Introduction to the Extraordinary Form
(The following is reprinted from the "The Order of Mass: Missal of Blessed John XXIII" thanks to the kind permission of the author Michael Sternbeck. This content may not be copied, reproduced, amended or distributed without the express consent of Mr Sternbeck.)
The sacred nature of the Mass
O sacred banquet in which Christ is received, in which the memory of his passion is recalled and a pledge of future glory is given to us! (Thomas Aquinas)
Our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself to God the Father once upon the Cross for our eternal redemption. But at the Last Supper, so that the commemoration of His Sacrifice might remain throughout all ages, Christ offered to the Father His own body and blood under the form of bread and wine. He made The Twelve priests of the New Testament, commanding them and their successors: “Do this for my Commemoration”, as the Church has always understood and taught. And so, having celebrated with the Twelve at the Last Supper the memory of the first Passover from the slavery of Egypt to freedom, Christ established a new Passover: the Sacrifice of Himself, the true Lamb of God, to be sacramentally renewed by the Church through her priests in memory of His own passing over from this world to the Father, when He redeemed us by the shedding of His blood.
On the altar at every Mass after the words of Consecration are uttered, lies the Body and Blood of Christ, still looking like bread and wine, but in outward appearance only. This mystery has been called transubstantiation. Christ becomes present on the altar as He now is in Heaven: not a dead body, but the glorious, risen Body; the True God and True Man, wholly and substantially present – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity - under the veil of each species, in the smallest fragment and the tiniest drop.
The Mass is also the act of perfect worship offered to God: an offering of thanksgiving and praise. From Apostolic times the Mass came to be described as the Eucharist, derived from the Greek verb “to give thanks”. When Christ died on the Cross, he offered the one and only sacrifice worthy of God, superseding the sacrificial offerings of animals. This sacrifice, offered by Christ alone, was perfect and no other could add to it, but it is Christ’s wish that we who are members of his Mystical Body should be able to take part in this sacrifice and make our own offering of it to the Father. And so we join our self-offering to Christ’s; this is what we do in the Mass. It is the sacrifice of the Church. It is also offered, as the Preface of each Mass reminds us, together with the Angels and Saints who stand in the presence of God. And finally, each Mass is the greatest prayer to be offered for the benefit of the living and the dead.
The Council of Trent (Session 22, Chapter V) reminds us that the Church, in accordance with apostolic discipline and tradition, has made use of ceremonies and instituted certain rites (such as mystical blessings, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind), so that the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be emphasised and the minds of the faithful excited by those visible signs of religion and piety to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice.
The sacredness of the altar
A full understanding of the nature of the Mass also involves an appreciation of the nature of the altar. “The altar of holy Church is Christ, as John testifies, when he says in his Apocalypse that he saw him as a golden altar standing before the throne. In him and through him the gifts of the faithful are offered to God the Father.” This extract from the Roman Pontifical for the conferral of the office of subdeacon elucidates the Church’s teaching that the altars of our churches signify Christ, although Christ himself is at the same time the priest who offers the Sacrifice, the sacrificial Victim and the Altar of Sacrifice. The altar, on which this great and mysterious Sacrifice is offered as the supreme act of the worship of God demands respect. Next