By the transgression of our first parents man came into the power of the evil spirit to a lamentable extent, and the visible creation was burdened with the malediction of its Creator, as God said to Adam: “Cursed is the earth in thy work.”1 For this reason the spirit of evil is called in various places of the Scriptures the Prince of this world.2 The earth itself bears evidence of the fall; for we cannot imagine a God of infinite goodness creating such a world as that which we now inhabit. So truly is it natural for man to entertain this view that even the pagan philosophers and the sages of all times and countries have regarded the earth as more or less a place of punishment, or at least of trial, for the human race. Their ideas may have been variously expressed, but they will invariably be found to have been based on the same fundamental belief. Deeply impressed with this truth, the children of God have at all times invoked the divine blessing upon such creatures as they had occasion to use, evidences of which are to be met with in numberless passages of the sacred writings and in sacred biography.
Apart from the use which man is necessitated to make of various creatures for the sustenance and conveniences of life, he is also required to use them in the worship of God, and this in a threefold manner: as victims to be sacrificed; as vessels, vestments, etc., in the service of religion; and as instruments or channels for the conveying of supernatural assistance to the souls of men, as in the sacraments and sacramentals. The infinite dignity of Almighty God and the relation man bears to Him require that this should be done at all times and under all circumstances with becoming decorum; in other words, with certain liturgical observances. In patriarchal times the liturgy was very simple, and appears to have been regulated by the patriarch’s own ideas of what was becoming, because at that early day he, or one appointed by him, was the sacrificing priest of the tribe or family of which he was the head. And this custom continued among the Gentiles even after the institution of the Mosaic Law, as may be learned from the case of holy Job, from whom God accepted sacrifices for himself, his family, and his friends. But when the Jews were set apart as the chosen people of God a special ritual was prepared for them by a revelation from heaven, in which the ceremonial law was laid down even to the most minute details, and its strict observance enjoined under the severest penalties.
With the abrogation of the Mosaic Law a new liturgy was called into existence to suit the changes brought about in divine worship by the institution of the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments. Our divine Redeemer unchangeably fixed all that relates to their essence, but it was fitting that He should leave to His Church the regulation of the minor details of their administration, both because it became His dignity to do so and because these depend in a measure on the circumstances of time, place, and people. The authority necessary for arranging these particulars is contained in the power of binding and loosing given in its plenitude to the teaching body of the Church. To the same authority was entrusted the power of instituting such sacramentals as might, from time to time, be found conducive to the welfare of the children of God.
All that relates to the offering of the adorable sacrifice of the Mass is found in the liturgical work known as the Roman Missal, or Mass Book, as it is commonly called. This, as well as the other liturgical books of the Church, is, of course, in the Latin language; and not-withstanding that prayer-books may readily be had in which some parts of the Missal are rendered into the vernacular, and even entire translations of the Missal are made, still this and the other liturgical books are more or less mysterious to the greater number of Catholics. And, what is worse, their lack of information too often renders them incapable of appreciating the value of sacred rites, and leaves them without the desire of increasing their knowledge. A short explanation of the Missal, and later one of the other liturgical books, must for these reasons be at once interesting, instructive, and useful. Interesting, because these works treat of matters in which all Catholics are concerned, and would be still more concerned if they knew more about them; instructive, because it will open up new and extensive fields of knowledge relating to our holy religion ; and useful, because it will place within the reach of everyone many graces, the existence of which was partially or wholly unknown before—graces which will strengthen, console, and encourage them in the time of temptation, trial, and bereavement, and prepare them better for their final passage to eternity.
It is not my intention to treat in this place of the treasure we possess in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, since it is regarded by all as the clean oblation foretold by the prophet Malachy, which was to be offered up from the rising to the setting of the sun. It is the purpose to treat rather of the contents and arrangement of the Missal.
Time was necessarily required to bring the Missal to its present state of perfection; for, though from the beginning all the essential parts were in use in the Church, the Missal had not reached the form in which it now appears until after the lapse of centuries. Nor were the several parts at first arranged in the same manner as they are at present. A portion was found in one book and another portion in another, which different books were known as the Antiphonary, the Lectionary, the Book of the Gospels, and the Sacramentary. A vestige of this remains to our day in the Church, as may be seen in the more solemn functions when a bishop officiates. Besides, certain prelates arranged the Missals for their respective dioceses, more or less according to their own ideas. The necessity of adopting uniformity of ritual where there was uniformity of belief became more and more apparent as time went on and the faith became diffused ; and the better to secure this the necessity became also apparent of restricting the power to make alterations to the highest authority in the Church. But it was not till the sixteenth century that the Missal was reduced to its present form, and all further changes forbidden under the severest penalties.
