Thursday, May 17, 2018

Liturgy of the Traditional Mass, Part 2: The Asperges and the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar

Click here for Part 1: Introduction to the Traditional Latin Mass.

A server rings the bell and all the servers and ministers go in procession to the altar. As the ministers enter into the sanctuary of the church—the “Holy of Holies” in the Jewish Temple (Exodus 26:33-34, Leviticus 2:3)—they uncover their heads. Already, things are beginning to be uncovered as we enter into the sacred liturgy. On Sundays, the Mass is preceded by a ceremony called the Asperges, or sprinkling with holy water. The ministers kneel before the altar, and the priest sprinkles first the altar and then himself with holy water, meanwhile intoning the words, “Asperges me.”

Aspérges me. Dómine, hyssópo, et mundábor: lavábis me, et super nivem dealbábor. Miserére mei, Deus, secúndum magnam misericórdiam tuam. Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum. Amen. Aspérges me, Dómine, hyssópo, et mundábor: lavábis me, et super nivem dealbábor.
Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow. Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow.

As the choir continues singing this antiphon, which comes from Psalm 50, the priest sprinkles the servers and clergy and then the whole congregation with holy water (Numbers 8:7). Strictly speaking, this ceremony is not part of the Mass, but occurs before Mass. This is just the first of many, many cases of the use of psalms in the liturgy. The psalms, traditionally attributed to King David, were a staple of Jewish liturgy, and since Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism, it is very appropriate and necessary to use psalms heavily in our liturgy. The Divine Office, the other component of Catholic liturgy that supplements the Mass, consists largely of recitation of psalms. During the Easter season, Psalm 50 is replaced by the words of the prophet Ezekiel.

Vidi aquam egrediéntem de templo, a látere dextro, allelúia: et omnes ad quos pervénit aqua ista salvi facti sunt et dicent: allelúia, allelúia. Confitémini Dómino, quóniam bonus: quóniam in sæculum misericórdia ejus. Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum. Amen. Vidi aquam egrediéntem de templo, a látere dextro, allelúia: et omnes ad quos pervénit aqua ista salvi facti sunt et dicent: allelúia, allelúia.
I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple, alleluia; and all they to whom that water came were saved, and they shall say, alleluia, alleluia. Praise the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endureth forever. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple, alleluia; and all they to whom that water came were saved, and they shall say, alleluia, alleluia.

Holy water is a sacramental, with the power of repelling demons. The ceremony of sprinkling the church with holy water is to bless the church, rid it of any evil spirits that may be present, and convey clearly that this is God's house. Satan and his angels are not at all welcome. Following the ceremony, the priest sings a prayer imploring assistance from God's angels, the heavenly army, to defend the church and all assembled therein. (Words in italics are the responses from the choir or ministers.)

Osténde nobis, Dómine, misericórdiam tuam.
Et salutáre tuum da nobis.
Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam.
Et clamor meus ad te véniat.
Dóminus vobíscum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
Orémus.
Exáudi nos, Dómine sancte, Pater omnípotens, ætérne Deus, et míttere dignéris sanctum Angelum tuum de cælis, qui custódiat, fóveat, prótegat, vísitet, atque deféndat omnes habitántes in hoc habitáculo. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum.
Amen.
Show us, O Lord, thy mercy.
And grant us thy salvation.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
And let my cry come unto thee.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
Hear us, O holy Lord, almighty
Father, everlasting God, and vouchsafe to send thy holy Angel from heaven, to guard, cherish, protect, visit and defend all that are assembled in this place: Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

When this prayer has been sung, the priest removes the cope and puts on the chasuble. All three sacred ministers put on their maniples. With the ministers vested as such, they go before the altar to begin the Mass.

The choir begins singing the Introit, or entrance chant. This is a few verses from a psalm that introduces the Mass of the day and the particular occasion being observed. Once again, in a crucial part of the liturgy, the text is supplied by a psalm. It is amazing how perfectly many psalms fit the Mass of the new covenant, even though they were composed under the old covenant long before the coming of Christ. Originally, a whole psalm or most of a psalm would be chanted throughout the procession to the altar and the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. However, over time, this has been reduced to just the few most important verses.

While the choir is singing the Introit, the ministers say the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, which are said, as the name suggests, at the foot of the altar: that is, at the bottom of the steps, facing the altar and the crucifix. The priest, being highest in precedence of the three, stands in the middle; the deacon stands on the right (in Latin, dextra), and the subdeacon on the left (sinistra), clearly displaying the order of precedence among these three. The priest begins with the Sign of the Cross, which Catholics typically use to begin all prayers. It invokes the Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – as it is through the Trinity that we are able to offer this Mass. All of our worship and our entire life is because of the Trinity. Furthermore, the Sign of the Cross reminds us that the Mass is a trinitarian prayer: we ask the Father to send us the Son in the Blessed Sacrament through the power of the Holy Ghost. Thus the Mass begins.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The priest and ministers then say Psalm 42, using the fourth verse of the psalm as an antiphon. This one verse describes precisely what we are doing: going in to the altar of God to offer the Holy Sacrifice.

