In this journey on the Barque of Peter, we continue to detail the evolution of the Mass and the Church
from the early Christian times to our present day so that all may better understand
the true meaning of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and our faith - the One, Holy,
Catholic and Apostolic Church. Today we cover the second half of the Sixth Century, the Century of the growth of monasticism when Saint Benedict would become the father of western monasticism with the establishment of his Order of Benedictines and the time leading up to the Gregorian era which we cover today in chronicling the achievements of Pope Saint Gregory the Great.
We will be using various sources, but the best are four books that are out of print but provide so much
solid material: "My Catholic Faith - A Manual of Religion" (1949) by Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow, S.T.D. from My Mission House ; "The Glories and Triumphs of the Catholic Church" (1907) from Benziger Brothers; "The Catholic Church Alone the One True Church of Christ" (1902) from the Catholic Educational Company; and "Cabinet of Catholic Information" (1904) from Duggan Publishing Co. In addition we will be using material gleaned from "The Oxford Dictionary of Popes" by J.N.D. Kelly; The Papal Princes: A History of the Sacred College of Cardinals" by Glenn D. Kittler; "Pontiffs: Popes who shaped history" by John Jay Hughes; "The Mass of the Roman Rite" by Fr. Josef Jungmann, S.J.; "The Story of the Church" from Tan Books by Fr. George Johnson, PhD; "The Story of the Mass" by Fr. Pierre Loret; "Rubrics of
the Mass" by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas; "The Wonders of the Mass" by Fr.
Paul O'Sullivan, O.P.; and the Code of Canon Law", as well as the
"Catechism of the Catholic Church"; "Baltimore Catechism"; Catholic Encyclopedia (Thomas Nelson Publishers); "Catholic Dictionary" by Fr. John Hardon, S.J.; "Dictionary of Saints" by John J. Delaney; "Butler's Lives of the Saints" from Benziger Brothers; "Saints of the Roman Calendar" by Enzo Lodi and Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP; "1999 Catholic Almanac" from Our Sunday Visitor, and numerous missals and references.
With a better perception of what the Church stands for and what the Mass truly is, we will not
so easily be swayed by new-fangled gimmicks and liturgical abuses being
introduced by individual celebrants and ICEL, the International Committee
for English in the Liturgy. We will discover why the basis for the use of
vestments and sacred vessels, the purpose for the Rubrics of the Mass, the
logic of Church Scholars and Popes through the ages for fending off changes
that would water-down the faith and the Holy Sacrifice and even invalidate the greatest
remembrance Christ gave to His Church.
The Tools of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - Part One
The Tools of the Mass are an essential ingredient to offering the Holy Sacrifice. There are specific rubrics which must be strictly adhered to, and therefore the Church directs how altars, Tabernacles,. sacred vessels, altar linens and vestments are to be utilized. The etymology of each article has both tradition and scriptural reference to document each particular item employed in offering the sacrifice of the Holy Mass and in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Some changes have been made since the Second Vatican Council, abbreviating things, eliminating a few of the altar linens and inner vestments, but basically the essence and meaning remain the same regarding these vital tools of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
As we mentioned in the last installment, before we continue on our trek through Church history from the seventh century on, we are going to delve into the implements that are used and become a vital part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These are the Altar, the Tabernacle, the sacred vessels altar linens, and vestments. All have a specific purpose in effecting the Mass and some vital ones come into play in confecting the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we feature the Altar.
Every Mass must be offered on an altar. The etymology of the word "altar" is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “place of sacrifice.” The word altar comes from the Latin altus which means “high.” Nothing is higher than God and that is why we all come to this place of sacrifice to adore, give thanks to, ask forgiveness of and petition the Triune Divinity.
In the early days of the Church the Apostles offered the holy sacrifice on a table in a dwelling house. For the first three centuries Christians who were constantly persecuted used private homes for their meeting-places for worship. A table was used for an altar because it was on a table in the upper room on Holy Thursday evening when Jesus instituted the Mass.
It’s interesting to note the increase in Masses being said in homes of the faithful remnant today. The pendulum is swinging back to the same persecuted times as the early Christians as we near the Reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In Rome in the early centuries Mass was celebrated on the tombs of martyrs in the catacombs. This is where the rule originated of having relics of the saints imbedded in permanent altars. This has been upheld to this day including the reinforcement of this in the Second Vatican Council Document on the Sacred Liturgy, chapter 5, IV, 266. At the beginning of each Mass the priest kisses the altar signifying that we - the Church Militant - are in communion with the saints in Heaven who are the Church Triumphant.
In the sixth century altars of stone became the norm. This dates back to the practice of the Old Testament when sacrifices were offered on stone altars. In the new covenant, no greater sacrifice could be offered than the unbloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself to redeem His children for all generations. The continuous celebration of the Mass aids greatly in this redemption. The altar stone also signifies that Christ is the foundation and cornerstone on which the Church rests. Every fixed altar should have a stone imbedded in the top where the chalice and host rest. It should be consecrated by the bishop who should cement the holy relics in the stone and cover over them. A portable altar need only be blessed and need not have a stone imbedded in the altar.
For centuries, altars were erected so that the priest and faithful faced the east, the source of light, as God is the Source, Contrary to some opinions, it is not because Jerusalem is in the east. Today altars face every which way and are every which , some beyond description as architects have gone berserk in their efforts to reconstruct the sanctuary without taking into consideration that all that matters is this is God’s house, not a monument to the architect’s ego.
On every altar is placed three altar linen cloths symbolic of the linen cloth in which Our Lord was wrapped in the tomb for three days. The reason for the linens is to absorb any drops of the Precious Blood that may accidentally be spilled from the chalice. Vatican II reduced the need for three to the altar cloth, but there must be at least one.
The new Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it up so well regarding the altar. The “altar”, around which the Church is gathered in the celebration of the Eucharist, represents the two aspects of the same mystery; the altar of the sacrifice and the table of the Lord. This is all the more important since the Christian altar is the symbol of Christ Himself, present in the midst of the assembly of His faithful, both as the Victim offered for our reconciliation and as Food from Heaven Who is giving Himself to us. “For what is the altar of Christ if not the image of the Body of Christ?’ asks St. Ambrose. He says elsewhere, ‘The altar represents the body (of Christ) and the Body of Christ is on the altar.’ The liturgy expresses this unity of sacrifice and communion in many prayers.”
Next week we will cover two important functions paramount to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - the Tabernacle in which Our Lord resides in the Blessed Sacrament confected through the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass and the reminder of His ultimate bloody sacrifice depicted through the crucifix.
Next Wednesday: Installment Twenty-one: Tools of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: part two