Ecclesiastical Year for Catholic Schools - Andreas Petz

First Part—Preparation

Preparation for the Holy Sacrifice—Christ as Prophet—Way of Purification

The Introit

1. While the celebrant and the acolytes enter the sanctuary, the choir sings the so-called Introit  (entrance), consisting of an antiphon, part of a psalm and the Gloria Patri. In the meantime, the celebrant prays at the foot of the altar the psalm "Judica me Deus," the Confiteor and accompanying prayers, kisses the altar, and, in solemn High Mass, incenses it.

2. The entrance of the priest at Mass reminds us of the Advent of Christ upon earth, His union with man by His Incarnation. But the singing of the choir reminds us of the longing for the Messiah. So should the Christian long for the coming of the Redeemer into his heart.

3. This longing for union with the Redeemer is also expressed by the celebrant, when he prays the psalm "Judica me Deus,"  alternately with the people who are represented by the acolytes. This psalm expressive of joy, is omitted in Masses for the Dead and in those said during the time of the Passion. Before beginning Mass, all sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, because, according to Apostolic tradition, the early Christians began all their actions with the sign of the Cross; but this sign is made before Mass especially, because that Sacrifice in which the three Divine Persons participated is about to begin, and its central point is the Cross.

In early Christian times only clerics were admitted to the service of the altar; now, boys are chiefly employed, in whom we expect to find great purity and innocence. They wear white because it is not only more becoming for Divine Service, but also to show that we should assist at Mass with pure hearts, and at the same time think of the Angels who hover invisibly around the altar offering their homage and adoration to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

4. After the psalm the celebrant and the acolyte, one after the other, pray the Confiteor. The longing for the Redeemer presumes that we acknowledge ourselves sinners, therefore the Confiteor follows; even in the oldest liturgies this confession is found. Like the contrite Publican, the celebrant and the servant bow down and strike their breasts as a sign of their penitential spirit.

By the term liturgy we understand here, the manner in which Mass is to be celebrated as ordered by the Church. The liturgies of the Eastern and Western churches differ in non-essentials, but are entirely alike in their essential parts. The Roman liturgy is the most common and is found all over the earth, whereas the others are limited to a few countries.

5. After the Confiteor the acolyte implores God, on behalf of the people, to have mercy on the celebrant. Then the priest does the same for them. This is to denote the intimate relationship existing between priest and people. They pray with each other and for each other, that they may all be worthy to offer to God this most august Sacrifice.

At the Confiteor all the faithful who assist at Mass should awaken acts of contrition, so as not to be deprived of the fruits of the Mass by their sins.

6. These prayers being ended, the priest ascends the steps of the altar and resting his hands upon the sacred table, kisses it respectfully. The altar is the sanctuary upon which Christ with His Angels and Saints is enthroned; therefore in every altar relics of the saints are enclosed, whom the priest implores for their intercession.

From every altar, Christ and the whole Church Triumphant commune with the Church Militant. When the priest ascends the altar he separates from the people, as it were, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord, as mediator. He kisses the altar to express his love and devotion, as well as his joyous submission and union with Christ, who wishes now to offer the Holy Sacrifice, by the hands of the priest.

7. In solemn High Mass, the priest incenses the altar. In the Old Law the priest was commanded to envelope the tabernacle with a cloud of incense, before he sprinkled the sacrificial blood. The incensing of the altar was customary even in the time of the Apostles, and is found in all liturgies; it is a beautiful emblem of prayer. The incense is annihilated in the flame, and arises to heaven, dispensing sweet perfume. Prayer likewise comes from a heart glowing with love; it is an annihilation, a complete surrender of oneself to God; it ascends to heaven and pierces the clouds; it surrounds the worshiper with the perfume of virtue. The altar shall be enveloped in a cloud of the prayers of the faithful. The priest offers his prayers, and those of the faithful to Almighty God; his heart, therefore, should be an altar of sacrifice; for this reason, he is incensed after the altar is incensed.

8. After incensing the altar the priest says the Introit at the Epistle side of the altar, which in former times was sung only by the choir while the priest said the Judica. The Introit is now much shorter than formerly, its scope being the key to the entire Mass of the day; it is nothing more nor less than an expression of the longing for the Redeemer.

The Kyrie

1. The Kyrie Eleison  follows the Introit. These Greek words signify: "Lord have mercy on us." It is a form of prayer that often appears in the Sacred Scriptures, and is very appropriately used here. The Introit represents the infinite love of the Son of God in His Incarnation, but with the advent of Christ upon earth, begins the time of grace and mercy, therefore the Kyrie very fittingly follows the Introit.

2. The Kyrie appears in all liturgies; formerly it was repeated as often as the priest wished, oftentimes increased by certain intercalary expressions touching the nature of the feast of the day. Thus on feasts of the Blessed Virgin it would read after this manner: "O Lord thou lover of virginity, illustrious Father and Mary's Creator, have mercy on us," and so on. In the Roman liturgy the Kyrie is repeated nine times.

