The Mass, Lesson XXIX – The Gregorian Mass

186 – The Disappearance of the Catechumenate

Some of the changes which mark the growth of the Roman Liturgy (No. 30) begin to operate at once, while others take considerable time for their development. Some are ascribed to the direct action of individuals, especially Popes; and others appear to be adopted from neighboring churches or to have grown up without any one being able to tell how they first came into existence. The last Pope who revised the Canon of the Mass was Saint Gregory the Great, who reigned from 590 to 604. Since his time that portion of the Mass has remained absolutely unaltered, and the suppressions or additions occurring in the other parts of the Mass, have been either the natural outcome of movements in existence in his time or slight shiftings in the emphasis of ceremonies and teaching (Nos. 34, 35) brought about by the rise of new heresies. Of these suppressions the earliest was the disappearance of the Catechumenate (No. 160). The Catechumens were adults and the Catechumenate was founded for their instruction. When the world became Christian there were no longer any adult unbelievers to be converted or instructed. The ranks of the Church were recruited from Christian families. The candidates for Baptism were, as now, little children who had not attained the use of reason. Hence the Catechumenate disappeared, and with it disappeared the discipline of the secret (No. 32), and the distinction between the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful. It is true the public penitents still remained, but the custom of confining them in monasteries was growing, and so, little by little, the ordinary Church knew them no more.

187 – Adaptation of Introit to New Conditions

When the Catechumenate disappeared the whole Mass became the Mass of the Faithful, and the changes described in No. 162 became operative. At the same time a need was felt for the special intentions in the bidding prayers (No. 145), which need was met by the addition of new Collects. Thus, for instance, when we now wish to pray for rain, the intention is inserted after the Collect of the day. The increase of private celebrations (No. 51) corresponding with the multiplication of small churches, and the growth of monasticism led to the disappearance of the sermon, and to a simplification of the entrance ceremonies. The stations and processions were confined to solemn occasions, and at the priests entrance into the church only one verse of the psalm was sung (No. 173), followed by the opening supplications of the Litany, “Kyrie eleison,” “Christe eleison.” Thus we have what is to this day the invariable order of the first part of the Mass: Introit, Kyrie, Collects, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel.

188 – Procession at the Gospel

The Christians always held the four Gospels, or the four lives of our Lord, in the highest honor. In common with the other Scriptures the Gospels were read at the Mass; but when the other lessons were all reduced to one, the Gospel still held its place. Moreover, the reading of the rest of the Scriptures was entrusted to those in the lesser Orders; the reading of the Gospel was the privilege of the deacon. The very book of the Gospel was held in special reverence. In the Diocletian persecution (No. 170) the enemies of the Church recognized this reverence by seeking out the manuscripts of the Bible and burning them. When peace was restored to the Church, women used beautifully written and bound copies of the Gospels as ornaments, as they use crosses now. Consequently, it is not surprising that, in the celebration of the Liturgy, the greatest respect and honor was shown to the book of the Gospels itself. At the beginning of the Mass it was laid on the altar and kissed by the Bishop when he entered the church. As we saw in No. 81, the lessons were read from the ambo. When the time came to read the Gospel a procession was formed. As in all processions (No. 180) incense was used. At the imperial court in Constantinople it was the custom to accompany distinguished personages with torches or candles. Those lights were a mark of respect and a sign of rank. The same honors were given to the Book of the Gospels. The procession passed from the altar to the Bishop’s seat, where the deacon knelt for a blessing, and then it went on to the ambo, where the Gospel was sung. The ceremony arose naturally from the respect shown to the Gospels, but it soon took on a deeper meaning. It represented the change from the Old Testament to the New and the superior excellence of the Revelation which was brought to us by Jesus Christ.

189 – Procession at the Offertory

As we saw in No. 149, the faithful present at the Mass brought bread and wine and offered it to the Bishop. From those offerings enough was set aside to serve for the sacrifice, and the remainder went for the support of the Church. This was the command of the Apostle:

“Know ye not that they who work in the holy place, eat the things that are of the holy place; and they that serve the altar partake with the altar? So also the Lord ordained that they who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel.” (– 1 Corinthians 9)

“When the congregations grew larger and the number of communicants smaller the people ceased to offer bread and wine. As but a small portion would be used, there was danger of waste. Accordingly, the faithful gave instead a piece of money, and the ministers of the Church took upon themselves the charge of providing the materials for the sacrifice. This is the origin both of the Sunday collection and of the Mass stipend we offer the priest when we ask him to say Mass for our intention (No. 56). The bread and wine, therefore, were prepared before the Mass and placed on the Credence table (No. 79). At the Offertory they were brought in procession to the altar. The solemnity of this procession was enhanced by the fact that the Leaven, or the portion of the Blessed Sacrament kept over from the former Mass (No. 163), was also brought at this time from the Tower (No. 84), where it had been reserved. In preparing the wine a little water was always mixed with it. The Jews diluted their wine in this fashion, and our Lord observed their custom at the Last Supper. The early Christians saw in this rite of mixing water with wine a figure of the blood and water which flowed from our Lord’s side when He died on the cross.

