PART 2 - The Purification of the Soul in Beginners (cont)
Ch 31: Assistance at Mass, the
Source of Sanctification
The sanctification of our soul is found in a daily more intimate union with God, a union of faith, confidence, and love. Since this is true, one of the greatest means of sanctification is the highest act of the virtue of religion and of Christian worship, participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass. For every interior soul, the Mass ought each morning to be the eminent source from which spring the graces we need in the course of the day, the source of light and of warmth, similar, in the spiritual order, to the sunrise in the order of nature. After the night and sleep, which are an image of death, the sun reappearing each morning restores, so to speak, life to all that awakens on the surface of the earth. If we had a profound understanding of the value of daily Mass, we would see that it is like a spiritual sunrise that renews, preserves, and increases in our souls the life of grace, which is eternal life begun. Too often, however, the habit of assisting at Mass degenerates into routine for want of a spirit of faith, and then we no longer receive from the Holy Sacrifice all the fruits that we should. Yet the Mass ought to be the greatest act of each of our days, and in the life of a Christian, more notably of a religious, all other daily acts, especially all the other prayers and little sacrifices that we ought to offer to God in the course of the day, should be only the accompaniment of that act.
We shall consider here: (I) what constitutes the value of the Sacrifice of the Mass; (2) the relation of its effects to our interior dispositions; (3) the way we should unite ourselves to the Eucharistic sacrifice.
The excellence of the Sacrifice of the Mass, says the Council of Trent,(1) comes from the fact that it is the same sacrifice in substance as that of the cross, because it is the same Priest who continues to offer Himself by His ministers; it is the same Victim, really present on the altar, who is really offered; only the manner of offering differs: whereas on the cross there was a bloody immolation, there is in the Mass, in virtue of the double consecration, a sacramental immolation through the separation, not physical but sacramental, of the body and blood of Christ. Thus the blood of Jesus, without being physically shed, is sacramentally shed.(2)
This sacramental immolation is a sign (3) of the interior oblation of Christ, to which we should unite ourselves; it is also the memorial of the bloody immolation of Calvary. Although it is only sacramental, this immolation of the Word of God made flesh is more expressive than the bloody immolation of the paschal lamb and of all the victims of the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, a sign draws its value as a sign from the grandeur of the thing signified: the flag, which reminds us of our country, even though it may be made of common material, has greater value in our eyes than the particular flag of a company or the insignia of an officer. Likewise the bloody immolation of the victims of the Old Testament, a remote figure of the sacrifice of the cross, expressed only the interior sentiments of the priests and faithful of the Old Law; whereas the sacramental immolation of the Savior on our altars expresses especially the interior oblation ever living in the heart of Christ "always living to make intercession for us." (4)
This oblation, which is the soul of
the Sacrifice of the Mass, has an infinite value, which it draws from
the divine person of the Word made flesh, principal Priest and Victim,
whose immolation continues under a sacramental form. St. John
This interior oblation ever living in the heart of Christ is therefore, so to speak, the soul of the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the continuation of that oblation by which Jesus offered Himself as a victim on His entrance into this world and throughout the course of His earthly existence, especially on the cross. When Christ was on earth, this oblation was meritorious; now it continues without the modality of merit. It continues under the form of reparatory adoration and of supplication in order to apply to us the past merits of the cross. Even after the last Mass has been said at the end of the world, and when there will no longer be any sacrifice, properly so called, but only its consummation, the interior oblation of Christ to His Father will endure, no longer under the form of reparation and intercession, but under that of adoration and thanksgiving. We are made to foresee this by the Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, which gives us some idea of the worship of the blessed in eternity.
How great our admiration would be, were it given to us to see without intermediary the love which inspires this interior oblation continuing unceasingly in the heart of Christ, "always living to make intercession for us"!
Blessed Angela of Foligno tells us: "I have not a vague thought, but the absolute certitude that if a soul saw and contemplated any of the intimate splendors of the sacrament of the altar, it would take fire, for it would see divine love. It seems to me that those who offer the sacrifice, or who take part in it, ought to meditate profoundly on the deep truth of the thrice holy mystery, in the contemplation of which we should remain motionless and absorbed." (6)
The interior oblation of Christ Jesus, which is the soul of the Eucharistic sacrifice, has the same end and the same effects as the sacrifice of the cross; but among these effects a distinction must be made between those that relate to God and those that concern us.
