Sunday, May 20, 2018

Liturgy of the Traditional Mass, Part 3: The incensations, Kyrie, Gloria, and collects

Previous parts in this series:
Part 1: Introduction to the Traditional Latin Mass
Part 2: The Asperges and the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar

When the priest has ascended the steps of the altar and kissed it, he blesses incense, puts it into the thurible (a metal container for burning incense), and proceeds to honor the crucifix, additional images or relics of saints that may be on the altar, and then the altar itself with incense. Incense is a feature of the Mass derived straight from heaven itself. Apocalypse 8:3 refers to an angel with a golden censer before the throne of heaven.

The altar, in a sense, represents Christ, the inhabitant of the throne of heaven and the focal point of the liturgy. It typically has five crosses incised or engraved into it, representing the five wounds of Christ. Following the manner of the angel in heaven, the priest honors the altar with repetitive swings of incense. Under Levitical law, use of incense was commanded in worship. Even its recipe was mandated by divine law (Exodus 30:34-38). Incense is also mentioned in Psalm 140:2: “Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight; the lifting up of my hands, as evening sacrifice.” Before honoring the altar and, by extension, Christ, in this manner with incense, the priest blesses the incense with a short prayer.

Ab illo + benedicáris, in cujus honóre cremáberis. Amen.
Be blessed + by him in whose honor thou art burnt. Amen.

He blesses the grains of incense with the Sign of the Cross, the same symbol used in all blessings. This is because all blessing and all ability to be holy comes at the price of the Cross. This is the price that Christ Jesus paid once and for all. The Mass is a re-creation of his sacrifice on the Cross. Hence, the Sign of the Cross is used more than 50 times over the course of the Mass. Even at this point in the Mass, it has already been used several times: recall the Signs of the Cross made at various points in the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. So it is used here to bless the incense commanded by God in the worship of both the Old and New Covenants. Once the priest has incensed the altar, he hands the thurible to the deacon, who incenses the priest.

The ministers then stand in a line (called a “semicircle”) on the Epistle side of the altar (right when facing it). The priest stands on the top step of the altar, the deacon on the middle step, and the subdeacon on the ground, all facing the altar. This position and the preceding ceremony of incensing the priest again show the order of precedence amongst the three ministers, a concept that is shown frequently in the Mass.

They all make the Sign of the Cross again, and the priest reads the Introit for himself. In this case, as occurs often in the first half of the Mass, the priest says quietly to himself everything the choir sings. This represents the division that exists between man, represented by the choir and the congregation, and heaven, represented by the ministers and particularly the priest, who acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) in offering up the Mass. As they are in two completely separate positions, they participate in almost two separate liturgies in the first part, the priest reading things quietly to himself independently of the choir singing them.

Having read the Introit, they move on to the Kyrie, which is also a very ancient element of the Mass.

Kýrie, eléison.
Kýrie, eléison.
Kýrie, eléison.
Christe, eléison.
Christe, eléison.
Christe, eléison.
Kýrie, eléison.
Kýrie, eléison.
Kýrie, eléison.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Unlike almost everything else, which is in Latin, the Kyrie, being so ancient, is sung in Greek. It is an extremely simple text, consisting of a total of three distinct words, but arranged very beautifully. It is very trinitarian in character. First is the threefold repetition of “Kyrie eleison” (“Lord, have mercy”), addressing the Father; next, the threefold repetition of “Christe eleison” (“Christ, have mercy”), addressing the Son; finally, another threefold repetition of “Kyrie eleison,” addressing the Holy Ghost. The trinitarian meaning is furthered by the fact that each invocation is repeated three times.

The expression “Kyrie eleison” comes from the old Byzantine Empire, when it was chanted to the emperor in processions as a form of honor to the king. Notice the theme of asking for mercy continued throughout the opening of the Mass. It truly emphasizes the significance and awesomeness (in the literal sense of the term) of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that the priest, ministers, and congregation plead for mercy over and over again to be worthy to act in persona Christi and offer this sacrifice. Originally, these invocations would be interspersed with other supplications, petitioning to God for other things as well as mercy, and often words of adoration. By the sixteenth century and probably earlier than that, though, these were removed, leaving the form we find today.

