Ecclesiastical Year for Catholic Schools - Andreas Petz

Second Part—Consecration

The Consecration of the Holy Sacrifice—Jesus Christ as High Priest—Way of Sanctification.


This part of the Mass extends from the Offertory to the Pater Noster, and shows our Lord as High Priest, first consecrating Himself by prayer to His heavenly Father and then consummating His never-ending Sacrifice. Therefore this part falls into two divisions: in the first part the Sacrifice is offered through prayer to our heavenly Father; it comprises the Offertory; in the second part the Sacrifice is consecrated, sacrificed in an unbloody manner; it begins with the Preface and lasts to the Pater Noster. The central point of this division, as well as of the whole Sacrifice of the Mass, is the Consecration; or Elevation.

The Offertory

1. In early times the faithful brought bread and wine to the altar at the Offertory; the best of these gifts was selected for the Holy Sacrifice. All that remained, over and above what was necessary for the immediate wants of the altar, went into a common fund for the sustenance of the clergy and the poor of the parish. While the gifts were being offered the choir sang one or more psalms. Now the Offertory consists of only one verse of a psalm. This Offertory always expresses the thought of the day, similar to the Introit.

2. First the priest salutes the people in the same manner as at the Collect. At the Collect he invites the people to unite with him in prayer; now he calls upon them to participate in the Sacrifice. He embraces them again in spirit, to unite them intimately to himself, but also to warn them that they must approach the altar in a spirit of charity without hatred or enmity.

3. The corporal  is now spread upon the altar, if it has not been done already. It represents the winding-sheet in which Christ's body was wrapped by Joseph of Arimathea; it is to receive the body of Christ at the Consecration.

The use of the corporal rests upon Apostolic authority, and even Pope Sylvester, in 314, strictly forbade it to be made of silk or of any other material except white linen. The hearts of those who partake of the Sacrifice should also be pure and white like the corporal. This sacred cloth when not in use is kept folded up in the burse.

4. The sacred vessels—chalice  and paten—are especially worthy of respect and veneration, because they come in close contact with the Eucharistic Species. They remain covered, therefore, with the so-called veil, until the beginning of the real Sacrifice; in the first centuries the veil had to be of linen, but now is of silk, corresponding to the color of the vestments.

The palla  serves to cover the mouth of the chalice, to prevent dust or flies from falling into it. It must, like the corporal, be of linen.

The chalice  is the most sacred of all the vessels of the altar; it represents the Chalice in which Christ for the first time offered His most Sacred Blood. It also reminds us of the Chalice of His passion, which for our sake he drank to the dregs; it is a symbol of the Heart of Jesus from which His sacred blood flows in a stream. The priest's heart is the chalice, as it were, which receives the blood of Christ. The chalice must be gilded out of the respect we owe to the most Sacred Blood of Christ, and because the Divine Heart is filled with the gold of charity; so should our hearts burn with this gold of charity.

The purificator  or mandatory, a linen cloth used for cleansing the chalice, is of recent date. It has a small cross in the middle to distinguish it from the lavabo towel, which has the cross at the end.

The paten, that small silver or gold dish something like a flat saucer, which covers the mouth of the chalice and upon which the large bread for consecration is placed until the Offertory, is of Apostolic origin. In former times it was much larger.

The paten is a symbol of the hearts of the faithful because it is used only at the Offertory and Communion in which the faithful participate; at other times it remains concealed under the corporal or in the hands of the subdeacon; it must also be gilded, and this broad gold paten typifies the great love which should animate the faithful during the Divine Sacrifice.

5. The chalice is then uncovered and the oblation  of the Host resting on the paten is made with the following words: "Accept, Holy Father, Omnipotent, Eternal God, this immaculate Host, which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer Thee, my living and true God, for my innumerable sins, offenses and negligences, and for all who are present; moreover, for all faithful Christians, living and dead, that it may avail both me and them unto salvation and life everlasting." Then with the paten he makes the sign of the Cross on the corporal, and places the Host thereon. The Cross is the sacrificial altar upon which the Sacrifice was consummated, and here is now renewed. The faithful should also place their offerings spiritually, upon the paten, in order to unite them with those of the priest.

