The third end of the Mass to be discussed is that of Petition. It is in the Mass, which is the perfect prayer, that the priest prays for us to the Father through the Son in Spirit and in Truth. Petitions are made for the forgiveness of sins, as well as to help us to cooperate with the graces we receive in the Mass. Many of the Collects and Offertories and Secrets and Communions and Postcommunions found in the Traditional Latin Mass make very direct petition to God for our needs, especially as they relate to the salvation of our immortal souls. Indeed, the Offertory Prayers recited at the Offering of the Host and the Offering of the Chalice (which I included in a recent analysis of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal as a means of contrasting a full expression of the Faith with the new, watered down version) petition God in a most beautiful way that we might have the right disposition to enter deep into the sublime moment of the Consecration.
All of that being true, however, it is in the Roman Canon (and in the sixteen Prefaces, including the one used for Sundays after the Epiphany and after Pentecost) that we find the most perfect expression of this end of petition in the Mass.
The priests asks first of all the Father to bless "these gifts, these presents, these holy unspotted sacrifices, which we offer up to Thee, in the first place, for Thy holy Catholic Church, that it may please Thee to grant her peace, to guard, unite, and guide her, throughout the world; as also for Thy servant John Paul II, our Pope, and (name), our Bishop, and for all who are orthodox in belief and who profess the Catholic and apostolic faith."
You see, there is no need for the silly, inane, often ideologically laden "petitions" which are offered in the Novus Ordo during what is now called the General Intercessions. All of the petitions and needs of the Church and the world are contained in the very structure of the Traditional Latin Mass, especially as they are expressed in the Roman Canon.
The first part of the Roman Canon asks God to bless the gifts and sacrifices which are about to be offered up to Him, in the first place for the Church, the holy Catholic Church, as well as for the Sovereign Pontiff, the local Ordinary, and for those who "are orthodox in belief and who profess the Catholic and apostolic faith." Words count. Words matter. We do not ask God's blessing on heretics, apostates, schismatics, or dissenters. We ask for God's blessing on those who are true believers in the Deposit of Faith. The Roman Canon is not an exercise in religious indifferentism (can the same be said of the recently composed "Eucharistic Prayers"of the Novus Ordo?). This is a very important petition.
"Be mindful, O Lord, of Thy servants (here the priest and the faithful remember interiorly those in the Church Militant they desire to pray for; there will be more concern
This is a beautiful summary of the true needs of others, starting first with the salvation of their immortal souls. None of us is guaranteed to persevere until the point of our dying breaths in states of sanctifying grace. No one is so guaranteed, including our closest friends and relatives. We must pray ceaselessly for our-and their-spiritual well-being, both now and at the hour of our deaths, which not even a terminally ill person knows. There is thus no need for people to pray out loud in church during Mass about this sick relative or that sick relative, thus descending into endless displays of narcissism and sometimes even false piety. The Canon expresses all of our needs so perfectly. Isn't it a petition of our prayers to pray for all of the needs of the faithful?
"Having communion with and venerating the memory first, of the glorious Mary, ever a vigin, mother of Jesus Christ, our God and our Lord: likewise of Thy blessed apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Thaddeus; of Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and of all Thy saints; for the sake of whose merits and prayers do Thou grant that in all things we may be defended by the help of Thy Protection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."
Again, it is no accident that a priest in the Novus Ordo has the option of omitting almost all of the saints listed in what is now called Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon). There is a need to "rush" through the Canon after what is usually an excessively long "Liturgy of the Word" (including the General Intercessions). If the Roman Canon is used at all, long lists of saints should be omitted. Their absolute inclusion in the Traditional Latin Mass, however, indicates that we are to be grateful to them for their fidelity, and to offer our petitions to them, who have gained the crown of eternal glory, for our protection and help by the grace of God. We need the help of the saints to become saints ourselves.
"Wherefore, we beseech Thee, O Lord, graciously to receive this oblation which we Thy servants, and with us Thy whole family, offer up to Thee: dispose our days in Thy peace; command that we be saved from eternal damnation and numbered among the flock of Thine elect. Through Christ our Lord Amen."
