May 2021 Print

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, The Canon—Part Four

By Fr. Christopher Danel

In this article we continue an examination of the Canon of the Mass, presenting the work of Msgr. Nicholas Gihr in his fundamental liturgical commentary The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained. Msgr. Gihr was a priest of Freiburg im Breisgau whose work of liturgical research took place during the time frame spanning the pontificates of Popes Pius IX to Pius XI, including that of Pope Saint Pius X. The early years of his work were contemporaneous with the last years in the work of Dom Prosper Guéranger. (The English translation of his study appeared in 1902; the original is: Gihr, Nikolaus. Messopfer dogmatisch, liturgisch und aszetisch erklärt. Herder: Freiburg im Breisgau, 1877.)

Hanc Igitur

Hanc igitur oblationem servitutis nostrae, sed et cunctae familiae tuae, quaesumus Domine, ut placatus accipias: diesque nostros in tua pace disponas, atque ab aeterna damnatione nos eripi, et in electorum tuorum jubeas grege numerari. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

This oblation, therefore, of our service, and that of Thy whole family, we beseech Thee, O Lord, graciously to accept; and to dispose our days in Thy peace, and to command us to be delivered from eternal damnation, and to be numbered in the flock of Thine elect. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

The Text

In the Canon up to now the oblation indicated is that of the bread and wine, in so far as they are destined to be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The petition for the acceptance of the sacrificial elements, therefore, includes in itself the petition for their transubstantiation: the purpose for which they are to be accepted is the Consecration.

However, the Eucharistic Oblation is here more minutely described as “the offering of our servitude” and as “the oblation of the whole family of God.” Unquestionably these words express in general the truth that the Eucharist is the homage-offering of the whole Church. In a stricter sense, we may consider “our servitude” as designating the consecrated ministers of the altar, that is, the priests and clerics who by actual participation unite in the celebration of the Mass. However, this does not exhaust the full sense: it says “the oblation of our servitude,” that is, the offering that we and all the members of the Church make, in order to acknowledge the absolute dominion of God over all that is created, and to express our profound submission to it.

As creatures we stand in a special relation of dependence toward God our Creator; the Mass now has principally for its object the giving to God of that veneration, homage and acknowledgement, in brief, that religious worship which is due to Him alone. We expect and implore by virtue of the Eucharistic Sacrifice mercies and blessings for time and for eternity. Earthly, temporal welfare consists in this, that God orders and directs our days in peace; heavenly, eternal well-being includes preservation from endless reprobation and the being inscribed among the host of the elect.

“Diesque nostros in tua pace disponas,” we pray, for we desire good and peaceful days that are not clouded by sufferings, combats, assaults and persecutions, but always cheered and blessed with the peace of God, “that, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve Him without fear in justice and holiness” (St. Luke 1:74). We pray for temporal prosperity, inasmuch as it may be serviceable to the attainment of the “one thing necessary,” and for possession of that “best part” which shall not be taken away from us.

But in what do this “one thing necessary” and this “best part” consist? In this, that we escape the evil of all evils, eternal death (ab aeterna damnations nos eripi), and that we attain to the best of goods, the supreme good of eternal life (in electorum tuorum grege numerari). As fruit to be derived from the Sacrifice, therefore, we implore in the above prayer the peace of God for the days of our earthly life, and we pray especially for the consummation of our redemption and eternal salvation.

The Accompanying Action

During this prayer, the priest extends his two hands horizontally over the chalice and Host, and in such a manner, that the right thumb is placed over the left one in the form of a cross. This imposing, or extending of hands occurs first toward the close of the fifteenth century in some Missals, and it was afterwards universally prescribed by St. Pius V. This ceremony not only harmonizes with the tenor of the text, “this oblation” (hanc oblationem), indicating the sacrificial elements in a just and reverential manner, but also contains in addition a mystical meaning.

The ritual laying on of hands frequently occurs in both Testaments, as well as in the liturgy: according to its fundamental signification, it is always a symbol, or a means of transferring something to others, for example, the guilt of sin, a blessing and protection. In the Mosaic worship the laying on of hands was a symbolical representation of the transferring of sin and guilt to the animal that was to be sacrificed, which vicariously had to suffer death instead of man. Here in the Holy Mass, the laying on of hands has a similar object; and therefore in a visible way it deeply fixes the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, for it shows that Christ on the altar, in our place, for our sake, and on account of our sins offers Himself; moreover, it indicates that we should unite ourselves with His Sacrifice, offering ourselves in it and along with it.

Quam oblationem

Quam oblationem tu Deus in omnibus, quaesumus, benedictam, adscriptam, ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere digneris: ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiat dilectissimi Filii tui Domini nostri Jesu Christi.