6. The priest then pours wine and water into the chalice. This mixture of water and wine is an emblem of the Incarnation of Christ. As here the few drops of water are absorbed by the wine, and at the same time changed into wine, so Christ has indissolubly united His human nature with the divine, and consequently given His human nature a higher dignity. The inseparable union of Christ with His Church is also represented by the mingling of the water with the wine; and no less the union of our Redeemer with each individual faithful soul, who sacrifices himself out of love for Christ. The priest blesses the water but not the wine. The wine represents Jesus Christ, the "true vine," but the water denotes the faithful, who need the blessing, not so Christ. The priest, spiritually, places in the chalice the hearts of all those present, who desire to be united with Christ.

Christ Himself at His last Supper mixed water with wine; this is the undisputed tradition of the Church. The custom of the Jews, not to bless the wine before it was mixed with water, points to the same fact. This mingling of water and wine should remind us specially of the blood and water which flowed from the Heart of Jesus Christ when He hung on the Cross. The priest now offers the chalice to his heavenly Father, with prayers similar to those at the offering of the Host; making a cross with the chalice; and placing it on the corporal, he covers it with the pall.

In the two short prayers which follow the Offertory, the priest expresses the spirit of sacrifice, that is, humility, and confidence in the assistance of grace.

7. At solemn High Mass, the priest incenses the bread and wine of the Sacrifice, then the altar, the celebrant and server; and finally the people. This incensing is a dedication of the gifts of sacrifice, the place of sacrifice and the one who offers sacrifice; it forms, as it were, a sacred circle within which, the Sacrifice of Christ and that of the people is accomplished. As the incense is consumed in the flame, so Christ consumed Himself out of love for us, and so should the hearts of those who offer themselves to God be consumed with the fire of divine love.

8. Having recited the prayer: "Come, O Sanctifier," the priest goes to the Epistle  corner of the altar and there washes the tips or his fingers, but only of the thumb and index finger of each hand, as it is these only, that are allowed to couch the Blessed Sacrament; for which reason they are sometimes called the canonical fingers, as it is they that were anointed with Holy Oil at his ordination. While performing this ablution the priest recites that portion of the twenty-fifth psalm which begins with: "I will wash my hands among the .nnocent." Besides the literal reason for this ablution, there is a beautiful mystical reason also—to-wit, that in order to offer so tremendous a Sacrifice, as that in which the victim is none else than the Son of God Himself, the priest's conscience should be free from the slightest stain of sin. The priest does not remain at the middle of the altar while washing his hands, but goes to the Epistle corner, out of respect to the Blessed Sacrament enclosed in the tabernacle, and for the crucifix. When the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, to show still greater respect he descends one step at the Epistle side, and standing, so as to have his back turned toward the wall and not to the altar, performs the ablution there. The Church is very exact in all that concerns the reverence due to the Holy Eucharist. The washing of hands was customary even in the earliest times and is in commemoration of the washing of the disciples' feet by our Lord, to prepare them for the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

9. After washing his hands the priest returns to the middle of the altar and recites a prayer to the Holy Trinity and the Church Triumphant. He unites himself with the heavenly host, inviting them to participate in this Holy Sacrifice, and at the same time implores their intercession in heaven. Here the Church Militant unites with the Church Triumphant in the praise of God.

10. The priest now turns around to the people and exhorts them to pray with the words: "Orate fratres," "Pray, brethren," which he continues as follows: "That my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty." He turns then in a perfect circle to the altar again, in order to exhort the faithful on all sides, to pray. This form of summoning the faithful to pray was in use in the early centuries of Christianity. The priest now begins the "Secretae,"  or secret prayers, therefore he previously asks all present to unite their prayers with his, that he may present them to his heavenly Father.