The Council of Trent3 recommended this action, and it was taken by Pope St. Pius V., who thoroughly revised the Missal, and published it in its corrected form, making that the standard to which all subsequent editions should strictly conform, and forbidding, at the same time, under the severest penalties, the use of any other Missal or of any other prayers or ceremonies in the Holy Sacrifice except those found in the Missal which he had approved. No person, however exalted his dignity, was exempted from the observance of this command; but churches or religious orders having different customs dating back at least two hundred years were excepted out of respect for the antiquity of their liturgy. The bull issued by the Holy Father enjoining the use of the revised Missal and prohibiting all others is dated July 16, 1570. But the disorder was not fully remedied, and Pope Clement VIII., under date of July 7, 1604, issued another bull on the same subject, increasing the penalties. He was followed, September 2, 1634, by Urban VIII., in a bull of the same tenor. These three bulls are placed at the beginning of every Missal, as well as certain decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites bearing on the same subject.
Thus it was that the Missal came to assume its present form. The first step, however, had been taken some what earlier by “Burchard, master of ceremonies under Innocent VIII., who set out at length both the words and the ceremonies of the Mass in his Roman pontifical, printed at Rome in 1485, and again in his Sacerdotale, printed a few years later. . . . After this the ceremonies were joined to the Ordinary of the Mass in some printed Missals, and were finally arranged under their present titles by Pius V.”4
A matter which those not of the One Fold find it difficult to understand, and for which, unfortunately, the vast majority of Catholics are not able to give a satisfactory reason, is the use of the Latin language in the liturgy of the Church. While a spirit of submission to the Church and of confidence in the wisdom of her decrees follows necessarily from a lively faith, there are too many Catholics who rest satisfied with these, forgetting the advice of the Apostle, that they should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in them. It may be questioned, however, whether it is the result of faith, and not rather of indifference, that so many Catholics feel a reluctance to study books of instruction. Faith is not founded on ignorance, nor is it nourished by ignorance; nor does the Church, as some of our enemies would fain have us believe, fear the light. On the contrary, she invites and desires the careful study of both friend and foe.
Latin is the language of the Church’s liturgy for several very good reasons. In the first place, it was the language of the Roman Empire, and was generally understood, if not spoken, throughout the civilized world at the date of the establishment of the Christian religion; and as St. Peter fixed the centre of the Christian commonwealth in the city of the Cæsars, it was not only natural but also necessary for the Church to adopt the Latin tongue as that of her liturgy. Again, the Church is one, and oneness of language serves to illustrate and to preserve oneness of faith. Besides, living languages are constantly changing; new terms are being introduced, and those in use vary their meanings. As instances of this may be cited certain English words that have not only changed their signification, but have taken a diametrically opposite one; as, for example, let, prevent, etc. But it is of the very first importance that the well-defined doctrines of religion should be expressed in language that always conveys the same ideas. The advantage of a medium of communication between the members of the Church throughout the world, whether assembled in general council, addressing their common Father, or corresponding with one another, is too apparent to require comment. Other reasons might also be adduced, but these are sufficient.
Examining the parts of which the Missal is composed we find that, after the insertion of the Papal bulls already referred to, the first place is devoted to the arrangement of all that relates to the calendar of the movable and immovable feasts. It may be said briefly that this arrangement of the Masses for saints and seasons depends on the feasts of Christmas and Easter. The former fixes all from the first Sunday of Advent to the octave of Epiphany; and the latter all from Septuagesima to Trinity Sunday; and the two together regulate the number of Sundays that must intervene between Epiphany and Septuagesima and between Trinity Sunday and the first Sunday of Advent, in order to give fifty-two in the year. If Easter is late, there will be more of the former; if early, there will be more of the latter. The calendar of the feasts of saints is also placed here. Next come the rubrics, which are laws or rules for the guidance of the priests in the celebration of the Adorable Sacrifice.
It may be well to note that in the Missal, as also in the Ritual and in the Breviary, besides the general rubrics which are found in the beginning and at the opening of the several parts or divisions, there are other ones interposed throughout these works for the guidance of the minister in the performance of his sacred functions. If the reader is careful to bear this in mind as we proceed it will obviate the necessity of frequent repetitions.
The word rubric is derived from the Latin term rubor (red), and its application in this place is taken from the manner in which red was used in writing the Roman laws and decisions, the titles, maxims, and principal decisions being written in red. In early ages the rubrics of the Mass were not found in the Missal at all, much less in the place and order they now occupy, but were contained in other works known as Directories, Rituals, Ceremonials, and Ordos. They were finally incorporated into the Missal by Burchard, elsewhere referred to. The revision of the Missal by Pope St. Pius V. fixed them in the place they must ever occupy.