3. This solemn petition, Kyrie Eleison, for mercy is said three times to God the Father for His manifold mercies; Christi Eleison is said three times to God the Son, the author of our redemption, and Kyrie Eleison is again thrice repeated to Clod the Holy Ghost, the sanctifier and consoler. The Father and the Holy Ghost are addressed in the same word Kyrie, because they have one and the same nature; but the Son in another word, Christi, because in addition to the divine nature He assumed human nature.

4. The Kyrie is repeated nine times to denote that the vacant places in the nine choirs of Angels will, in the course of time by the mercy of God, be filled by mankind.

Greek and Hebrew words are retained in the Roman liturgies, to signify that there is but one Church originally formed out of three different nations, viz., the Latin, the Greek, and the Hebrew, in which languages the Sacred Mysteries were first celebrated. These three languages were hallowed by having been used to inscribe the title on the Cross.

The Gloria

1. The first words of the Gloria in excelsis, or greater doxology, were sung by the angels at the birth of Christ: the author of the remaining words, as we have it now, is not definitely known, but by many it is accredited to St. Hilary, bishop of Poictiers, in France, A.D. 353. At all events this doxology was universally known since the fourth century. At first it was sung rarely and only by bishops at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; it was only in the eleventh century that priests in general were allowed to say the Gloria at the times prescribed by the Church.

2. The Gloria reminds us of the birth of Christ, the second act of the great sacrifice of our Redeemer. An angel announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds and the whole heavenly host continued the Canticle in exultant tones. The priest, likewise, in High Mass intones this joyous chant, which the choir continues. Man has reason to join in this celestial chant of the angel because Christ came upon earth to lead lost mankind back to God. He brought that peace into the world which was lost by sin; and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the true sacrifice of peace in which we may daily participate.

3. The Gloria is omitted in Masses of the season during Lent and Advent, and in Masses for the Dead.

The Collects

1. At the conclusion of the Gloria the priest stoops down and kisses the alter, then having turned to the people salutes them with, Dominus vobiscum  (The Lord be with you), words evidently taken from the Old and New Testaments, where we find them employed on various occasions.

Seven times the priest salutes the faithful with the Dominus vobiscum; seven times is the same response, "Et cum spiritu tuo"  (and with Thy spirit) heard: At the Collect, the Gospel, the Offertory, the Preface, the Agnus Dei, the Post Communion and the Ite Missa est. Seven is the number of the Holy Spirit, called septiform, in the chant of the Church; the faithful beg for His seven divine gifts at each salutation. By kissing the altar the priest expresses his union with Christ, and from Him he imparts this blessed salutation to the faithful. He extends his arms towards the people as if to embrace them and unite them with Christ. The people salute him with the words, "Et cum Spiritu tuo"; this exchange of salutations denotes that the people and the priest should be one in mind and soul.

In the liturgy of the East, the salutation: "Pax vobis"  (Peace be to you) is used. This salutation our Divine Lord always made use of in greeting His disciples after His resurrection. To establish a slight difference between a bishop's manner of saying Mass, and that of a priest, the bishop was allowed to retain the use of the "Pax vobis" after the Gloria; upon every other occasion he says: "Dominus vobiscum," like an ordinary priest.

2. After having said the "Dominus vobiscum,"  the priest returns to the Epistle corner of the altar and reads the Collects, beginning with "Oremus"  (Let us pray). Collect is from the Latin colligere, to gather together, because the common wants of the whole people were, as it were, brought together in it and laid before Almighty God by His ambassador, the priest. A very edifying custom of ancient times was for the people to enter into a sort of silent prayer, after they had heard "Oremus," and remain in this quiet meditation until the general prayer was announced. On certain rogation and penitential days the deacon, after the Oremus, said "Flectamus genua";  (Let us bend the knee). Thereupon all fell upon their knees and prayed until the deacon said "Levate,"  (Rise up).

3. Another act of oblation of our Redeemer was His continuous prayer; His whole life was a life of prayer. This constant oblation of Christ is presented to us in the Collects. Prayer is also necessary for the support and maintenance of Christian life. Therefore every Christian should unite intimately in the sacrificial prayers of Christ, which are offered Him in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

4. The Collects  vary every day, because in the Sacrifice of the Mass different graces are offered us, corresponding to the different seasons of the year. To implore these different graces, is the object of the Collects.

5. In every Sacrifice of the Mass there are three different Collects: the Collects after the Gloria, the Secret before the Preface; and the Post Communion. They correspond to the parts of the Mass: Preparation, offering and consummation of the sacrifice. On occasions of great solemnity usually only one Collect is said in each of these three parts, because all the attention should be directed to the mystery of the feast; on minor feast days more are added corresponding to the feast and the season.

6. The priest recites the Collects with raised and extended arms. Our first parents stretched their hands after the forbidden fruit, and thus brought a curse upon the world. Christ, the second Adam, stretched His arms out upon the Cross, and thereby gained for us salvation; therefore the priest has always prayed with outstretched arms during the Mass, in which the sacrifice of the Cross is continued. The priest is a second Moses, who prays with outstretched arms, to lead his people to victory.

