How To Hear Daily Mass

by admin on April 3, 2011

WHAT we have said seems to oblige us to speak on the subject how to hear Mass, and what to do during it. On this we will say three things, which will be three devotions that we may practice at Mass, each of them much to the point, and all three may be practiced together. And they shall not be out of our own head, but of our Mother the Church, that they may be regarded and valued as in reason they should be. For the first we must presuppose that the Mass is a memorial of the Passion and death of Christ, as has been said. The Redeemer of the world wished this holy sacrifice to be a memorial of His Passion and of the love that He bore us. He meant us to remember what He had suffered for us, and that this continued remembrance should greatly rouse us to love and serve Him, that we should not be like that people who forgot the God who saved them (Psalm cv. 21). Thus one of the excellent devotions that we may practice at Mass is to consider the mysteries of the Passion there represented, eliciting therefrom acts of love and purposes to serve the Lord loyally.
For this it will be a great help to know the significations of what is said and done at Mass, to lead us to understand and appreciate better and better the great mysteries there represented; because there is no word or sign or ceremony that is not fraught with great meanings and mysteries; and all the vestments and ornaments that the priest puts on to say Mass also represent to us the same. The amice, the saints say, represents the veil wherewith they covered the face of Christ our Redeemer when they said to Him, striking Him on the face, Prophesy who hath struck thee (Mark xiv. 65; Matt. xxvi. 68). The alb is the white garment in which Herod clothed Him in mockery, and scorned Him along with his army, and sent Him back to Pilate (Luke xxiii. 11). The girdle represents either the first cords with which He was bound when they seized Him, or the scourges wherewith He was scourged by order of Pilate. The maniple represents the second cords wherewith they bound Christ’s hands to the pillar when they scourged Him. It is put on the left arm, because that is nearer the heart, to denote the great love wherewith He received those cruel scourges for our sins, and the love wherewith it is reasonable that we should correspond to so great love and bounty. The stole represents the third binding of Him, which was the rope they cast round His neck when He carried the Cross on His shoulders to be crucified. The chasuble represents the purple robe wherewith they clothed Him in mockery (Matt, xxvii. 28); or, according to others, the seamless tunic of which they stripped Him to crucify Him (John xix. 27).
The coming of the priest into the sacristy to put on the priestly vestments represents the entry of Christ into this world, in the sacred shrine of the virginal womb of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, where He vested Himself in the vestures of our humanity to go and celebrate the sacrifice of the Cross. At the going out of the priest from the sacristy the choir sings the introit of the Mass, which signifies the ardent desires and sighs with which the holy Fathers looked forward to the Incarnation of the Son of God. Oh, that thou wouldst break through the heavens and descend! (Isaias Ixiv. 1). The introit is repeated a second time, to signify the iteration of these cries and desires which those holy Fathers put forth to see Christ in the world clad in our flesh. The priest saying the Confiteor as a penitent man signifies that Christ took upon Himself all our sins to atone for them, and was willing to appear a sinner and be accounted for such, as the Prophet Isaias says (Isaias liii. 4, 11), that we might be justified and sanctified. The Kyries, which mean “Lord, have mercy,” signify the great misery in which we all were before the coming of Christ. It would be a long business to run through all the mysteries in particular. Suffice it to understand that there is nothing in the Mass that is not full of mysteries. All those signs and crosses that the priest makes over the host and the chalice are to represent to us and bring into our memory the many various torments and pains that Christ suffered for us on the Cross. The elevation of host and chalice after the consecration, besides the fact of its being done for the people to adore, represents how they raised the Cross on high that all might see Him crucified. Each may occupy himself in the consideration of one mystery or two, as devotion shall lead him, gathering fruit therefrom and seeking to correspond to so great love and bounty. This will be more profitable than hurriedly running the memory over many mysteries. This is the first devotion that we may practise at Mass.
The second devotion and method of hearing Mass is a capital method and one very proper to the purpose; we outlined it in the previous chapter. For the understanding thereof we must presuppose two things which we there laid down. The first is that the Mass is not only a memorial and representation of the Passion of Christ, and of that sacrifice which He offered on the Cross to the eternal Father for our sins, but is the same sacrifice which was then offered and of the same value and efficacy. The second is that, though the priest alone speaks and with his hands offers this sacrifice, yet all the bystanders also offer it along with him. This being supposed, I say that the best way of hearing Mass is to go along with the priest, offering this sacrifice arid doing so far as we can what he does, reckoning that we all unite there, not only in hearing Mass, but in offering that sacrifice along with the priest, since in sober reality that is the fact. To this end it is enjoined that priests should say in a clear and moderately loud voice those parts of the Mass which it is proper for the people to hear, that so they may enter into it and prepare themselves along with the priest to offer this sacrifice with that preparation which the Church has ordained for this purpose so wisely and so advisedly. For all that is here said and done is meant to prepare and dispose both priest and assistants to offer this high sacrifice with the utmost devotion and reverence.
