The Catholic Mass — firmly rooted in the Bible

Editor’s note: This continues a series of columns by Father Buote on Catholic worship.

While the events of the fourth century could be said to have brought the Church out of the catacombs and into the Roman world as a full participant in society, this transition was not without its pitfalls. The newfound freedom was seductive. Using a metaphor of St. Augustine, the City of God became too much like the City of Man! Three examples will suffice. Wars were waged under the deceptive name of crusades. Torture was sanctioned under the deceptive name of an inquisition. Acquisition of property piled up under the name of Peter’s Patrimony.

These and other topics are more suitably studied in general histories of Europe and the Church. Our concern in this series is centered on the development of worship.

During the time of the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the Mass of the city of Rome came to dominate the religious life of Europe with some minor variations. Some of these variations, which were not so great as to be called Rites, were known as Usages: the York Usage, the Dominican Usage, the Franciscan Usage, etc. For the most part, though, the developments of this period are of concern only to the professional historian of Liturgy.

Two different approaches were followed to seek a solution to the problems facing the Church. The first approach considered that corruption was so widespread and inherent that it would be best to scrap everything and start over from the Scriptures to redefine the Church and worship; avoiding everything that contributed to the concept of the Church and Catholic worship as known in the 16th century. This approach became known as Protestantism. (Vastly over-simplified history!)

The second approach said that the historical development of the Church and Catholic life (and in particular, the Liturgy) was good, grew out of the experience of the first generation of Christians, and was guided by the inspiration of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. What was needed was to correct the abuses and build on the solid basis of authentic historical continuity. This was the Catholic choice, known today as the Counter Reformation.

The Council of Trent gave to the dioceses of the Roman Rite a common missal for the first time. Certain exemptions were allowed for dioceses and religious orders which could show variations with the dioceses of Europe to accept this, the last holdouts being in parts of France and Germany. For those of us who grew up before the Second Vatican Council, this was the Mass we knew.

All of the readings and Mass formularies were now included in one book. The invention of the printing press made it possible to make many copies of the Missale Romanum so every church could be standardized. Everything could be included in one volume. Gone were the days when the prayers of the Mass were either memorized or extemporized, and the readings were taken from separate manuscript copies. Gone also were the days when the Mass formulas, or the series of readings, might vary from place to place. The Church had entered an age that was a bit rigid, and worship was regulated by rubrics.

From the time of Hippolytus, and perhaps before, the idea of a Preface, or introduction, to the Eucharistic Prayer was universal. In all the formularies, the Preface ends with the Sanctus.

The Eucharistic Prayer, the Anaphora, the Great Prayer of the Church, is cosmic in scope. Consider the grandeur of this Liturgical action of thanksgiving:

1. The Preface announces thanksgiving to the Father and gives some reasons for our giving thanks;

2. The Sanctus is the song of the angels (Is 6:1, Rev 4:8) and all present join with the Church in Heaven to praise God;

3. In the course of the Eucharistic Prayer, particular mention is made of those living in this world, the dead who need our prayers, and the saints living in glory;

4. The priest in persona Christi speaks the words of Consecration and then immediately makes the formal act of offering to the Father;

5. The people now ratify this act of the worship and obedience of Christ to the Father made present through the ministry of the priest with the most important response of the Mass, the Great Amen; 

6. Having access to the Father through the action of the Son, the Church now joins with Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body, in the Lord’s Prayer;

7. The Father responds by calling us to the Heavenly banquet. The Apostles participated by anticipation at the Last Supper, we participate by Sacrament, in Heaven, the Church Triumphant participates in glory; and

8. Our reason for having come together having been completed, we are dismissed.

 The Council of Trent ordered that special training schools be opened for the training of priests (seminaries) and that the method of apprenticeship be ended. Henceforth, even the parish clergy would be better educated.

 The leaders of the Protestant Reformation spoke of Sola Scriptura, only from/by Scripture. I have tried to show the consistency of Catholic worship with both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Mass is solidly rooted in the Bible.

 In the next installment, we shall skip directly from the Council of Trent to the reforms of the 20th century and Vatican Council II.

Father Buote is a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese and a frequent contributor to The Anchor.

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