After the Gospel or Creed the priest says: “Dominus vobiscum,” and then “Oremus” (“Let us pray”), but he says no prayer. Why is this? Because in the earliest centuries the people at this part of the Mass offered prayers together, a deacon chanting a kind of litany to which all responded. This custom no longer exists.
The Offertory. Then comes the Offertory, the real beginning of the Eucharistic act. Just as our Blessed Saviour, at the Last Supper, took bread and wine, so the priest takes them and offers them to God. In many other rites this is done at the very beginning of the Mass; but the Roman liturgy has always placed the Offertory after the Gospel.
At this part of the Mass, in our parish churches, the collection is taken up — called the “offertory collection” because in early times it was customary for the people to present the bread and wine for the Sacrifice. Later the practice began of giving money instead of these. Thus we see that the Sunday collections in our churches are nothing new; for many centuries the faithful have given their offerings, even as we.
The Bread and Wine. For many centuries the Roman Church has used at Mass bread that is unleavened, or made without yeast. In the East all Christians except the Armenians and the Maronites use leavened bread, and it is probable that this was done everywhere until about the eighth century. Either kind is valid, and Rome insists that each Church shall keep to the kind required by its own liturgy; thus she would not permit the Greeks who are Catholics to use unleavened bread, and would not allow us to use leavened. The unleavened kind was probably used by our Lord at the Last Supper, which was the Passover of the Jews, at which such bread only was eaten.
The breads for the altar are baked between heated irons upon which is stamped some pious emblem, such as the crucifix and the letters I H S. The small altarbreads, intended for the Communion of the faithful, may be plain. In the Roman rite both the large and the small Hosts are of a circular form, which rule goes back at least to the third century.
The wine must be fermented, or alcoholic — not merely grapejuice, which is not wine at all. A little water, blessed with a short prayer, is mingled with it in the chalice. Spiritual writers look upon the mixture as a symbol of the two natures of Christ. The chalice is offered with a prayer, the last words of which invoke the blessing of the Holy Ghost.
At a solemn Mass the deacon holds and offers the chalice with the celebrant, because in ancient times he had special charge of the chalice, and gave Holy Communion from it to the faithful in the days when they received the Holy Eucharist under both forms. The bread and wine and the whole altar are then incensed by the priest. This ceremony in its present form goes back to the fourteenth century.
The Washing of the Fingers. In all the various rites which our Church uses throughout the world the celebrant washes his hands before handling the offerings. He has already done so at the vesting before Mass, and formerly he repeated it twice during the Mass. While the water is being poured on his fingers he recites part of the twenty-fifth Psalm: “I will wash my hands among the innocent,” etc.
He then, as it were, concludes and sums up the whole offertory by the prayer “Receive, O Holy Trinity, this oblation,” which is a rather recent addition to the Mass. It was not in general use until the revision of the Missal in 1570.
The Secret Prayers. The priest then turns towards the people and asks for their prayers: “Orate, fratres”— (“Pray, brethren, that my and your sacrifice may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty”) — and the response is made on their behalf: “May the Lord receive the sacrifice from thy hands to the praise and glory of His Name, and also for our benefit and that of His whole holy Church.” This is a medieval addition, having been finally legalized for all Masses in the fourteenth century.
Then come the “Secreta,” one or more prayers said by the priest in a low tone, and resembling those said as Collects earlier in the Mass. Many of those now in use are found in the most ancient ritual books of the Church. They usually ask God to accept the gifts offered at the altar, to sanctify them, and to give us His grace in return. The last of these prayers ends with the clause “Per omnia saecula saeculorum” (“Through all the ages of ages,” or “forever and ever”), said or sung aloud.
The Preface and Sanctus. Although in our Missals the words “Canon of the Mass” stand after the Sanctus, it is important to remember that the Preface is really a part of the Canon. It is so recorded in the old Sacramentaries, being the “thanksgiving Prayer” which leads to the words of consecration. The name “Preface,” or Introduction, is found first in the early Middle Ages.
Originally this part of the Mass was very long, containing a list of all the blessings for which man gives thanks to God. Later, especially in the Roman rite, it was shortened, and was varied according to the feast or season. In some ancient Missals there were more than a hundred different Prefaces, but the number was reduced in later centuries. We now have eleven, all very ancient except that of the Blessed Virgin, which was added by Pope Urban II at the end of the eleventh century.
The Preface begins with a dialogue. The priest says to the people: “The Lord be with you,” to which the server answers for them: “And with thy spirit.” “Lift up your hearts”— one of the oldest of liturgical formulas, to which the response is made: “We have them lifted up to the Lord.” “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” with the answer: " It is meet and just.” The celebrant takes up these last words, saying: “Truly it is meet and just,” and so begins the Eucharistic prayer, varying it, as said above, according to the occasion of the Mass. In it mention is made of the angels who praise God, and like them we are urged to say: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts,” in the beautiful prayer of adoration, the Sanctus.
