The Priest and the Mass

By Fr. Eric Flood, FSSP – District Superior

We read in the Book of Genesis that the sons of Adam offered gifts to the Lord, that Abel’s sacrifice of an animal, most probably a lamb, was acceptable to God, but Cain’s offering of food was not. From this, we gather that God is specific about which offerings are pleasing to Him, and will reject them otherwise. So it is that during the Canon of every Latin Mass we ask God to accept the Sacrifice upon our Altar as He once accepted the sacrifice of Abel.

It is reasonable to assume that Adam had taught his sons about the value of sacrificing an animal to God in atonement for sin. Adam himself learned the importance of offering a bloody sacrifice in atonement for sin when God gave him the skins of animals to wear after committing the Original Sin. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen puts it, “In order for God to give Adam the skins of an animal to wear, an animal had to be killed…the blood of the animal had to be spilled.” We further read in the Holy Bible that every generation from Adam to Christ offered such sacrifices to God: Moses, Abraham, King David, and eventually every Jewish family would bring a lamb to the Temple in atonement for the sins of the past year. The historian Josephus tells us that at the time of Christ, 300,000 lambs were killed each year on the Day of Atonement. For nearly four thousand years, all of creation waited in expectation for the Blood of Christ to be sacrificed upon the Cross as a perfect sacrifice in expiation of our sins.

We hear how Herod tried to act as a priest by attempting to spill the Blood of Christ by the slaughter of the Innocents, but it was Christ who sacrificed His own Blood since He is the perfect Priest who offers the perfect Sacrifice of Himself. He now continues to give us His perfect Sacrifice in the Holy Eucharist. It is the treasure entrusted only to human beings to receive: Angels can’t receive Holy Communion; Angels can’t say Mass; animals have been known to bow down in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but they cannot receive It. Only human beings can receive Our Blessed Lord, yet it has to be done with the greatest reverence and with the most attention we can give to God.

And to prevent any human innovations in liturgy during Old Testament times, God gave Moses many rubrics on how to offer a sacrifice, who can offer a sacrifice, and what can be sacrificed. The violation of the ordinances of God could be punishable by death, but over time, as the interior life of the priests was lessened, there was a shift to an over-emphasis of the exterior rubrics and practices. In order to combat the rubrical exactness of the Pharisees, Our Lord taught the Apostles how to say Mass only after three years of their growing in virtue and understanding of the perfect teachings of Christ. Thus, the Church has continued to keep guard and form its priests who offer the perfect Sacrifice, and how It is to be offered.

We are given a greater insight into the various roles and expectations of the priest who approaches the Altar to say Holy Mass by observing the various vestments he is clothed with. The first garment the priest puts on is the amice. It is a rectangular piece of linen which he first touches to his head, then wraps around his neck. It used to be that the amice was worn around the head, as it symbolizes a helmet, but with the introduction of the biretta, the amice is now only wrapped around the neck after being touched to the top of the head. The amice is a symbol of a helmet because the priest is in a battle, not just in his daily life by fighting against sin, but against the devils as Holy Mass is the greatest weapon to fight them.

After the amice, the priest vests with a white alb to indicate the purity and innocence he must have when saying Mass. Thus, the daily life of a priest is the occasion for his growth in the virtues necessary to stand before God at the Altar, and his entire day is viewed as a preparation for the next Mass he will soon say.

The next vestment the priest is clothed in is called the cincture. It is a cord wrapped around his waist, and it represents the chastity and continence required of a priest to be in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). It is a symbol that the priest will not marry in imitation of Christ, who was perfectly chaste but bound to the Cross with cords of rope.

The priest then dons the maniple and wears it over the left arm to symbolize the labor and hardship he must accept in his arduous daily duties. Then, the priest is clothed with the stole worn around the neck and crossed over the chest in the form of the cross. The stole shows that he is invested with the authority of God to engage in priestly action. Thus, whenever a priest celebrates a Sacrament, blesses an object, or does a priestly action, he wears the stole. Lastly, the priest puts on the chasuble, which symbolizes the charity or unselfish motives he is to have in serving the Lord in all his actions.

And having been vested with purity, innocence, chastity, hard labor, and charity throughout his daily life, the priest is now ready to ascend to the Altar according to the requirements of God and His Church. In his May 24 interview, His Eminence Darío Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos said that in the priesthood there should be nothing other than a humble fidelity in the liturgy to what Christ, the high Priest, does at the Altar. Oftentimes during my travels, people will approach me after Mass and say how beautiful and reverent the Latin Mass is, to which I respond, anything God has designed has to be so.

In the same interview, His Eminence mentioned the goals of the Holy Father to have the powerful force of the Old Rite of Mass celebrated once a week in most parishes. We know this goal will take much time to implement, yet the response to the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” has been tremendous in North America. In 2008 the Fraternity of St. Peter was able to open new apostolates in Dayton, Ohio and Fort Wayne, Indiana; Joliet, Illinois; Quincy, Illinois; and Seattle, Washington. Many other dioceses have opened their doors to the Fraternity, and in time we hope to fulfill their needs.

Also during the interview of Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, he was asked if there would be the possibility of amalgamating the Old Rite of Mass with the New Rite. His Eminence responded that he did not think so, since they are different. He further said that it is hoped that the Latin Mass would help eliminate the abuses in the ordinary form of the Mass. It is encouraging to hear the expectations of Rome toward the Latin Mass and its future. We can only pour forth our prayers of thanksgiving to the Blessed Trinity and to the Saints in the halls of Heaven.

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 North American District Fraternity Newsletter.

March 30, 2010