Thursday, June 7, 2018

Liturgy of the Traditional Mass, Part 8: The rest of the Canon

Previous parts in this series:
Part 6: The Offertory
Part 7: The Preface, Sanctus, and beginning of the Canon

In the missal, the next prayer has the title “Infra Actionem” ("Within the Action"). In this prayer, we call upon the intercession of the saints. On five great feasts, a short text is added to this prayer recalling the feast. Thus, the occasion is recalled in the Preface and, later, within the action of the Canon. Thus, “Infra Actionem” became the title of the prayer: a rather appropriate title, as we are now imploring the help of the saints, which is followed immediately by the oblation and the consecrations.

Communicántes, et memóriam venerántes, in primis gloriósæ semper Vírginis Maríæ, Genetrícis Dei et Dómini nostri Iesu Christi: sed et beati Ioseph, eiusdem Virginis Sponsi, et beatórum Apostolórum ac Mártyrum tuórum, Petri et Pauli, Andréæ, Iacóbi, Ioánnis, Thomæ, Iacóbi, Philíppi, Bartholomaei, Matthaei, Simónis et Thaddaei: Lini, Cleti, Cleméntis, Xysti, Cornélii, Cypriáni, Lauréntii, Chrysógoni, Ioánnis et Pauli, Cosmæ et Damiáni: et ómnium Sanctórum tuórum; quorum méritis precibúsque concédas, ut in ómnibus protectiónis tuæ muniámur auxílio. Per eúndem Christum, Dóminum nostrum. Amen.
We pray in union with and honor the memory, especially of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ: as also of the blessed Joseph, her spouse, and of the blessed apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, and Thaddeus; Linus, Cletus, Clement, Xystus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and of all thy Saints, through whose merits and prayers, grant that we may in all things be defended by the help of thy protection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

It begins with the Latin participle “Communicantes,” meaning “communicating” or “participating,” which is exactly what we do with Christ in the Mass and also with the saints mentioned here. First of all is our Blessed Mother, just as she was commemorated in the prayer “Suscipe sancta Trinitas” at the Offertory. Next is her spouse, St. Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord. His name was added to the Canon very recently, in 1962, in response to growing popular devotion to St. Joseph.

Next are the holy founders of the Church, Ss. Peter and Paul. All the rest of Jesus' original apostles are then mentioned, excepting only Judas Iscariot. Christ made the eleven faithful apostles the first bishops of the Church, giving them the power to offer the Mass. From them, the priesthood has been handed down in unbroken succession in the sacrament of Holy Orders. The priest then mentions several popes and bishops who are saints. Thus, after we pray for the Church, we appeal to the merits and intercession of her greatest members. The prayer ends by stating the desired result, that the merits and prayers of these saints may benefit us in our spiritual lives, particularly as we offer up the Mass. The priest concludes, "Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen," as a conclusion of the first three prayers in the Canon.

The next two prayers offer the oblations to God and ask the blessing of the Holy Ghost over them. Even the deacon and subdeacon, who have been standing with the priest, now kneel in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Only the priest, in whom Christ himself is working, remains standing. Here, the server rings the bell as a warning that the most sacred thing on earth is about to happen right in front of us. The priest spreads out his hands over the host and chalice, just as the priests of the Old Covenant would impose their hands over the victims of their sacrifices (Leviticus 1:4). He says silently the prayer “Hanc igitur,” which, like the “Communicantes,” is modified on a few special occasions.

Hanc igitur oblatiónem servitutis nostræ, sed et cunctae famíliæ tuæ, quaesumus, Dómine, ut placátus accípias: diésque nostros in tua pace dispónas, atque ab ætérna damnatióne nos éripi, et in electórum tuórum iúbeas grege numerári. Per Christum, Dóminum nostrum. Amen.
We therefore beseech thee, O Lord, graciously to accept this oblation of our service, as also of thy whole family; and to dispose our days in thy peace, preserve us from eternal damnation, and rank us in the number of thine elect. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here, the priest beseeches God one final time to accept the Church's oblation. The desired result this time is the graces proceeding from the Blessed Sacrament. This prayer ends the same way as the preceding prayer.

Next is the prayer “Quam oblationem,” in which Christ, through the priest, bestows the most solemn blessing of the Holy Ghost upon the host and chalice. This is known as the epiclesis, similar to the prayer “Veni sanctificator” in the Offertory. Like at the beginning of the Canon (in the Te igitur), the priest signs the Cross over the oblations.

Quam oblatiónem tu, Deus, in ómnibus, quaesumus, bene ☩ díctam, adscríp ☩ tam, ra ☩ tam, rationábilem, acceptabilémque fácere dignéris: ut nobis Cor ☩ pus, et San ☩ guis fiat dilectíssimi Fílii tui, Dómini nostri Iesu Christi.
Which oblation do thou, O God, vouchsafe in all respects, to bless, ☩ approve, ☩ ratify, ☩ make worthy and acceptable; that it may be made for us the Body ☩ and Blood ☩ of thy most beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

The desired result of this prayer is the transubstantiation or transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest makes the Sign of the Cross over the host when he says “Body” and over the chalice when he says “Blood.” At the Holy Name, he joins his hands and bows his head. There is neither a conclusion nor "Amen" to this prayer, as it flows directly into the consecration of the Host.

Next is the most solemn and carefully constructed part of the Mass: the consecrations of the Host and Chalice. We begin, as Jesus did at the first Mass, with the host. The prayer is really a narrative of the Lord's Supper, derived from the account in Sacred Scripture (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Qui prídie quam paterétur, accépit panem in sanctas ac venerábiles manus suas, elevátis óculis in coelum ad te Deum, Patrem suum omnipoténtem, tibi grátias agens, bene ☩ dixit, fregit, dedítque discípulis suis, dicens: Accípite, et manducáte ex hoc omnes.
Who, the day before he suffered, took bread into his holy and venerable hands, and with his eyes lifted up towards heaven unto thee, God, his almighty Father, giving thanks to thee, he blessed ☩ it, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying: Take and eat ye all of this.

As he says that Jesus took bread into his holy and venerable hands, the priest does so. He lifts his eyes to heaven for a moment as he recalls our Lord doing the same, an event we have received from Sacred Tradition. The priest bows his head in giving thanks to the Father, as Jesus did, and makes the Sign of the Cross over the Host to bless it. He does not break the Host at this time, for that is done later in the Mass. Having recounted and imitated every subtle action our Lord performed at the Last Supper, he finally bows low holding the Sacred Host and pronounces the essential words:


The priest is instructed in the missal to pronounce these words distinctly, reverently, and secretly, for they are indeed the most important words in the Mass. By these words, the words that Christ said at the first Mass and says again in every Mass, the host becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The priest kneels for a moment in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and then elevates it above his head so that the people can also gaze upon the Sacred Host in adoration. The deacon, kneeling behind the priest to his right, lifts up the bottom of his chasuble so that he may be less restricted in elevating the Host.

Bells are rung here, the orignal place for them in the Mass (Exodus 39:22-24). At one time, the large church bell was rung here, and people on the streets would crowd into the church to try to get a glimpse of the Sacred Host. Today, there is usually only a small handbell, but some churches continue the tradition of ringing the large bell. The Host is also incensed at this time by the server. Thus, God himself is honored with incense, just as he is in heaven. The priest sets the Host back on the corporal and genuflects again.

From here until after the Communion, the priest does not separate his thumbs and forefingers for fear of the tiniest particle of the Host falling to the floor. His fingers, which have been annointed for this purpose at his ordination, are consecrated for the purpose of handling the Host, and therefore must touch nothing else.

Símili modo postquam coenátum est, accípiens et hunc præclárum Cálicem in sanctas ac venerábiles manus suas: item tibi grátias agens, bene ☩ dixit, dedítque discípulis suis, dicens: Accípite, et bíbite ex eo omnes.
In like manner, after he had supped, taking also this excellent chalice into his holy and venerable hands, he blessed ☩ , and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and drink ye all of this.

“Simili modo,” he proceeds to say, as the oblations of the Host and Chalice really are one sacrament. The deacon uncovers the Chalice and immediately kneels back down. Once again, this is a narrative of the Lord's Supper, and the priest, acting in persona Christi, does everything that Christ did. He holds the “precious Chalice” for a just moment (Psalm 115:13), then joins his hands and bows in giving thanks to God, just like with the Host. Everything here mirrors what is done with the Host, as they are merely the two species of the same sacrament, though both are absolutely necessary for validity. The priest makes the Sign of the Cross over the Chalice to bless it and then bows low and pronounces the words of consecration, but here Christ elaborates a little.


It is the Precious Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant. Here, with these words, Christ instituted the one true sacrifice of the New Covenant, to replace the sacrifices of the Old Covenant, as prophesied by Malachi (1:11), and the “Blood of the Covenant” hearkens back to Exodus 24:8. It is further described as the “mystery of faith,” as St. Paul called the Mass (1 Timothy 3:9). This mystery is wide-ranging: Christ's institution of a New Covenant, shedding his Precious Blood on the Cross, opening up the gates of heaven, and that sacrifice being recreated at the Mass to give sanctifying grace “for you [the apostles] and for many.” He does not say, “for all,” as the grace is only effective for those who receive it worthily with love and faith in God.

Now that both species have been offered and consecrated, the priest quietly and poetically recalls the mandate from Jesus to continue offering the Mass.

Hæc quotiescúmque fecéritis, in mei memóriam faciétis.
As often as ye do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of me.

The Chalice is elevated here with the same ceremony as the Host, including bells and incense. If a polyphonic setting of the Sanctus is used, it is resumed here with the Benedictus. The deacon and subdeacon rise. Pictured below is the priest, wearing a white chasuble, elevating the Chalice. Kneeling to his right is the deacon wearing his dalmatic. Directly behind the priest, at the bottom of the steps, is the subdeacon, wearing his tunicle and humeral veil, holding the paten. Kneeling to the priest's left is an assistant priest wearing a cope. (Assistant priests are used only on rare occasions.) On the right side of the picture, you can see a server incensing the Blessed Sacrament during the elevations.

Image credit: Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter

After the consecrations is the anamnesis, the memorial of Christ's Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, similar to what was done in the prayer “Suscipe sancta Trinitas” in the Offertory, but this time within the Canon.

Unde et mémores, Dómine, nos servi tui, sed et plebs tua sancta, eiusdem Christi Fílii tui, Dómini nostri, tam beátæ passiónis, nec non et ab ínferis resurrectiónis, sed et in coelos gloriósæ ascensiónis: offérimus præcláræ maiestáti tuæ de tuis donis ac datis, hóstiam ☩ puram, hóstiam ☩ sanctam, hóstiam ☩ immaculátam, Panem ☩ sanctum vitæ ætérnæ, et Calicem ☩ salútis perpétuæ.
Wherefore, O Lord, we thy servants, as also thy holy people, calling to mind the blessed Passion of the same Christ, thy Son, our Lord, and also his Resurrection from the dead and his glorious Ascension into heaven: do offer unto thy most excellent majesty of thine own gifts, bestowed upon us, a pure ☩ Victim, a holy ☩ Victim, an unspotted ☩ Victim, the holy ☩ Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice ☩ of everlasting salvation.

We recall the Passion, which the Mass presents to us again every day. We also recall the Resurrection, which is the completion of his Passion. Finally, we recall the Ascension, the Lord's last glorification in human form. It is crucial in the Mass to always have in mind the great works of God for our redemption.

In light of his Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, we celebrate the Mass, offering to God “a pure Victim,” one innately without fault in contrast to the material offerings of the Old Covenant; “a holy Victim,” for Christ is divine, the second person of the Trinity, from which flows all holiness; a “spotless Victim,” for Christ was sinless and void of flaws in God's eyes; the “holy Bread of life eternal and the Chalice of everlasting salvation,” which Jesus promised to give us (John 6:48-59).

Three Signs of the Cross are made over both the Host and Chalice, followed by one over the Host and one over the Chalice. Although the Host and Chalice have already been transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, God is not limited by mere chronological time, so the entire Canon has the purpose of blessing the Host and Chalice and offering them to God (2 Peter 3:8). In addition, the many Signs of the Cross represent the unity between the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrifice of the Cross.

What follows is formally called the "post-consecration oblation." The oblations were offered in the prayer “Hanc igitur” before the consecrations, and now the same intent is echoed in this prayer.

Supra quæ propítio ac seréno vultu respícere dignéris: et accépta habére, sicúti accépta habére dignátus es múnera púeri tui iusti Abel, et sacrifícium Patriárchæ nostri Abrahæ: et quod tibi óbtulit summus sacérdos tuus Melchísedech, sanctum sacrifícium, immaculátam hóstiam.
Upon which vouchsafe to look with a propitious and serene countenance, and to accept them, as thou wert graciously pleased to accept the gifts of thy just servant Abel, and the sacrifice of our patriarch Abraham, and that which thy high priest Melchisedech offered to thee, a holy Sacrifice, and unspotted Victim.

The priest prays to God to look upon the offerings with a "favorable and gracious countenance." God, look down from heaven upon this offering we are presenting you on earth, and by it grant us your incomprehendable grace and mercy. At the end of the sentence is named what we are offering: "a holy Sacrifice, an immaculate Victim."

As a segue to this oblation, the priest mentions God's acceptance of the sacrifices offered by three extraordinary Old Testament characters. First, Abel, the more righteous of the first two sons of Adam and Eve, who offered pleasing gifts to the Lord (Genesis 4:4), and the shedding of his blood is compared in the New Testament to the Blood of Christ (Matthew 23:35, Hebrews 12:24). Second, we relate Abraham's sacrifice of his own son Isaac, which also foreshadowed the Passion and Resurrection of Christ (Genesis 22:1-18). Finally, we have the sacrifices of the priest Melchisedech, in whose order Christ is made priest, from which comes the authority of the Catholic priesthood (Psalm 109:4). All these sacrifices lead up to this most perfect Sacrifice. As the Father graciously accepted these imperfect sacrifices, so we pray that he will accept this perfect sacrifice.

Following the post-consecration oblation is the post-consecration epiclesis, praying again for the divine blessing of the oblations. This next prayer is said bowing low out of humility.

Súpplices te rogámus, omnípotens Deus: iube hæc perférri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublíme altáre tuum, in conspéctu divínæ maiestátis tuæ: ut, quotquot ex hac altáris participatióne sacrosánctum Fílii tui Cor ☩ pus, et Sán ☩ guinem sumpsérimus, omni benedictióne coelésti et grátia repleámur. Per eúndem Christum, Dóminum nostrum. Amen.
We most humbly beseech thee, almighty God, command these offerings to be borne by the hands of thy holy angels to thine altar on high, in the sight of thy divine majesty, that as many as shall partake of the most holy Body ☩ and Blood ☩ of thy Son at this altar, may be filled with every heavenly grace and blessing. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

The priest prays that the offerings be delivered in the hands of an angel to God's altar in heaven. He speaks very familiarly, for God already sees the sacrifice and knows its infinite value. Some believe that this angel refers to the Holy Ghost, who is otherwise not mentioned in the prayer, because the honor of bringing the perfect sacrifice before the throne of God is beyond any created being. It may also refer to the Archangel Raphael and the other angels assisting at God's throne and bringing him our prayers (Tobit 12:11-15). Our prayers and sacrifice are brought to his altar, on which St. John, in the book of Apocalypse, saw Christ in the form of a slain lamb (Apocalypse 5:6, 9:13).

Like in the epiclesis of most ancient Eastern anaphoras, we proceed to pray that all present may receive the benefits of Holy Communion. The priest kisses the altar as he shifts from the altar in heaven to this altar on earth, praying that those who partake of the Blessed Sacrament “may be filled with every heavenly grace and blessing.” In doing so, he makes the Sign of the Cross over the Host, then over the Chalice, then on himself. This prayer, being the conclusion of the three prayers after the consecration, has the usual conclusion. He bows his head when mentions our Lord, as Christ bowed his head when he died (John 19:30).

Whereas the living were commemorated earlier, the dead are commemorated now, using a very similar prayer.

Meménto étiam, Dómine, famulórum famularúmque tuárum __ et __, qui nos præcessérunt cum signo fídei, et dórmiunt in somno pacis. Ipsis, Dómine, et ómnibus in Christo quiescéntibus locum refrigérii, lucis pacis ut indúlgeas, deprecámur. Per eúndem Christum, Dóminum nostrum. Amen.
Remember also, O Lord, Thy servants and handmaids __ and __, who are gone before us with the sign of faith, and rest in the sleep of peace. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and peace; Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

The priest prays for all the dead he wishes to remember, and prays that they may attain paradise in heaven. Like before, the deacon steps back so as to not hear the names being mentioned. Of course, the Church would not offer her most solemn act of worship without remembering her suffering members still imprisoned in Purgatory, who can be helped by our prayers (2 Maccabees 12:42-46). This prayer has the same conclusion, and the priest again bows his head.

He then prays for the same intention for us, the Church Militant on earth.

