaturally so.
  • The language here of cleansing and white as snow is a good mix between washing the robes in the blood of the Lamb and being made white as snow, and also sprinkling and washing in Baptism.  They're inseparable.
"Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy."

This is from Psalm 51.  Notice how God is framed in this sentence, and indeed, in the Latin.  Mercy, God, Mercy.  We ask for mercy, and God gives it, because He is mercy on account  of His love.  Mercy flows out from Him from all sides.  Mercy, God, Mercy.

This Psalm is very appropriate for this sort of pre-Mass ceremony.  We get dirty between Masses, when we're not in the direct present of Our Lord--dirty with sin.  We need mercy.  Although venial sins don't kill the life of God within us, they are still repugnant against an infinite God.  So we need His mercy at all times, especially before we approach Him in Mass, the Most Holy Sacrifice.

In that sense, it is only appropriate that we wash our uncleanliness with holy water in the sprinkling.  Holy water can forgive venial sins.  

After this, we pray the Glory be, and repeat the antiphon, Asperges Me.

"Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy."
Response: "And grant us Thy salvation."
"O Lord, hear my prayer."
Response: "And let my cry come unto Thee."
"Dominus vobiscum."
Response: "And with thy spirit."

More emphasis on mercy here.  There can be no salvation without mercy, and there can be no mercy without love.  But lest we emphasize one side too much to the detriment of the other, we must also realize that only sinners cry for mercy.  

And when we do cry, we cry out in prayer.  And our prayers don't necessarily "automatically" go to God--we even ask that our cries be allowed to reach God's ear in the first place!  Many collects in the Extraordinary Form, particularly during Lent, ask for God to "incline His ear."

I think this is in a sense jarring to our modern ear.  "God won't listen to me?  Of course He will--He's God, He loves me!" we think nowadays.  Yes, this is all true--but it's only by God's love and grace that He is pleased to listen to us in the first place!  We must never take advantage of or assume God's mercy (i.e. the sin of presumption), whether for ourselves individually or collectively during the Mass.

"Let us pray.  Hear us, holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God, and vouchsafe to send Thy holy Angel from heaven, to guard, cherish, protect, visit, and defend all that are assembled in this place.  Through Christ our Lord. Amen."

This is the final prayer before the priest begins the Mass in earnest.  We have just washed ourselves and been sprinkled to become white as snow.  We ask God to send an angel--traditionally the Church teaches that many things have a guardian Angel, from each individual, to each house, church, city, state, country, planet, and even stars.    So it's only fitting that we ask the Angel of the church we worship in to come, as the Heavens are about to be open and descend upon us, and:
  • Guard: so that we may be protected from outside evils
  • Cherish: look upon us as God does
  • Protect: Again, to protect us
  • Visit: minister
  • Defend: perhaps from all evils and snares of the devil during the Mass (see St. Michael's prayer).
Notice we are asking to be guarded, or some variation of that word, three out of the five petitions.  I'd like to suggest from the world, the flesh, and the devil is to which each of the three slightly different petitions refer.  We constantly battle these from within and without, even during the Mass.

Also, it is said by some that the Ite, missa est at the end of the Mass refers to that "it [the sacrifice] has been sent."  We will also see later that we ask that the hands of angels bear the sacrifice of the altar to God.  Perhaps we are petitioning here the same angel.

In closing, the "Through Christ Our Lord"--in the Latin, per Christum Dominum nostrum, is something that you'll notice is used very frequently through the Extraordinary Form.  It is very important to close prayers through Christ, our mediator--through Him, and with Him, and in Him, after all.

Mass of the Catechumens

It's time for the Mass of the Catechumens to formally begin with the preparatory prayers at the foot of the altar.  In the Extraordinary Form, the altars are a stronger reflection of the altars in the Old Testament--they have stairs on which the priest and servers continually ascend and descend.  And thus we begin as though we are about to ascend a mountain, which we are--the mountain of Calvary, of Golgotha, the place of the skull where humiliation has brought forth victory and salvation.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Vestments and the Vesting Prayers

Careful.  The unprepared can kill themselves when approaching the source of life.