11. It is called the "Secret" because the priest says the prayers secretly. This silence is to denote the intense reverence with which this prayer should be said, and to give the faithful an opportunity of offering their own special prayers and mementos. The priest offers them jointly with his own to Almighty God. This prayer is the second Collect; it changes daily like the first Collect (after the Gloria). At the Secret as many prayers are said as at the first Collect. At the conclusion of the Secret the priest folds his hands, to gather, as it were, the prayers of the faithful. Then raising his voice he closes this prayer in an audible tone with the words: "Per omnia saecula, saeculorum,"  to which the servers answer: "Amen," by which the people assent to the prayers of the priest.

The Preface

1. Before Christ entered on His Passion, He chanted a canticle of thanksgiving at His last supper. In like manner the priest, before the consummation of the Holy Sacrifice, chants the Preface, rendering proper thanks to Almighty God.

2. The Preface is a prelude or introduction to the Canon of the Mass and is of Apostolic origin. In the first centuries every Mass had its own Preface, later the number was limited by rule to eleven as we now have them.

3. At first, the priest sang alternately with the people to move them to devotion and thanksgiving. The "Sursum corda"  (Lift up your hearts) should stimulate all present to raise their hearts from earth and direct them to God. The priest raises his hands at the words, as if to offer the hearts of his congregation to God, drawing nearer and nearer to God until, finally, he unites with the angelic choirs in singing: "Holy, holy, holy."

The Canon

1. Canon means rule. The Church uses this word to denote that the Canon is the unchangeable rule, according to which the Sacrifice of the New Testament is to be offered. It is of Apostolic origin, excepting a slight addition by Pope Gregory the Great, in the seventh century, since when, a hand has never touched it.

2. It has been customary from time immemorial to recite the Canon in secret, out of the great respect that is due to this solemn portion of the Mass, as well, as to secure the utmost recollection on the part of the priest and the people. The High Priest of the Old Testament went alone into the Holy of Holies, and Christ went alone in silence, like an

Easter lamb to the sacrifice. The priest likewise, after he has combined the wants and supplications of all present with his own prayers, begins in secret that prayer by which the mystery of the body and blood of Christ is consecrated. Priest and people should now especially place themselves in the presence of God, exclude all worldly distractions and pray from the depths of their hearts.

3. Since in the Canon the commemoration of the Passion of our Lord is renewed, a picture of the Crucifixion is placed in the Missal at the beginning of the Canon, to imprint the sufferings of Christ still more vividly on the mind and heart.

4. Christ offered Himself to His Heavenly Father on Mount Olivet for the sins of the world. Burdened with this debt of sin, He prayed three times. At the beginning of the Canon, He likewise offers Himself by the hands of the priest for the whole Church. The priest prays, first for the entire Church, then in particular for those present as well as for those of whom he wishes to make special mention. At the third prayer, he unites with the saints in heaven, because Christ Himself was strengthened by an angel at His third prayer.

5. The sign of the Cross is now often repeated over the Host and the Chalice, not only before, but also after the Elevation. This oft-repeated sign of the Cross, imparting strength and grace, is to remind us that it is the Sacrifice of the Cross which is here renewed. The sacrificial offerings, as well as the hearts of the worshipers, should be purified and sanctified before the Elevation by the sign of the Cross. In like manner, after the Elevation, the priest and the faithful are prepared for actual or. spiritual Communion, and intimately united with Christ. In some parts of the Canon there is only one Cross made; in other parts three, and again in others five are made. One Cross signifies the unity of the Divine Essence, two Crosses signify the duality of natures in our Lord, three the Blessed Trinity, and five typify the Five Wounds.

