Fishers of Men

\”Come, follow me,\” Jesus said, \”and I will make you fishers of men.\”

The Introductory Rites of Mass (3)

Posted by Father Joe on August 24, 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.

Kissing the Altar (continued)

In time, the association of the altar with Christ would be a bit reshuffled by the placement of a small reliquary (altar stone) with the remains of some popular martyr. Consequently, the kissing of the altar was transformed into a greeting of the Church triumphant through the martyr. “Innocent III therefore explains the bishop’s kissing of the altar as representing Christ saluting his spouse”  (Jungmann, p. 211). The deletion of the words which accompanied this kissing of the altar in the previous rite (making it penitential) was to restore something of its otherwise innate meaning. The number of times that the altar is kissed have been (currently) reduced to that which was traditional in 1240 (and earlier), at the beginning and at the conclusion of the liturgy. To be honest, there was another such kiss mentioned at that time as well, however, its placement was not specified. If it is desired to create an aura of greater solemnity, the altar may be further honored by incensing. In the early days of the Church there was some hesitance to use incense at all because of its wide use in pagan cults.  With the disappearance of the old religions, this reservation was also dismissed. Along with the rising of the smoke, Christian hearts were also upraised to God. By the ninth century incense was definitely used at the liturgy. “A formal incensation of the altar is mentioned as early as the eleventh century”  (Jungmann, p. 213). Rev. Jungmann notes:

In the incensing of the altar, the meaning that stood in the foreground was the purification and protection that the incense implied; this became, in turn, a sign of honor. From here the next step was obvious; it could be carried over generally to all sacred objects — and to the most sacred of all, the Blessed Sacrament, where it does today actually find its favorite use (Jungmann, p. 213).

Sign of the Cross

The priest makes the sign of the cross, a gesture of blessing which is taken directly from the baptismal formula offered by Christ. Its use in the Mass can only be traced back to the 14th century. In its use we find a link between Baptism and Eucharist. By this blessing we invoke the power of the triune God that comes through the Cross. “In addition, the sign of the cross is based on a mysticism of the cross that has been known from the time of the Fathers and has good theological grounds, namely, that all salvation comes to us through the cross of Christ and that the sacraments spring from the wound that pierced the side of the dead Christ on the cross (John 19:34) (The Eucharist by Johannes H. Emminghaus, p. 113).

More About the Entrance Rites in General

By 1000 AD, the entrance rite was a full-blown ceremonial. However, fixed times for other prayers and choir service would mean that the ministers would already be present in the church. An entrance procession became unnecessary. Indeed, the celebrant and assistants, especially in monastic communities, would already be vested. With sacristies placed near the altar (where the ministers had also vested at one time), the steps to the altar were vastly reduced. “Instead of a processional, the introit became an introductory chant which in Rome already in the fourteenth century was not begun till the priest had reached the altar steps” (Jungmann, p. 195). When there is no music, as on weekdays at many churches today, this is still the basic pattern we see. The Collect (closure to these rites) was and is a priestly prayer that gathers together the petitions of the people. It draws to itself, all the prayers and actions that have come before it.

Greeting the Congregation

With outstretched arms, the celebrant greets the congregation with a desire for God’s blessings. This physical gesture can be both an invitation and a form of embrace. When combined with the people’s response, a communion between them is established and the mystery of the Church at prayer is made manifest. Following the greeting, the priest, deacon, or another minister may introduce the congregation to the Mass of the day.

It is with the opening prayer that the salutation, “The Lord be with you,” historically arises in the liturgy. Every time there is a special announcement or invitation, the greeting is uttered. It comes prior to the opening prayer, the Gospel, the preface, and the prayer after communion. This salutation helps to direct our attention to an important moment in the Mass. It is a part of all four major sections of the liturgy.

“Besides, the use of a greeting form enables the congregation to return the greeting [”And also with you.”], and so, through this religious setting of reciprocal salutation, the feeling of God’s nearness is intensified” (Jungmann, p. 242).

