DEVOUT METHOD OF HEARING MASS
It was the opinion of Chrysostom (Homil. 3, incomp. Dei. Nat.), in harmony with that which has just been taught in the preceding instruction, and his opinion was confirmed by St. Gregory in the fourth of his Dialogues, that while holy Mass is being celebrated by the priest, the heavens open and there descend from the empyrean many bands of Angels to assist at the Divine sacrifice. St. Nilus the Abbot, disciple of the aforesaid St. John Chrysostom, avers of that holy Doctor of the Church that, while celebrating, he saw about the altar a great multitude of those heavenly spirits, assisting the sacred ministers in their holy function. Behold, then, the most proper method of assisting with fruit at holy Mass. Go to the church as if you were going to Calvary, and behave yourself before the altar as before the throne of God, in company with the holy Angels. See what modesty, what reverence, what attention, are requisite from us in order that we may carry away the fruit and the blessings which Almighty God is wont to bestow on him who honors with devout demeanor these sacred mysteries.
II. We read that while the sacrifices of the Old Law were being offered by the Jews, sacrifices in which was offered nothing greater than bulls, lambs, and other animals, it was admirable to behold with what diligence, decorum, and silence the whole people assisted; and although there were numbers innumerable of those attending, besides the seven hundred ministers who sacrificed, yet, with all this, it seemed as if the temple were empty, not the very slightest noise, not even a breath, being heard. Now, if so much respect and so much veneration were practised toward those sacrifices which, after all, were only a mere shadow, a simple figure of ours, what silence, what devotion, what attention, does not holy Mass deserve, in which the Immaculate Lamb Himself, the Divine Word, is offered for us in sacrifice! Well did the glorious St. Ambrose understand this, who, as Cesarius narrates (1. 2. Mirac. c. 40), while celebrating holy Mass, used, after reading the Gospel, to turn round to the people, exhort all to devout recollection, and enjoin a most rigorous silence, not only to the extent of abstaining from the slightest syllable, but also from coughing, moving, and every sort of sound. He was obeyed, and whoever assisted at his Mass used to feel ravished by a holy dread, and was interiorly moved so as to carry away great fruit and much increase of grace.
III. Such, too, is the object of this little work, which has no higher pretension than to move those who shall be pleased to read it to embrace with fervor of spirit the practice and method of hearing holy Mass, which has now been described. And since the methods of assisting at holy Mass which have hitherto been taught are so various, and all so devout and holy, as we see in the many little books sent to press with this view, to the great profit of the faithful, I mean to do no violence to your choice, but leave you to choose that which shall seem most agreeable to your devout dispositions, and to your capacity. I shall only attempt the office of the angel guardian, and merely suggest to you the method which, according to my feeble judgment, may turn out the most useful and the least difficult. For this purpose I shall divide the common subject into three classes.
IV. The first method of hearing holy Mass is used by those who, book in hand, accompany with the utmost attention all the actions of the priest, repeat at each of these a vocal prayer, as laid down in the book, and thus pass the whole of Mass reading; and there is no doubt that if this be united with a right consideration of the sacred mysteries, it is a most excellent method of assisting at the holy sacrifice, and of great spiritual fruit. But as it involves an entire bondage, requiring the worshipper to attend to V. The second method of hearing holy Mass is that employed by those who dispense with books, who read nothing whatsoever during the time of the divine sacrifice, but fixing their mental eye, kindled by faith, on Jesus crucified, and leaning against the tree of the cross, gather its fruits in sweet contemplation, pass the whole time in devout interior recollection, and sweetly engage their minds in consideration of those sacred mysteries of the Passion of Jesus, which is not only represented, but is mystically carried out, in that holy sacrifice. It is certain that such, keeping their faculties gathered up in God, arrive at the exercise of heroic acts of faith, hope, charity, and other virtues; and there is no doubt that this mode of hearing Mass is much more profitable than the first, as well as more sweet and attractive. This was experienced by a good lay brother (Hom. in. Inquis.), who used to say that in hearing Mass he only read three letters. The first was black; that is to say, the consideration of his sins, which caused in him confusion and repentance, and thus he meditated from the beginning of Mass to the Offertory. The second was red; that is, the meditation on the Passion of Jesus, contemplating that most precious blood which Jesus shed for us on Calvary, when He suffered a death so bitter: and in this he engaged his mind till the Communion. The third was white; because, while the priest communicated, he united himself mentally with his Jesus in the sacrament, making a spiritual Communion, after which he remained all absorbed in God, thinking of the glory for which he hoped, as fruit of the divine sacrifice. This plain, simple soul heard Mass with much perfection; and I wish that all might learn from him a wisdom so sublime.