6. In early times a tablet was used, upon which the Memento was inscribed, and read by the deacon or subdeacon during the Canon; at a Low Mass the priest read it himself. This tablet, called diptych, consisted of three separate columns. In the first column the names of the saints were enrolled, at first Apostles and martyrs, later also holy bishops and confessors. The second column contained the names of those who were illustrious among the living, or held places of eminence either in the temporal or spiritual order, such as the Supreme Pontiff, the patriarchs, archbishop or bishop of the diocese. In this same column were also inserted the names of those for whose special intention the Mass was offered, or who had contributed bountifully toward the wants of the altar, and the support of its sacred ministers. The third column contained the names of those who departed this life in full communion with the Church, but who were not otherwise in any degree remarkable. The substance of these three columns is now distributed among the following prayers of the Mass; viz., the first Memento, the Communicantes, the Nobis quoque peccatoribus, and the second Memento. We still have these three columns, but not in the same order. As it is now, the second column precedes the first: in it the priest mentions the Supreme Pontiff, and the bishop or archbishop of the diocese, then the faithful, for whom he prays, either out of love or duty; thereupon follows the first column; in which the priest mentions the names of twenty-four saints, twelve being Apostles and twelve martyrs. They are to remind us of the twenty-four ancients who surround the throne; the twelve Apostles typify the twelve foundation stones of the heavenly Jerusalem, and the twelve martyrs take the place of the 144,000 sealed, (12,000 out of each of the twelve tribes of Israel), as St. John describes in the Apocalypse. In this first column no other saint can now be inserted. The third column or division, the Memento for the Dead, now comes after the Elevation.

7. The priest holding his hands extended over the oblation implores God to graciously accept the Sacrifice about to be offered. As in the Old Law the sins of the people were symbolically placed upon the Scape Goat, so Christ took the sins of the world upon Himself, and laden with these sins consummated His Passion. In a similar manner the priest now also lays our wants, the wants of the Church and the sins of the faithful upon the Divine Head of the Redeemer.

The Consecration

1. The Consecration is the heart of the Canon and of the entire Mass; it is even the life spring of the Church. As the blood from the heart circulates through all parts of the body, so the blood of the Redeemer flows through the Consecration, into all parts of Christ's Church.

2 The Elevation, or Consecration is ushered in by the fivefold sign of the Cross made over the Oblation. This is symbolical of the five wounds through which our Redeemer completed His sacrifice on the Cross. The victim is already laid on the Cross, the five wounds are opened; the sacrifice follows, the death of Christ on the Cross is renewed.

3. The priest repeats the words, and does precisely what our Lord did at His last supper when He changed the bread and wine into His body and blood, thereby effecting in the name of Christ the act of Consecration. The words of consecration, which the Church received from Christ through the Apostles, have creative power. As the word of God caused heaven and earth to come forth out of nothing so the words of consecration effect the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord. At these words the Redeemer descends from heaven, and offers Himself on the altar to His heavenly Father for the salvation of the world.

Although Christ is truly present under each species, nevertheless both species are necessary in order to represent the separation of His precious blood from His sacred body.

Pure should the hearts be, that partake of the Sacrifice, and filled with devotion and reverence.

4. As soon as the words of consecration have been spoken over the Host, the priest bends the knee and adores the God incarnate, present on the altar; then he raises the Sacred Host on high so that all may see it.

He does the same, likewise, with the Chalice when he has pronounced the words of consecration over it. This elevation of the Host and the Chalice reminds us, first, of the elevation of Christ on the Cross, upon which He consummated His sacrifice. It reminds us furthermore, of how Christ offers Himself to His heavenly Father as mediator for fallen man,—an inexhaustible source of grace for the Church, and for each individual soul a sure guide on the way of the Cross. The faithful also fall on their knees and unite in worshiping our Redeemer, they thank Him for graces received, beg forgiveness for their sins as well as for the sins of others, and implore Him for graces of every kind. There is certainly, no time more appropriate to lay our wants before God than at the time of Elevation.

5. At the Elevation of the Sacred Host and Chalice, the acolyte gives a sign with the bell for the faithful to adore. This signal should awaken devotion in the lukewarm and cold of heart, but in the devout it should increase the flame of divine love. As the silver tones of the bell undulate through the church, so should the hearts of the faithful beat in unison with their heavenly Bridegroom. He hearkens so gladly to the harmonious tone of love and confidence, and to the prayers of pure hearts. Where ever the custom prevails of ringing the church bells at Elevation, it is to announce the moment of consecration to the faithful, who could not be present at Divine Service, so that they may at least participate in this most holy Sacrifice.

