THE MASS AS THE BEGINNING OF HEAVEN ON EARTH – PART III
THE REFORMS FROM THE VATICAN II COUNCIL
AND THE SACRED
OBJECTS USED DURING THE MASS
I. In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Liturgy (1963), the Vatican II Council restated and elaborated on the theology of the Mass and other liturgies, and called for certain changes in how the Mass and other liturgies are celebrated, while respecting the ancient forms.
A. The introduction
emphasizes that the liturgy, and especially the Mass, accomplishes here
and now the eternal work of our redemption. It focused on the
fact that, in the liturgy, as in the Church, the invisible and visible
realms come together to bring us and the whole Church on this path to
B. Chapter I outlined the overall principles of the liturgical renewal.
1. Part I describes
in vivid form how it is that the liturgy is the current work and prayer
of Jesus Christ through His whole Church, in heaven and on earth, and
how in the liturgy "we take part in the beginning of the heavenly
liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which
we journey as pilgrims."
2. Part II focuses
on promoting the full and active participation of the laity, the education
of the laity in liturgy, and the careful training of clergy to celebrate
the liturgy well and reverently. The silent implication in that
such participation, education and training had been short of expectations
in the past.
3. Part III states the general norms of reforming the liturgy that the Council based its actions on.
a. Section A points out that there are both changeable and unchangeable aspects of every liturgy. The document says that people should expect the changeable elements to be updated so to accommodate changing circumstances. It goes on to say that the Church universal, and to some degree, local authorities, have the authority to altar the changeable elements, and that no one else should presume to do so on their own. It also strikes a cautious note, saying that the changes the Church makes should be careful and avoid unnecessary instability.
- It also
outlines a central principle that the Council would emphasize, namely,
the greater incorporation of the Word of God into liturgies.
b. Part B then
describes how the liturgical books should clarify the roles of all of
the people involved in the liturgy and promote the full and active participation
of the laity.
c. Part C outlines
ways in which the Council intends to increase pastoral and instruction
value of the Mass and other liturgies, namely: (1) more of a noble simplicity
in the liturgy; (2) a broader scope of Scriptural readings; (3) more
emphasis on homilies and instruction generally; and (4) the increased
use of vernacular languages in the liturgy, although the use of Latin
is to be preserved.
d. Parts D, E
and F then describe the application of the liturgical renewal to specific
areas and dioceses. The documents authorizes certain approved variations
among areas, and calls for each diocese to have offices promoting the
rightful celebration of the liturgy and education of the public.
was to be the simplification of the liturgy, eliminating duplicative
rites (e.g., the numerous signs of the cross and genuflections.)
II. After the Vatican II Council, the Church made numerous efforts to enact the reforms that the Council called for.
A. In 1965, the Vatican's
Sacred Congregation on Rites published a revised missal that was like
the pre-Vatican II Mass, but allowed such changes having much of the
Mass in the vernacular language, allowing the priest to face the people
(versus populum), simplifying Communion and including more singing by
the laity. In addition, during the next four years, more vernacular
in the Mass and extra options were added.
1. At the time,
a view that would come to be known as "dynamic equivilance" dominated
much of the translation work. This view favors trying to convey
the meaning of a text without using the phraseology that the original
had. Thus, for example, the phrase in Latin "from the rising
of the sun to its setting" would be rendered "from east to west."
In addition, phrases or sentence would be moved around to make the flow
easier in the vernacular (here English.) Formal equivalence, by
contrast, tries to capture the actual phraseology of the translated
text. The idea is that, in liturgy as in literature, one cannot
separate the meaning of a text from the terms it uses.
III Various items used during the Mass reflect aspects of the sacrifice of the Mass.
A. The altar was, in ancient Israel, the place for sacrifices. Christ Himself fulfills those sacrifices, offering Himself us for our sins. See Heb. 9:11-26. The altar also represents Christ as the Living Stone of our salvation. See 1 Pet. 2:4; Eph. 2:20; General Instructions to the Roman Missal 298.
- Traditionally, there
have been relics of the saints, especially martyrs, underneath the altar.
Part of the idea is that they join in the sacrifice and celebration.
See Rev. 6:9.