That we may better be able to carry this out, it is well to notice that the Mass has three principal parts. The first is from the Confiteor to the offertory, which is all to prepare the people to offer this sacrifice worthily. This is done at the beginning by the Confiteor and by some verses of the psalms even before the going up to the altar. Then comes the Kyrie, which besides signifying, as we have said, the great misery in which we were before the coming of Christ, gives us also to understand that he who has to treat with God cannot treat with Him on grounds of justice, but only of mercy. Then there follows the Gloria in excelsis Deo, giving glory to God for the Incarnation, and acknowledging the greatness of that benefit. Then follows the collect. And it is to be observed that the priest says Oremus, and not Oro, that all may pray with him, and he in the person of all. And that this may be done with more spirit, a petition goes before praying for the assistance of the Holy Ghost for that purpose, by the priest turning to the people with Dominus voliiscum, and the people answering, Et cum spiritu tuo. The epistle signifies the doctrine of the Old Testament and the teaching of St. John Baptist, which preceded the doctrine of the Gospel as a sort of catechetical preparation. The gradual, which is said after the epistle, signifies the penance that the people did at the preaching of John the Baptist. The Alleluia, which follows after the gradual, signifies the joy of the soul after having obtained pardon of her sins by means of penance. The Gospel signifies the doctrine which Christ preached in the world. The priest makes the sign of the cross on the book which he has to read, because he has to preach to us Christ crucified; and then he makes the sign of the cross on his forehead, mouth, and breast, as do the people also, whereby we profess that we hold to Christ crucified in our hearts and will confess Him with our tongues and with our uncovered faces, and that we will live and die in this confession. Fresh lights are lit for the reading of the Gospel, since this is the doctrine that enlightens our souls, and the light that the Son of God brought into the world. The Gospel is heard standing, to let us see the readiness which we should have to obey it, and to defend it when necessary. It is heard with head uncovered, to give us to understand the reverence which we should have for the word of God. Thereupon follows the creed, which is the fruit gathered from the doctrine of the Gospel, for in it we confess the articles and principal mysteries of our faith. This is the first part of the Mass, which they call the Mass of the Catechumens, because up to this point the catechumens, who were not baptized, were allowed to be present at the Mass, as also unbelievers, whether Jews or Gentiles, that they might hear the word of God and be instructed therein. The second part of the Mass is from the offertory to the Pater Noster, which is called the Mass of Sacrifice, at which only Christians can be present. And so it was the custom for the deacon to give notice from the pulpit for the catechumens to go; and then he said to them in olden times, lie, missa est—”Go, because this is the Mass;” the sacrifice is now beginning, at which it is not lawful for you to assist. This is the principal part of the Mass, in which is done the consecration and the offering of the Consecrated. So the priest begins to keep silence, and say the prayers in secret, not to be heard by the bystanders, since now the sacrifice is approaching. So at the approach of His Passion the holy Gospel says that Christ our Redeemer retired to the desert, to the town of Ephrem, and no longer walked in public (John xi. 54). As now the priest is coming near to the offering of the sacrifice, he washes his hands, to give us to understand the cleanness and purity with which we should draw nigh to this sacrifice. And turning to the people he tells them to pray along with him that this sacrifice may be acceptable and agreeable to the majesty of God. Then after a short prayer in secret he once more breaks silence with the preface, which is a special warning whereby the priest disposes himself and the people for this sacrifice, exhorting them to lift up their hearts to heaven and return thanks to the Lord for having come down from heaven to take our flesh and die for us. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest,, which are the praises with which they received Him in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matt. xxi. 9). Holy., holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, are the cries with which the courtiers of heaven utter their perpetual praise, as says Isaias (vi. 3), and St. John in the Apocalypse (iv. 8). Then begins the canon of the Mass, wherein the priest begs the eternal Father, through the merits of Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, to accept this sacrifice for the Church, for the pope, for the bishop, for the king. Then in secret he prays God for particular persons, offering also the sacrifice for them, making the first Memento, which we call the Memento of the Living; and he particularly offers this sacrifice for all the persons present at it. Thus it is a very profitable thing to assist at Mass, since those who assist at it come in for a greater share of the gifts of God, even as they who are in waiting at the table of the king, and they who come out to receive him when he makes his entry into the city; and as they who were at the foot of the Cross, St. John and Our Lady, Magdalen and the Good Thief. Rupert says that to be present at Mass is being present at the obsequies of Christ our Redeemer. Then follows the consecration, in which, as we said in the last chapter, the sacrifice of the Mass consists and is offered for all those of whom mention has been made in the Memento.
I say, then, that the best devotion that one can have at Mass is to continue attending to what the priest says and does, and to continue offering along with him this sacrifice, and doing, so far as possible, what he does, as one who has a part in the great transaction that is there carried on and celebrated. And when the priest makes the Memento for the Living, it is good for everyone present to make also his Memento, asking God on behalf of the living, and afterwards of the dead, even as the priest does.
Our Father Francis Borgia made his Memento in this way. Presupposing the consideration already mentioned, that this sacrifice represents and is the same with that which was offered for us on the Cross, he made his Memento by the five wounds of Christ. In the wound of the right hand he commended to God the pope and the cardinals, all bishops and prelates, clerics and parish priests, and all the ecclesiastical state. In the wound of the left hand he commended to God the king and all the justices, and chief officers of the secular arm. In the wound of the right foot, all religious orders, and particularly the Society. In the wound of the left foot, all his kinsmen, relations, friends, and benefactors, and all who had recommended themselves to him in his prayers. The wound in the side he reserved for himself, and there he entered and took refuge, as in the hole in the rock, in the hollow in the wall (Cant. ii, 14), begging God’s pardon for his sins and remedy for his necessities and miseries. So he offered this sacrifice for all these ends, and for each of them as if he were offering it for that alone, offering it always particularly for that person or persons for. whom he said the Mass of obligation or devotion, with a will that there should be applied to him all that part of that sacrifice that was due to him, without his being the loser in any way by the other intentions for which he offered it. He did the like in the Memento for the Dead, offering that sacrifice in the first place for the person or persons for whom in particular he was saying that Mass; secondly, for the souls of his parents and relations, thirdly, for the deceased members of his order; fourthly, for his friends, benefactors, and persons recommended to him, and for all to whom he was under any obligation; fifthly, for the souls that were most forsaken, who had none to pray for them, and such as were undergoing more grievous pains and were in greater need, and for those who were nearest to going out of purgatory, and for all for whom it would be greater charity and service of God to offer it. We may follow this plan, or any other, as each shall find it best.
And particularly we should offer this sacrifice for three things, which among many others oblige and bind us in every way: first, in thanksgiving for the great benefits that we have received at the hand of God, as well general as particular; secondly, in satisfaction and atonement for our sins; thirdly, to beg a remedy for our necessities and weaknesses, and gain new favors from the Lord. And it is very well for each one to offer this sacrifice to God for these three ends, not for himself alone, but also for his neighbors; offering it not only for the benefits that he has received, but also for the so great favors that God has done, and does every day, to all mankind. And not only in satisfaction and atonement for his own sins, but also for all the sins of the world, since this is enough and more than enough to satisfy and appease the eternal Father for them all. And not only to beg a remedy for private and particular miseries and necessities, but for all those of the Church. And hereby one better falls in with the priest, who does so; besides, charity and zeal for souls require that an individual should not look to his own particular account only, but to the common good of the Church. And, speaking generally, it is well to offer this sacrifice for all the intentions for which Christ offered Himself upon the Cross, and for all for which. He wished it to be offered when He instituted it. And it will be well for us to offer ourselves also along with Christ in sacrifice to the eternal Father every day in the Mass for these intentions, leaving nothing in us that we do not offer. For though it is true that our works of themselves are worth very little, yet, taken with the blood of Christ and in union with His merits and Passion, they will be of great value and very pleasing in God’s eyes.
St. Chrysostom says that the hour in which this divine sacrifice is offered is the most opportune time there is for dealing with God, and that the angels hold it for a most happy occasion to ask for favors on behalf of the human race; and that they cry to God then with great earnestness on our behalf at so favorable a moment. He further says that there are there heavenly squadrons of cherubim and seraphim, kneeling with great reverence before the majesty of God; and that forthwith upon the offering of this sacrifice these heavenly messengers fly with man¬dates for the opening of the prisons of purgatory and the execution of what has been there at Mass arranged. Thus there is reason for us to value this opportunity and profit by so good an occasion, and go to Mass to offer that divine sacrifice with great confidence that by means thereof we shall appease the anger of the eternal Father and pay the debts of our sins, and gain the gifts and favors that we ask for.
