Preparing for Mass According to the Four Ends of Prayer

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

Touching on the participation of the faithful in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei, wrote

Now it is clear that the faithful offer the sacrifice by the hands of the priest from the fact that the minister at the altar, in offering a sacrifice in the name of all His members, represents Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body.  Hence the whole Church can rightly be said to offer up the victim through Christ.  But the conclusion that the people offer the sacrifice with the priest himself is not based on the fact that, being members of the Church  no less than the priest himself, they perform a visible liturgical rite; for this is the privilege only of the minister who has been divinely appointed to this office: rather it is based on the fact that the people unite their hearts in praise, impetration, expiation and thanksgiving with the prayers or intention of the priest, even of the High Priest himself, so that in the one and same offering of the victim and according to a visible sacerdotal rite, they may be presented to God the Father.  It is obviously necessary that the external sacrificial rite should, of its very nature, signify the internal worship of the heart.  Now the sacrifice of the New Law signifies that supreme worship by which the principal Offerer himself, who is Christ, and, in union with Him and through Him, all the members of the Mystical Body pay God the honor and reverence that are due to Him. (§ 93)

Michael Pitcairn’s Pope Pius XII

In the passage just quoted, Pius XII explains that to pray the Mass well, the faithful should have the same intentions and dispositions as Christ Himself, namely, “praise, impetration, expiation and thanksgiving.”  These indicate what are commonly called the four ends of prayer: adoration (“praise”), thanksgiving, contrition (“expiation”), and petition (“impetration”).  The acronym of ACTS is used as a way to remember these ends (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication [petition]).  While this is helpful, it should be noted that the four ends are not listed in this acronym according to their order of importance.

The first reason one should go to prayer is to give God the honor which is due to Him as the Supreme and Perfect Being for everything outside of God was created for this end.  The giving of this honor belongs to adoration.  Next, one should express thanksgiving for all things which God has granted.  God has created and maintains in existence, from moment to moment, each individual and all of the goods which each possesses.  This gives rise to a seemingly infinite debt which each creature owes to God – a debt which is repaid by acts of thanksgiving.  Sin is an offense against God, which the sinner appeases by acts of penance (expiation) which flow from internal sorrow (contrition).  In the last place, one can petition God for necessities and desires, both spiritual and material.  When one goes to prayer, this hierarchy of the ends of prayer should be kept in mind and the time given to each should be proportional to where that type of prayer falls in the hierarchy.  It would be improper, therefore, for one to spend the majority of one’s time asking God for things (petition) while only spending a small amount of time, if any, adoring God for His perfections.

As the Mass is a prayer – indeed the greatest of prayers – these four ends can be applied to the Mass as well, as Pius XII indicated.  It is recommended, then, that before the start of Mass, one prepare by going over the four ends of prayer and indicating the various reasons one is praying and participating in this particular Mass.

Pope Pius XII continues and adds:

In order that the oblation by which the faithful offer the divine Victim in this sacrifice to the heavenly Father may have its full effect, it is necessary that the people add something else, namely, the offering of themselves as a victim. (§98)

One way to accomplish this is by “placing oneself” on the paten and in the chalice at the Offertory, and offer oneself up with the oblations of the Mass.  This can be anticipated at the start of Mass as one is preparing and/or at the Offertory itself.

Lastly, as was stated in a previous article, while at worship, man represents creation before God.  It would be proper to form an intention for this purpose also.

To aid the readers in putting into practice the suggestions here raised, the following are provided as a structure and guide:

Heavenly Father, I desire to offer up to you this [day/morning/afternoon/etc.], in an unbloody manner, the sacrifice of Your Son on the Cross through the hands of the Priest, in union with the entire Church, especially with Christ her head.

I desire to offer up this Sacrifice of Praise in acknowledgement of Your excellence for You are worthy of all honor, glory and worship together with the Son and the Holy Spirit…[here list other reasons why God is deserving of adoration]…

I also desire to offer it up in thanksgiving for the many benefits You have bestowed upon me: for creating me and sustaining me in being; for bringing me to Your Church and preserving me in a state of grace, so far as I can tell, even to this moment; for bringing me to this [church/chapel] today; [here list other things for which you are thankful]…, and for all other blessings, gifts, and benefits, both known and unknown.

I also desire to offer it up in reparation for my many sins, especially those against [here list sins for which you have a particular sorrow]…

Lastly, I desire to offer it up in petition for my many needs and wants, wishes and desires; for my family, friends, and benefactors; for those who have asked for my prayers and for those for whom I ought to pray; especially [names]; and for myself that I may grow in holiness…[here list other intentions including those for yourself]…

And, Heavenly Father, as this bread is offered up, so too may my body be offered up and consumed in sacrifice before You.  And as this wine is offered up, so too may my blood be offered up and consumed in sacrifice before You.  Therefore, may my entire being – my body, blood, soul, and especially my will – be offered up and consumed in sacrifice before You; may this serve for an increase of the Virtues and the Gifts, especially that of Charity, so that I may be made like unto Your Son, holy and pleasing in Your sight.

And lastly, may I represent before You, in so far as I am able in this act of worship, all of creation.


William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.


September 13, 2022