VI. The third method of hearing holy Mass with profit consists of a course between the two just now described, neither requiring you to read many vocal prayers, as is prescribed in the first, nor calling for a very elevated spirit of contemplation, such as is aimed at by those who follow the second. But if you consider it well, you will find it to be the one best conformed to the spirit of the Church, which enjoins that we unite our thoughts with those of the celebrant, who ought to offer the sacrifice for those four ends indicated in the preceding instruction, this being, according to the declaration of the Angelic Doctor, the most efficacious method of paying the four great debts owing by us to God. Now, since you yourself exercise in a certain manner the office of priest when you assist at Mass, you should be actuated as much as possible by consideration of these four ends; and this will be easy if you but practice during the time of Mass the four offerings, as they shall shortly be described. Here is the practical form clearly prepared for you. Carry for some time with you this little book, till you have quite learned the forms of offering, or at least have become thoroughly well imbued with their sense, since it is not important that you should cling particularly to the words; and so soon as Mass commences, while the priest humbles himself at the foot of the altar, saying the Confiteor, etc., do you then, after a brief self-examination, stir up your heart to true contrition, asking pardon of God for your sins, and beseeching the aid of the Holy Spirit, and the intercession of most blessed Mary, that you may hear this Mass with all reverence and devotion. Then divide it into four spaces of time, in order to pay during these, as follows, the four great obligations before mentioned.
VII. In the first part, which shall be from the beginning to the Gospel, you will strive to acquit yourself to the obligation of honoring and praising the majesty of that God Who is worthy of infinite honor and praise. Wherefore, humble yourself with Jesus, and plunge yourself down in thought into the depth of your nothingness; confess sincerely how wretched and how merely nothing you are before so immense a majesty; and thus humbled internally and externally, and remaining, as you ought throughout Mass, all modest and composed, repeat the following
“O my God, I adore Thee, and acknowledge Thee for my Lord, and for master of my soul. I protest that all I am, and all I have, are willingly acknowledged by me to be from Thee. And since Thy Supreme Majesty deserves infinite honor and homage, while I am but a poor, helpless being, utterly incapable of paying so great a debt, I offer up to Thee the humiliation and the homage which Jesus renders to Thee on the altar. That which Jesus does I purpose also to do. I humble, I abase myself, together with Him, before Thy Majesty. I adore Thee with the same humiliation which Jesus practises, and I rejoice and am glad that blessed Jesus should give to Thee, in my behalf, infinite honor and homage.”
Then close the book, and pursue the exercise of forming many such internal acts of joy, that God should thus be infinitely honored. Repeat, over and over again: “Yes, my God, I delight in the infinite honor which results to Thy Majesty from this holy sacrifice. I delight in it; I rejoice as much as I know how, as much as I can.” Nor be at all anxious to keep to the words just given, but make use of those which your devotion shall dictate while you remain all gathered up in, and united with, God. This will indeed be a happy fulfillment of the first of your obligations.
VIII. In the second interval, that is, from the Gospel to the Elevation, you will acquit yourself of the second obligation. Casting a brief glance and recognizing the immeasurable nature of your debt toward Divine Justice, say with humbled heart:
“Behold, my God, this traitor who hath so many times rebelled against Thee. Ah, me! pierced with grief, how I abominate and detest my heavy sins, while I offer for them that same satisfaction which Jesus offers on the altar. I offer to Thee all the merits of Jesus, all Jesus Himself, God and man, Who now, as an unbloody Victim, pleads anew for me His bloody sacrifice on the Cross. I offer all that He does on that altar as my Mediator and Advocate, imploring of Thee to pardon me through His most Precious Blood. I unite myself with the cry of that loving Blood, and I beseech of Thee mercy for my sins, so grievous and so many. The blood of Jesus cries for mercy; my pierced heart cries for mercy! Ah! dear God, if my tears move Thee not, let the groans of my Jesus move Thee; that mercy which He obtained for the whole human race on the Cross, why should He not obtain it for me on this altar? Yes, yes; I hope that, in virtue of that most Precious Blood, Thou wilt pardon all my most grievous transgressions, for which I shall persevere in weeping to the last breath of my life.”
Shutting the book, repeat many of these acts of true, intimate, and vehement contrition. Then give rein to your affections, and without sound of words, but within your heart, say to Jesus: “O dearest Jesus, give me the tears of Peter, the contrition of Magdalene, and the grief of those Saints who, once sinners, were afterward true penitents, in order that in this Mass I may obtain a general pardon of my sins.” Make many such acts, entirely gathered up in God, and be sure that in this way you will fully discharge the debt of your many sins.