- Although it is no
longer required, having the relics beneath the altar connects the worship
of heaven and earth. See GIRM 301
- The altar traditionally
faces east, reflecting both the symbolism of Jesus as the rising sun,
and of the Mass as the first promise of the never-ending day of heaven.
See Mal. 3:19-20; Luke 2:78. Many altars are in fact surrounded
by an archway, reflecting the fact that in the Mass the gates of eternity
are opened, both to the timeless sacrifice on Calvary, and to never-ending
feast and worship of heaven.
- There is always
at least a white altar cloth on the altar, representing the sacredness
of the sacrifice that will take place there. There is always also
a crucifix near the alter, showing the sacrifice of Christ that the
- The candles surrounding
the altar reflect both Jesus as the light of the world, see John 1:3-5,
8:12, and the lights and lamp-stands at the beginning of the Book of
Revelation that represent the churches and their angels that surround
the Son of Man. See Rev. 1:12-13, 20.
intercessions are proclaimed.
It should be fixed, representing the solidity of the word of God.
See GIRM 309.
C. The sacred images
in a church remind us of the connection between heaven and earth that
the liturgy helps bring about. To avoid making the decorations
central, rather than supportive, the Vatican II Council and the instructions
to the Mass indicate that they should be ordered and numbered to focus
on the liturgies, rather than become their own focus. GIRM 318.
D. The vestments mostly come from ancient Roman and Greek garments. But the notion of a priest wearing vestments reflects the ancient Israeli priests' vestments. See Ex. 28; 39:1-31. In addition, the symbolic value attached to them reflects Christian virtues.
1. The alb is the white robe that is worn by the priest and deacon and can be worn by anyone else involved in the liturgy. It reflects the holiness received at baptism and meant to continue throughout life, being fully conferred upon the saints. See Rev. 3:5; 7:9-10.
- A prayer
that goes alongside vesting with the alb is "Purify me, O Lord, from
all stain and cleanse my heart that, washed in the Blood of the Lamb,
I may enjoy eternal delights."
2. The amice, the cloth that goes around the neck underneath the alb represents the helmet of salvation meant that wards off attacks of the enemy. Eph. 6:17; 1 Thess. 5:18. See also Is. 59:8.
- A prayer that goes alongside the amice is "Place, O Lord, on my head
the helmet of salvation
that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.
3. The alb, along
with the amice, worn by a priest or deacon should cover him from shoulders
to foot, representing the integrity of a life totally consecrated to
4. The cincture, the rope that the priest wears as a belt, represents the chastity and self-control fitting for one who ministers at the altar. See, e.g., Dan. 10:5 (a figure, apparently the angel Gabriel, wearing a belt of gold); 1 Tim 4:7-12.
- A prayer
that goes alongside of the cincture is "Gird me, Lord, with the cincture
of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the
virtue of continence and chastity may remain in me."
5. The stole represents the authority of a priest (or deacon.). See Ex 28:4 (referring to a sash worn by priests); Rev. 1:13 (Jesus in glory wearing a sash of gold.) The stole is used for the actions that are specific to a cleric's office, especially Mass, all sacraments, other liturgies and blessings.
for a priest in the Latin rite, the stole hangs down evenly on both
sides. For a deacon, it goes from left to right. The two
sides of the stole represent the burden of office, as well as such mysteries
as the two natures of Christ.
- A prayer
that goes alongside of the stole is "Restore to me, O Lord, the state
of immortality, which was lost by my first parents and, although unworthy
to approach Your sacred mysteries, grant me, nevertheless, eternal joy."
6. The chasuble worn by the priest represents charity covering all things. Col 3:12-13.
A prayer that goes
alongside vesting with the chasuble is "O Lord, You said, 'My Yoke
is easy and my burden light.' Grant that I may carry it so as
to obtain Your grace."
C. The idea of having
sacred vessels made of gold or silver comes from the ancient Jewish
practice of using gold vessels for the sacrifices in the Temple.
See, e.g., 1 Kings 7:48-50.
D. The incense that can be used at Mass reflects both the offering of prayers to God by the saints, and the cloud that surrounds the presence of God, e.g., at Mount Sinai, the dedication of the Temple, and the Transfiguration. See Ex. 19:9, 16-20; 1 Kings 19:2, 8-14; Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:-8; Luke 9:28-36; Rev. 8:3.