Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday: Mass of the Pre-Sanctified

Today's Pre-Sanctified Mass is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, liturgical rites in the Roman Church. A "Mass" without a consecration, it follows the pattern of liturgy that pre-dates even St. Gregory the Great, to whom this particular day's ceremony is attributed: readings, collects for the needs of the Church, the Eucharist, and Vespers. This day is not Church theater or ritual for its own sake. This is worship of the God of all Who died for all.

The priest and his two deacons, who wear folded chasubles rather than dalmatics, prostrate themselves before the altar for enough time to pray psalm 50, the Miserere, in silence, while servers spread a cloth on the altar. Like at Mass, the crucifix and candles remain on the altar, though unlit.

A lector sings a prophecy of the prophet Osee (or Hosea, in the Hebrew spelling), which foretells the suffering, burial, and third day rising of Christ. Then the subdeacon sings chapter 12 of the book of Exodus, which recounts the manner in which the finest lambs were killed during the first Passover in Egypt. This sacrifice liberated the Israelites from the bondage of the Pharoah. The sacrifice of the perfect victim, Christ, liberated the world from the bondage of death. God does not want a sacrifice because He wants things to be destroyed. A true sacrifice is the gift of what is precious to one's self unto another. This was the intent of the Israelites in Egypt, and more so on the Cross. A tract, psalm 139, is sung: Eripe me Domine ab homine malo—"Deliver me, Oh Lord, from the wicked man!"

Three deacons then sing the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John, beginning with His arrest in the Garden and ending just after His death on the Cross. The deacon of the "Mass" removes his folded chasuble, as at Mass, and sings the burial of Christ as the Gospel, suggesting that this, not the general narrative, is the most important text of the day.

Priest and subdeacon listen to the Passion.

Then deacon, now wearing the "broad stole," returns to the other ministers. Returning to the epistle corner, the priest sings the Solemn Collects, some of the oldest continuously used prayers in the Church. Moreover, these prayers give us some indication as to what the structure of the Mass was like in the mid-first millennium and for what those Christians prayed. There is a preface to announce the prayer intention, followed by Oremus—"let us pray," Flectamus genua—"Let us kneel," and Levate—"Let us stand" before the actual prayer itself.

The prayer intentions were:
  • For the welfare of the Church universal
  • For the Pope
  • For the clergy, people in religious life, virgins, and widows
  • For the enlightenment of the catechumens and the remission of their sins
  • For the cleansing of the world of errors
  • For the rescue of heretics and schismatics
  • For the conversion of the Jews
  • For the end of idolatry and conversion of the pagans
No genuflection was made during the prayer for the Jews. A genuflection was added by Pope John XXIII in the revised rite of Holy Week in 1959, although John XXIII seems to have continued to celebrate the old Good Friday in the Sistine Chapel!

The prayer that caused so much consternation is as follows:
Orémus et pro pérfidis Iudaeis: ut Deus et Dóminus noster áuferat velámen de córdibus eórum; ut et ipsi agnóscant Iesum Christum, Dóminum nostrum.
Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, qui étiam iudáicam perfídiam a tua misericórdia non repéllis: exáudi preces nostras, quas pro illíus pópuli obcæcatióne deférimus; ut, ágnita veritátis tuæ luce, quæ Christus est, a suis ténebris eruántur. Per eundem Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Unlike the other solemn intercessions on Good Friday the clergy and people make no genuflection between the announcement of the intention and the actual collect. 
Initially I did not think this prayer bigoted, but I did consider it unnecessarily inflammatory given the use of the term "pro perfidis Iudaeis." That all changed when then-Pope Benedict issued a shiny new prayer for the Jews to be used during 1962 rite Good Friday services. A friend of mine reacted positively to the new prayer, saying it brought us away from "tribal hate" and towards a more brotherly outlook on our antecedent religion. At this point I began to re-consider my position. Benedict's prayer, although different from the traditional one, at least asks for conversion, in stark contrast to the vague platitude in the Pauline Missal's Holy Week.

The first clue in my re-evaluation was the true contextual meaning of that term "perfidis," which does not mean "perfidious" in the modern understanding (wretched, wicked, evil), but rather "faithless." This ought not be anti-Semitic. It is merely a deduction. Anyone who does not believe in Christ lacks proper faith.

The next, and most profound, point makes the loss of this prayer a liturgical, historical, and theological travesty. The intention asks that God might "remove the veil from their hearts," which the collect proper continues to petition that the Jews might "acknowledge the light of Your Truth, Which is Christ" and that they may be "rescued from their darkness." To understand the deeper meaning and truth of this prayer we must recall what happened at the end of the Crucifixion.

