Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The History of the Mass

The T of Te igitur, the start of the Canon, 
turned by pious tradition into an image of Christ Crucified, 
picturing the mystery of Sacrifice made present in the Mass

Primitively the priest kissed the altar but twice, at the start and at the end of Mass, greeting it and then farewelling with due and proper reverence – for the altar represents Christ Himself, as the Pontifical states; in the 12th century comes the first evidence for the kissing of the altar during the Canon (initially during the Supplices te, at the mention of "this altar", and later during the Te igitur also); later still, in the Roman Mass – not in the Dominican Rite, which had already been strictly standardized during the 13th century – came a kissing of the altar before each Dominus vobiscum, conveying as it were the Lord's greeting from His holy altar to His holy people.  

Here we see the progressive enrichment of the Liturgy, as it grew from acorn to stately oak; as Tolkien said, it would be mad to chop down the oak to get back to the acorn!  A pity Paul VI was too busy moping around the Vatican to listen to sensible advice rather than the sly wheedlings of a Wormtongue...  (Lest what I write below seem to contradict this, let me say that, while admiring each twig and leaf, in the first place one should regard the trunk and principal branches which give shape to the whole tree in its native growth habit.)

Jungmann points out that the Roman Rite, when brought north of the Alps, progressively replaced the variety of liturgical forms called in retrospect the Gallican Rite, but was also enriched itself.  The Frankish mentality preferred a prayer to accompany each action, whereas the Roman Mass in its ancient form often performed rites in silence (such as the washing of hands): hence the bare solemnity of the Mass had further devotions added to its starkly majestic form.

Of old, back in the first millennium, Mass in the City of Rome was a very sober affair: basically, what prayers, readings and chants are said aloud in the Traditional Mass, plus the Secret, Canon and Libera nos, constituted the whole of the Mass.  Staggeringly, all other prayers in the Mass, whether in what came to be the Traditional Mass, or in now what is the Ordinary Form of the modern Roman Rite, are secondary additions; very beautiful, very significant as many of them are, time was when they were not.

This has important consequences for liturgiology.  While I would be the last to discount, let alone view as "clerical corruptions" the many devout prayers added later, it is vital to realize that the Roman Liturgy is in essentials very concise, even more so than the Novus Ordo!  It is also why, much as I admire the Offertory prayers of the Extraordinary Form over their impoverished equivalents in the modern Mass, I know that both are additions, more or less happy, more or less doctrinally rich, to the essential Action.

What are the variable prayers of the Mass?  The Collect, Secret, Preface (anciently, and still at Milan, one for each proper Mass) and Postcommunion; very early sources often have a second Collect also (still preserved at Milan as the Oratio super sindonem, the prayer "over the corporal" as it is spread out at the start of the Offertory), and quite often an Oratio super populum, the "prayer [of blessing] over the people" after the Postcommunion, as well – for long preserved only on the weekdays of Lent.  These prayers, very rich in doctrine, admirable in their concision (even the Milanese or Ambrosian Rite, brother of the Roman, is not quite so concise; and the other Western and Eastern Rites just go on and on...), are the bedrock of the Liturgy – together with the fixed prayers.

What the variable chants and readings?  The Introit, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract, Offertory and Communion; the Epistle and the Gospel.  As the traditional Easter Vigil testifies, the Offertory came into use later than the other chants, as its more "advanced" music also reveals; this explains the mystery of the  Oremus before the Offertory, by the way: in the earliest period, the Secret was prayed directly after this Oremus, with no chant nor any other prayers intervening.  The traditional liturgy also retains certain days when there is more than one pre-Gospel reading...

What of the Ordinary chants?  The Kyrie was introduced, after the Eastern fashion, by Pope St Gregory the Great in the late 6th century; the Agnus Dei, by the Syrian Pope Sergius in the 7th; the Gloria in excelsis was at first restricted to Papal Mass for Christmas, then progressively extended to other feasts (and likewise gradually extended to episcopal and finally merely presbyteral Masses); the Creed was only introduced at Rome in the 11th century, after much Papal resistance!  Only the Sanctus is of immemorial use.