Introíbo ad altáre Dei.
Ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.

Júdica me, Deus, et discérne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab hómine iníquo, et dolóso érue me.
Quia tu es, Deus, fortitúdo mea: quare me repulísti, et quare tristis incédo, dum afflígit me inimícus?
Emítte lucem tuam, et veritátem tuam: ipsa me deduxérunt, et aduxérunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernácula tua.
Et introíbo ad altáre Dei: ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.
Confitébor tibi in cíthara, Deus, Deus meus: quare tristis es, ánima mea, et quare contúrbas me?
Spera in Deo, quóniam adhuc confitébor illi: salutáre vultus mei, et Deus meus.


Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.
Sicut erat in princípio et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum. Amen.


Introíbo ad altáre Dei.
Ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.
I will go in to the altar of God.
To God, who giveth joy to my youth.

Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.
For thou, O God, art my strength: why hast thou cast me off? And why do I go sorrowful whilst the enemy afflictech me?
Send forth thy light and thy truth: they have led me and brought me unto thy holy hill, and into thy tabernacles.
And I will go in to the altar of God: to God, who giveth joy to my youth.
To thee, O God, my God, I will give praise upon the harp: why art thou sad, O my soul? And why dost thou disquiet me?
Hope thou in God, for I will yet praise him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

I will go in to the altar of God.
To God, who giveth joy to my youth.

The psalm begins with a plea for mercy, asking God to judge us favorably and differentiate us from evildoers. The following verse asks God to send us his light and his truth, which, King David says, have led him to God's holy hill and into his tabernacle. This light and truth is Jesus himself, whom we are about to receive. Then follows the aforementioned verse used as an antiphon. The remainder of the psalm has a very joyful character, hence “to God who giveth joy to my youth.” This joy and praise is the only logical response to what we have just prayed for, which we know by faith that God will give us. In the next verse, David declares that he will praise God upon the harp and expresses disbelief at his soul being sad. In the Mass, Christ becomes truly present among us and actually allows us to consume him: definitely reason for our soul to be very joyful. The psalm concludes with an admonition to have hope in God, the “salvation of my countenance.”

Overall, this psalm is a humble yet joyful introduction to the Mass, petitioning God for his mercy and his light and truth while also praising him and being joyful. Because of the definite joyful character of the psalm, it is omitted during Passiontide and at Masses for the Dead, both occasions of grief from the death of a loved one or of Christ himself. It would be inappropriate to recite such a joyful psalm on such a sorrowful occasion. Instead, on these occasions, only the antiphon (“Introibo ad altare...ad Deum qui lætificat...”) is said.

In Psalm 42, the priest humbly prays to the Father to send us Christ and rejoices because we know by faith in God's Word that this will happen. God has even required of us to seek this kind of grace. However, the thought of us actually receiving God brings intense humility from the fact that we are mere sinners, in dire need of God's mercy and help. Thus, the ministers, on behalf of the congregation, bless themselves with the Sign of the Cross and implore God's assistance.

Adjutórium nostrum + in nómine Dómini.
Qui fecit cælum et terram.
Our help + is in the name of the Lord.
Who hath made heaven and earth.

In order to offer this sacrifice at the altar, the ministers must be pure (John 9:31, 1 Corinthians 11:27). Any stain of mortal sin must be absolved through the sacrament of Penance, but now, before ascending to the altar to offer the sacrifice, they wish to make sure that they are completely pure of even the smallest sin. Thus, they bow low and recite an an ancient prayer of confession called the Confiteor. The Confiteor is said first by the priest alone and then by the other ministers on behalf of the people, symbolizing how the priest is equal to them before the judgment seat of God but in a completely different position in terms of offering this sacrifice.

Confíteor Deo omnipoténti, beátæ Maríæ semper Vírgini, beáto Michaéli Archángelo, beáto Joanni Baptístæ, sanctis Apóstolis Petro et Paulo, ómnibus Sanctis, et vobis, fratres: quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo et ópere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa. Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem, beátum Michaélem Archángelum, beátum Joánnem Baptístam, sanctos Apóstolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes Sanctos, et vos, fratres, oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.
Misereátur tui omnípotens Deus, et dimíssis peccátis tuis, perdúcat te ad vitam ætérnam.
Amen.


Confíteor Deo omnipoténti, beátæ Maríæ semper Vírgini, beáto Michaéli Archángelo, beáto Joanni Baptístæ, sanctis Apóstolis Petro et Paulo, ómnibus Sanctis, et tibi, Pater: quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo et ópere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa. Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem, beátum Michaélem Archángelum, beátum Joánnem Baptístam, sanctos Apóstolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes Sanctos, et te, Pater, oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.
Misereátur vestri omnípotens Deus, et dimíssis peccátis vestris, perdúcat vos ad vitam ætérnam.
Amen.
Indulgéntiam, ☩ absolutionem et remissiónem peccatórum nostrórum tríbuat nobis omnípotens et miséricors Dóminus.

Amen.
I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the Saints, and to you, brethren, that I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, all the Saints, and you, brethren, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
May Almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting.
Amen.