Asking God to receive the oblation which is being offered up by the priest and the people (who unite their prayers with his by their interior participation in the Mass), the priest asks God to dispose our days in His peace, not the peace of this passing world, and to command that we be saved from eternal damnation in order to be numbered among the flock of His elect. We are not assured of our salvation. We must work out our salvation in fear and in trembling. We are reminded of this in no uncertain terms in this part of the Roman Canon, the Hanc Igitur.
Following the Consecration of the Host and the Chalice, thanks is given in the second part of the Canon as the priest asks God to look upon the gifts just offered "with a gracious and tranquil countenance." In the Supplices te rogamus the priest asks that God's holy angel will take the offerings to His altar on high, "that as many of us as shall receive the most sacred Body and Blood of Thy Son by partaking thereof from this altar may be filled with every heavenly blessing and grace." After this point, though, the Canon petitions God directly for the needs of particular souls of the dead for whom he and the faithful pause to pray as well as for all of the souls of the faithful departed. Memento etiam Domine, famulorum famuliarumque tuarum (name of deceased) qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei, et dorminunt in somno pacis. Ipsis Domine, et omnibus in Christo quiestcentibus, locum refrigerii lcuis et pacis, ut indulgeas, deprecamur, per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen. "Be mindful also, O Lord, of Thy Servants (name of deceased), who have gone before us with the sign of peace and who sleep the sleep of peace. To these, O Lord, and to all who rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and peace. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen." No need for maudlin displays of sentimentality or pompous expressions of concern for the decease. Everything is included in the Canon.
The Nobis quoque peccatoribus continues with a petition that "To us sinners also, Thy servants, who put our trust in the multitude of Thy mercies, vouchsafe to grant some part and fellowship with Thy holy apostles and martyrs; with John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcelinus, Peter, Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and will all Thy saints. Into their company do Thou, we beseech Thee, admit us, not weighing our merits, but freely pardoning our offense: through Christ our Lord."
Obviously, the Pater Noster itself is a prayer of petition offered by the Divine Redeemer Himself. However, the Traditional Latin Mass does not contain the Protestant doxology which has found its way into the Novus Ordo. The prayer as uttered by our Lord Himself is recited by the priest. Each of the individual petitions found in the Pater Noster have been the subject of extensive exegesis by sound theologians over the centuries (including entire chapters dedicated to the subject in both the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church). Each petition provides food for meditation, summarizing, if you will, the entirety of a Catholic's interior life of prayer. Although the prayer is recited by the priest, the faithful do not remain inert and inactive. They pray the prayer to themselves, meditating on our constant need for God's help, mindful, especially, of the fact that we who have been forgiven much are called to offer that forgiveness right readily. People who are about to partake of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man must understand that the Lord they receive in Holy Communion means to conform them to Himself in all aspects of their lives. This prayer of petition summarizes the Catholic Faith and the Mass itself.
The prayers said by the priest after the Pater Noster and the Agnus Dei are his own personal petitions for the needs of the Church and to prepare himself for the reception of Holy Communion. Once again, the faithful are called to read those prayers silently, understanding how succinctly the truths of the Mass are summarized just prior to the priest's completion of the sacrifice by his partaking of the Sacred Species. The Novus Ordo simplifies all of this, leading in most instances directly from the Agnus Dei to the priest's and to the faithful's reception of Holy Communion, thus de-emphasizing our need to petition God just prior to our encounter with our Eucharistic King.