"Jesus, when He had taken the vinegar, said: 'It is consummated.' And bowing His head he gave up the ghost" (John 19:30). In tract 119 St. Augustine writes "What, but all that prophecy had foretold so long before? And then, because nothing now remained that still required to be done before He died, as if He, who had power to lay down His life and to take it up again, had at length completed all for whose completion He was waiting." Our Lord's death on the Cross completes everything the Father promised in the Old Covenant and which He appointed His Son to do for our sake. The prophecies and promises are, at this point, fulfilled. Fulfillment, in the Church, does not mean something finished. Rather it means something brought to fruition.

Consequently, the covenant God made with the Jews did not vanish entirely, but became something else, something greater and, as the angel told the shepherds when He was born, a great thing "for all peoples" (Luke 2). The God Who dwelt only among the Jews and Who only revealed His intentions to them and Who only acted among them now dwells and reveals Himself and acts among all people and for the good of all. "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22), but not limited to the Jews. The Old Covenant, now something greater, ends as it was. The Temple veil "was rent in two from the top even to the bottom" (Matthew 27:51). The veil, which concealed the awesome qualitative presence of God within the Temple, is entirely torn when a new, and greater, covenant is sealed in the Blood of Christ. Here is a New Covenant for all people. God, no longer hidden behind the Temple veil, is now accessible to all people. St. Paul reflects on this in his epistle to the Hebrews (9:1-8):

"The former indeed had also justifications of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made the first, wherein were the candlesticks, and the table, and the setting forth of loaves, which is called the holy. And after the second veil, the tabernacle, which is called the holy of holies: Having a golden censer, and the ark of the testament covered about on every part with gold, in which was a golden pot that had manna, and the rod of Aaron, that had blossomed, and the tables of the testament. And over it were the cherubims of glory overshadowing the propitiatory: of which it is not needful to speak now particularly. Now these things being thus ordered, into the first tabernacle the priests indeed always entered, accomplishing the offices of sacrifices. But into the second, the high priest alone, once a year: not without blood, which he offereth for his own, and the people' s ignorance: The Holy Ghost signifying this, that the way into the holies was not yet made manifest, whilst the former tabernacle was yet standing."

We have come halfway to understanding the significance of the older Good Friday prayer, but only halfway.

What does a veil, curtain, or wall do? It keeps something concealed, but also protects that something from exterior elements, usually light. Our Lord said "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). The Jewish leaders persuaded the crowds gathered in the Roman praetorium to reject Jesus and ask for the release of a bad man. After dissolving themselves of the Savior promised to them Jerusalem fell and the Temple, the place of God's covenant with them, burned to the ground. What survived was not Judaism in the pre-Christian sense, but a new sort of Judaism meant for scattered local communities and based on the Jewish people's experiences as the minority in an increasingly Christian world (the so-called "modernist" George Tyrrell wrote an interesting letter on this subject, concluding that Catholicism is the real continuation of Judaism). Rabbis replaced priests; synagogues replaced the Temple; and the Talmud became a new holy book to the Jewish people rather than the New Testament books. This reformed, leaner Judaism would help Jewish culture survive its coming difficulties and would also insulate Jewish people from the light of Christ—as it was founded partially in reaction to what Christ did. When the Father tore down the Temple veil to reveal Christ's light to all a new veil ascended to shield that light.

No one should conclude that this is anti-Semitic. Fr. Hunwicke points out that Arabs are Semites, too. This prayer is about Judaism, not Jews as an ethnic group. On some level the concepts "faithless" persons and of hiding the light of Christ with a "veil" applies to all non-believers. And yet the Jewish people, given their unique place in the chain of event that led to Christ's Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection, surely warrant a unique place in the liturgical prayers, particularly given their once exclusive covenant with God.

I have never felt comfortable with the description of practitioners of post-Temple Judaism as our "older brothers" in the faith, given that the Judaism which preceded Catholicism no longer exists. I suspect the shift in attitude towards Judaism and the eventual revision of this prayer results from [humanly understandable] European guilt that followed the Holocaust. The pope who initially altered this prayer (John XXIII) aided Pius XII's efforts to obstruct deportations of Jews in Turkey. The pope who introduced the 1970 prayer (Paul VI) served the same Pius XII as his secretary during the War. And the pope who issued a new prayer for the 1962 Missal (Benedict XVI) was a young German man during the War and who, certainly, has a greater cultural association with the Holocaust than the other two.