Which oblation do Thou, O God, we beseech Thee, vouchsafe to make in all things blessed, approved, ratified, reasonable, and acceptable: that it may become for us the Body and Blood of Thy most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Text

This prayer is closely connected with the preceding one and forms the immediate transition and introduction to the act of Consecration. In general its meaning is clear, but the several designations therein given to the offering appear obscure and difficult to the understanding. Since the foregoing preparation for the act of Consecration ends with this prayer, it expresses for the last time in a simple, grand way the already oft-repeated petition to God for the changing of the bread and wine into the Body and the Blood of Christ. Therefore, we implore of God that the elements lying on the altar and dedicated to Him be raised to the highest degree of consummation. The Eucharistic Savior is “the perfectly blessed, approved, ratified, reasonable and acceptable oblation” which, by the power of God, is to replace the substance of bread and wine.

Oblatio benedicta. The blessing here meant and to be imparted to the material elements, is the very highest and the most sublime conceivable, namely, the Consecration, that is, the changing of the elements into the glorious Body and the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We, therefore, beg God to bless the oblation of bread and wine, that is, to consecrate it and thereby make it for us an inexhaustible source of grace and blessing.

Oblatio adscripta. This extremely obscure word can only with difficulty or perhaps not at all be explained in a perfectly satisfactory manner, as is evident from the different attempts at interpretation. We translate adscripta by the word approved and thereby give our preference for an explanation according to which this word seems to coincide better with the whole context. Accordingly, the oblation becomes adscripta when it responds and answers to the prescription, to the ordinance and institution of Christ, as it took place at the Last Supper. In this manner, therefore, the same petition would be presented that frequently occurs elsewhere in liturgies: that the elements of bread and wine may become eucharistia legitima, that is, legitimate Eucharist.

Oblatio rata. If the oblation is so constituted as to be conformable to Holy Scripture, to the will and command of Christ (Hoc facite), then necessarily it is also an oblatio rata, that is, a true or valid sacrifice; for with this presupposition all the features and elements are at hand requisite for the existence and essence of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

The contents of the above three words (benedicta, adscripta, rata) are now stated more correctly and emphatically, in this that the Sacrifice is called a “spiritual,” or “reasonable oblation” (oblatio rationabilis). In the liturgies the Eucharist is often designated as “a spiritual sacrifice” (hostia spiritualis) or as “a reasonable and unbloody worship of God.” This expression is borrowed from Holy Scripture; in its liturgical use it refers as well to the way and manner of offering, as to the sacrificial gift, and characterizes it as endowed with life, spirit and reason, in contrast with the Old Testament offerings of irrational animals and inanimate things. The Eucharist is, therefore, a “reasonable oblation,” because on the altar the living Lamb of God, the God-Man Jesus Christ, is sacrificed, He who is, indeed, the eternal reason, the uncreated and personal wisdom of God. If the Eucharistic Sacrifice has these four qualities, it is then infallibly and in the highest degree also “pleasing to God,” dear, precious and acceptable to the Heart of God (oblatio acceptabilis).

The little word nobis (“for us”), moreover, adds a new idea; for it petitions that the Body and Blood of Christ take the place of the bread and wine, that is, become present under their appearances for us, for our sake, for our salvation and blessing and advantage. For us the Savior offers Himself on the altar, to us He gives Himself in Holy Communion.

The Accompanying Action

The aforesaid prayer is accompanied with five signs of the Cross, three of which are first made over both sacrificial elements at one and the same time (at the words benedictam, adscriptam, ratam); then there is one besides made separately over the Host and over the chalice (at the words Corpus et Sanguis). These holy signs strengthen and visibly elucidate the text of the prayer spoken vocally; they symbolically express what the accompanying and corresponding words signify. The signs of the Cross are here symbols and means of blessing; they call down the divine blessing upon the bread and wine, that they may be changed, and that which is likewise made apparent by the sign of the Cross is that the bread may be changed into the same sacrificial Body that hung on the Cross, and the wine into the same sacrificial Blood which was shed on the Cross. If we consider the first three signs of the Cross in themselves, then we must at the same time evidently see in them an indication and symbol of the Adorable Trinity, from whom proceeds the blessing of Consecration prayed for, to sanctify the material elements and change them into the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

But not only in a general way should the identity that exists between the bloody and unbloody Sacrifice of Christ be made clear to us by the sign of the Cross; we can piously and edifyingly consider the five repetitions of the sign of the Cross occurring in this prayer immediately before the Consecration, and in another prayer directly afterward, as indicating the five sacred wounds, which were particularly prominent on the Body of Christ, and which, consequently, are also in the most intimate relation with the redeeming passion and death of the Lord.

Precisely at the moment in which the altar becomes a mystical Mount Calvary, the sublime and sacred scene of the Passion of the Savior should present itself before the eyes and mind of priest and people in the most striking manner. The hands and feet of the Lord have men bored through, and His Heart they have pierced. Those hands that were overflowing with benedictions and mercies; those feet that had become weary walking in search of the lost sheep on the thorny field of the earth; that Heart which glowed with love for God and men, behold, how they are lacerated and wounded! Those bloody signs of martyrdom, those deep, gaping wounds on the sacrificed Body of Jesus are an inexhaustible fountain of propitiation and mercy and grace for regenerated man. Christ, pierced on the Cross, wounded in five different places, come, let us adore!