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History of the Mass

History of the Mass

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THE HISTORY OF THE TRADITIONAL OR TRIDENTINE MASSRama P. Coomaraswamy, M.D.
"The work of our redemption is accomplished on the altar"
Secret, 9th Sunday after PentecostO God, Who hast sanctioned the diversity of offerings by the perfection of one sacrifice, receive thesacrifice offered Thee by Thy devoted servants, and sanctify it as Thou didst sanctify the gifts of Abel, thatwhat each one hath offered to the glory of Thy majesty may profit for the salvation of all Through our Lord...Secret, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost"Cursed be the man who performs to the work of God improperly" Jeremiah. XLVIII.10In tracing the history of the Tridentine Mass one can follow two possible courses. One can either follow events from the time of the Last Supper - not a development as many claim, but rather a "fleshing out" of thedivine outline, or one can look to the "pre-Christian" period and see how the Traditional Mass - the central rite of our faith, incorporates within it, and brings to fruition, all the sacrificial rites of the old dispensation, and indeed, of the entire world. While attempting to do both within the confines of a short essay, it is the latter aspect that will beemphasized. Finally I shall attempt to show how our participation in the traditional Mass is in fact our participationin the whole life of Christ - how through participation in the Mass we are baptized with Christ, die with Christ andare resurrected with Christ.Let it be clear from the outset that I am saying nothing original in what follows, unless of coursethere be errors in the exposition. The topic is, as Father Marmion says, "an ineffable subject... Even the priest, whomakes the Eucharistic Sacrifice the center and sun of his life, is powerless to put into words the marvels that the loveof Christ Jesus has there gathered up. All that man, a mere creature, can say of this mystery come forth from theHeart of God, remains so far beneath the reality that, when we have said all that we know of it, it is as if we had saidnothing. there is no subject the priest loves more and at the same time dreads more to speak of, so high and holy isthis mystery."
1
Let us begin with the traditional Mass as we know it. I say, as we know it, because it is essentiallyunchanged from the time of its establishment to the present day. As Father Barry said, should a Christian from thefirst century return to life, and walk into a Church where the Tridentine Mass was being said, he would recognize itas the Mass he was familiar with. This is why we call it the "traditional Mass" - the Mass which was literally"handed down" and again "The Mass of all times." I avoid the use of the phrase "Latin Mass," because this can refer to a variety of different rites including the
 Novus Ordo Missae
.I would like you to imagine the situation in Palestine following the Pentecost. Shortly after St.Peter said the first Mass in the same room where Christ established the rite, the twelve Apostles dispersedthroughout the world, carrying with them, not the Bible, but rather that most precious of all precious things, our traditional Mass. They went to different parts of the world - St. James to Spain, Joseph of Arimathea - even thoughnot an Apostle - to England, St. Thomas to India, Peter and Paul to Rome and the others throughout the Middle East.And each of them brought with them the central and essential rite which we know as the Mass. Each of the Apostlesadapted the Mass to the nations in which they found themselves. Of course, it was within the perogatives of the1 Some claim that the word priest is not used in the New Testament. This is true. So long, namely as the bloody sacrifices of the Mosaic rites, together with the Aaronic priesthood, the temple of Jerusalem andthe various Jewish ceremonies were in evidence, the Apostles discreetly refrained from the use of suchwords as priest, sacrifice, altar, or church, so that by this contrast they might impress the faithful with thedifference between the Jewish religion and the Church of Christ. It was done that no one might think theApostles were imitating the Mosaic priesthood, abolished by Christ, when the new priesthood had beeninstituted in its place. But as soon as the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the priesthood whichcould not sacrifice elsewhere but in Jerusalem ceased, the disciples began immediately to use such wordsas priest, altar, sacrifice. St. Ignatius, the disciple of St. John, was one of the first to use these words. After him, the erly Fathers of the Church such as Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Eusebius and Jerome, use thewords in all their epistles.1
 