The effects of the Mass which relate immediately to God, such as reparatory adoration and thanksgiving, are always infallibly and wholly produced with their infinite value, even without our concurrence, even if the Mass, provided that it be valid, should be celebrated by an unworthy priest. From each Mass there rise thus toward God adoration and thanksgiving of limitless value, by reason of the dignity of the principal Priest who offers it and of the value of the Victim offered. This oblation pleases God more than all sins taken together displease Him; this is what constitutes the very essence of the mystery of the redemption in its aspect as satisfaction. (7)
The effects of the Mass which relate to us are poured forth on us only in the measure of our interior dispositions. It is thus that the Mass, as a propitiatory sacrifice, obtains ex opere operato for sinners who do not resist it the actual grace which leads them to repent and inspires them to confess their sins.(8) The words Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, produce in sinners who oppose no obstacle sentiments of contrition, as the sacrifice of the cross produced them in the soul of the good thief. Here we are especially concerned with sinners who assist at Mass or with those for whom it is said.
The sacrifice of the Mass, as a sacrifice of satisfaction, also infallibly remits to repentant sinners at least a part of the temporal punishment due to sin. This remission is in proportion to the more or less perfect dispositions with which they assist at Mass. For this reason, says the Council of Trent, the Eucharistic sacrifice can also be offered for the deliverance of the souls in purgatory.(9)
Finally, as a sacrifice of impetration or supplication, the Mass obtains for us ex opere operato all the graces we need for our sanctification. It is the great enduring prayer for us of the ever-living Christ, accompanied by the prayer of the Church, His spouse. The effect of this double prayer is proportionate to our fervor, and he who unites himself with it to the best of his ability is sure to obtain the most abundant graces for himself and those dear to him.
According to St. Thomas and many theologians, the effects of the Mass which relate to us are limited only by the measure of our fervor.(10) The reason for this is that the influence of a universal cause is limited only by the capacity of the subjects that receive it. Thus the sun equally illumines and warms a thousand persons as well as it does one at one place. Now the Sacrifice of the Mass, being substantially the same as that of the cross, is, in its aspect as reparation and prayer, a universal cause of graces of light, attraction, and strength. Its influence on men is, therefore, limited only by the dispositions or the fervor of those who receive it. Thus a single Mass can be as profitable for a great number of persons as if it were offered for one alone among them; just as the sacrifice of the cross was not less profitable to the good thief than if it had been offered for him alone. If the sun warms a thousand persons at one place as well as a single one, the influence of the Mass, the source of spiritual warmth, is certainly not less in its order. The greater the faith, confidence, piety, and love, with which one assists at it, the greater are the fruits he draws from it.
All that we have said shows us why the saints, in the light of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, have always so greatly appreciated the Sacrifice of the Mass. Some, although infirm and ill, dragged themselves to Mass because it is worth more than all treasures. On her way to Chinon, St. Joan of Arc importuned her companions in arms and, by dint of persistent entreaty, wrung from them a promise to assist daily at Mass. St. Germaine Cousin was so strongly attracted toward the church when she heard the bell announcing the Holy Sacrifice that she would leave her sheep in the care of the angels and run to assist at Mass: and her flock was always well guarded. The holy Cure of Ars spoke of the value of the Mass with such conviction that practically all of his parishioners assisted at it. Many other saints shed tears of love or fell into ecstasy during the Eucharistic sacrifice; some saw our Lord Himself, the principal Priest, in the place of the celebrant. Others, at the elevation of the chalice, saw the precious blood overflow, as if it were going to pour out over the arms of the priest into the sanctuary, and angels come with golden chalices to catch it, as if to carry it wherever there are men to be saved. St. Philip Neri, who received graces of this kind, used to celebrate Mass with only his server present, because of the raptures that often seized him at the altar.
What St. Thomas says about attention in vocal prayer may be applied to assistance at Mass: "There are three kinds of attention that can be brought to vocal prayer: one which attends to the words, lest we say them wrong; another which attends to the sense of the words; and a third which attends to the end of prayer, namely, God, and to the thing we are praying for. This last kind of attention is most necessary, and even uneducated persons are capable of it. Moreover, this attention, whereby the mind is fixed on God, is sometimes so strong that the mind forgets everything else." (11)
We may use different ways to assist well at Mass, with faith, confidence, true piety, and love. We can be attentive to the liturgical prayers, which are generally beautiful and full of unction, elevation, and simplicity. We can also recall the passion and death of the Savior, of which the Mass is the memorial, and think of ourselves as standing at the foot of the cross with Mary, John, and the holy women. Again, we can apply ourselves to rendering to God, in union with Christ, the four duties that are the ends of the sacrifice: adoration, reparation, petition, and thanksgiving.(12) Provided we pray, even while piously saying the Rosary, we assist fruitfully at Mass. We may, like St. Jane de Chantal and many saints, with great profit continue our mental prayer during the Mass, especially if we are inclined to a pure and intense love, somewhat like St. John resting on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper.