There are two additional peculiarities to note in the Kyrie. The Father and the Holy Ghost are both addressed as Kyrie (“Lord”). The Son is also equally Lord, though the Church here addresses him as Christe (“Christ”), a title meaning “anointed one,” synonymous with “Messiah.” This title has much stronger ties with the Incarnation, one of the central beliefs of Christianity. Finally, the nine total invocations in the Kyrie unite us symbolically with the nine choirs of angels, singing the hymn of praise to God that then follows.

The Gloria is sung only on days of a joyful character. It is omitted in Advent, Septuagesima, and Lent, and at Masses for the Dead, when the occasion for which we are offering up this sacrifice is not joyful, so such a great hymn of praise would be inappropriate. Although the liturgy leads up to it, particularly in the Kyrie, it is not said; just as, during Lent, we would like to rejoice in our Savior's triumph, but we must first unite ourselves with his fasting in the desert and our symbolic exile without Christ. The Gloria is the Church's highest hymn of praise to God and is modeled after the hymn sung by the multitude of angels on the occasion of Christ's Nativity. After the whole liturgy up to this point was focused on seeing us as we are, wretched sinners unworthy to come before God and offer this Holy Sacrifice, in the Gloria we now see God as he is, an infinitely great being worthy of such high praise.

Glória in excélsis Deo, et in terra pax homínibus bonæ voluntátis. Laudámus te. Benedícimus te. Adorámus te. Glorificámus te. Grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam. Dómine Deus, Rex cæléstis, Deus Pater omnípotens. Dómine Fili unigénite, Jesu Christe. Dómine Deus, Agnus Dei, Fílius Patris. Qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis. Qui tollis peccáta mundi, súscipe deprecatiónem nostram. Qui sedes ad déxteram Patris, miserére nobis. Quóniam tu solus Sanctus. Tu solus Dóminus. Tu solus Altíssimus, Jesu Christe. Cum Sancto Spíritu, + in glória Dei Patris. Amen.
Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace to men of good will. We praise thee. We bless thee. We adore thee. We glorify thee. We give thee thanks for thy great glory. Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty. Lord Jesus Christ, Only-begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father. Who takest away the sins of the world have mercy on us. Who takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. Who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. For thou alone art holy. Thou alone art the Lord. Thou alone art most high, Jesus Christ. With the Holy Ghost, + in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

The ministers move from the side to the front and center of the altar, still in the “semicircle.” The priest sings the first few words of the Gloria. Whereas before, there was emphasis on the large chasm between God and us, Christ's Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection, all commemorated in the Mass, give us an opportunity to bridge that gap and be united with God, as we are in the Mass. That is why we are singing this hymn of praise. Thus, the choir and ministers are briefly united at the beginning of the Gloria.

The hymn is composed in a trinitarian form. It begins by lauding God the Father, starting with the words of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will” (Luke 2:14). The Church continues: “we praise you,” our infinitely great God worthy of highest praise, who has given us his only Son so that we might be with him. “We bless you,” thanking God and giving praise and adoration for all his indescribable benefits. “We adore you,” we worship God as he has commanded us to worship him, and in that we express our love for him, by which we are able to receive him. “We glorify you,” seeing God as he is, the pinnacle and definition of glory, which we will be able to partake in if we love him and keep his laws.

These four statements set the tone for the remainder of the hymn, which proceeds to thank him for his great glory in similar manner. It then addresses God the Father and then Christ Jesus, his Son, with multiple titles illustrating his greatness, and again petitions him for mercy and reception of our prayers. The hymn concludes, of course, with words of praise, acknowledging the traits possessed in their most perfect form by Christ alone: the holy one, the Lord, and the most high. It then brings in the whole Trinity to close the hymn, at which point all make the Sign of the Cross as an acknowledgement of the Trinity.