Nobis quoque peccatóribus fámulis tuis, de multitúdine miseratiónum tuárum sperántibus, partem áliquam et societátem donáre dignéris, cum tuis sanctis Apóstolis et Martýribus: cum Ioánne, Stéphano, Matthía, Bárnaba, Ignátio, Alexándro, Marcellíno, Petro, Felicitáte, Perpétua, Agatha, Lúcia, Agnéte, Cæcília, Anastásia, et ómnibus Sanctis tuis: intra quorum nos consórtium, non æstimátor mériti, sed véniæ, quaesumus, largítor admítte. Per Christum, Dóminum nostrum.
To us also, thy sinful servants, confiding in the multitude of thy mercies, vouchsafe to grant some part and fellowship with thy holy apostles and martyrs, with John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and with all thy Saints, into whose company we beseech thee to admit us, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses. Through Christ our Lord.

Although the rest of the Canon is whispered, the words “Nobis quoque peccatoribus” are said a little more audibly. As the priest says these words, he strikes his breast as a public act of contrition. Saying those words audibly originates from a now extinct ceremony, and the preservation of the instruction speaks to the unchangeable nature of the Mass.

The Church now adds to the saints she invoked in the “Communicantes,” mentioning St. John the Baptist, our Lord's predecessor, and St. Stephen, the first martyr. Then, we continue the list of Apostles from the Communicantes. St. Matthias was chosen to replace Judas in the apostles, and St. Barnabas was a companion of St. Paul; these two were among the first to receive Holy Orders from the Apostles. Several martyrs are then mentioned, an appropriate follow-up to the commemoration of the dead. At the end of that prayer, the priest says, “Per Christum Dominum nostrum,” but not, “Amen,” for the conclusion leads into one final prayer.

Per quem hæc ómnia, Dómine, semper bona creas, sancti ☩ ficas, viví ☩ ficas, bene ☩ dícis et præstas nobis.
Through whom, O Lord, thou dost ever create, sanctify, ☩ quicken, ☩ bless, ☩ and give unto us all these good things.

The whole part of the Mass from the Preface to the end of the Canon is rather symmetrical, with the consecrations in the center. We have had two intercessions, one for the living and one for the dead, and prayers of oblation and Epiclesis before and after the consecrations. Finally, just as we began with praise and thanksgiving in the Preface, so must we end. The priest praises the Lord's creation and generosity toward us. In the early Church, the people would bring forth fruits, vegetables, and other types of food from God's creation to be blessed by these words, “Per quem hæc omnia, Domine...” This practice exists today only in the blessing of holy oils on Holy Thursday. Instead, these words refer to the Blessed Sacrament on the altar, which is the greatest thing God ever gave us, and so three further Signs of the Cross are made over the oblations.

The Canon of the Mass, the most important and deepest prayer of the liturgy, here ends with a great doxology, in which we express our unity with Christ (“Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso”) and bring in the whole Trinity.

Per ip ☩ sum, et cum ip ☩ so, et in ip ☩ so, est tibi Deo Patri ☩ omnipotenti, in unitáte Spíritus ☩ Sancti, omnis honor, et glória.
Per omnia saecula saeculorum.
Through him, ☩ and with him, ☩ and in him ☩ is unto thee, God the Father ☩ almighty, in the unity of the Holy ☩ Ghost, all honor and glory.
World without end.

The Signs of the Cross here are the Church's last expression of the unity between the Cross and the Mass. They are made with the Host over the Chalice, expressing the reunion between Christ's Body and Blood at the Resurrection. When the other members of the Trinity are mentioned, the Cross is made betweeen the Chalice and the priest to avoid misdirected focus on the Son alone. He then briefly elevates the Host and Chalice together at the words “omnis honor et gloria.” This is known as the minor elevation.

In the Canon, the Church had Christ as a Victim to be sacrificed, but now, after the sacrifice is complete, we have him as a sacrament, in his true dignity as the living God. The whole action of the Canon being complete, it only remains for the whole congregation to voice their assent. Thus, the priest concludes singing aloud, “Per omnia sæcula sæculorum,” to which the response is a sonorous “Amen.”

New terms

  • transubstantiation – The complete transformation of the substance of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, such that only the appearances of bread and wine remain.
  • elevation – The priest lifting the Host and Chalice above his head after they have been consecrated so that they may be seen and adored by the faithful.

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