We find the greeting used in the Book of Ruth (2:4) when Boaz welcomes his reapers. It was an everyday expression. We find it again in Luke 1:28; Judges 6:12; Chronicles 15:2; and 2 Thessalonians 3:16. The peoples’ response to the greeting is also of Hebrew origin. The Latin reads: “Et cum spiritu tuo.” The Semitic understanding is starkly translated as “you” since it denotes the entire person. We find Scriptural precedent in this regard as well: Timothy 4:22; Philemon 25; Galatians 6:18; and Philip 4:23. The Old Testament exhortation that God be with us is refined in the New Testament to associate the title “Lord” in this instance to Christ. It reaffirms Christ’s own promise: “Behold, I am with you (always)” (Matthew 28:20). He also pledged, “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). This latter sense is presumed but there is also an indefinite quality to the greeting which we celebrate in particular during the season of Advent, “0 Come, 0 Come, Emmanuel.”

A bishop might offer the greeting, “Peace be with you.” (All priests offer it at the sign of peace later in the liturgy.) It is the salutation of the Risen Lord to his Apostles. “In the Orient, outside Egypt, this formula has taken the place of the Dominus vobiscum since the fourth century” (Jungmann, p. 243).

In the case of both salutations, the priestly presider while facing the people stretches out his hands. This corporeal gesture “deepens once more the utterance of a desire to be united with the congregation and to draw them together into the prayer which is about to begin” (p. 243). The congregation ratifies this yearning for unity. In the prayer itself, the priest raises his hands.

At the same time the apologists perceive in this posture an image of the Crucified in whose name the Christiatian appears before God, a thought which recurs again in the commentators of the Middle Ages, who make much of it particularly as regards the posture during the canon of the Mass (Jungmann, p. 247).

The Confiteor

The origins of the Confiteor (I Confess. . .) are to be found in the papal worship regarding the stational services of Rome when he arrived at the altar. Originally unspecified and silent, these prayers undergo an evolution.

But for this quiet prayer words were soon inserted when the Roman Mass reached Frankish territory. The tendency is manifested, for instance, in the change of the seventh-century Roman rubric, “lying prostrate on the ground”; the Frankish revision of the eighth century makes the addition: “pouring forth prayers for himself or for the sins of the people.” Thus the theme of the apologies is sounded (Jungmann, p. 203).

The priest recognizes his sinfulness before God and his brothers and sisters. This transition to the prayer was finalized in the first third of the 11th century. Rapidly, it was imitated. It was essentially a copy of the confession of faults which had preceded Prime and Compline since the ninth century. Originally, it consisted only of the priest and deacon confessing. Later, the priest and some of those present at the Mass would do so.

The intercession of the Church was also an element that was extant in the prayers of sacramental confession. Another standard feature was the mention of saints. In some of the more ancient texts, mention of the altar was also made. (This accompanied the monastic practice of going from altar to altar, praying at each.)

About the year 1080 AD, the Cluniac Confiteor read as follows: “I confess to God, and to all his saints, and to you, Father, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, through my fault. I beg you, to pray for me.” The Cistercians in their General Chapter in 1184 AD added “the blessed Mary” before the mention of other saints. Throughout the Middle Ages, other saints were added, but only in the second part of the prayer regarding the Church on earth as intercessors. The Third Council of Ravenna in 1314 decreed that the direct mention of other saints had to be limited to Michael, John the Baptist, and the Apostles, Peter and Paul. Expressions of sorrow intensified. Bowing and indeed, even kneeling were not uncommon during it. As for the striking of one’s breast, as during the mea culpa, this was long a common practice.

This gesture, copied from the Bible story (Luke 18: 13) was so familiar to St. Augustine’s audience and so intimately connected with the acknowledgment of sin that the saint had to caution them against beating their breasts every time the word confiteor was called out (Jungmann, p. 205)


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