 
Apostles to do this, for, as the Church teaches, Revelation ceased, not with the death of Christ, but with the death of the last apostle. What is remarkable is, that despite the diversity of rites recognized by the Church as valid, all of them retain the same essential core.We hear a lot about the need to adapt the faith to our times. But let us remember that the Apostleswere not a brood of modernists intent on compromising with the world. On the contrary, they were men dedicated to bringing the world into conformity with the Church which is to say, bringing souls into conformity with Christ. TheChurch, the Body of Christ, is Christ's presence in the world. They knew that they could not serve both God andMammon - that it was not for the Father of the Prodigal Son to join his offspring in a life of dissipation that endedup in feeding pigs, but for the Son to return to the bosom of the Father. The world of course also knows its own. Therefusal to conform to the syncretism of ancient Rome and the entrenched ideologies and power structures of theworld led to the inevitable. So much was this the case that all but one of the Apostles were martyred - and the onlyreason St. John wasn't martyred is because, despite all their efforts such as boiling him in oil, they couldn't kill him.And so it is that the Apostles, while preserving the essentials, adapted the rites of the Church to the various lands inwhich they found themselves. In this they provided the Church with a pattern to follow.Adaptation is of course appropriate under certain circumstances. More precisely, one must not somuch consider adaptation as such, but just what one is adapting to. As an example of legitimate adaptation, consider Baptism. In the early Church. In the time of the Apostles Baptism was by immersion patterned on Christ's Baptismin the river Jordan. We have descriptions of how these rites were carried out and one can see the baptismal fontssuch as still exist in some of the churches of the Middle East into which a person had to walk. But when the Churchfound itself in northern Europe, baptism by immersion was no longer advisable - one didn't have to be a member of the polar bear club to enter the Church. The essentials were recognized and as long as flowing water was used, the baptizing individual had the proper intention, and the proper words said, the rite was effective. And so it is with theApostolic adaptations of the Mass. There are some 83 forms of the Mass used throughout the world - the TraditionalMass which we are familiar with is but one of them. There are Eastern rite Masses, Coptic Masses, Arabic Masses,Ambrosian Masses. There used to be a special rite used in England called the Saram rite. These are all true Masses.Those who have attended Eastern Rite Masses know they are quite different than those we are used to. The rite iscarried out behind a curtain and the iconostasis - thus signifying its mysterious nature. In the west the altar railserves the same function of enclosing the sacred space and distinguishing it from the remainder of the church. TheEucharist is given in a spoon and dipped in the consecrated wine. Similarly, in the Eastern Church, a confessional isnot used. Instead the priest and the penitent go up to Christ painted on the Iconastasis. The priest puts his stole over the shoulder of the penitent and the penitent confesses along with the priest to Christ. But the essence of the rite isthe same. True Contrition must be expressed and Penance is given by the priest followed by absolution.What however is remarkable is not how different the various rites of the Church are, but howsimilar. Latin rite Catholics use unleavened bread as did Christ at the Last Supper. Eastern rite Catholics useleavened bread, said by some to symbolize the risen Christ. But in point of fact, the canons or rules of both ritesallow for the use of both forms of bread. The form of the bread used is a matter of Church discipline. The Easternrite Catholics hold that the consecration is the result of the Epiclesis or prayer said just after the words of Consecration. When the Eastern rite priest, acting in the place of Christ, says this prayer, he covers the Chalice withthe Veil and waves it to symbolize the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Roman Church holds that transubstantiationoccurs when the priest - acting in the place of Christ - says the words of Consecration. Now theologians can argue asto just when transubstantiation occurs - but what is clear is that Rome has never denied the validity of the easternrites. What is also clear is that both rites - and indeed, all the valid rites - use the same words of consecration. Thereare in fact some 17 different Eastern rites ranging from the Rheuthanian to the Malabar rite used in India. But thewords of consecration used vary only with respect to one phrase:
Mysterium Fidei
. Christ did not use these words - but some of the Apostles - tradition says Peter was the first to do this - inserted them in the rite, while others did not.The Church has never held that they were essential. Incidentally, the
novus ordo missae
not only changed the Wordsof Consecration, they also dropped the prayer in the traditional Mass which is the equivalent of the Epiclesis.It is interesting to note that the word Mass, usually said to derive from the dismissal prayer 
ItaMissa est 
(Go, the Mass is over), more likely is derived from the Hebrew word
misssach
, meaning a voluntaryoblation (Deuteronomy 16:10), for such is our Sacrifice of the Altar And so the Mass came to be said in various languages - arabic - Coptic - Greek - Aramaic -Kanarese, etc. But despite this its core or essential parts remained the same. Now, the Church has always held thatthe ceremonies surrounding a sacrament can be changed if there is adequate reason - but that the core or principle parts must remain unchanged. The core of our Mass is what is called the Canon and above all the Words of Consecration which are part of the Canon. As far as we can tell, the Canon of our Mass goes back to the time of Christ and the Apostles. We believe this on two grounds:1) the Church teaches that the Canon "was established many centuries ago and is so entirely freeof error that it contains nothing that does not eminently inspire reverence and devotion, and raise to God the hearts2
 
