Friday, May 9, 2014
RKIA Explains the Mass -- part 6
(The Mass explained. Letter to Churchill Lafemme continued)
Now we come to (8) the canon of the Mass. Canon not cannon. The Mass has nothing to do with heavy artillery, except in the spiritual sense. The word "canon" comes from the 5,000 year-old Akkadian language, through Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Old French and finally English. It means cane, or reed and finally measuring stick. A canon is an unchanging measure to which other things are compared.
The canon of the Mass is an unchanging, formal prayer. There is no improvisation in a canon. There are four primary canons which may be used for Mass, the first or Roman Canon which is the oldest continuously used canon in the Latin Church (us). This form of the central Mass prayer was pretty much in place by the year 600. It remained largely unchanged until 1970 when three more canons were added. The second canon is an adaptation of an ancient Roman canon of the 2nd or 3rd century. The third canon is a recent composition in which a graduate school project (I kid you not) combined elements of three Eastern Rite canons and the fourth canon is an adaptation of the Eastern Rite canon of St. Basil. There are also canons that can be used for celebrations of the Mass for special intentions such as reconciliation and unity. These are rarely used. The fourth canon is also rarely used simply because it is so long, so there are really three canons that are in common use, but these should not be improvised. That is why they are called canons.
The essential elements of a canon of the Mass are the calling down of the Holy Spirit called the “epiclesis” a prayer during which the priest extends his hands over bread and wine as a priest in the temple would have done with any sacrifice. There are the words of the Lord’s Last Supper, “This is my body... this is the chalice of my blood....” There are prayers for the Church and the world. There is a final offering of the transformed bread and wine, now become the flesh and blood of the Son of God. “Through Him and with Him and in Him…” the congregation ends with an “Amen.”
We move now to the receiving of Communion. The Mass is a covenant sacrifice. When we receive Holy Communion, we give ourselves to the Lord and the Lord givers Himself to us. When we come up to the communion rail, the place where heaven and earth meet, we are in effect saying that as Christ lay Himself body, blood, soul and divinity on the altar for my salvation, so I lay myself, body, blood, soul and imperfect humanity on the altar for love of Him and, with Him, for the redemption of the world. I don’t come to Mass only to get, but to give, to join myself to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, to “make up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24)
Now we move on to sing or say (9) the “Our Father” the prayer Jesus taught us. In the Our Father we state the terms of the covenant. It is the prayer of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane right before His crucifixion. Like Him we call on God as our Father, asking that His will be done and not ours as we join ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice on the altar of the cross. We then pray for peace and exchange a sign of peace with those around us in church.
To prepare for communion (10) We ask the sacrificial Lamb of God to Have Mercy on us three times. Then, hearing the words of St. John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God…” (John 1:29) we kneel before that selfsame Lamb of God and ask for healing, though we are unworthy, using the words of a Roman centurion in the New Testament “Lord, I am not worthy....”(Matt 8:8) as the priest lifts the sacrificial body and blood of the Lord in the form of bread and wine before the congregation.(11)We then come up to receive the body and blood of the Lord sealing our covenant with Him as would have been done in the temple when those offering sacrifice ate some of the sacrifice, bringing about communion with God. During communion a hymn or another psalm verse may be sung. (12) There is a final prayer, a blessing and a dismissal. And that’s it! So there it is, really quite simple:
(hymn or psalm verse)
1. Greeting and Confession of sin
2. Song of Praise (Gloria)
3. First prayer (Collect)
4. Bible Study or Liturgy of the Word (Including a psalm and two or three bible sections)
5. Statement of faith (Creed) and intentions
(Psalm verse or hymn)
6. Offering of bread and wine (Offertory)
7. Invitation to prayer (Preface)
8. Calling down of the Holy Spirit, Words of the Lord’s Supper and Prayers (Canon)
9. The Lord’s Prayer and prayers for peace
10. Preparation for Holy Communion
11. Holy Communion
(During which a psalm or hymn can be sung)
12. Final prayer Blessing and Dismissal
(After which a hymn may be sung)
Here is a description of the Mass from around 150 AD
On the day called Sunday, all.... gather together to one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given.....
And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology LXVII)
Bible study, offering of bread and wine, consecration of the bread and wine and then communion in the flesh and blood of the Lord. There are many different forms and many different adaptations of the Mass over the past 20 centuries, but in essence, it is the same thing since the first century. St Justin Martyr would recognize what will happen in every Catholic church this Sunday. In fact he will recognize it, because he will be in attendance. All the saints and angels that ever were, go to every single Mass, because there is only one Mass ever said, there is only one Calvary, there is only one heavenly banquet, there is only one last supper and every Mass everywhere and in every age is part of it. It is heaven come to earth. See you there.