Imagine the following: you're in a ship, hurtling through the heavens.  Your planet is dying, and your people are failing.  You are tasked with approaching the sun, in order to get its light, its power, its essence, and bring it down from the heavens to give to your people.  

It's the only thing that will save them.  It's the only thing that they need.

You're not sure if you can approach.  You're just a human in a tin can.  The sun is intense.  It's hot.  An everlasting flame.  A small mistake and you might come out unscathed, but if you approach and make a big mistake, it's over.  You're toast.  It's very tricky, very delicate.  The situation demands respect.

The most amazing part that fills you with fear?  You have to go straight up to it and touch it with your hands.  

It would be suicide to approach such an awesome force without the proper suit.

Garbs of grace.  Protection guaranteed.
When we approach the altar to begin Holy Mass, we are doing exactly what I described above, although even more specifically it is the clergy that does so.  Especially if a tabernacle is present behind the altar, the Holy of Holies is dwelling right there.  That is immense.  Think about that for a second.  

No, really think.  Don't just go over the dogmatic definition in your head and acknowledge that you believe it, as a good Catholic should.  Really think about what that means.

The One who upholds our individual and corporate existence by His mere thought.  The One who can simply speak and give or take away life.  The One who is the First and Last, Alpha and Omega.  Firstborn of all creation.  King of the Cosmos.  The Son of Man.  The Just Judge.  The One whose mouth sends forth a sword.  The One who makes all things new, He Who Has Been Pierced, the Lamb Who Stands As Though Slain.  The only One who can see into your very being, the fibers of your soul, the sinews that makes you a man.  He knows all about you, what you think, what you did then, and that day, and that one time, that nobody knows...and you will face Him to explain these things, and there will be nothing hidden from His Light, and the truth will be known before all, and He will place you with the sheep or goats, the wheat or chaff.

Does that strike you deeply?  GOD dwells in our midst.  A refreshing reminder.

It is by God's grace that we can approach Him and His might without being obliterated.  We should not forget this, yet it is something we easily forget. The world has desensitized us.  Our minds are mired in modernism.  It is no wonder that, even the thought of angels, let alone God, being in our presence in a Church, did (and do) women veil their heads in Church, and men wear fine clothes, and all conduct themselves solemnly in the presence of God, praying and speaking in whispers before and after Mass.  It is a wonder that we don't remove our shoes, like Moses did.  

For clergy who handle God Himself, and servers who enter the Holy of Holies with them, it is only fitting that they wear garbs that not only distinguish their purpose but also show a sign of reverence and protection--and signify the habit of sanctifying grace, the only thing that will allow us to be in God's presence at the end.

Recall in Genesis, that Adam and Eve were created with a pre-lapsarian body ( better than our own, but probably not as good as we will have after the Resurrection), and with a soul full of sanctifying grace--the life of God himself.  They walked naked with God.  Immediately after the fall, they were shamed and hid themselves.  God, out of his mercy, then clothes them.  There is a first level reading of this, but I think you could see a parallel between God clothing them and the symbolism of the vestments.

Isaiah 61:10 also speaks of being clothed with garments of salvation and robes of righteousness.

What are the Vestments?

Traditional Roman Catholic vestments are as follows, in order from inner to outer layer:

  • The Cassock: the non-liturgical garb of priests.  33 buttons represent the 33 years of Our Lord's life.  Although not in favor today, it is the true and traditional outfit of priests, designed to distinctly call them out as not serving this world and to not confuse their roles.  The Vatican requires clergy to wear the cassocks while in Rome.  I really like this because it leaves no question as to the function of whomever is wearing it.  Other occasions in which you will see clergy wearing this would be at solemn ceremonies or rites, such as a funeral.
  • The Amice: white linen wrapped around the shoulders, which symbolizes the "helmet of salvation" (cf Eph. 6:17)
  • The Alb: the white undergarment that covers the body; commonly seen with some degree of lace at the bottom.  It is old, from about the 4th century, and styled after Roman and Greek tunics.  According to the dictionary at Catholic, it represents the white linen that Christ was buried in, as well as purity of soul (something certainly needed for offering the Mass).
  • The Cincture: The rope-like belt that not only helps tie down the stole and alb, it signifies chastity and purity.
  • The maniple: For some reason it's one of my favorite parts of the vestments.  From the 6th century, it was probably a hanky for the priest to use during the liturgy.  It can represent being chained, like Christ, or the weight of the priestly office.  St. Alphonsus Liguori claimed that it actually was used to wipe away tears that priests shed during the liturgy; thus, also it has a meaning of the tears of penance.  
  • The stole: A sign of authority (the priest wears this while blessing and hearing confessions as well), it can symbolize how Christ was bound during His passion.  There are many slight variations to how the stole is worn (crossed or uncrossed) and under or over the chasuble, depending on clerical rank.  However, priests wear it under their chasuble, to hide authority with humility.  It must be mentioned that "women priests" wear the stole outside the chasuble...lack of humility.  
  • The chasuble: From the Latin word for "little house", it's the main outer covering of the priest.  Like many other vestments, the colors vary with liturgical season.  They are often embroidered with beautiful designs.  There are a few styles, such as Gothic, Roman, or "Fiddleback".  Preferably these are not made out of polyester, but very fine materials.  Garbs of grace, remember?  The chasuble used to be big and heavy, which is one of a few reasons why the servers lift it a lot when the priest raises the Host.


Alb (picture from


Gothic-style chausuble (photo from

There are more vestments than these, especially for deacons, bishops, the Pope, and so on, but these are the basics for a priest.  There are more meanings behind them, too, but this is a brief rundown.

Please excuse the layout; I'll fix when I figure it out.

The Vesting Prayers

The prayers that are said for each of the above, by the priest, are as follows (you may find these on the Vatican's website or, among others on a Google search.

  • Cassock: "Lord, the portion of my inheritance and my chalice, You are He who will restore my inheritance."
    • Interesting that this pray denotes that God is set apart of all things as the source of some sort of future prosperity, in the sense of eternal life, while mention of the chalice can refer to the chalice that Christ drank--as in, His sacrifice.  How much does this prayer reflect those who wear the cassock!  The one wearing it is also set apart in hopes that they may attain this inheritance, and that they may appear as living sacrifices by their disciplines.
  • Amice: "Lord, set the helmet of salvation on my head to fend off all the assaults of the devil."
    •   As mentioned before, this is playing off St. Paul's quote in Ephesians.  Obviously, the amice is not on the "head" as such in the diagram above, or even nowadays--but at times it did cover the head as a shawl almost.  It is also the "foundational piece" of liturgical garb, so to speak, as it is the first to be placed upon the non-liturgical vestment.  As the head contains all five senses that can be snared by the enemy--sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell--and the mind, it is only fitting that the "bedrock" of the vestments is associated with protection of the head.
  • Alb: "Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may deserve an eternal reward."
    • The first of the "full body" vestments, there is not much to explain at the symbolism.  Our Lord's blood washes us clean, mentioned at least in the Book of Revelation.  Not only that, Our Lord's own clothing became blazing white at the Transfiguration--and He is the High Priest.
  • Cincture: "Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me."
    • Not much needs to be said here.  Girding the loins is a common theme from the Old Testament (such as commanded by God before the passover).  It is idiomatic for preparing for battle as well.  How much do we battle with purity and concupiscence!  Possibly the great battle of our time; just turn on the TV and you'll see.  As an aside, there are such sacramental cinctures that laity can wear and have blessed.  The Cincture of St. Joseph is a popular and traditional one.  It is blessed on the altar during a Mass.  It's a small rope that you can wear under your clothing, and has a devotion to go along with it.  
  • Maniple: "May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors."
    • Wow, priests have it rough, and we should pray for them.  We walk through this vale of tears daily, and we must suffer to reap our reward.  There is no salvation without the cross!    But even moreso, priests are singled out not only by the world but by the evil one.  The demons hate the efficacy of the Holy Mass, there is no doubt about it.  Our true life flows out of the Mass, and only by the priest can we have Mass.  Furthermore, their discipline is ridiculed by the world today, especially so when they wear the collar in public, and even more so with the cassock.
  • Stole: "Lord, restore the stole of immortality, which I lost through the collusion of our first parents, and, unworthy as I am to approach Thy sacred mysteries, may I yet gain eternal joy."
    • Notice how the stole seems as though a chain hanging around the neck, as though dragging us down, through the sin of our first parents.  Yet with the priestly stole, this burden is transformed into the sweet yoke of Our Lord.  Do not be deceived--it is still a yoke with a burden, but a light, joyful one that grants eternal joy.
    • Again, the stole is the sign of authority (worn during blessings and when hearing confessions), which is also a huge, burdensome responsibility, albeit a joyful one.
  • Chasuble: "O Lord, who has said, ‘My yoke is sweet and My burden light,’ grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace."
    • Another mention of the sweet, light burden.
After the priests and everyone else vests, and the priest blesses them, it is time to leave the sacristy and begin the processional (for High Mass).  