Through the Kyrie and Gloria, the Church opens her highest form of worship to God with perfect adoration of God, her divine Spouse. In the Kyrie, we see ourselves as we are, sinners pleading for God's mercy and grace, which alone can make us pure and holy. In the Gloria, we see God as he is, praising him and adoring him in this great hymn of praise and expressing our love for him. This love both allows us to receive him and is the reason we want to receive him. Both texts are very ancient, dating back to the first centuries of Christianity. In both, we adore the Holy Trinity, which is the greatest mystery of the Christian faith, one that even the Church's greatest theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, could not understand. We must simply have faith in the God who is three persons in one substance. Also in both the Kyrie and the Gloria, we unite ourselves with the holy angels, the noblest of God's creatures. To assist in the Mass and offer up this sacrifice is akin to assisting directly at God's throne, the function of the angels. In fact, to assist in the sacrifice in which Christ is made truly present from mere bread and wine is a position even greater than the angels of God.

After this perfect adoration of God, the priest returns to the Epistle side of the altar and sings one or more collects, which are prayers to God for the particular occasion that the Mass is being offered. It is important to note that God, being omniscient, knows our needs and intents better than we do before we even ask, so the purpose of supplication is not to call our needs to God's attention. Instead, we pray to God for our needs as a display of our faith and hope in him that he will take care of us, which follow from our love for God. It can be said, then, that supplication is a form of adoration, so it follows quite nicely from the Kyrie and the Gloria. The first collect is always the one proper to the Mass being celebrated, which goes with the readings for that Mass. It is only logical that this collect should be first in precedence. However, if multiple celebrations fall on the same day, the lesser one may be commemorated, meaning its collect will be said after the primary one. Thus, the Church does not neglect her saints, but instead unites the celebrations of the season and of the saints. Until 1962, the priest would also often add prayers for various intentions, such as for the pope or against persecutors of the Church. The collect of the Mass is also said at five of the eight hours of the Divine Office, uniting the Divine Office to the Mass.

Before beginning the collects, the priest kisses the altar, honoring again the relics of saints before turning briefly away from the altar to greet the people again. The priest and the congregation are united in the liturgy at this point, hence the greeting. The priest invites everyone in the Church to prayer, singing, “Oremus.”

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

There may be a brief pause here for a moment of silent prayer. The prayer is called a collect because it is intended to collect the prayers of all the faithful and of the entire Church and offer these prayers to God. The priest prays for the faithful and himself to be worthy to stand before God, praying that God will grant us some element of holiness. In this way, it forms part of the prayerful preparation of the Mass, fitting in logical sequence with the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, Kyrie, and Gloria.

Each collect has a specific form. It begins with addressing a specific person of the Trinity and acknowledging something about them relevant to the prayer, usually beginning with qui (“who”). Next is the petition, asking God for what we want, and an eleboration on that beginning with the word ut (“so that”), indicating the desired result or purpose. Collects always conclude with some form of, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end,” calling for the mediation of Christ, who is the one true mediator between God and man, and acknowledging the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, who gives life to the Church. The choir and congregation respond, “Amen,” a Hebrew word meaning “so be it,” indicating our assent to what has been said in the prayer and uniting us to the priest with our intentions.

While singing the collects, the priest has his hands outstretched, like a child calling out to his Father. This position also imitates to a lesser extent Christ's arms outstretched on the Cross. In some eastern liturgies, this position is used by almost everyone, but in the western liturgy, it is reserved to the priest.

New terms
  • Thurible – A metal container for burning incense.
  • Semicircle – A position in which the priest stands at the altar on the top step, the deacon on the middle step, and the subdeacon at the bottom.
  • Epistle side of the altar – The right side when facing the altar, where the Epistle will be sung.
  • Gospel side of the altar – The left side when facing the altar, where the Gospel will be sung.
  • Kyrie – An ancient prayer for God's mercy, sung in Greek.
  • Gloria – The Church's greatest hymn of praise, sung at Mass on days of a joyful nature.
  • CollectA prayer proper to the day, sung after the Gloria (or after the Kyrie if there is no Gloria), which collects the prayers of the faithful and offers them to God.
  • Commemoration – A second or third collect sung to observe a lesser occasion that coincides with the occasion that the Mass is being offered for.

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