IX. During the third space of time—–from the Elevation till Communion, stir your soul to wonder at the overflowing torrent of great and good gifts either bestowed on you or designed for you by God, and then offer to Him in return a gift of infinite value, that is, the Body and Blood of “See me, my most beloved God, laden with the benefits, both general and particular, which Thou deignest to bestow on me in time, and to store up for me in eternity. I know that Thy mercies toward me have been and are infinite, but yet I am ready to repay Thee all, even to the last farthing. Behold, I thank and repay Thee by this most Precious Body, this Divine Blood, this innocent Victim, which I present to Thee by the hands of Thy priest. I am certain that this offering which I make is sufficient to repay all the gifts Thou hast bestowed on me. This gift of infinite value is by itself worth all the gifts which I have received, which I do now receive, and am yet to receive from Thee. Ah, holy Angels, and all you beloved ones in Heaven, help me to thank my God, and to offer Him, in thanksgiving for such benefits, not only this but all the Masses which are being actually celebrated throughout the whole world, in order that His loving beneficiaries may remain fully recompensed for so many graces which he hath bestowed on me, which He is now about to bestow, and will bestow throughout eternal ages. Amen.”
Oh, how will our good God be pleased with thanks so affectionate! Oh, how satisfied will He remain with this sole offering—–worth all other offerings, since it is of infinite worth! And to stir yourself the more to feelings so devout, invite all heaven in like manner to employ itself for you; invoke all those saints to whom you feel the greatest devotion, and say to them, with the inner voice of your heart, “O dear ones, my very holy advocates, thank for me the goodness of my God, so that I may not live and die without utterance of my gratitude. Ah, beseech Him to accept the impulse of my heart, and to have regard to the loving thanks offered by my Jesus for me in this Mass.” Nor content yourself with speaking thus once only, but repeat it over and over again, and be assured that in this way, you will make great approaches toward satisfying this obligation. Still more will you succeed if every morning you make the Act of Offering which commences “Eternal God,” etc., (HERE) offering with this view all the Masses that are being celebrated at the time throughout the world.
X. In the fourth space of time—–from the Communion to the end—–after having made a spiritual Communion while the priest communicated sacramentally, in the manner which I shall suggest at the end of this chapter, look upon God Who is within you, and then summon up holy courage to ask of Him many graces, knowing that at that time Jesus unites Himself to you, and prays and supplicates—–yes, even He—–in your behalf; and therefore enlarge your heart, and do not ask things of small importance, but ask great graces, your offering being so great, namely, that of His Divine Son. Say to Him with a humble heart: “O my dearest God, too well I recognize myself as unworthy of Thy favors. I confess my supreme unworthiness, and that because of so many and so grievous sins I deserve not to be heard. But how shalt Thou be able to refuse attention to Thy Divine Son Who on yon altar prays for me, and offers to Thee, in my behalf, His life and His Blood? Ah, my God, my most beloved, hear the prayer of this my great Advocate, and for His sake grant me all the graces which Thou knowest to be necessary for accomplishing the great affair of my eternal salvation. And now that I take heart to ask of Thee a general pardon of all my sins, and the grace of final perseverance, I also ask of Thee, my God, trusting in the merits and intercession of my Jesus, all virtues in a heroic degree, and all the aids efficacious for making me a true Saint. I ask of Thee the conversion of all unbelievers and of all sinners, and particularly of those who belong to me by the ties of blood or by spiritual affinity. I beg of Thee the liberation, not of one soul only, but of all the souls in purgatory. Oh, bring them all out, so that, through the efficacy of this divine sacrifice, that prison where they are being rendered pure may become empty. Convert also all the souls of the living; may this miserable world become a paradise of delight for Thee, where, loved, reverenced, and praised in time by all of us, we may come afterward to praise and bless Thee for all eternity. Amen.”
Offer petitions also again and again for yourself, your children, your friends, relations, and acquaintance; ask help for all your needs, both spiritual and temporal; ask also the fulness of all good, and relief from all evils for holy Church: and do not ask any of these things with lukewarmness, but rather with a great confidence, making sure that your prayers, united with those of Jesus, shall indeed be heard. Then, holy Mass being ended, make an act of thanksgiving to God in the words, Agimus tibi gratias, etc.; and leave church with a contrite heart, as if you were coming down from Calvary.
Now tell me, if all the Masses which you have heard till now had been heard by you in this manner, with how many treasures would not you have enriched your soul? Oh, the loss you have suffered while you have been present at holy Mass, but looking here and there, observing who came in or went out; sometimes even talking, or being half asleep, or, at most, mumbling wretchedly a few vocal prayers without one whit of interior recollection. Resolve, then, to embrace this most sweet and easy way of hearing Mass with profit, which consists in paying the four great debts due to God, and be very sure that in a short time you will make an abundant acquisition of the rarest graces. After trying this plan, it will never again enter your mind to say, “A Mass more or less is of no consequence.”