But whatever way we follow the Mass, one important point must be insisted upon. We must, above all, unite ourselves profoundly with the oblation of Christ, the principal Priest; with Him we must offer Him to His Father, remembering that this oblation pleases God more than all sins displease Him. We should offer ourselves also more profoundly each day; offer particularly the trials and contradictions that we already have to bear and those that may present themselves in the course of the day. Thus at the offertory the priest says: "In spiritu humilitatis et in animo contrito suscipiamur a te, Domine."
The author of The Imitation rightly insists on this point. He has Christ say: "As I willingly offered Myself to God the Father for thy sins, with My hands stretched out upon the cross, even so oughtest thou willingly to offer thyself to Me daily in the Mass, as intimately as thou canst with thy whole energies and affections, for a pure and holy oblation. . . . Whatsoever thou givest except thyself, I regard not; for I seek not the gift but thyself. . . . But if thou wilt stand upon self, and not offer thyself freely to My will, thy offering is not complete, nor will there be an entire union between us." (13)
In the following chapter, the faithful soul replies: "Lord, in the simplicity of my heart, I offer myself to Thee this day, as Thy servant for evermore. . . . Receive me with this sacred oblation of Thy precious body. . . . I offer also to Thee all my good works, though very few and imperfect, that Thou mayest amend and sanctify them. . . . I offer to Thee also all the pious desires of devout persons; the necessities of my parents, friends, brothers, sisters, and all those that are dear to me. . . . I offer up also to Thee prayers and this sacrifice of propitiation for them in particular who have in any way injured me or have inflicted upon me any hurt or injury; and for all those likewise whom I have at any time grieved, troubled, oppressed, or scandalized, by words or deeds, knowingly or unknowingly; that it may please Thee to forgive us all our sins and mutual offenses. . . '. Grant us so to live that we may be worthy to enjoy Thy grace and that we may attain unto life everlasting." (14)
The Mass thus understood is a fruitful source of sanctification, of ever new graces; by it Christ's prayer may be better realized for us daily: "The glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as We also are one: I in them, and Thou in Me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast also loved Me." (15)
Our visit to the Blessed Sacrament should remind us of the morning's
Mass, and we should call to mind that though there is no sacrifice,
properly so called, for it ceases with the Mass, Christ really present
in the tabernacle continues to adore, to pray, and to give thanks. At
every hour of the day we ought to unite ourselves to our Savior's
oblation. As the prayer to the Eucharistic heart says: "He is patient
in waiting for us, eager to hear and grant our prayers. He is the
fountain of ever new graces, the refuge of the hidden life, the master
of the secrets of divine union." In the presence of the tabernacle,
we ought "to be silent in order to listen to Him, and leave ourselves
in order to lose ourselves in Him."
1. Sess. XXII, chaps. 1 f.
2. Likewise the humanity of Christ remains numerically the same, but since His resurrection it is impassible, whereas before that it was subject to sorrow and death.
3. "The exterior sacrifice is in the nature of a sign, as a sign of the interior sacrifice."
4. Heb. 7:25.
5. Homil. LX to the people of Antioch.
6. Livre de ses visions et instructions, chap 67.
7. Cf. St Thomas, IIIa, q.48, a.2: "He properly atones for an offense who offers something which the offended one loves equally or even more than the detested the offense."
8. Cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, chap. 11: "Huius quippe oblatione placatus Dominus, gratiam et donum poenitentiae concedens, crimina et peccata etiam ingentia dimittit."
10. Cf. St Thomas, IIIa, q.79, a. 5, a.7 ad 2um, where he says that there is no other limit indicated than that of the measure of our devotion:"secundum quantitatem seu modum devotionis eorum" (ei.e., fidelium) Cajetan, In Illam, q. 79, a.5. John of St Thomas, In Illam, dis. 32, a.3. Gonet, Clypeus . . . De Eucharistia, disp. 11,a.5 no. 100. Salmanicenses, De Eucharistia, disp XIII, dub. 6. We completely disagree with what has been written on this subject by Father de la Taille, Esquisse du mystere de la foi (Paris, 1924), p.22.
11. Cf IIa IIae, q.83, a.13.
12. The first part of the Mass up to the Offertory inspires us with sentiments of penanace and contrition (Confiteor, Kyrie eleison), of adoration and gratitude (Gloria in excelsis), of petition (collect), of living faith (Epistle, Gospel, Credo), in order to prepare us for the offering of the holy Victim, which is followed by Communion and thanksgiving.
13. The Imitation, Bk. IV, chap. 8.
14. Ibid., chap. 9.
15. John 17:22 f.