The third devotion appertains particularly to the third part of the Mass, which is from the Pater Noster to the end. This part contains the priest’s Communion and the prayers that are said after Communion, all of which are a thanksgiving for the benefit received. What the hearers of Mass have to do then at that time is there also to accompany the priest as far as they can. We cannot communicate sacramentally at every Mass, but we can spiritually. This, then, is the third devotion for Mass, a very good and profitable devotion, that, when the priest communicates sacramentally, those who are present should also communicate spiritually. Spiritual Communion is the forming of a great desire of receiving this Most Holy Sacrament, according to those words of Job: Who will give us of his flesh, that we may be filled? (John xxxi, 31). As a glutton feasts his eyes on a delicate morsel, so the servant of God should set his eyes and his heart on this divine food; and when the priest opens his mouth to receive it, he too should open the mouth of his soul with great desire to receive the same and enjoy the relish thereof. In this way God will satisfy his heart’s desire by an increase of grace and charity, as He promises by the prophet: Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it (Psalm Ixxx. 11). But the Council of Trent here observes that for this desire of the Most Holy Sacrament to be a spiritual Communion, it must spring from a lively faith informed with charity; that is to say, it is necessary that he who forms this desire should be in charity and the grace of God, for then he reaches the attainment of this spiritual fruit, increasing his union with Christ. But such a desire, in a person in mortal sin, would not be a spiritual Communion; rather, if he were to desire to communicate, remaining the while in mortal sin, he would sin mortally. And if his desire supposed his first getting out of his sin, though it would be a good desire, it would not be a spiritual Communion, because, as he is not in grace, he cannot receive the fruit thereof. Thus he must be in the grace of God; and then to have that desire is to communicate spiritually, since by this desire of receiving that Most Holy Sacrament he partakes of all the good gifts and spiritual graces that they are apt to partake of who receive sacramentally.
It may even be that one who communicates spiritually receives more grace than another who communicates sacramentally, though that Communion be made in the state of grace. For though it is true that sacramental Communion of itself is more profitable and gives more grace than spiritual Communion by the fact of its being a sacrament and fraught with the sacramental privilege of conferring grace ex opere opemto, which spiritual Communion does not do, yet so great may be the reverence and humility of some particular person, in his desire to receive this Most Holy Sacrament, that he will receive thereby greater grace than another who receives sacramentally, but not so well disposed.
Furthermore, there is another thing about spiritual Communion, that, being secret and not seen by others, it is not attended with any danger of vainglory in the eyes of bystanders, as is the case with sacramental Communion, which is public. And it has another privilege besides which sacramental Communion has not, that it can be made more frequently. For sacramental Communion is made once in the week, or at most, once a day; but spiritual Communion may be made not only every day, but many times a day. So there are many who have the laudable custom of communicating spiritually, not only when they hear Mass, but every time they visit the Most Holy Sacrament, and at other times.
There is a good method of spiritual Communion which some servants of God practise; we will set it down here, that anyone may profit of it who will. When you hear Mass or visit the Most Holy Sacrament, or at any time whenever you wish to communicate spiritually, rouse your heart to affections and desires to receive this Most Holy Sacrament, and say: “O Lord, who shall have the cleanness and purity requisite to receive worthily so great a Guest! Oh, who shall be worthy to receive Thee daily and keep Thee ever in his breast! 0 Lord, how rich I should be, could I deserve to receive Thee and take Thee home to my house! How happy would be my lot! But it is not necessary, O Lord, for Thee to come to me sacramentally to enrich me; only will it, my God, and that will be enough; command it, O Lord, and I shall be justified.” And in testimony thereof say those words (Matt. viii. 8) which the Church uses: “My Lord Jesus Christ, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter into my dwelling; but do Thou speak, for at Thy mere word my soul shall be whole and saved. If looking upon the brazen serpent (Num. xxi. 9) was enough to cure the wounded, it must also be enough to look at Thee with lively faith and ardent desire to receive Thee.” And it would be well to conclude with the antiphon, “O Sacred Banquet,” and the versicle Panem de coelo, with the collect of the Most Holy Sacrament.

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

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