XI. As for the way of making a spiritual Communion at the time when the priest communicates at Mass, as was alluded to above, it behooves one to know the doctrine laid down by the holy Council of Trent, which says that men may receive the Holy Sacrament in three manners: the first, only sacramentally; the second, only spiritually; the third, both sacramentally and spiritually. Here I shall not speak of the first, which is the Communion of those who communicate in a state of mortal sin, as Judas did, nor of the third, which is the case of those who really communicate, and do so in a state of grace; but I speak of the second, which, as the sacred Council says, is peculiar to those—–Qui voto propositum ilium caelestem Panem edentes, fide viva, quae per dilectionem operatur, fructum ejus, et utilitatem sentiunt (Sess. xiii. c. 8)—–“who not being able to receive sacramentally the body of the Lord, receive Him spiritually, with acts of living faith and fervent charity, and with a supreme desire of uniting themselves to that supreme good, thus rendering themselves capable of receiving the fruit of this Divine Sacrament.”
In order to facilitate a practice of such great excellence, ponder what I have to say. When the priest is about to give himself Communion in holy Mass, do you, keeping composed externally and internally, excite in your heart an act of true contrition, and humbly striking your breast, in token that you acknowledge yourself unworthy of so great a grace, make all those acts of love, of self-surrender, of humility, and the rest, which you are accustomed to make when you communicate sacramentally, and then desire with a lively longing to receive your good Jesus, veiled in the Sacrament for your benefit. And to kindle your devotion, imagine that most holy Mary, or some Saint, your holy advocate, is holding forth to you the sacred particle; figure yourself receiving it, and then, embracing Jesus in your heart, reply to Him, over and over again, with interior words prompted by love: “Come, Jesus, my beloved, come within this my poor heart; come and satiate my desires; come and sanctify my soul; come, most sweet Jesus, come!” This said, be still; contemplate your good God within you, and, as if you really had communicated, adore Him, thank Him, and perform all those interior acts to which you are accustomed after sacramental Communion.
Now, learn that this blessed and holy spiritual Communion, so little practised by the Christians of our day, is a treasure capable of filling the soul with a thousand benefits; and, as various authors say (Rodriguez, Exerc. Perf. p. 2, tract. 8, c. 15), “is so useful that it is capable of producing the same graces which sacramental Communion produces; nay, in some cases more. For although, indeed, sacramental Communion, that is, when the sacred particle is really received, is of its own nature equal to the production of a higher result; because, being the Sacrament, it possesses virtue ex opere operato, nevertheless, a soul may make a spiritual Communion with so much humility, love, and devotion, as to win greater grace than another soul communicating sacramentally but without dispositions so thoroughly perfect.
Our Saviour testifies so much favor to this spiritual Communion that on many occasions He has been pleased to respond with evident miracles to the pious longings of His servants; now communicating them with His Own hands, as occurred to the Blessed Clare of Montefalco, St. Catharine of Siena, and St. Lydwina; now by the hands of Angels, as to my patron St. Bonaventure, called the Seraphic Doctor, and to two holy bishops, Onoratus and Firminus; sometimes by means of the great and blessed Mother of God, who desired to communicate the Blessed Silvester with her own hands. Nor should you marvel at these ingenuities of love; because spiritual Communion inflames the soul with the love of God, unites it with Him, and disposes it to receive the most signal favors. Reflecting, then, on this truth, how can you ever remain so cold and insensible? And what excuse can you ever adduce for exempting yourself from a practice so devout? Ah, decide once for all to adopt it henceforward, considering farther that such holy spiritual Commuion gives you at least this one advantage over sacramental Communion, that the latter is only possible once each day, while the former may be as frequent as the Masses you attend; nay, may be repeated at other times, morning, noon, and eve, in church or at home, and this without need of permission from your confessor. In short, so often as you practise what has been now prescribed, so often may you make a spiritual Communion, and thus become enriched with graces and merits of every kind and degree of excellence.
Now, then, you have had laid before you the whole object of this slight little treatise. It is simply to plant in the hearts of all those who shall read it a holy desire that there may be introduced into the Catholic world the practice of hearing holy Mass every day with the most solid piety and devotion, and that each time Mass is heard each hearer may make a spiritual Communion. Oh, the gain if this end were attained! I should then hope to witness, throughout the whole world, that holy fervor flourishing once more which was admired in the golden age of the primitive Church, when the faithful assisted every day at the holy sacrifice, and every day communicated sacramentally. If you are not worthy of such a privilege, oh, at least hear holy Mass every day, and every day communicate spiritually. If I succeed in gaining you who read me now, I shall imagine myself to have gained the whole world, and I shall consider my poor labor well laid out.
But in order to take away all the excuses which are wont to be brought forward by some for not hearing holy Mass, there shall be adduced, in the following chapter, various examples adapted to every sort of person, to show that, if they deprive themselves of so great a good, it is by their own fault, their tepidity, their weariness in well-doing; and that great indeed shall be their remorse on this account at the point of death.