I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the Saints, and to you, Father, that I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, all the Saints, and you, Father, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
May Almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting.
Amen.
May the ☩ almighty and merciful Lord grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins.

Amen.

In the Confiteor, we confess, not only to God, but to the entire court of heaven. We confess to our Blessed Mother, who loves her Son perfectly and is hurt by any offenses against him; to St. Michael the Archangel, the head of the heavenly army, who fights against the devil; to St. John the Baptist, Christ's precursor urging us to repent of our sins to prepare for his arrival, which we are doing here in the Mass; to Ss. Peter and Paul, the two great founders of the Church; to all the saints, who have already succeeded in their earthly quests for holiness; and finally, we confess to our brethren here present. The priest says in the Confiteor, “et vobis, fratres” (“and you, brethren”), turning toward the deacon and the subdeacon, and the deacon and subdeacon say in the same place, “et tibi, Pater” (“and you, Father”), turning toward the priest. At the words “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” in the Confiteor, the ministers strike their breasts as a physical sign of contrition for their sins.

After the priest has said the Confiteor, the deacon and subdeacon, to whom the priest has confessed in the Confiteor, pray to God for mercy and forgiveness for the priest, and the priest does the same for them when they have said the Confiteor. Again, they are on the same ground relative to God's judgment but in very different positions relative to this particular sacrificial act. The priest then gives an absolution from venial sins, so that he and the other ministers may be completely pure in offering this sacrifice.

The ministers now all bow their heads slightly and conclude the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar with a few verses from psalms that predate Christianity itself, having their origins directly from Jewish temple worship.

Deus, tu convérsus vivificábis nos.
Et plebs tua lætábitur in te.
Osténde nobis, Dómine, misericórdiam tuam.
Et salutáre tuum da nobis.
Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam.
Et clamor meus ad te véniat.
Thou wilt turn, O God, and bring us to life.
And thy people shall rejoice in thee.
Show us, O Lord, thy mercy.
And grant us thy salvation.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
And let my cry come unto thee.

In the words of Psalm 84:7-8 are echoed much the same supplication as given in Psalm 42 at the beginning. We pray that God will give us his life, show us his mercy, and grant us his salvation. These refer not to abstract concepts, but to Christ himself, who is God's mercy and salvation, by whom we can partake in the divine life, and who will be shown and given to us in the Mass. We pray then in the words of Psalm 101:2 that God will hear our prayer, maintaining profound humility before God. The priest then greets the ministers as if he were greeting the people, using the ancient salutation, “Dominus vobiscum.”

Dóminus vobíscum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
Orémus.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.

This salutation occurs a few times in the Old Testament (Ruth 2:4, 1 Samuel 17:37, 2 Chronicles 15:2). The ministers respond, “Et cum spiritu tuo,” meaning, “And with your spirit,” referring to the priest's soul. The priest says this as if he were leaving the ministers, for at this time, being well prepared through the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, he ascends the steps of the altar with the ministers to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, meanwhile praying still to God for mercy.

Aufer a nobis, quæsumus, Dómine, iniquitátes nostras: ut ad Sancta sanctórum puris mereámur méntibus introíre. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Amen.
Take away from us our iniquities, we entreat thee, O Lord, that with pure minds we may worthily enter into the Holies of Holies. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Holy of Holies was the most sacred part of the Jewish temple. Most commonly, one will find “ad Sancta sanctorum” translated in this prayer as “into the Holy of Holies.” However, the Latin text of this prayer uses the plural, “into the Holies of Holies,” implying superiority of the Mass to Jewish worship and more broadly of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. After all, in the Mass, Jesus Christ himself becomes actually present, something he never did in the old covenant. When the priest has reached the altar, he prays once more to invoke the saints whose relics are reserved in the altar, which he honors with a kiss when he ascends to the altar and every time he turns around at the altar.

Orámus te, Dómine, per mérita Sanctórum tuórum, quorum relíquiæ hic sunt, et ómnium Sanctórum: ut indulgére dignéris ómnia peccáta mea. Amen.
We beseech thee, O Lord, by the merits of thy Saints, whose relics are here, and of all the Saints, that thou wilt deign to pardon me all my sins. Amen.

Meanwhile, the choir, having finished singing the Introit, begins singing the Kyrie.

New terms
  • Asperges – The ceremony of sprinkling the church with holy water before Mass on Sundays.
  • Divine Office – Liturgical prayer offered at various times throughout the day as a supplement to the Mass, a large part of which is recitation of psalms.
  • Introit – The entrance chant, sung by the choir during the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, often taken from a psalm.
  • Prayers at the Foot of the Altar – The prayers that the priest, deacon, and subdeacon say to prepare themselves to approach the altar and offer the Holy Sacrifice.
  • Sign of the Cross – Tracing the form of the Cross with the right hand, done many times in the Mass. At the beginning of Mass, everyone makes the Sign of the Cross on themselves while invoking the Holy Trinity.
  • Holy Trinity – The three different manifestations of the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Confiteor – An ancient prayer confessing one's sins to God, the angels, and the saints.

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