Many are the excuses which those who attend holy Mass grudgingly and with reluctance find for their tepidity. You may observe them all immersed in business, all anxious and intent (to use a common and most accurate expression) on promoting “their own dirty interests.” For these, every fatigue is a trifle; nor is there any inconvenience which they will allow to stand in their way; while, for attending holy Mass, which is the great affair of all, you will perceive them languid, cold, with a hundred frivolous pretexts at hand about important occupations, weak health, family troubles, want of time, multiplicity of business, and so on. In short, if holy Church did not oblige them under pain of mortal sin to frequent the Divine mysteries at least on festivals, God knows if ever they would visit a church, or bend a knee before the altar. Oh, shame and utter disgrace to our times! Miserable that we are! How have we declined from the fervor of those first believers who, as I said before, every day assisted at the adorable sacrifice, and refreshed their souls with the Bread of Angels, communicating sacramentally! And yet they also were not without transactions and business and occupations; nay, by this very means their temporal business and interests, as well as their spiritual, got on all the better. Blind world, when wilt thou open thine eyes to recognize delusions so gross? Up, and awaken, one and all! Be this your most sweet and beloved devotion—–to hear holy Mass every morning, and to accompany it by a spiritual Communion. To gain this end with you, I know no method more efficacious than example, it being an irrefragable maxim, Vivimus ab exemplo; and everything is rendered easy and pleasant which we see done by our companions or equals. Tu non poteris, said St. Augustine, accusing himself, tu non poteris quod isti et istae? (Confes. 1, 8, c. 11.) We shall, therefore, adduce several examples, bearing reference to various classes of persons, hoping thus at last to win all.
ON HEARING MASS DAILY, PART 1: FOR PRIESTS, EXCEPT IN CASE OF JUST IMPEDIMENT
An instance which came under my own observation will explain the first part of what I have to say to priests. A priest, by reason of a violent blow on the fingers of his right hand, was prevented celebrating for two months. From saving Mass as formerly every day, never once omitting it, he now did not even communicate, though there occurred several high festivals; nor did he even attend Mass on days which were not of obligation. And why? I blush to hint that for merely going to holy Communion, or simply attending Mass, there was no motive of gain which could come into play. How can one express the horror due to such a state of soul? Truly some offering is due to the priest who celebrates, because, qui altari inservit de altari vivere debet—–“he who serves the altar shall live by the altar;” but it is necessary to say that this can never be the main object of a good priest—–such offerings can never be justly given or received in the spirit of purchase. Stir yourselves up, then, O priests of Christ, and make it your first point to be pure and single of eye, your intentions being entirely referred to God. For this end, before commencing holy Mass, renew, at least mentally, the four ends indicated above, and prescribed by the Angelic Doctor. Then in your mementos, after applying the sacrifice for those to whom you are under that obligation, make briefly the offerings aforesaid to the Most High, directing your act to those holy ends for which it was primarily spirit, and making throughout internal efforts corresponding to their holy suggestions. Then truly will there be an influx of great devotion into those assisting, and he will obtain the utmost profit for his own soul.
Now, on the supposition that such will be his method of celebrating, let every priest adopt the steadfast resolution of offering the adorable sacrifice every morning of his life; for if in the primitive Church the laity communicated daily, with how much more reason must we believe that the priesthood celebrated daily? Quotidie immolo Deo Agnum lmmaculatum, said St. Andrew the Apostle to the tyrant; “daily I offer the Immaculate Lamb to God” (ex Sur. 38, Nov.). And St. Cyprian, in one of his epistles, says, Sacerdotes qui Sacrificium Deo quotidie immolamus—–“we priests who celebrate and daily offer the sacrifice to God” (Ep. 54). And St. Gregory the Great (Hom. 27, in Evang.) narrates of St. Cassius, Bishop of Narni, that, being wont to say Mass daily, Almighty God commanded one of his chaplains to say to him, as from Heaven, that he did well, that his devotion was very pleasing, and that He laid up a reward for him above. But, on the other hand, as to those priests who through mere negligence fail to celebrate, who shall ever be able to calculate the loss which they inflict upon the whole Church? The maxim of the Venerable Bede is well known: Sacerdos qui absque legitimo, impedimento missae celebration em omittit, quantum in ipso est, Sanctissimam Trinitatem privat laude et