“Then the Jews, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath day, besought Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and they broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Jesus; but when they came to Jesus, as they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and straightway there came out blood and water.” (– John 19)

As in other processions incense was used, and after handling the censer the priest washed his hands. The rite of washing the hands was used frequently in the Liturgy before beginning the service, before and after receiving the offerings from the faithful, after using the censer and after the Communion. While there may have been some real necessity for cleansing the hands at those acts, the rite was not considered merely a bodily purification. As in the case of the water and wine, the rite of washing the hands was from the earliest times considered a sign of that purity of soul necessary for those who offered the sacrifice and who partook thereof.

190 – Orate, Fratres

The silent prayers described in No. 179 consisted of three parts, like those said on Good Friday. (No. 145) The priest turns to the assistants, and says, “Orate, Fratres,” “Pray ye, brethren.” The assistants make their prayer, and the priest recites the secret. This Secret Prayer is modeled on the Collect, and varies with it from Mass to Mass. Like the Collect, it may be augmented by other prayers for various intentions.

191 – The Preface

In the Roman rite the Preface had a few sentences inserted in the middle referring to the feast or the special occasion for which Mass was said. Thus there was a preface for almost every day of the year. In Rome Gregory the Great abolished all these special prefaces except seven.

192 – Removal of the Pater Noster

The Lord’s Prayer was formerly said before the Doxology that is the conclusion of the Canon properly so called. Pope Gregory made it the beginning of the following ceremonies, namely, the Fraction and Communion.

“We therefore say the Lord’s Prayer immediately after the Canon because it was the custom of the Apostles to consecrate the host with the sacrificial prayer alone (i.e., with the Canon), and it has seemed to me exceedingly unbecoming that we should say over the offering a prayer which some scholar composed, and should not say over His Body and Blood the very prayer He Himself made. But the Lord’s Prayer is among the Greeks said by the whole people; among us, however, it is said by the priest alone.” (– Letters of Saint Gregory #9)

It is well to remember that the Pater Noster was always introduced by a short preface or sentence:

“Admonished by saving precepts and instructed by the Divine command, we make bold to say, Our Father,” etc.

193 – The Gregorian Canon

Since the time of Saint Gregory the Canon has been unchanged. The additions made before his day were very few, and consisted mainly of short clauses. The Church has always been unwilling to make alterations in the wording of this ancient prayer. It will be noticed that even when the intercessions were transposed she left the words “therefore” “also” which connected them with foregoing prayers in their original position, but which no longer serve that use in their present place.

194 – The Fracture and the Commixture

The breaking of the bread developed into a long and intricate ceremony, which disappeared when the custom of preparing individual wafers became the rule. The rite was thus brought into close connection with the Commixture (No. 184), so that the two became practically the one ceremony performed during the “Libera.” By the Libera is meant the addition made to the Pater Noster in the Mass expanding the meaning of “Deliver us from evil.” It is called also by the Greek name, “embolism,” or “expansion.” At the end of the Libera the priest takes the bread, divides it into halves, and from one half breaks a small portion which corresponds to the old Leaven (No. 168). With this portion he makes the Sign of the Cross three times over the chalice, saying, “May the peace of the Lord be always with you.” Then he drops it into the chalice and says, “May this commixture and blessing with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, be for us who receive it, unto life everlasting.

195 – The Agnus Dei

In the time of Pope Gregory the Kiss of Peace came immediately after the Commixture. But less than a century later Pope Sergius made an addition, which, for the sake of convenience, we may describe now. Between the rite of commixture and the singing of the communion psalm (No. 157) there was an interval of silence. This interval Sergius filled up. The leaven was often called the “Lamb of God,” or in Latin “Agnus Dei.” The Pope ordered that during the commixture the choir should sing “Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” From the opening words the prayer is know as the Agnus Dei.

196 – The Pax and Communion

The Kiss of Peace was given immediately before the Communion (No. 165). The Bishop first said a silent prayer, and then saluted each of the ministers with the greeting, “Peace be with Thee,” to which each replied, “And with Thy spirit.” Before receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord the priest offered a silent prayer; then he gave Communion to the attendant ministers and to the people. According to the ancient custom, he said, when giving the bread, “The Body of Christ,” and, when giving the wine, “The Blood of Christ.” The communicants answered “Amen” to each. When, however, Communion was given to the sick and dying, instead of the bare formula, “The Body of Christ,” the priest prayed, “May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ guard thy soul into life everlasting. Amen.” This prayer made its way into the Mass, and displaced the old form. The practice of replying “Amen” is still retained in Masses where Orders are conferred.

197 – The Communion and Post Communion

The psalm formerly sung during the Communion of the people was, by the encroachment of the Agnus Dei, reduced, like the Offertory psalm, to a single verse. The prayer of thanksgiving after the Communion is known as the Post Communion. It was modeled on the Collect and Secret, and, like them, changes with the Church year.

198 – The Blessing and Dismissal

After the Post Communion the celebrant blessed the people. He began with the words, “Let us pray.” The deacon turned towards the congregation, and said, “Bow down your heads to God.” Then the priest recited the blessing over them. The form of the blessing was not always the same, but varied like the Post Communion. Afterward the deacon again addressed the people, “Go. It is the dismissal,” and the Mass was ended. Pope Gregory made an important change in this blessing. He confined it to the Lenten season, so that on feast days and the like the dismissal was given immediately after the Post Communion. As the celebrant retired from the altar the people knelt as he passed, and he blessed them silently, making the Sign of the Cross with his hand.