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.