A CATECHISM OF THE MASS
Rev. David J. Sharrock, C.SS.R.
Rev. Francis J. Conneli, C.SS.R.
I. Where do Catholics receive their power to offer the Mass with the priest?
Catholics receive their power to oner the Mass with the priest from their Baptism. By Baptism, each Catholic is united to Christ, the Priest. Confirmation unites a Catholic even more closely with Christ the Priest. Because of these two Sacraments, a Catholic shares in the very Priesthood of Christ and receives from Him the power to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass with the priest, or to participate in this offering.
(a) Only the priest who has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders can take the place of Christ at the altar, sacrifice Him in an unbloody manner, and offer Him to God. The priest makes the Offering. All other Catholics share or participate in this Offering.
2. To whom did Christ give the Sacrifice of the Mass?
Christ gave the Sacrifice of the Mass to His Church. He knew that men would need a Sacrifice to honor God and to beg God to grant them the graces Christ won for them on the Cross. Just the memory of Christ's Sacrifice would not be enough. So He left His Church the perfect Sacrifice, the Sacrifice of Himself, by which God is infinitely honored, and the graces Christ won for men on Calvary are poured into their souls.
3. But is not the Mass Christ's Sacrifice?
Yes. For we must remember that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Christ is the Head of this Body; every Catholic is a member. The Sacrifice of the Mass, therefore, is Christ's Sacrifice and our Sacrifice. This is what we mean when we say that Christ gave the Mass to His Church. He gave us, His members, the opportunity to offer the Sacrifice in union with Him.
(a) We use the term "Mystical Body" to describe the union;between Christ and His members- We are united to Christ by Baptism, by the open profession of our Faith, by obedience to the Pope, who takes the place of Christ on earth, and, finally, by sanctifying grace, which gives us a share in the Divine Life of God Himself. This sanctifying grace makes us one with Jesus, because He won this grace for us on the Cross, and as Man has the fullness of this grace in His own Soul.
This union between Christ and His member is so close that we call ourselves one Body, with Christ as the Head of this Body.
But this Body is not a physical Body, nor is it a moral Body, e.g., like a men's club, or a young people's club. It is a Body with a Supernatural Head Who is Christ which we enter by the super-natural means of Baptism, live a Supernatural life by sanctifying grace, and profess a Supernatural Faith. So it ia a Body that is different from any other bodies we know. It is above nature, or super-natural. So we call the Body a Supernatural or "Mystical Body." It ia the Mystical Body of Christ, because Christ is the Head of this Body.
(b) On Calvary, Christ alone offered the Sacrifice of His Life. In the Mass, we, the members of His Mystical Body, offer the Sacrifice of His life in union with Him.
(c) Thus at each Mass, Christ is still the Priest offering His Life for us. But He offers that life for us by means of the priest who takes His place at the altar, and in union with us who are members of His Mystical Body.
(d) The Mass is therefore the Sacrifice of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Catholic Church.
(e) Since the Mass is the Sacrifice of Christ and His members, both Christ and His members will contribute something to the make-up of the Mass. Christ contributes the essential part which is the Consecration of His Body and Blood and the giving of that Body and Blood to us in Holy Communion. His members, besides offering the Sacrifice with Christ, contribute the prayers and ceremonies which surround the essential part. The main part of the Mass (the Canon) has never changed and never will change. But the prayers and ceremonies have both changed and developed through the centuries, as the members of Christ's Mystical Body have lived here on earth. Thus each prayer and ceremony is an expression of the Life of the Church as she has lived on earth. In order to understand many of the prayers at Mass, we must go back to the time they were written, and see why they were composed, and what they meant to the members of Christ's Mystical Body then. Once we understand these things, it will be easy to see what they are to meean to us who are members of this same Mystical Body living in the 20th Century.
So we shall study the prayers and ceremonies of the Mass and see first, how they are an expression of the Life of the Church through the centuries as she has tried to surround the Mass with prayers and ceremonies her children know and understand. There shall be able to apply these prayers to our own lives and see the wonderful religion teaching behind each prayer.
