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.  

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