And yet I maintain that the loss of this prayer is something worthy of re-consideration. It contains a wealth of lessons about covenants, the meaning of the Crucifixion, the openness of Christ's grace, and the danger of veiling Christ's light. During the first fourteen or so centuries, or more, of this prayer's use no one decided to attempt mass extermination of the Jewish people. Hitler's anti-Semitism had nothing to do with Catholicism. His was a neo-pagan, racially-based hatred steeped in the eugenicist delusions pervading secular culture in the early 20th century—not that modern "intellectuals" have disowned the spirit of this delusion. Axing this prayer added very little and pushed aside very much.

The ministers, probably for mobility in ancient times, remove their outer-most vestments and the deacon retrieves the veiled crucifix from the altar and gives it to the priest. The priest, beginning at the bottom of the epistle side, steps higher and towards the center of the altar, unveiling part of the crucifix and singing Ecce lignum crucis—"Behold the wood of the cross"—as he rises. The people respond In quo salus mundi pependit. Venite, adoremus!—"On which hung the salvation of the world. Come, let us adore!"

This happens three times, after which the entire crucifix is visible. It is then laid upon a pillow or cloth and adored by the people. First the priest, then the ministers of the service, then any other present clergy, and the servers. They all adore barefoot. Then the congregation adores, making three prostrations before their kiss of the cross.

Although the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified supposedly died in 1956 under Pope Pius XII, John XXIII continued to use it in the Sistine Chapel, as seen in this 1959 celebration.

Ecce lingum crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit.

Venite, adoremus!

Whilst the laity make their adoration, the altar is prepared for the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified and the choir sings the Reproaches, which includes the Trisagion.

The crucifix is then placed upon the altar, where it would normally go, and is reverenced with a genuflection for the rest of the day.

The clergy, and laity if they wish, process to the altar of repose, where the Blessed Sacrament has been over night.

The Sacrament is then incensed by the priest, who assumes the hummeral veil and takes the Sacrament back to the main altar.

This is a full Blessed Sacrament procession, with incense and the processional cross carried before the priest and the Sacrament. The great hymn Vexilla Regis is sung.

The procession returns to the main altar.

The deacon arranges the chalice and its veil, containing the Sacrament, as it would be at Mass.

The Blessed Sacrament is then incensed by the celebrant.

The subdeacon prepares the chalice with wine and water, as he would at Mass and the "Gifts" are incensed in the same way they would have been at a regular Mass. The priest turns to the people and says the Orate, fratres... ("Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours....) as at Mass.

One English friend of mine always insisted that the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified is indeed an actual Mass. He had something of a point. Its prayers are those of a Mass. It is not a simple communion service. Although there is no consecration of the Host, the actions imitate those of a Mass in order to emphasize the relation between the Mass and Calvary, that they are one and the same sacrifice of Christ.

The celebrant then sings the Pater Noster, "Our Father," and elevates the Host for public adoration as he would after consecration at Mass. He then fractures the Host as at Mass and mingles a fragment of the Blessed Sacrament with wine. Liturgical reformers particularly disliked the pious medieval belief that the fragment consecrated the wine into the blood of Christ (which Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox still believe).

The union between the offering of the Body and Blood here and the same sacrifice that took place on the Cross cannot be emphasized enough. There are two reasons why no active consecration takes place here: the first is that the Eucharistic (which comes from the Greek word for "thanksgiving") has a celebratory character to it, which makes it ill suited for today; the other is that today the priest is less an agent of Christ, in persona Christi, than the rest of the year. Today Christ does everything. He offers Himself on His own and by His own accord. So the priest elevates the Sacrament as at Mass both for adoration of the people and to parallel the same work of Christ that takes place at a normal Mass.

The priest then says the communion prayers of Mass and consumes the Host as normal. He consumes the chalice's contents saying nothing, leaving some mystery as to whether consecration occurred or not!

Today the congregation and attending clergy do not and cannot receive Holy Communion. As we have the Real Presence one could say that today we have the Real Loss. The gravity of this Loss is lost on us today. For one day out of the year there is no Blessed Sacrament, there are no holy images, there are no candles, nor is there any vibrant color. All there is after the Pre-Sanctified Mass is the Crucifix. One is reminded of Cordellia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited lamenting the de-consecration of the family chapel during which a visiting priest consumed the Sacrament and took the altar stone and relic with him. Cordellia asked Charles must "every day be Good Friday?" As a matter of principle when I attend the Pauline Good Friday I do not receive Communion. Doing so misses the point today.

