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The intention of the compiler of this essay not being to enter into a controversial disquisition upon the nature of the Mass, but to give to those who hold the true faith concerning this great sacrifice, such an explanation of its accompaniments and ceremonies as may enable them to attend thereat with suitable devotion, and thereby obtain more abundant grace, he will not enter upon any of those grounds where the vindication of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church is found, but at once commence the explanation.
.Sacrifice consists in the production of the victim, its oblation by a lawful minister, and a destructive change being made therein, in acknowledgment of 'God's supreme dominion. The person who performs the act of sacrifice is called a Priest, the place on which it is performed an altar.
In the Mass, Christ is the victim; he is produced by the consecration, which by the power of God, and the institution of the Redeemer, and the act of the Priest, places the body and blood of Christ, under the appearance of bread and wine upon the altar; then the Priest makes an oblation of this victim to the eternal Father, on behalf of the people, and the victim undergoes a destructive change, showing forth the death of the Redeemer, and making commemoration thereof, by the exhibition of the apparent separation of the body from the blood; the former being under the appearance of bread, and the latter under the appearance of wine, and by the consumption of both by the Priest.
The performance of this, is the essential part of the Mass, all that is necessary for its validity is the priestly character of the minister, and the consecration, oblation, and consumption of the victim. And for the performance hereof Christ left power to his Apostles, and to those to whom they should communicate the same, and to their successors for everDo this for a commemoration of me." Luke xxii. 19, No particular dress is essentially necessary on the
part of the celebrant, nor is his power confined to
But it must be evident, that unless some regulations were made upon these points, there would be interminable variance, and perpetual changes; therefore although our blessed Lord made no specific rule on this head, we find that particular dresses, and particular ceremonies have been adopted and established by various portions of the Church.
The Liturgy in use in this country, and in the principal portion of the western division of the Church, is that of Rome. Several other portions of the Roman Catholic Church follow other Liturgies, varying from us in their dress, ceremonies, and language, though their faith is exactly the same as ours, as is also their government, being under the guidance of Bishops, who acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope, and hold his communion; but their Liturgies are in many instances equally ancient as ours; others are as ancient as the days of St. John Chrysostom, others as those of St. Basil, &c. This explanation shall be confined to the ceremonies of the Roman Missal, and the western portion of the Church as practised in most parts of Europe and Af
rica, and in all America.
In the explanation we shall look for three meanings in every object and ceremony. The first, the literal, natural, and it may be said the original meaning; the second, the figurative, or emblematic signification; and thirdly, the pious, or religious meaning-frequently the two last will be found the same; sometimes all three will be found combined.
We begin with the altar-This is either entirely of stone, or a consecrated stone is placed on a table, or wooden appearance of a tomb; the vicinity of which is ornamented with architecture, paintings, statues,
vases, relics, &c. where they can be procured; and our churches are, where it can be conveniently done, so built as that the altars may be at the eastern end, and the celebrant may look towards that point, and the people pray towards that quarter.
Formerly the christians celebrated the sacred mysteries upon the tombs of the martyrs, which were of stone; but the persecutions having ceased, and large churches having been erected, the place where the holy sacrifice was to be offered was decorated, the appearance of the tomb was still preserved, and the relics of the martyrs transported thither, and preserved with care and respect, as testimonies of former triumphs, and excitements to future good conduct. Our religion had its origin in the east, and we turn towards that quarter to testify whence we have received our doctrines, and to beseech the assistance of that Saviour who, though he can hear us, whithersoever we may turn, yet has made Judea the great theatre of mercy and redemption, and there left the memorials of his acts and institutions.
The altar signifies Christ, who is the great corner stone of the spiritual edifice which he has raised up to his Father. The rising of the sun in the east, after it has sunk in the west, and been hidden during the night, may be well considered as an emblem of our resurrection, after the night of death; and as this lu. minary arises in glory, dispelling darkness, and invigorating the earth, so has Christ risen from his tomb to confound his enemies, spread his doctrine through the earth, and invigorate man by his grace. East is the old English name for rising, and hence the name Easter Sunday for that day on which we commemorate the resurrection of our Saviour.
There is one wooden altar now in St. Peter's church, in Rome, upon which only the Pope celebrates, and this has been preserved from the earliest Christian antiquity, as having been that upon which
the blessed apostle St. Peter offered the holy sacrifice. The law commanding that the altars should be of stone, prevails now in the church during upwards of fifteen hundred years.
This altar is covered with clean white linen or cotton cloths, as well for the decency of appearance as for the expression of the purity and sanctity which should accompany Christ. Lights are also placed on the altar, from the usage of the most ancient times. It is an eastern custom, as St. Jerome testifies, to express joy, for even in the blaze of the sun, the torches and candles were lighted to manifest this feeling; and as our religion has been received from the east, most of our ancient customs are of eastern origin. These lights also signify the Holy Ghost, who on the day of Pentecost descended in the form of fiery tongues upon the apostles, and these tongues are well represented by the blaze of candles, which thus show that this sacred Spirit still presides in that church, in which he was to remain all days to the consummation of the world: they also signify the virtues of faith and charity which we should exhibit, that men may see our good works and glorify our
Father who is in heaven.
Though God prohibited man from making idols and adoring them, yet he commanded Moses to make images of cherubim, which he was to place for the ornament of the Holy of Holies-and Solomon in his temple had many similar decorations, and from the earliest days of Christianity statues and pictures have been amongst the chief ornaments of Churches, and tended much to excite the devotion of the faithful. There are cards containing some of the prayers which are said during the Mass, placed, for the convenience of the celebrant upon the altar. The place about the altar is sometimes called the chancel, because it was separated from the body of the Church by Cancella or rails. It is at other times called the sanctuary, from being that part of
the Church, where the holy offices are performed. The body of the Church is called the Nave, from its similarity to a ship Navis, in which the faithful are as it were embarked under the government of their Clergy.
The use of incense in the Church is so ancient, that we cannot find any time of its introduction. It has been alleged that we took it from the Pagans. The allegation is incorrect; it has been taken from the Jews, whom God commanded to offer it. The Pagans also took it from them, but we do not find the Jews commanded to abandon its use because it was abused by the idolaters. It has been also said that lights and incense were used by the first Christians, in consequence of their being under the necessity of assembling in caves, which were dark and damp. This is not altogether true; there were other causes which have been stated, and if the first Christians could innocently retain what were also used by cotemporary Pagans, why may not their successors as innocently retain what they used with
We next must consider the vestments, or dress of the Priest, during the celebration of the Mass. Over his cassock or gown he first puts on the amict, then the alb, which he girds round him with a cincture, then the maniple on his left arm, the stole on his neck, crossed on his breast, and the chasuble or outer vestment. Some peculiar dress is usually worn by all public functionaries in the discharge of their duties, and whether we look round and contemplate the present race of human beings, or examine the records of history, we shall find this principle almost universal, from the uncultivated Indian, to the most polished nation. In the various circumstances of life too, upon occasions of joy, or of mourning, the dress exhibits the feeling. God himself vouchsafed to direct the manner in which the vestments of the Jewish Priesthood should be made, and thus established and sanctified the principle.