After the rubrics come a preparation for and a thanksgiving after Mass, which are not, however, strictly obligatory on the celebrant. Then begins what may be termed the Missal proper, or that part of the book which contains the Masses of the feasts and saints. It opens with the Mass for the first Sunday of Advent, which contains, as all the other Masses do, those portions only of the Mass which are peculiar to the several days or feasts to which they are assigned, omitting those parts which are found in what is called the Ordinary of the Mass, which will be considered presently. The Masses for each Sunday and for some of the feasts which cluster immediately around Christmas, as well as for all the days of Lent, make up this division, which closes with Holy Saturday. Then comes the Ordinary of the Mass, which comprises all that part, except the secret prayers, from the gospel to the post-communion exclusive. It is composed of the prefaces, eleven in number, which are given first in solemn chant, then in ferial or simple chant, and finally without music, with rubrics directing the celebrant during which seasons or on which feasts each is to be said.
Next there is the Canon of the Mass, so called from the Greek word kanon, which means a rule; because this part of the Mass, as it were, follows a rule, and admits of no changes, except of a few words on some of the more solemn feasts. To illustrate the firmness with which the Church resists all encroachments on the Canon, it may be stated that when the Holy Father, at the request of a very large number of the hierarchy of the Christian world, declared St. Joseph patron of the Universal Church, he at the same time refused the request of a large number of prelates to have the name of the chaste spouse of the holy Mother of God inserted in the Canon after the consecration, where the names of about a dozen other saints are found.
At the close of the Canon the feast of Easter begins the Masses, and it is followed by the Masses for all the Sundays till the last before Advent, with some other Masses in their proper places, as those within the octaves of Easter and Pentecost, and a few more. This closes what are called the Masses of seasons; the rest of the Missal is taken up almost entirely with the Masses of saints, of mysteries in the life and passion of Our Lord and of His holy Mother, votive Masses, and Masses for the dead. The feasts of saints are of six grades: doubles of the first class; doubles of the second class; greater doubles; lesser doubles; semi-doubles; and simples. The portion devoted to the Masses of saints is divided into two parts: the proper of saints and the common of saints. The former embraces all that is proper to each individual saint—as the collect; or, the collect, secret prayer, and post-communion; or, with these, the epistle and gospel; or, in some instances, the entire Mass, with the exception of the Canon. The latter contains Masses for each class of saints— as martyrs, confessors, virgins, etc.—of which there are two or more for each class, and separate Masses for martyrs during paschal time.
The next section of the Missal is taken up with the votive Masses; and these are followed by a number of prayers, one or more of which may be introduced into certain Masses at the option of the celebrant or the request of the person for whose intention the Holy Sacrifice is offered. Then come four different Masses for the dead: that for All-Souls’ Day, which is also said for a deceased Pope or Bishop; that for the day of a person’s death or interment, which has also a prayer for the third, seventh, and thirtieth day after death; that for the anniversary; and, lastly, that for any day upon which a Mass for the dead is permitted by the rubrics, To these Masses are appended twelve prayers for different individuals or classes of the faithful departed, one or more of which can be introduced into the Mass according to certain rules, at the discretion of the celebrant, or according to the intention of the person requesting the celebration of the Mass. But the number of prayers should always be an odd one. An odd number, being indivisible, has a mystic signification. One represents unity in the several forms in which it appears in religious teaching, as the unity of God, the unity of the Church, the unity of the hierarchy, etc.; three represents the three Persons of the Adorable Trinity, Christ praying thrice in the Garden of Gethsemani, His rising from the dead on the third day, the angels thrice repeating Sanctus; five represents the five wounds of Our Saviour; and seven, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, the seven sacraments, and the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. These apply equally to the number of prayers used in the blessings of the Ritual.5
Certain formulæ for blessing water, articles of food, and a few other things, occupy the next place in the Missal; but inasmuch as they pertain rather to the Ritual they will be passed over for the present. After these we have the six votive Masses permitted by Pope Leo XIII. to be celebrated on the several days of the week upon which no saints’ feasts occur or only feasts of minor rite. The rest of the Missal is taken up with Masses of saints that have been canonized, for the most part, since the time of St. Pius V., and others that are peculiar to certain religious orders or localities.
Such, in brief, is the Missal. It is believed that what has been said, though apparently very commonplace, will not be either useless or uninteresting. There are few priests who have not reason to regret the limited knowledge of many of their people; and hence simple and plain instructions must ever be regarded as the most useful, though they will never be the most attractive or popular.