Before monstrances and private receptions on Communion, the Roman Eucharistic praxis saw the presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the altar as perpetuating His very real place on earth. In his second sermon on the Ascension of the Lord, St. Leo the Great preached that "that which till then was visible of our Redeemer was changed into a sacramental presence, and that faith might be more excellent and stronger, sight gave way to doctrine, the authority of which was to be accepted by believing hearts enlightened with rays from above." Laurence Hemming connects the Roman Eucharistic theology with the liturgy of the Ascension, when the Paschal candle is extinguished after the Gospel and the remaining candles in the church are lit from the fire, diffusing Christ's light from one source to many places; similarly, the Pope used to send fragments of the Eucharist from his Masses to other parishes of Rome to emphasize the Communion of the bishop with the city and clergy; perhaps most shocking to modern readers is that it was common practice for believers to bring Holy Communion home in a muslin bag and consume it prior to family supper, bringing Christ's presence from the altar to the Christian's home.

The middle ages witnessed a shift in liturgical action, not necessarily one in outlook. Medieval piety valued stillness, shocking the believer, staring at the presence of God before him. Out of this was born the elevation of the consecrated elements during the Canon of the Mass. Perhaps a more dynamic development was that of processions, most apparent in the Norman liturgical family during Holy Week. In Sarum the Eucharist was carrying by the priest, presumably in a pyx, during the Palm Sunday procession; in spiritual eyes Christ's refusal of entry into Jerusalem and triumphant crossing through the door truly was relived; similarly, a host was buried in the sepulcher after the corpus was deposed from the crucifix on Good Friday only to be removed and placed back in the tabernacle for the Resurrection. 

The Mass of the Presanctified fits into this story. One Good Friday no one save the celebrant has anything to do with Communion. In the Holy Temple Christ's Real Presence vanishes. In practice some hosts would be reserved in case of emergency last rites, usually in the rectory or in a side chapel in the church; in these cases, however, no reverence is traditionally rendered to the Sacrament until Pascha.

The priest purifies his fingers and the subdeacon cleans the chalice as normal at Mass.

Vespers, the same as yesterday except for the addition of mortem autem crucis ("even unto death on a cross") to versicle and a proper Magnificat antiphon, are chanted in a monotone immediately.

The clergy then leave in silence unless they intend to follow the custom of deposing the corpus from a Crucifix and "burying" it in a sepulcher, a medieval practice which is still alive and well in parts of England, Poland, and the Byzantine rite. One such ceremony, at the monastery of the Franciscans who care for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, is shown below.

This marvelous rite was replaced with a general communion services. The revised rites, from 1956 until 1969, involved a maddening three changes of vestments. Prayers and readings, in both the 1956 rite and the Pauline rite, take place at the chair, the altar, at a podium, and any where else you can find. Odd.

A blessed Good Friday to you all.

For those interested here is a video of the first third or so of the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified celebrated as a pontifical Mass from the Faldstool.

A blessed Good Friday to all.


  1. In the Gelasian sacramentary, here's how it goes.
    First Deus a quo, then reading and responsorial psalm.
    Then Deus, qui peccati veteris, reading and responsorial psalm.
    Then follows the Passion and solemn intercession.
    Then the deacon would go to the sacristy to take both Body and Blood of the Lord to the altar. The priest then adores and kisses the Cross before the altar, proceeds with Lord's Prayer and Embolism, communicates and then the people adore and kiss the Cross and communicate.

    In OR1 (PL 78, 953-954), there are some changes.
    First there is a reading, with responsorial psalm (Domine audivi).
    Then Deus a quo, a second reading and tract Qui habitat or Eripe me.
    Then follows the Passion and solemn intercession.
    Then there is adoration and osculation of the Cross. And after that there is only Body brought and the wine is unconsecrated. Then follows Lord's Prayer and Embolism, and communion.

    One can see how the rites evolved.
    The classical rite certainly keeps the all the order and details of Ordo, but ofc., it adds the offertory prayers.

    1. In OR1, might i add, the people communicate too.

    2. Yes. Also we ought to keep in mind when considering these traditions that Holy Week rites came over from Jerusalem mid-to-late first millennium and so their development into their stable forms is a bit staggered and later than those of the general traditions and dioceses to which they belonged. I believe last year you found some Eastern European Missals which still permitted general Communion during the Presanctified Mass, which I find to be an interesting fragment of history—a distant remnant of the "aliturgical" days!

    3. I don't recall. It was maybe Pulex here

  2. I wonder if the "no communion for the laity" aspect of the traditional Good Friday liturgy isn't a little over-emphasized by us moderns. Until the 20th century or so, general communion at Mass wasn't common...

  3. I don't think we do over-emphasize the lack of general Communion on Good Friday in the old rite. Although general Communion at Mass was uncommon, Communion services outside of Mass were not and in principle Communion both within and outside of Mass were permitted on every day but Good Friday, when only the celebrating priest and any dying in need of Viaticum could communicate. The underlying principle may be hidden by infrequent Communion, but it is definitely there.