While it is the ordained priest acting in persona Christi who perpetuates the Sacrifice of the Cross in and unbloody manner, the faithful do offer their petitions in union with those offered by the priest in the name of the entire Church. It is in this way that the laity exercise the common priesthood they have by virtue of their baptism. The common priesthood of the lay faithful is exercised in the context of Holy Mass by means of fervent, interior prayer of the heart, mind, and soul, which is offered up to the Father in Spirit and in Truth as they are sanctified by the worthy reception of Holy Communion and by the fruits which flow forth from the Mass. No member of the laity needs to have a "role" in order to feel "involved" in the Mass. The laity do not belong in the sanctuary as readers or extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist (the proliferation of which has resulted in what the revolutionaries desired: a blurring of the distinction of the priesthood of the ordained priest and the common priesthood each Catholic has by virtue of his baptism). They do not have to engage in elaborate processions bearing various gifts to the altar, where they are greeted invariably by a "presider" who tells them a little joke or two before sending them back to their pews. They do not have to be "ministers of hospitality" or "ministers of greeting." The mania for activity, a total rejection of the true concept of active participation found in Pope Pius XII's Mediator Dei, has resulted in the replacement of true interior participation with mindless activity and verbosity, all of which detract from the nature of the Mass, turning the Sacred Mysteries into an anthropocentric, communitarian exercise of mutual self-congratulations.
The participation of the lay faithful in the end of Petition found in the Mass requires them to be recollect before Mass, to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, to pray some of the wonderful prayers found in the various Latin-English hand missals, many of which have been reprinted in recent years. True participation in the Mass requires us to follow the Mass carefully, meditating upon the beauty of the prayers, some of which have been cited in this commentary. The Mass is ever ancient, ever new. Its fixed nature conveys the inestimable treasures contained in all of its rites and prayers. There is constant food for thought, no matter how many times we have celebrated a particular feast day or have heard a particular reading. And just as it is the case that honor and glory are added to God and grace is added to the world each time a priest celebrates Holy Mass, so is it also the case that our prayerful, interior participation in Mass (and the prayers we offer therein, as well as those we offer before and afterward) helps to build up the Mystical Body of Christ. Each ligament in the Mystical Body helps to support each other, as Saint Paul noted. None of us in the laity knows the efficacy of our prayers here in this vale of tears. But we are called to be faithful to our prayers, both the formulaic prayers found in the Mass and in our Lady's Most Holy Rosary and our own mental prayer, the development of which is an important part of passing through the stages of spiritual perfection. It is the Mass which provides us the perfect framework to become more perfect lovers of the Blessed Trinity who are ever eager to serve Him in all aspects of our daily lives. Indeed, our very lives are meant to be offerings of praise and petition to God. That is why we are to be prepared for Holy Mass. For it is in the Mass that we are reminded day in and day out to conform everything about our very being to the standard of the Sacrifice of the Cross, which is re-presented before our very eyes in the greatest miracle we can ever behold in this mortal life.
As I have noted frequently in my continuing analysis of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [which will resume after Easter], the Mass is complete and valid even when offered by a priest without a congregation, something which has been under attack by liturgical revolutionaries for some time now. No member of the laity needs to be present to make a Mass "valid." A priest celebrating Mass by himself without a congregation is praying in the name of the whole Church. And, as noted earlier, an entire company of witnesses is with him mystically as he offers Holy Mass. While it is good for the faithful to attend Mass during the week to receive the spiritual fortification they need to do battle with the forces of the world, the flesh, and the Devil, the petitions offered by the priest for the entire Church, including the faithful, are all that are necessary for the good of Holy Mother Church. The rubrics and the prayers of the Traditional Latin Mass convey this throughout.
The Eastern liturgies contain numerous, sometimes even repetitive, prayers of petition to the Blessed Trinity. As is the case with the Traditional Latin Mass, the Eastern liturgies emphasize man's dependence upon God in all of its prayers. However, "modern" man, who believes in his own essential goodness, wants to reduce expressions of petition found in the prayers of tradition and to replace them with ever-changing prayers of topicality, which are to be prayed aloud by people seeking narcissistically to be noticed in the context of the production called "the weekly liturgy." It is the Traditional Latin Mass in the Latin Rite which orients man properly in his petitions to God, respecting the hierarchy our Lord Himself established for the offering of those petitions.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
Note: Part Four of Merely a Matter of Preference? will be brought to you in three weeks so that next week Tom can bring you a special column for Holy Week "Into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit" and we will be on Easter hiatus during Easter Week.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives