Sunday, June 10, 2018

Liturgy of the Traditional Mass, Part 9: The Our Father, the breaking of the Host, and the Agnus Dei

Previous parts in this series:
Part 6: The Offertory
Part 7: The Preface, Sanctus, and beginning of the Canon
Part 8: The rest of the Canon

Although the Canon of the Mass has been completed, the missal contains the running head “Canon Missæ” for the remainder of the Mass. Canon means “rule,” and the Canon is the rule by which the Sacrifice of the New Covenant is offered. There is an important distinction, noted more clearly in medieval missals, between the sacrifice and the sacrament. In all things, the sacrifice and destruction of the victim must precede the sacrament. Animals must be slaughtered and plants harvested—the sacrifice—before they become food—the sacrament. In the Canon, the sacrifice was made, and now it has become the sacrament of our Lord's Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Likewise, the Jews were commanded in their Passover celebration to eat the Passover lamb after it had been sacrificed, making the lamb their sacrament (Exodus 12:8).

The Canon having just been completed, we await the destruction of the Victim, which will occur shortly. First, however, we are united with Christ again in the prayer he said to the Father and gave us to do the same (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4).

Orémus. Præcéptis salutáribus móniti, et divína institutione formati audemus dicere:

Pater noster, qui es in caelis, Sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in coelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie. Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.
Sed libera nos a malo.
Let us pray. Instructed by thy saving precepts, and following thy divine institution, we dare to say:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.

The Pater Noster, or Our Father, is a familiar prayer to all Christians. It is the perfect prayer that Jesus gave us, said here at a crucial time within the Holy Mass. No better response could be made to the awe of this sacrifice than the Lord's Prayer. This has been part of the Mass since the time of the apostles.

The priest sings, “Oremus,” as he would to begin any other prayer, but this time he elaborates. It is only because of God's institution and command, occurring out of his love for us, that we speak to him the petitions of the Our Father. Thus, the priest says, “We dare to say.” The Our Father has a similar form to the Ten Commandments, which were also given directly by God to men, with the first few petitions regarding God and the remainder regarding men. It begins by addressing God, “Our Father.” Only in Christianity do we have such intimacy with God as to call him our own father: intimacy allowed to us by Jesus Christ and ultimately by God's infinite love for us.

The first three petitions are in adoration of God, first mentioning the holiness of his name, then our wishes for the coming of his kingdom and the fulfillment of his will. Before we make our supplication to God, adoration of God is fitting. We also begin with adoration in the collects and secrets, in the Preface before the Canon, and even in the whole Mass, which begins with prayerful and scriptural preparation in the Mass of the Catechumens. Such is the structure given by our Lord in this prayer. To wish for the coming of his kingdom and the fulfillment of his will is an expression of our love for God. A small participation in this kingdom can be found in the Mass.

Next is our own supplication to God. First, we ask for what is needed to sustain both our spiritual and temporal lives: our “daily bread,” including the Blessed Sacrament. In the Douay-Rheims Bible, this is translated as “supersubstantial bread.” We also pray for forgiveness for ourselves and for the grace to forgive others. In the last two petitions, we pray for protection from temptation and for deliverance from evil, from Satan and the other demons seeking the ruin of souls. The last three petitions ask for grace, which is given in abundant amounts during the Mass.

The Our Father can also be seen in reverse as a path to Easter. As Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., S.T.D., wrote, “We begin in the desert with the temptation, we return to Egypt, then we travel the path of the Exodus, through the stations of forgiveness and God's manna, and by God's will we attain the promised land, the kingdom of God, where he communicates to us the mystery of his name: 'Our Father.'”

The last petition, “Deliver us from evil,” describes a crucial part of the Christian life. We must always seek to oppose evil and pray for God's help in doing so. This petition's deep meaning and implications are further described in the prayer “Libera nos,” known as the “embolism” or elaboration on the end of the Our Father, which the priest says silently.

Líbera nos, quaesumus, Dómine, ab ómnibus malis, prætéritis, præséntibus et futúris: et intercedénte beáta et gloriósa semper Vírgine Dei Genetríce María, cum beátis Apóstolis tuis Petro et Paulo, atque Andréa, et ómnibus Sanctis, da propítius pacem in diébus nostris: ut, ope misericórdiæ tuæ adiúti, et a peccáto simus semper líberi et ab omni perturbatióne secúri. Per eúndem Dóminum nostrum Iesum Christum, Fílium tuum. Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti Deus.
Per omnia saecula saeculorum.
Deliver us, we beseech thee, O Lord, from all evils, past, present, and to come; and by the intercession of the Blessed and glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and of the holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, and of Andrew, and of all the saints, mercifully grant peace in our days, that through the assistance of thy mercy we may be always free from sin, and secure from all disturbance. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Who with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, God.
World without end.

He prays against every evil, “past, present, and yet to come.” We have been weakened by our past evils, and now pray for strength and deliverance. Though our sins have been forgiven in the sacrament of Penance, we now pray for the actual grace of deliverance. Of course, we also pray for deliverance from present evils and temptations presented constantly by the world around us. Finally, we pray for deliverance from future evils and the grace to stay in God's good favor, which is strengthened by reception of Holy Communion. We wish to be completely free, throughout our entire existence, from any and all evils.

To this effect, we ask the intercession of our Blessed Mother, who is ever watchful and caring for us. Ss. Peter and Paul are also mentioned, followed only by St. Andrew. St. Andrew was the brother of St. Peter and one of the early disciples of St. John the Baptist. The early Church in Rome had a special devotion to St. Andrew, hence his mention here.

Making the Sign of the Cross on himself with the paten, which he has received from the subdeacon, the priest prays for peace in our day, God's actual grace in this temporal life. He uses the first person plural, praying for all those present. By his Passion, Christ won for us perfect, divine peace, which we will enjoy most fully in Heaven, but we ask here to have some share in it on earth. The priest kisses the paten, expressing our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16), and places it under the Host. Previously, when the Host was a victim for sacrifice, it was more dignified for it to be on the corporal alone, but now that it is the sacrament, it is placed on the paten.

As the priest says, “Per eundem Dominum...,” toward the end of the prayer, the deacon uncovers the Chalice, over which the priest breaks the Host in half as Jesus did. Doing this over the Chalice represents the Precious Blood being shed as a result of the destruction of the Victim, his Body. There is also the practical purpose that any crumbs will fall into the Chalice instead of onto the corporal.

The Gospel mentions four acts in the Last Supper, all symbolized within the Mass of the Faithful (Luke 22:19). He took bread, represented by the Offertory; he gave thanks, represented by the Canon; he broke the bread, which is thus logically done here; and he gave it to his disciples, the distribution of Communion following shortly. After breaking the Host, he breaks off a particle and holds it over the Chalice, with the two halves of the Host lying on the paten, as he concludes the prayer singing aloud (just as with the end of the Canon), “Per omnia sæcula sæculorum,” to which the choir responds, “Amen.”

The priest then makes three Signs of the Cross with the particle over the Chalice while singing the following greeting.

Pax ☩ Domini sit ☩ semper vobis ☩ cum.
Et cum spiritu tuo.
The peace ☩ of the Lord be ☩ always with ☩ you.
And with thy spirit.

This is a variation on the usual “Dominus vobiscum,” and the response is the same. We now recall the peace we have been praying for, making the Sign of the Cross with the Body of Christ over his Precious Blood. Both of these grant us his divine and eternal peace. The priest wishes for this peace to be always with the faithful, something attained only in the Kingdom of Heaven. Having in mind this divine peace, the Church also wishes to fulfill Christ's mandate to make peace with our brethren before receiving Holy Communion (Matthew 5:23-24). After this versicle and response, the priest drops the particle into the Chalice, which represents the Resurrection.

Haec commíxtio, et consecrátio Córporis et Sánguinis Dómini nostri Iesu Christi, fiat accipiéntibus nobis in vitam ætérnam. Amen.
May this mixture and consecration of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ be to us who receive it effectual unto eternal life. Amen.

In the action of the sacrifice, the Passion of Christ was represented. All is completed by the Resurrection of Christ, the mystical reunion of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. The prayer the priest whispers describes this act with the Latin word “consecratio.” Normally, this means “consecration,” but the consecration has already occured. Instead, it can be translated as “hallowing,” implying the reunion of sacred things and the perfect, infinite sanctity of the Blessed Sacrament.

After the choir has sung the response, “Et cum spiritu tuo,” they begin singing the Agnus Dei, which the three sacred ministers say here.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccáta mundi: miserére nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccáta mundi: miserére nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccáta mundi: dona nobis pacem.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

It has a trinitarian structure. In each of the three petitions, the priest addresses Jesus, “Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,” echoing the call of St. John the Baptist (John 1:29). In the Mass, Holy Mother Church has praised and worshiped God in the songs of the angels, singing, “Glory to God in the highest!” to laud our Lord's Incarnation and joining in their perpetual hymn, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts!” Now, standing before “the Lamb, which was slain from the beginning of the world,” (Apocalpyse 13:8) she humbles herself, taking up instead the cry of the two blind men: “Have mercy on us, O Son of David!” (Matthew 9:27). This is our appeal in the first two lines of the Agnus Dei. All strike their breasts at the words “Miserére nobis.”

In the third petition, we address the Lamb of God as before but this time pray, “Grant us peace.” We pray again for that perfect, divine peace that God gives us in the Mass. At the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, we are keeping watch with our Lord in the night preceding his Resurrection, but he is not risen yet. Thus, the Agnus Dei is omitted, because our Lord is still buried in the tomb, and we have no peace. Finally, at Masses for the Dead, when we are begging for mercy, not for ourselves, but for the souls of the deceased, instead of “Miserere nobis” is said, “Dona eis requiem,” or, “Grant them rest,” and instead of “Dona nobis pacem” is said, “Dona eis requiem sempiternam,” or “Grant them everlasting rest,” as our cry is for them to enjoy eternal divine peace.

All is now accomplished. As our Lord said before he died on the Cross, “It is consummated” (John 19:30). The Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass commanded by Christ has been offered up to God the Father and has been graciously accepted. The Victim has been immolated and destroyed, just as Christ's Body was on the Cross. Finally, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ are reunited as at the Resurrection, leaving us with the Most Blessed Sacrament. All these things are done by the priest, deacon, and subdeacon, serving at the altar of God and offering this most perfect sacrifice, the highest privilege a man can have on Earth. The movements and actions of the deacon and subdeacon during this part of the Mass are especially profound and beautiful. They represent the Trinity with their harmony in movement and action. Now, it remains only to consume the sacrament, as Jesus commanded his disciples to do at the Last Supper. Jesus is the true Paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). Like the Jews, we must now eat our Passover lamb.

New terms
  • Pater noster or Our Father – The Lord's Prayer, which Jesus himself gave to us, that begins by addressing God as “Our Father.”
  • Agnus Dei – A prayer addressing Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” sung by the choir after the priest has broken the Host.

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