4. Is the Mass the same throughout the world?
From what we have just studied, we can answer that the Mass, as far as Christ's part in it is concerned, is the same throughout the world- Christ is offered in Sacrifice and given to His people as Food. And His members' part as co-offerers with Him is the same throughout the world. But the prayers and ceremonies which surround this offering may be different. Since different peoples have different ways of expressing themselves to God, they will have different prayers and ceremonies.
(a) Because the prayers and ceremonies which surround the Sacrifice of the Mass are different, we can truly say that the Sacrifice of Christ belongs to the members who offer it with Him. It is part of their lives, because the prayers and ceremonies flow from their own thoughts and actions, as members of the Mystical Body.
5. Which prayers and ceremonies do we use in our Mass?
We use the prayers and ceremonies of the Roman Missal.
(a) Thus the prayers and ceremonies of our Mass are an expression of the Life of the Church as she has lived in the Western part of the world. If we were to study the Mass of the Eastern Catholics, we would find that its prayers are an expression of the Life of the Church in the Eastern part of the world.
6. Why must every Mass in the Roman Rite be celebrated over an altar which contains the relics of some martyrs?
At one time in the Life of the Church, the priest occasionally celebrated Mass over the tomb of some martyr in the Roman catacombs. Gradually, the martyrs came to be so loved and respected that every church in Rome had a martyr buried beneath its altar. This custom spread outside of Rome, too. But some churches could not obtain the whole body of a martyr, but only small relics of some of the martyrs, which they buried in their altars. Finally, what started as a custom was made into a law, so that today, every Mass of the Roman rite must be celebrated on an altar which contains the relics of some of the martyrs.
7. Why must every altar be covered with altar cloths?
Because the altar is a symbol or sign of Christ Himself, and the altar cloths are the Church's way of honoring this symbol.
8. What do we mean by a "symbol"?
A symbol is a material object which is a sign or a representation of some person, or thing, or idea.
(a) Thus for example, our American Flag is a sign or a representation of our country. It is also a sign or a representation of freedom. When we see the American Flag, we think first of the United States of America, and then of freedom, which is a part of America. For this reason, we cal! the Flag a symbol of America and a symbol of freedom.
(b) Many material objects which are signs are used to represent Christ. These material things are called "symbols." For example, the most common symbol of Christ today is the Cross.
Each time we see the Cross, we think of Christ and the Redemption He gained for us by His death on a Cross. So we call the Cross a symbol or a representation of Christ dying for our salvation.
9. Why must the altar cloths be made only of linen?
Because linen cloth has been a sign of purity among people for over 3000 years. It is only right that the Church clothe the symbol of the pure and holy Christ with the cloth that symbolizes purity.
(a) It is because linen cloth is a sign of purity that the finger towels, purificators, and corporals must all be made of linen. Both the purificator and the corporal sometimes touch the Host, and the finger towel is used by the priest who will hold this most pure Host in his fingers.
10. Why must at least two candles be lighted at every Mass?
Candles must be lighted during the Mass, because they are a symbol of Christ Who is the Light of the world; and in the Mass, we offer up this very Light of the world.
11. Which are the vestments used by the priest at Mass?
They are: the amice, the alb, the cincture, the maniple, the stole, and the chasuble.
12. Why are these vestments used?
These vestments are used to draw and keep the attention of both the priest and the people to the wonderful sacrifice being offered.
13. Give a short history of these priestly vestments.
Many years ago, the priestly vestments were the same kind of clothes which most of the Roman men wore, but because of the great dignity of the Mass, they were, even then, more expensive and precious than ordinary clothes. When styles began to change, the Church decided to keep her priests vested as they had always been to make people realize even more deeply how extraordinary the Sacrifice of the Mass really is.
The alb, held together by the cincture, used to be the tunic-the regular "good clothes" of most Roman men. Joined to the tunic was a shawl which covered the shoulders, neck, and head.This is the modern amice. The maniple was the "dress" handkerchief men used to carry. Instead of carrying it in their pockets, they used to pin it to the sleeves of their tunics.
It is hard to find a history for the stole. But very early it was the symbol of priestly power. Finally, the chasuble was the travelling cloak of a man. As a cloak, it used to cover one almost entirely.