What are the fixed prayers of the Mass?  Of old, there was no Confiteor nor other preparatory prayers, no Offertory prayers except the Secret, no Communion prayers (the Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum is in fact a blessing imparted to the people to prepare them for a worthy Communion, as the Lord's Prayer is the prayer therefor; Luther of all people recognized this it must be said, and a comparison with other Rites East and West bears this out).  The fixed prayers were but two, and those most sacred: the very Canon of the Mass itself, and the Libera nos or Embolism that follows the Lord's Prayer.  We know that, as still at Milan, before the reign of Pope St Gregory the Great the fraction took place before the Lord's Prayer; he moved it to afterward, and also inserted the name of St Andrew, his patron, into the Embolism.

Given this, I much prefer to participate at Mass, sung Mass, the standard and most traditional form of the Liturgy, by attending to these chants, readings and prayers; other prayers are of great value (I still say the third Confiteor as a private heartfelt plea even when the strict '62 types omit it!), but these primary strata that I have enumerated express the very genius of the Roman Rite.  For this reason, knowing, say, the great variety of forms used in the Middle Ages at the Offertory, I generally use just one – the short Dominican version of the Suscipe sancta Trinitas – as my private prayer during that part of the Mass.

While some prefer to have their noses burrowed in their Missals during High Mass, reading every word muttered in secret by the celebrant while blocking out the singing of the choir (which is not always a bad idea, I know!), I think it obvious that Holy Church intends us to be moved especially by what is chanted aloud, ceteris paribus: so attend to the Introit, not to the sacred ministers saying Psalm 42 and so forth... though of course one may at points quietly pray one's own prayers, as every man's devotion listeth.

I have been interested in the lengthy arguments about liturgical forms (surprise, surprise) still ongoing over at that superb blog, The Anglo-Catholic, devoted to furthering the great and good work of corporate reunion of orthodox Anglicans with the Holy See; and I do prefer the richness of the Traditional Mass over the relative poverty of the Novus Ordo, especially given the devout way the former is celebrated, as against the philistinism so common, alas, in the celebration of the latter.  But I think a certain kind of hyper-orthodoxy, requiring every Mass prayer to be a veritable dogmatic treatise, and daring to fault even the Canon on this point, feeling it must be bolstered by the most emphatic Offertory prayers lest people misunderstand the Sacrifice, is overwrought.

The Roman Canon is most beautiful and august in its expression; its archaic form and structure, its mysterious words (think of the Supplices te rogamus: one mediæval writer advised that its obscurities are more to be feared than probed!) demonstrate what has been more and more emphasised by true students of liturgy: that it is very ancient indeed, and probably only the Assyrian Anaphora of Addai and Mari (itself not uncontroversial!) is of comparable date among Eucharistic Prayers still in use to-day.  

The mere fact that the Canon of the Mass does not contain an epiclesis proves it older than virtually all Eastern and Western forms, since the epiclesis, as an explicit invocation of the Holy Ghost to come down and transform the elements into Christ's Body and Blood, is a later and secondary development: Our Lord consecrated by His blessed words, This is My Body, This is My Blood.  As Dix pointed out, making the Holy Spirit the Agent seems not so consonant with Christ as the Primary Agent, the Priest Whose action makes the Eucharist (though of course, the Three Persons together work the wonder, as all operations of the Trinity ad extra are common to the Three).

(Lest some bright spark say, What about Eucharistic Prayer II?  Isn't that by St Hippolytus, and so therefore older than the Roman Canon?  Well, no!  The latest scholarship indicates that the prayer attributed to Hippolytus is not his work; and when you compare that prayer to the modern E.P. II, only about half of the latter traces back to the former; it was padded out and reworked by Bugnini's cohorts in the sixties, and as it is is hardly traditional.)

I have a book, Theodore Schnitzler's The Mass in Meditation, Volume I (St Louis: Herder, 1959), which is but a devout consideration of the Canon alone (Volume II, not in my possession, considers the rest of the Mass).  Such ought be the meditation of all, priest or layman, who draw near to God's altar in longing and trembling.

Let the last word be with Holy Church, lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, at the Council of Trent (22nd Session, 17th of September 1562, Doctrine on the Sacrifice of the Mass, Chapter IV):

And whereas it beseemeth, that holy things be administered in a holy manner, and of all holy things this sacrifice is the most holy; to the end that it might be worthily and reverently offered and received, the Catholic Church instituted, many years ago, the sacred Canon, so pure from every error, that nothing is contained therein which does not in the highest degree savour of a certain holiness and piety, and raise up unto God the minds of those that offer. For it is composed, out of the very words of the Lord, the traditions of the apostles, and the pious institutions also of holy pontiffs.

No comments: