Before Holy Mass

So I’m reading this FANTASTIC book, A Sense of the Sacred, by James Monti. It’s all about Catholic worship in the “Middle Ages.” * How enlightening and awe-inspiring it is! I wish we still did Catholic worship in all those ways I’ve been reading about. Sure, I like indoor plumbing, and people living to 80 and no Bubonic Plague, but they sure got Holy Mass and the Sacraments right back in those days!

Only short way into this vast volume–the book is 700 pages, and it weighs 2 and 1/2 pounds–I have just discovered what it used to be like before Holy Mass began. People would pray, and the priest would pray, and it was incredible.

Everyone got it, back then. When priests were about to celebrate Mass, they would pray to be pure in body and mind that they might offer the Sacrifice worthily. As they vested, they prayed a separate prayer for putting on each vestment. Piece by piece, they prepared their bodies outwardly, and asked God to prepare their souls: each vestment symbolized a different virtue that the priest requested of God to help him worthily offer Mass. In those times, each Holy Mass was seen as a battle of good against evil, with the priest standing in the person of Christ battling the Devil, and so the vestments were like armor for him, too. Thinking further of the vestments in relation to Christ, each one was also understood to be analogous to each of the garments Our Lord wore during His Passion: this brought the priest to an even greater understanding of what God did through him during the celebration of the Mass. What would it be like if our priests prayed and thought like this today?

The people had prayers before Mass, too–and public ones, at that. Retained until the 1970s, the ancient prayers were the beautiful Asperges Me and the Vidi Aquam prayed during Eastertide. Together the congregation prayed while they were sung, and the people were sprinkled with Holy Water to prepare their hearts and minds for the Mysteries they would shortly witness.

Thou wilt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed.

Thou wilt wash me, and I shall be washed whiter than snow.

Pity me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Thou wilt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed.

Thou wilt wash me, and I shall be washed whiter than snow.

Pity me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.

Isn’t this one of the most beautiful things you have ever heard? You can find the sheet music at the Church Music Association of America site, and the score and an MP3 file right at the top of this page under the video.

I urge you–learn this piece! If you learn to sing it as a family, you can chant it together in front of your Home Altar before you leave for Holy Mass on Sunday mornings. In the church, you can each pray the words quietly right before the Mass begins, and meditate on the immensity of what is about to happen in the sanctuary. Loving the Mass more and more, you will raise up a family ready for the service of God, who has given His Greatest Gift to us within the Blessed Sacrament through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


* The reason for the quotation marks is because I am reading another fantastic book (Those Terrible Middle Ages, by Régine Pernoud) that says to never use these words seriously, and always put quotes around them. There was nothing “Middle” about these times, really.


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  1. Pingback: OWAB/Review: Memorize the Faith | St. Catherine Catholic Culture Center

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