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The Introductory Rites of Mass (2)

Posted by Father Joe on August 23, 2006

The following notes are largely derived from a thorough reading of Rev. Josef A. Jungmann, S.J.’s classic work, The Mass of the Roman Rite.

Entrance Song & Procession

The act of prayer is introduced by an entrance song and a procession into the church. It is an approach to the majesty of God. As early as the year 800 AD, the Ordo of St. Amand (Roman), detailed how the schola would intone the introit antiphon. While the psalm was sung, the pope and his deacons would proceed through the church to the altar. At the end of this, with a signal from the pope, the schola would sing the Gloria. Arriving at the altar, he would bow, say a silent prayer, and kiss the altar. After the repetition of the antiphon, the pope would speak the greeting. Then, the Dominus vobiscum (The Lord be with you) and oration would be performed. The only thing missing was the Kyrie. (It must be said that the particular opening service narrated here was peculiar. According to this Ordo, everyone was to subsequently leave the church and set out in a penitential procession.) “But it is significant that the scribe felt called upon to make a special note regarding the missing part: ‘When the antiphon at the close of the introit has been sung to the end, the schola does not sing the Kyrie.’ The Kyrie therefore normally belonged to this rite” (Jungmann, pp. 192-193). Obviously, in such cases it was intoned at the beginning of the penitential procession.

As for hymns that might be used today in place of the short antiphons, some are likewise taken from the psalms. In a day gone by, these would have been the only ones allowed at the Mass. “The new hymnody, composed on the principles of meter and strophe, which was introduced about the time of St. Ambrose, was not admitted to the Roman Mass for over five hundred years. At Rome a strict rule was observed in the face of the wild and crafty song-propaganda of Manichean and Gnostic groups: We use only the songs dictated by the Spirit of God himself” (Jungmann, p. 214). The chants which came to be used were sung antiphonally with two choruses, verse by verse. With the early prohibition against musical instruments, a prefatory antiphon was used for the proper intonation. Eventually, this antiphon would be all that would remain. However, a tradition was starting that would profoundly affect the entire Mass. In the middle of the fourth century, monks who opposed the Arian heresy (in the East) would gather people and chant the psalms. Within a fairly short time, this way of singing became widespread. The cathedrals in the cities established scholas to chant their prayers. In Rome, it is traditionally claimed that antiphony was introduced by Pope Celestine I (died 432) and precisely as an introit no less. However, there is no historical data to backup this claim. In most other churches there was insufficient room for such a procession that would mandate an extended psalm. Consequently, it was reduced to a single antiphon.Tropes were used by some to enlarge this part of the liturgy. However, the Missal of Pius V eliminated this while tolerating a triple repetition of the antiphon. This was practiced by the Norbertines and Carmelites all the way from the eleventh century. Nevertheless, except for very rare occasions (as in the coronation Mass of Pope Pius XI in 1922), the entire psalm was not sung. As in our hymns today, the original intent was to use the psalms befitting the theme or feast of the day.

Kissing the Altar

The priest makes a simple bow to the altar or he genuflects if the tabernacle is there. The solenm (papal) liturgies of the seventh century began with the celebrant kissing the Book of the Gospels and the altar, both which represented Christ. Although the book will be kissed today after its proclamation, only the altar is so treated at the beginning of Mass. For a time, a cross would also be kissed; however, this was reduced to a kiss on a symbol of the cross in the liturgical book (as in the beginning of the canon). Three cardinal priests would give the kiss of peace to the Pope. The French had a similar practice, but after the Confiteor. The Missal of Paul VI reserves the sign of peace until just prior to communion. (Although a bishop’s initial greeting substitutes “Peace be with you,” for “The Lord be with you.”) There is a real similarity in regard to the present command to extend Christ’s peace. At that time in history, it was bluntly stated: “Receive the kiss of peace.” Borrowed from antiquity, the practice of kissing the altar finds precedence in the custom of honoring the temple by kissing the threshold. For the pagans, it was also common practice “to greet the images of the gods by means of a kiss or to throw them a kiss from a distance…” (Jungmann, p. 210). Even the family dining table was so honored, especially at the start of a meal. This civic custom became readily introduced into Christian practice. Indeed, the routine of kissing the altar extends at least as far back as the fourth century. By kissing Christ’s altar, we were honoring Christ himself.


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