gloria, angelos laetitia, peccatores venia, justos auxilio et gratia, existentes in purgatorio subsidio et refrigerio, Ecclesiam ipsam ingenti beneficio, et seipsum medicina et remedio—–“the priest who, without legitimate impediment, fails to celebrate daily, deprives, so far as he can, the Most Holy Trinity of praise and glory, the Angels of joy, sinners of pardon, the good of help and grace, the Souls in Purgatory of succor and refreshment, the Church herself of immense benefit, and his own soul of medicine and remedy.” Where will you find me a robber so notorious as at one stroke to execute a theft on such a scale as the priest who thus robs of blessing the living, the dead, and the whole Church? Nor can the excuse of occupation avail. The Blessed Ferdinand, Archbishop of Grenada, who was at the same time prime minister, and consequently immersed in public affairs, yet celebrated every morning. The Cardinal of Toledo gave him a hint (Rodriguez, Exerc. Perf. p. 2, tract. 7, c. 16) that the court murmured against him for celebrating daily, oppressed as he was with business. “For that matter,” replied the servant of God, “your highness having imposed a burden so exorbitant on my shoulders, I can find no better support against sinking to the ground than the holy sacrifice of Mass, from which I extract strength for the office laid upon me.” Much less avails a certain sort of humility. St. Peter Celestine, from the great conception he had of the loftiness of such a function, was once disposed to cease celebrating daily, when there appeared to him a holy abbot (Sur. in Vito ipsius. c. 3), from whom he had received the habit of a monk, and who thus addressed him in an authoritative manner: “What seraph in all Heaven will you find worthy to celebrate Mass? Almighty God has made, not Angels, but men, the ministers of the holy sacrifice, and as men they are subject to a thousand imperfections. Humble yourself; yes, but celebrate daily, for such is the will of God.” And since repetition does not of itself diminish reverence, you should force yourself to copy those Saints who most excelled in modesty and attention during a function so holy. The great and celebrated Archbishop Saint Herbert was ever, while celebrating, touched with a devotion so extraordinary that he seemed an Angel of Paradise. The Blessed St. Lawrence Justinian, in offering holy Mass, became fixed and rigid, his eyes bedewed with tears, his spirit all rapt in God. But above all may St. Francis of Sales be cited as an example. Never was there an ecclesiastic seen who stood before the altar with greater majesty, with greater awe, reverence, and recollection, than that which shone conspicuous in him. Scarcely was he habited in the sacerdotal vestments, than he cast aside every other thought; and, once his foot was placed on the first step of the altar, his whole being, interior and exterior, assumed an angelic state, which carried away with devotion whoever beheld him.
But how came it that these Saints found so great a spiritual nourishment in celebrating the Divine mysteries? Because they did so as if they saw with their very eyes that they were in the presence of the whole court of heaven, as I believe to have once literally happened to St. Bonitus, Bishop of Claremont. It is told that, being one night alone in church, he beheld the Blessed Virgin, and a great company of Saints, some of whom asked their heavenly Lady, “Who is to celebrate at dawn?” She replied, “Bonitus, my dear servant;” and he became aware that morning at Mass that he was celebrating in presence of the great Mother of God, and of all those citizens of heaven. After Mass, the most holy Virgin gave him a snow-white alb, of texture so fine that there is nothing to compare to it, and preserved to our day as a precious relic. Think of the decorum, the recollection, and the love with which he must have celebrated that Mass! But if this example seem to you too sublime, contemplate as a model the glorious St. Vincent Ferrer, who celebrated daily before preaching, and made a point to aim at two perfections with which to approach the altar, namely, a consummate interior purity on his own part, and an extreme exterior cleanliness and propriety in everything connected with the sacred ceremonies. To obtain the first he confessed every morning; and this I would have of you, O priests, who seek in high degrees to taste of God while conducting the majestic mysteries. Some spend their half-hour or so in reading little manuals of devotion, in preparation for the adorable sacrifice, forgetful that with a brief self-examination, and by stirring up within them a true grief for some sin or other of their former life (if unable to discover other sufficient matter), they might in confession acquire great purity of heart. Behold the most noble preparation you can possibly make for holy Mass: every morning make your confession. Away with all scruples, and do not condemn my counsel! Oh, how much you will thank me when we shall find ourselves together in the home of a blessed eternity!