7. The Collects close usually with the words: "Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen." Our prayers are granted only through the merits of Christ; therefore the priest joins his hands at these words, to place his prayers, as it were, in the hands of Jesus, who in turn offers them to His heavenly Father. The server replies "Amen," a Hebrew word, meaning "May it be so," thus assenting to the prayers of the priest.

The Epistle

1. The Epistle reflects the ministry of Christ testified to by the Patriarchs, Prophets and Apostles. This ministry should prepare our hearts, lead them to Christ, who speaks Himself to them in the Gospels, therefore the Epistle precedes the Gospel.

2. In early Christian times passages out of the prophecies were read, later, extracts from the letters of the Apostles. In the Roman liturgy the Epistle is taken sometimes from the Old Testament, sometimes from the New. As the readings from the letters of the Apostles are more numerous than those taken from the Prophets, they are called Epistles, that is, letters. Formerly the Epistles were read by the lectors from an elevated lectern or pulpit known as the Ambo, placed generally in the nave of the Church; since the eighth century the subdeacon reads the Epistle on solemn occasions; on ordinary occasions the priest reads it himself. The series of Epistles and Gospels as we have them now were arranged by St. Jerome, and introduced by Pope Damasus I. ( 384) in the fourth century.

3. The priest lays his hands on the book while reading the Epistle, to show that we should be ready to do what the Epistle prescribes.

4. At the conclusion of the Epistle the people answer: "Deo gratias"—Thanks be to God—as an evidence of the gratitude we owe to our Creator for the spiritual nourishment of His Divine Word, not accorded to other nations. These are the sentiments that should animate the faithful during the reading of the Epistles, and Gradual which follows:

5. The Gradual, so-called, not as some suppose from the steps of the altar—for it was never read from there—but rather from the steps of the Ambo. In early Christian times, the Gradual consisted of an entire psalm. In the sixth century, Gregory the Great ordered it to be as we have it now, consisting of three verses, which vary according to the feast of the day.

The Gospel

1. As soon as the Gospel had been written by the Evangelists it was read at the Divine Service. At first this was done by the lector, but very soon this. important office was given to the deacon. In all liturgies the reading of the Gospel is attended with great solemnities; for the Church listens with the greatest respect to the word of her Bridegroom contained in the gospel.

2. At solemn High Mass, the deacon incenses the Gospel, and at its conclusion he also incenses the celebrant. The Gospel is a necessary part of the Mass; it is the Divine Word, in which the great Sacrifice is clothed. Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed it spreads the perfume of virtue, and the incense of prayer ascends to Heaven. The priest is incensed after the Gospel, because he is the bearer of the Divine Word, proclaims and interprets it; he is, as it were, consecrated for the sermon which follows the Gospel.

3. On solemn occasions lighted candles are carried at the Gospel, to testify our joy at receiving the glad tidings, as well as to show our respect for Him, who is the Light of the World.

4. While the priest announces the Gospel, he makes the sign of the Cross with his thumb upon the Missal itself, and then upon himself on the forehead, mouth and breast; the people sign themselves in the same manner. The Gospel contains the teachings of the Crucified, and priest and people make the sign of the Cross to show that they are not ashamed of His doctrine, but will preserve it in grateful remembrance, believe in it, and proclaim it to the world. Therefore the people stand while the Gospel is read, to show their readiness to follow its teachings.

5. At the conclusion of the Gospel the priest kisses the book; the acolyte, for the people, answers "Laus tibi Christi"—"Praise be to Thee, O Christ," as an expression of gratitude for the doctrine of Christ contained in the Gospel.

6. Formerly, the sermon always followed the Gospel, and continued the line of thought expressed in the Gospel of the day, therefore belonging to it. In many places, the sermon is now given after Mass.

7. In early times, the moment the sermon was ended, or in the absence of a sermon, at the end of the Gospel, the Catechumens were dismissed from the church, and then the Mass of the faithful began with closed doors. At this so-called Mass of the Catechumens even the Jews and the heathens were allowed to be present, but were then dismissed immediately by the deacon, with the words: "The doors! the doors! All upright!"

The Creed

1. The Creed is a profession of faith as framed in the year 325, at the General Council of Nice, a town of Bithnia, in Asia Minor, and received an accretion at the Council of Constantinople in 381. In the Churches of the East even in the seventh century, it was universally prayed at Mass; in the Churches of the West, it was introduced much later.

2. The Creed comprises in a few words all the mysteries of Christian doctrine. It terminates the prophetic part of the Mass. Therefore the priest and the people sing and pray the Creed together, to profess their faith openly.

3. The Creed forms a fitting transition to the second part, the real sacrifice: From the living faith springs forth the true love of sacrifice; therefore the faithful should strengthen their belief by acts of faith, in order to partake intimately in this Holy Sacrifice.

4. The Creed is not said every day, but chiefly on those days when some mystery of our holy faith is celebrated; viz., on Sundays, feasts of our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, and of those saints who labored to establish the faith, such as Apostles, and Doctors, and also during the octave of these feasts.