But the purpose of this article is twofold: First, to give a general idea of the construction of the Missal; and, secondly, to call attention to the votive Masses and to the prayers that are permitted to be inserted in other Masses on some of the feasts of minor rite. But here the question naturally arises: What is a votive Mass, and why so named? The word is derived from the Latin votum, and, as found in the liturgy of the Church, means a Mass which does not correspond with the office of the day or feast, as found in the Breviary, and which is so named because it is celebrated by the free choice—or votum—of the priests. The following are the votive Masses found in the Missal: That of the Most Holy Trinity, with a special collect when it is offered as a Mass of thanksgiving; of the Angels; of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul; of the Holy Ghost; of the Most Holy Sacrament; of the Cross; of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ; of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which varies for the different seasons of the year; for the election of a Supreme Pontiff; for the election or consecration of a Bishop; for the destruction of schism; for every necessity; for the remission of sins; for the grace of a good death; against pagans; in time of war; for peace; as a protection against mortality in time of pestilence; for the sick, with a special prayer when it is said for those who are believed to be near their last hour; for those on a journey; and, finally, the Nuptial Mass, which is treated at length in another part of this work.
Besides the above votive Masses there are six others permitted, as was stated above, by the Holy See: namely, of the Angels; of the Apostles; of St. Joseph; of the Most Blessed Sacrament; of the Passion; and of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary; some of which differ a little from those of the same title given above. In addition to these, however, any Mass of a saint may be said as a votive Mass, for a sufficient reason, upon the observance of certain rules, which differ little from those governing other votive Masses.
Still another mine of spiritual wealth of the Missal are the prayers, of which mention has already been made, one of which must, and more than one of which may, be inserted in the Mass on some Sundays and other days at the option of the celebrant, or in compliance with the request of the person for whose intention the Holy Sacrifice is being offered. These prayers are thirty-five in number, each of which includes, of course, the collect, the secret prayer, and the post-communion. The following are some of them—and the devout reader cannot but admire the loving care with which the Church provides in them for our every necessity: To ask the intercession of the saints; another of the same kind; for every grade of persons in the Church; for the Pope; for prelates and congregations committed to their pastoral care; against the persecutors of the Church; for every necessity; for every tribulation; in time of famine; in time of an earthquake; for rain; for fair weather; against pests among animals; for the celebrant himself; for the gift of tears; for the remission of sins; for those who are afflicted with temptations and trials; to repel evil thoughts; for the gift of patience; for the gift of charity; for friends; for enemies; for the welfare of the living; and for the living and the dead. To these must also be added the prayers found in the Mass of any saint or mystery, which may be taken upon certain conditions, that apply to but few of them.
From all this it must be apparent to the thoughtful reader that not only have we an inestimable treasure in the Mass itself, but also that the value of this treasure is greatly enhanced by the special Mass which he can have celebrated, and which, besides its value as the greatest act of worship that man can offer to God, has a worth of its own from its being adapted to the particular intention for which its celebration is requested—there being special Masses for so many different intentions, as we have just seen, besides one for every necessity. And, granting that for a sufficient reason this special Mass is not permitted to be said, the addition of one of the prayers just named, when it is allowed, enhances the value of the petition immensely, as being made to God through His divine Son and in the name of the Church. Hear St. Liguori on this point. After citing the opinion of a theologian, with which he concurs, that the prayer of a lay person when offered up in church at the time when Mass is being celebrated is on that account the more readily and more certainly heard, he adds: “How much more the prayer of the priest himself ?” And speaking of the Divine Office, which, though more efficacious than any other form of prayer, is yet far less so than the Mass, he says: “Many private prayers do not equal in value only one prayer of the Divine Office, as being offered to God in the name of the whole Church.” 6
In the Old Law there were many sacrifices, suited to the manifold wants of the people of God; the sacrifice of the New Law has not only taken the place of all those in the sense of being the supreme act of worship of God, but also as being the supreme act of petition for man.
Serious reflection on the inestimable treasure we possess in the adorable sacrifice of the Mass, as briefly set forth in this essay, will convince the reader of the advantage he may derive from asking for the graces, both general and particular, which he stands in need of, by means of this holy sacrifice. The graces, as St. Liguori remarks, which are not obtained in the Mass are with difficulty obtained at any other time. Here it is not man who prays, but the God Man, who petitions His eternal Father for His people through the ministry of His priests.
1 Council of Trent, session v. canon i.; Genesis, iii. 17.
2 St. John, xii, 31; Ephesians, vi. 12.
3 Session XXV.
4 “Catholic Dictionary,” p. 724.
5 De Herdt, vol i. no. 82; O’Brien, p. 213.
6 “Sacerdos Sanctificatus,” pp. 36, 128.