The aforesaid illustrious Saint always had the altar adorned with all the splendor in his power; and celebrating, as he usually did, before an immense crowd, he required the most perfect cleanliness and propriety in all the vestments, altar linens, and various furnishings of the sanctuary. For my poor part, I could shed tears when, during my missions, I find in so many churches, not only of villages, but of great cities also, vestments, corporals, purificatories, and other altar linens, so squalid, so stained and filthy, through the sordid avarice or the negligence and irreligion of the clergy, as to cause disgust to the mere senses, and to fill with horror, not only priests, but laity. Nimis videtur absurdum, says the holy Council of Lateran, in sacris sordes negligere, quae dedecerent etiam in profanis. (C. relinqui de custod. Euch.) I cannot endure such gross disorders. Sacristans, rectors, and parish priests, I hereby summon you before the tribunal of God, to render an account of indecencies so horrible. Who can exculpate you from serious breach of duty, if you supply the altar of God with what you would contemptuously reject in the case of an earthly table? And you, what are you about, bishops, dignitaries, and visitors? Why, when in your visitations you find unclean purificatories, corporals among which, perhaps, mice may have got, and veils unseamed, why do you not strike the faces of such parish clergy? Why do you not punish them with the utmost rigor? Perhaps you will say that during your visitations you find all right and proper. You let yourselves be deceived. Try the stratagem of a most zealous prelate, who found himself, during a visitation, in a sacristy provided handsomely with all things, gold brocades, fine albs, fine surplices, and altar-cloths of proportionate value. “Now,” said he to the parish priest, “I hereby forbid you, under pain of suspension, a divinis ipso facto incurrenda, to allow one of these things to leave your church, under any pretence whatever.” They had all been borrowed for the occasion.
I grant that the poverty of many churches amply excuses the absence of all richness of ornament, silk and gold embroideries, and such-like; but what can possibly excuse want of due cleanliness, tidiness, and propriety? My seraphic Father, St. Francis, was endowed with such zeal for the most dread and holy mysteries that, although absolutely enamoured of holy poverty, he wished altars, sanctuaries, and sacristies all kept in the highest degree of neatness, and much more, of course, all that approached the adorable Sacrament. He would often occupy himself in sweeping out churches with the utmost diligence. St. Charles Borromeo, too, in giving ordination, showed himself always so precise and earnest about such things as really to astonish anyone who reads of it. To conclude, the Blessed Mother of God herself has chosen in person to enforce this propriety when, appearing to St. Bridget, she said to her, Missa dici non debit nisi in ornamentis mundis. (Revel. S. Brigid, 1. 6, c. 46). Mass should not be celebrated except with all that appertains to it being very clean, so as to inspire respect and devotion by the very perfection of its purity and order.
Before closing this part of the subject, it remains to say a word about the acolytes who serve at Mass. In our days this office is imposed on boys and common persons, while, in truth, the highest crowned heads are not worthy of the honor. St. Bonaventure called this an angelic office, since during the holy sacrifice many angels are in fact present, who serve God at that sacred function. (Ex. 1. 5, Spirit. grat.) The glorious St. Mechtilde once saw the soul of a poor lay brother robed in marvellous splendor, because he had exercised his zeal in serving as many Masses as he could with a perfect diligence and attention. St. Thomas Aquinas, who was the sun of the theological schools, well understanding the hidden treasure involved in this office of serving at Mass, was not satisfied after celebrating as priest unless he served at another Mass. Sir Thomas More, the celebrated lord chancellor of England, centred his chief delight in the holy employment of serving Mass; and when one day rebuked by a dignitary of the kingdom with the suggestion that King Henry would be displeased with his lowering himself thus, More replied, “My king cannot be displeased at the homage which I offer to his King.” Those persons are sadly astray—–and they are often members of religious houses—–who require to be begged and urged to serve Mass; when, in fact, they ought to compete with each other, and almost snatch at the missal, in order to gain the honor of fulfilling a function which the very Angels and blessed ones in Heaven look upon with envy. All pains, too, should be taken to instruct properly those who serve at Mass. They should do it with lowly eyes and every trace of compunction, earnestness, and devotion. They should articulate the words distinctly, quietly, and leisurely, with voice neither so low that the priest should not hear, nor so loud as to disturb those who celebrate at adjoining altars. All children of dispositions too trivial, who are tinged with levity of demeanor, not to speak of those who could dare to joke, trifle, or make any noise, should be carefully excluded from the altar steps.
I beseech Almighty God that He would enlighten men of judgment and education to undertake this holy and honorable office! It is the noble and the wise who should set the example to others.