6. The three orations after the Consecration remind us of the three hours, that Christ hung on the Cross, and of the love with which He sacrificed Himself to His heavenly Father for the salvation of the world. These prayers and this sacrificial love continue throughout the Mass.

7. The priest again makes the sign of the Cross five times over the Chalice and the Host. The five wounds are now opened, the sacred blood of the Redeemer flows in streams through the entire Church, and into the heart of every member who participates in this Sacrifice.

8. In the second oration the priest mentions the sacrifice of Abel, Abraham and Melchisedech, because these three sacrifices were prototypes of Christ's sacrifice. In Abel we see Christ as prophet, in Abraham as priest, and in Melchisedech as king.

9. In the third oration the priest, deeply bowed, prays that God will be pleased to have the fruits of this Sacrifice brought before His Most Sacred Majesty, by the hands of an angel. Even in the Old Testament we often read that the angels took part in the sacrifices; how much more so will the priest of the New Covenant have angels at his side to assist him, and adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The priest kisses the altar, and then, making the sign of the Cross on himself, prays that from this fount of grace manifold blessings may fill his heart.

The Memento

1. After His death, Christ descended into Limbo to bring the joyous message of redemption to the Just, who were awaiting His arrival. In like manner the Church, as soon as the Crucifixion of our Lord is renewed in the Consecration, descends into Purgatory, and seeks to obtain participation in the reopened stream of grace for the Just detained there.

2. The Sacrifice of the Mass is, as it were, a court of justice. God is about to pass judgment on mankind, but the guilty, at the Memento for the Living, place themselves under the protection of our Redeemer, who obtains pardon for them by the Consecration: therefore the Memento for the Living comes before the Elevation; judgment, however, has been already pronounced on the Dead, hence they are remembered after the Elevation, in order to obtain mercy for them through the blood of Christ.

3. The priest strikes his breast and says aloud: ''Nobis quoque peccatoribus"  (And to us sinners). Many who were present at the death of our Lord, and seeing the wonders that took place, striking their breasts, confessed the Godhead of Christ. The priest likewise strikes his breast after he has seen the mystery which has just taken place. The stream of grace has already poured over the Church Suffering; now the priest prays that the Church Militant on earth may partake of this grace. But only those who are humble and contrite of heart partake of this grace; therefore, he strikes his breast and confesses himself a sinner. He prays in a loud voice that is from the depths of his heart to the Lord, and exhorts all present to unite with him in this prayer. The contents of this prayer are, that through the Sacrifice of the Mass the Church Militant and the Church Suffering may be led into the Church Triumphant.

4. Even to inanimate nature, blessings must flow from the Holy Sacrifice; this is expressed in the short prayer following, in which the priest makes the sign of the Cross three times over the species of bread, wine, and water, inanimate forms of nature raised to the substance of the sacred offering, becoming thereby the source of grace for all creation. In early times, it was customary to bless new fruits and products of various kinds at this part of the Mass, such as grapes, milk, honey, oil, wine, etc. Even to this day the Holy Oils are solemnly blessed at this part of the Mass.

5. At the close of the Canon the priest uncovers the chalice and taking the Sacred Host between the thumb and index finger of the right hand makes three crosses with it over the chalice while saying:

"Through Him, with Him, and in Him," then two crosses between the Chalice and himself in a direct line, at the expression "to Thee, God the Father Almighty in the unity of the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory," he raises the Chalice and Host a few inches from the altar. This is called the minor Elevation, and here the Canon ends. The three crosses over the chalice denote the Son of God, Who offers Himself in His threefold office, of prophet, priest and king. The other two crosses glorify the Father and the Holy Ghost; these two persons form one essence with the Son, therefore the crosses are made with the Sacred Host. The Elevation of the Chalice with the Sacred Host shows us that fhe entire creation is, through the Holy Sacrifice, united to God from Whom it was separated by sin.