Questions on the Sacrifice of the Mass

357. What is the Mass?

The Mass is the Sacrifice of the New Law in which Christ, through the ministry of the priest, offers Himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine.

(a) The name "Mass" comes from the Latin word Missa meaning dismissal. In the early days of the Church the catechumens were asked to leave after the gospel and sermon were finished. The faithful, however, remained until they were dismissed after the sacrifice was completed. Then, as now, this was done by saying or singing Ite Missa Est. In the course of time the word Missa, or dismissal, was used to designate the entire sacrifice.

358. What is a sacrifice?

A sacrifice is the offering of a victim by a priest to God alone, and the destruction of it in some way to acknowledge that He is the Creator of all things.

(a) By his very nature man wants to adore and thank his Creator. Men mistaken at times about the nature of the true God have offered false worship; but they have always recognized the obligation of adoring the Supreme Being. As far back as the history of man is recorded, there is evidence that men acknowledged their dependence on the Supreme Being by offering sacrifices to Him. (b) Before the coming of Christ, sacrifices were offered to God in many different ways. The patriarchs and Jewish priests at the command of God offered fruits, wine, or animals as victims. Cain, for example, offered fruits; Abel offered some sheep of his flock; Melchisedech offered bread and wine. The destruction of these offerings removed them from man's use and thereby signified that God is the Supreme Lord and Master of the entire created universe and that man is wholly dependent upon Him for everything. Sacrifice, therefore, is the most perfect way for man to worship God.

(c) All these different sacrifices of the Old Law were only figures of the sacrifice which Christ was to make of Himself. His offering of Himself on the cross was the greatest sacrifice ever offered to God. All the sacrifices of the Old Law derived their efficacy, or value, from the sacrifice which Christ was to offer on the cross.

359. Who is the principal priest in every Mass?

The principal priest in every Mass is Jesus Christ, who offers to His heavenly Father, through the ministry of His ordained priest, His body and blood which were sacrificed on the cross.

(a) The Mass is the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the cross. It is now in the New Law, the sacrifice that is acceptable to God.

360. Why is the Mass the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the cross?

The Mass is the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the cross because in the Mass the victim is the same, and the principal priest is the same, Jesus Christ.

(a) Christ, though invisible, is the principal minister, offering Himself in the Mass. The priest is the visible and secondary minister, offering Christ in the Mass.

(b) The most important part of the Mass is the Consecration. In the Consecration bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ who then is really present on the altar. Through the priest He offers Himself to God in commemoration of His death on the cross.

(c) The other most important parts of the Mass are the Offertory and the Communion. In the Offertory the priest offers to God the bread and wine that will be changed into the body and blood of Christ. In the Communion the priest and the people receive the body and blood of Our Lord under the appearances of bread and wine.

361. What are the purposes for which the Mass is offered?

The purposes for which the Mass is offered are: first, to adore God as our Creator and Lord; second, to thank God for His many favors; third, to ask God to bestow His blessings on all men; fourth, to satisfy the justice of God for the sins committed against Him.

(a) In every Mass adoration, praise, and thanksgiving are given to God, and reparation is made to Him.

(b) Besides the purpose for which the Mass is offered and the effects that it produces, there are also special fruits of the Mass. The fruits Of the Mass are the blessings that God bestows through the Mass upon the celebrant, upon those who serve or assist at it, upon the person or persons for whom it is offered, and also upon all mankind, especially the members of the Church and the souls in purgatory.

(c) The measure of these blessings depends especially on the dispositions of those to whom they are given.

362. Is there any difference between the sacrifice of the cross and the Sacrifice of the Mass?

The manner in which the sacrifice is offered is different. On the cross Christ physically shed His blood and was physically slain, while in the Mass there is no physical shedding of blood nor physical death, because Christ can die no more; on the cross Christ gained merit and satisfied for us, while in the Mass He applies to us the merits and satisfaction of His death on the cross.

(a) On the cross Christ was offered in a bloody manner; in the Mass He is offered in an unbloody manner. On the cross Christ alone offered Himself directly; in the Mass He offers Himself through the priest, who is the secondary but true minister, dependent upon Christ.

(b) On the cross Christ suffered and died; in the Mass He can no longer suffer or die. On the cross He paid the price of our redemption; in the Mass He applies to us the merits of His Sacrifice on the cross.

(c) There are various kinds of Masses:

first, a Solemn Mass, which is celebrated by a priest who is immediately assisted by a deacon and a sub-deacon; second, a High Mass, in which the celebrating priest sings certain parts of the Mass; third, a Low Mass, in which the priest reads all the parts of the Mass: fourth, a Pontifical Mass, which is celebrated by a bishop and by certain other prelates.

Any of these kinds of Masses can be a Requiem Mass, which is one offered for the dead. In a Requiem Mass the celebrating priest wears black vestments and reads or chants special prayers for the dead.

(d) Some prayers make up the "Ordinary" of the Mass and are practically always the same; others make up the "Proper" of the Mass and differ according to the seasons and the feasts of the ecclesiastical calendar.

(e) Ordinarily Mass must be offered on an altar stone consecrated by a bishop or by his delegate.

(f) The priest wears the following vestments during Mass:

an alb, a long white linen garment covering the body;
an amice, a white linen cloth placed over the shoulders and about the neck (as needed);
a cincture, a cord tied about the waist (as needed);
the stole, a long narrow band of cloth worn over the shoulders; and
the chasuble, an outer garment covering the greater part of the body.

These vestments have an ancient origin, and most of them resemble the garments worn by the apostles.

(g) The colors of the outer vestments worn during Mass are: white, which signifies purity of soul and holiness, red, which signifies the shedding of blood and burning love; green, which signifies hope; violet, which signifies penance; black, which signifies mourning; rose, which signifies joy in the midst of penance; and gold, which is used on solemn occasions in place of white, red, or green vestments.

White vestments are worn on feasts of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, saints who were not martyrs, and during the Easter season; red is used on the feasts of the Holy Ghost, the passion of Our Lord, and martyrs; green is used on the Sundays outside of Advent, Lent, and the Christmas and Easter season; violet is worn in Lent, Advent, and on penitential days, black is worn in Masses for the dead; rose may be used instead of violet on the third Sunday of Advent and on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

(h) Some of the important articles used during Mass are: the chalice, a gold-lined or other precious cup, in which the wine is consecrated; the paten, a gold-covered or other precious plate, on which the host is placed; the purificator, or cloth, for wiping the chalice, the pall, or linen-covered card, used to cover the chalice; the corporal, or square linen cloth, on which the host is placed; the missal, or book, from which the priest reads the prayers of the Mass; the candles, usually of beeswax; the crucifix over the altar; and the three linen cloths that cover the altar.

363. How should we assist at Mass?

We should assist at Mass with reverence, attention, and devotion.

(a) There are different ways of assisting at Mass devoutly: using the missal to follow the priest, saying the Mass prayers as found in a prayer book; singing hymns; and the like.

364. What is the best method of assisting at Mass?

The best method of assisting at Mass is to unite with the priest in offering the Holy Sacrifice, and to receive Holy Communion.

(a) It is evident from the words of the priest himself that we do unite with him in offering up the Holy Sacrifice. After the Offertory he turns to the people and says: "Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty." In the second commemoration of the Canon of the Mass he says: "Remember, O Lord, Thy servants . . . for whom we offer, or who offer up to Thee, this sacrifice of praise . . . "

365. Who said the first Mass?

Our divine Savior said the first Mass, at the Last Supper, the night before He died.


Modified slightly from the Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 27.
Full text available in our library.

Electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1996. All rights reserved.


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