This is merely a continuation of the Preface; but besides being said by the priest, it is sung in solemn Masses by the choir and recited by the assisting ministers, representing the people — who are thus enabled, as it were, to join in the chant of the angels. It is one of the oldest parts of the Church’s service, being alluded to by St. Clement of Rome before the end of the first century.
The Canon of the Mass. Thus we enter into what is called the Canon of the Mass. The word “Canon” is Greek, meaning a rule or method; and the name is used for the part of the Mass before and after the Consecration because the Church requires it to be said usually without variation, according to a fixed standard to which all must conform.
The real Canon ends at the words “Per omnia saecula saeculorum,” just before the Pater Noster, although the heading “Canon Missae” in the Mass-Book goes on to the end. In its first part the priest prays for the Church, the Pope, the Bishop of the place and the faithful, mentioning the Pope and the Bishop by their first names. He then makes the Commemoration of the Living, remaining silent for a few moments while he mentally prays for those whom he wishes specially to commend to God. In the next prayer he brings in a list of saints, including the Blessed Mother of God, the Apostles, St. Cyprian and eleven illustrious martyrs of the Roman Church, thus emphasizing our communion with them as members of the Church of Christ. This prayer varies slightly at certain seasons of the year.
The Words of Consecration. Then follows the prayer, “Hanc igitur oblationem,” beseeching God to accept the offering — at which the hands are held horizontally over the bread and wine; and this brings the celebrant to the beautiful passage which introduces the words of consecration spoken by our Blessed Saviour at the Last Supper. It reads as follows: “Who, the day before He suffered, took bread into His holy and venerable hands, and, raising His eyes to heaven, giving thanks to Thee, blessed, broke and gave to His disciples, saying: Take and eat all of this; for this is My Body.” And another introduction, “Simili modo,” leads to the words of consecration said over the Chalice: “For this is the chalice of My Blood of the new and eternal testament, a mystery of faith, which shall be shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” Then follows the commission to the Apostles: “As often as you shall do these things, you shall do them in memory of Me.”
Let us examine these solemn words. They have not been always precisely the same, various ancient rituals giving slightly different forms. Why is the phrase “a mystery of faith” inserted, since it is not to be found in any of the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper? It is conjectured that in early times these words were an exclamation made by the deacon to announce to the people that the great Mystery of Faith was accomplished — that God was present on the altar.
The Elevation. After the priest has pronounced the words of consecration over the bread he genuflects in adoration and raises the Sacred Host so that it may be seen by all the people, and then genuflects again. This elevation is a ceremony introduced in the late Middle Ages. There was no trace of it until about the twelfth century, when it was the custom to hold the Host as high as the breast while the words of consecration were being pronounced. As done at present, it seems to have been first ordered by Eudes de Sully, Bishop of Paris, about the year 1200, and within a hundred years the practice had spread throughout the Western Church. The genuflections were ordered by the revised Missal of 1570.
The elevation of the chalice is done in like manner, and came into use a little later than that of the Host. The incensing of the Blessed Sacrament at the two elevations is a late addition to the ceremonial of the Mass. It began with the Dominicans, and was introduced at Rome about the end of the fourteenth century.
What should we do in church at the Elevation in the Mass? As the reason for the ceremony is to show the Blessed Sacrament to the people, it is right for them to look at it — an ancient practice sanctioned anew by our late Holy Father Pius X, who granted an indulgence to all who do it. However, the other practice of bowing low in adoration, is not by any means wrong.
The Bell at Mass. The ringing of a bell has come to be a part of the ceremonies of the Mass, although, strictly speaking, it is not required at a Solemn Mass, but is merely tolerated. A peculiar and not very laudable custom existed in many parts of the world in the Middle Ages — the summoning of the people from outside the church by the sound of a bell as the time of the Consecration drew near; and after the Elevation they promptly went out again. This bell, known in England as the Sanctus or sance bell, was often hung in a small cupola over the sanctuary, and was rung by means of a rope that hung down near the server’s place. A small hand-bell was rung then, as now, at the Elevation; and the great church bell was tolled at the same time, that those at a distance might know the moment of consecration. At the present day the ringing at the Sanctus and at the Elevation is all that the rubrics demand. In France and in some other countries there is a great deal of bell-ringing at different parts of the Mass — which cannot be said to add anything to the dignity of the Holy Sacrifice, and is not called for by any Missal regulations. In our churches the bell is rung usually at the Sanctus three times; at the “Hanc, igitur,” just before the consecration, once; at the elevation of the Host and of the chalice, three times for each; at the “Domine, non sum dignus” before the priest’s Communion, three times; and the same words before the Communion of the people, three times also.