 
of those who offer the Sacrifice. For it is composed of the very words of the Lord, the traditions of the Apostles, andthe pious institutions of the holy pontiffs." Such is the declaration of the XII session of the Council of Trent, and assuch it is something we must believe - for the Church in its magisterial teaching cannot lie to us. We know what thelast phrase - the pious institutions of the holy pontiffs refers to. Pope St. Gregory added 19 words to the prayer 
 Hanc Igitur 
-
diesque nostros in tua pace disponas
- at a time when Rome was being besieged by the Lombards and thecity was in utmost peril, and the Church has judged it expedient to retain these words ever since. And Pope St. Leoadded another four.2) The second reason we believe this is based on historical evidence. To quote but one source: theAnglican Liturgical Historian Sir William Palmer said, the Canon of the Mass "may have existed from a period of the most remote antiquity, and perhaps there are nearly as good reasons for referring its original composition to theApostolic Age."Obviously additions to the central rite were made over time. We have already mentioned those of Sts. Leo and Gregory. Outside of the Canon innumerable changes have been made throughout the ages - mostly inthe way of additions. Now additions are a very different thing than deletions and when we come to the
 Novus OrdoMissae
, somewhere between 60 and 80% of the traditional rite has been deleted. Additions are also different fromchanges in the wording of the rite. What were some of the additions? Well some of the prayers said before and after the Canon were added. For example, the Last Gospel was instituted in the 13th Century. In the 12 century whenheretics denied the Real Presence, the Church instituted kneeling when it was said in the creed that "the Word wasmade flesh." We know that the Gloria was originally said only at the Christmas Mass, but was later extended to allthose Masses apart from penitential seasons and funerals. Incidentally, the current official English translation of theGloria used in the
 Novus Ordo
is false for it grants peace to all men - but peace on earth is only accessible to men of good will. We know that at the Last Supper there were readings taken from Scripture. We know that Sacred writingswere read in the earliest liturgies. However, the New Testament Canon of Scriptures was only established in thefourth century, and hence the present cycle of Scripture readings had to be established after that time.This is an important point to keep in mind. While the Scriptures were written between 6 to 100years after the death of Christ - scholars argue about the precise dates - the New Testament as such was onlyestablished around the year 370. The reason for this was that there were so many spurious Scriptures being promulgated that the Church found it necessary to convene a Council in order to sort out what was really Catholicand what was not. It was at this Council that the Scriptures or New Testament as we know it, were established. Thusit is that those who believe that the Scriptures and only the Scriptures are the basis of Christianity, have to recognizethat it is the Church that gave them the Scriptures, and not the other way around. St. Augustine bluntly said that if itwasn't for the Church establishing the Scriptures as such, he would not give them his unconditioned assent. TheProtestants should remember this. So should those seemingly Catholic priests who we see on television holding aBible in their hands and imitating "for all the world" their Protestant brethren. It follows that it was impossible for the Apostles to have brought the Bible with them when they first started to Evangelize the world. It was shortly after the fourth century, during the reign of Pope St. Damasus, that the Church selected the most important Scripture passages which were to be read throughout the year so as to become fixed in the minds of the faithful. In the newmass these Scripture selections were changed and, following the Lutheran pattern, read on a triennial basis. And thisis to say nothing of the newer translations which frequently distort the meaning of the text. Consider the word Hell.In the Douay version it is mentioned some 350 times; in the King James Version, over 150 times, but in the NewAmerican Bible used in the
 Novus Ordo
it is mentioned but once, and that not in a prescribed reading. How aboutthe translation of a "mess of pottage" as "gimmie some of that red stuff"? Or the Hail Mary as "Greetings mostfavored daughter..."Returning to the Mass, the point has already been made that additions are quite a different thingthan deletions or changes in the words. Over the course of the centuries, many additional prayers were added to theMass until, by the time of Pope Saint Pius V, the Mass had become overburdened with accretions to the point of almost obscuring its essential core. Thus it was that Pius V gathered together the best scholars of the time andremoved all those accretions that had been added from the fifth century onwards. He allowed all the rites that had been in use for over 200 years to be kept - such changes for example as we see in the Dominican rite - but otherwiseordered that the Church return to the Mass as it had always been since the earliest of recorded history. Since thenthere have been four very minor changes made in the official Mass he promulgated based either on better scholarship or the revision of typographical errors. Paul VI would have us believe that his reforms were in no waydifferent from those of Pope Saint Pius the Fifth's. That such is a gross distortion of the facts is obvious. And so it isthat the core of the Mass as we know it today goes back to the earliest recorded time. As Father Louis Bouyer, aLutheran convert who was part of the Concilium that created the
 Novus Ordo Missae
and who later regretted hisinvolvement said "The Roman Canon, as it is today, goes back to Gregory the Great. There is not, in the East or inthe West, a Eucharistic prayer remaining in use to this day, that can boast of such antiquity. To jettison it would be arejection of any claim on the part of the Roman Church to represent the True Catholic Church." He felt that the new3

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