There is no need to get into much detail here.  You will notice the acolytes, thurifers (incense bearers), torch-bearers, cross bearer, other servers and altar boys, and the subdeacons/deacons/master of ceremonies, and the priest come through and approach the altar.  The priest will quickly place a few things at the altar and then come back down while the servers take their places.

It is common to cross yourself as the cross comes by, and bow/incline your head to the priest as he comes by.

Almost Time for Your First Traditional Latin Mass
It is almost time to begin explaining the Mass prayers themselves.  However, before this, there is a ceremony done before the principal High Mass of the day and on some feast days, known as the asperges.  It is not part of the Mass proper, but it is in Latin, and is not familiar to many as it seems to have fallen greatly out of favor.  We will study the prayers and reflect on the ceremony next time.

What Should I Do?
If it is your first time, I actually suggest you do not get a red missalette or use any other resource to try to follow along.  Prayerfully watching and praying are great.  Just watch and pray and don't sweat it.  Did I mention pray?  

Everyone has a first time, and nobody will ridicule you.  They will probably offer you help if you really seem like you're trying to swim but are sinking; but in most cases, if you appear to just be taking it all in, you'll be left alone.  

Nobody is expected to catch on the first time.  Most people who are encouraging people to attend the Traditional Latin Mass suggest going six to eight times before making a judgment call on the Mass, because it takes that long to get the hang of it.  Life isn't easy, and many things take practice and adjustment.  Even though Heaven meets Earth in the Mass, we're still laboring and toiling for things on Earth.

You could look up the prayers of the day before you come if you'd like to know the Collect or Introit in advance.  The Old Rite follows a one-year lectionary, so you won't have to worry about figuring out what the Propers (variable prayers/readings in the Mass) are in Year One Cycle B or however it works (sorry, I honestly am not familiar with a three-year lectionary).  It will always be the same for that day.  The priest will almost certainly re-read the epistle and Gospel in the vernacular (I've never seen this omitted, although I do believe it is not required).

You will also notice that as things start moving, it's basically a straight shot from start to finish.  You will almost feel at the mercy of the Old Mass's momentum; due to its nature, there's not a lot of stopping, switching, and waiting for other people.  For example, the choir and congregation sing the Introit and Kyrie while the priest is incensing the altar, and then the priest finishes and says the Introit and Kyrie on his own.  Almost seamlessly, the priest will finish the Kyrie as soon as the choir and congregation finish, and then the priest leads the Gloria.  The only breather in this race to Heaven is the announcements, re-readings in the vernacular, and the sermon.    

Until next time: St. Isaac of Syria, pray for us.
Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian, pray for us.