30 June 2009

The Preparatory Prayers

While I usually attend the Ordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I am also very much a proponent of the Extraordinary Form. It’s hard to ignore wonderful reflections as these on the Preparatory Prayers, something that is not part of the Ordinary Form of the Liturgy. These were written by a Roman Catholic priest as he reflects on the Tridentine Liturgy. The prayers reflected upon can be found here.

Preparation of the People
The preparation of the people is subdivided into two parts, the penitential and instructive parts.

The Penitential Subdivision
Robed in his sacerdotal garments, the priest, entrusted with the most august and most redoubtable ministry, proceeds with humility and awe to the foot of the altar, where he is to consummate the great act that reconciles heaven and earth.

Of all the dispositions with which we should approach the altar of God, humility and contrition of heart are the most essential. Woe to that man who encompasses the altar of God and is present at the august Sacrifice, without feeling a regret for his sins, and a desire to be freed from them!

Wherefore, the priest commences the Mass at the foot of the altar; he does not presume to ascend to it till he has first humbled himself before God, and implored His mercy and forgiveness. Like the publican, he stands afar off, striking his breast, and acknowledging his unworthiness.

The priest commences by making on himself the Sign of the Cross, together with an express invocation of the Most Holy Trinity; because it is in the name and in honor of the Holy Trinity that he is about to renew the Sacrifice of Christ’s Passion and Death.

He then recites, alternately with the ministers, the forty-second Psalm, which is one of preparation to the Sacrifice, and which was used during the Mosaic dispensation.

This Psalm encourages him, notwithstanding his unworthiness, not to be dejected, but to put his confidence in God, and to approach His altar with a cheerful heart; because the Almighty, Who is our salvation, will make glad the hearts of all who confess to Him, and put their trust in Him. He implores the assistance of the Almighty against his enemies; he reproves his soul for being disheartened, while it ought to trust in God; and finally, he prays to God to illuminate and console him. The priest recites this alternately with the ministers of the people, because the people, as well as the priest, should excite themselves to approach the altar with faith and confidence.

The Confiteor
While at the foot of the altar, the priest, though encouraging himself not to be dejected, but to put his confidence in God, does not lose sight of his unworthiness. He therefore makes, together with the people, a general and public confession of his sins.

In the old law, previously to the offering up of sacrifice, a general confession of his sins was required by the high priest. An acknowledgement of sins is still more necessary in the new law, as a preparation for the Sacrifice.

The formulary of confession of sins, used by the Church, consists of two parts: in the former, we confess to the Almighty, and to the whole court of heaven, that we have sinned exceedingly in every way, in thought, word and deed; and in the latter part, we appeal to the whole court of heaven, to pray to the Almighty, to obtain of Him for us the remission of our sins. This confession is mutually made, by both priest and people; they repeat the prayer, which contains an avowal of the sins of which they are guilty. It is first made by the priest, because he should set the example of those holy dispositions, and testify and acknowledge that he stands in need of the same indulgence which he solicits for others. Conscious of his unworthiness, and of the holiness of the function which he is about to perform, He calls on God for His assistance, saying: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”

He thus commences (with the Confiteor).

Explanation of the Confiteor
I accuse myself, in the presence of Almighty God, of all the injustices of my past life. Not only does he confess to God, and to the spirits of the just made perfect, who at the last day shall sit in judgment on us, but also to his fellow creatures on earth. The angels and saints have been witnesses of his sins; he therefore acknowledges his guilt in their presence, that he may conciliate their intercession. First, he makes this confession to the most merciful of Virgins, who herself never knew the least defilement of sin; to an archangel, who triumphed over the chief of the rebellious spirits and over his followers; to the Baptist, the most holy of men, who was the friend of the Spouse; to the two chief apostles, Saints Peter and Paul, the most powerful of all the saints upon earth, who were vested with the power of binding and unbinding consciences; and lastly, to all the saints, the friends of God, and to his brethren on earth.

Striking his breast, in imitation of the publican, who by his humility before God, he says, “through my fault,” for I have had so many motives and means of avoiding sin; “through my fault,” my perversity has alone been the cause of my sins; I do not attribute them to either the occasions of sin, or to the violence of temptation; “through my most grievous fault,” my sins are most grievous, owing to the obligations of my baptism, and to the great and numerous graces that, in preference to many others, I have received from God.

The second part of the Confiteor consists of an invocation of all the angels and saints to pray to God for him.

Sinking under the burden of his sins, he says: Shall I despair? God forbid! Religion inspires me with other sentiments; it commands me to pray, and to invoke all the angels and saints, that they may pray to God in my behalf. I no longer presume to address God directly; I confine myself to entreating all the saints of heaven, and my brethren on earth, who have been witnesses of my sins, to become my intercessors with my Lord and my God.

By means of this general confession of sins, made by both priest and people, a sort of concert, a kind of unison of sighs and tears is established.

The two absolving prayers, Misereatur and Indulgentiam, which immediately follow the Confiteor, these prayers, I say, are not authoritative, but supplicatory prayers, being used in the same sense by both priest and people; for in them the priest makes himself a part of the people.

With short and energetic expressions do the priest and his ministers terminate the prayers which detain them at the foot of the altar.

Thus the devotion with which the faithful ought to be occupied while the priest remains at the foot of the altar, is chiefly to excite themselves to sorrow for their sins, which render them unworthy to be present at the Sacrifice, and earnestly to beseech the Almighty to remove the cause of their unworthiness. They should then particularly implore the grace of God, which alone can discover to them the malice of sin, and obtain for them true repentance.

The last words which the priest pronounces at the foot of the altar, are Dominus Vobiscum; by which he prays that Christ may be in the midst of them, that the Spirit of God may repose on them, that He would grant them the spirit of prayer, and the dispositions of fervor and repentance, so necessary to obtain the objects of their supplications.