No altar standeth whole? (Roman Missal IV)

No one can read chapter 11 of Book IX of St. Augustine’s Confessions without tears.

Reading St. Monica’s words so moved Matthew Arnold that he turned this sonnet:

‘Oh could thy grave at home, at Carthage, be!’—
Care not for that, and lay me where I fall.
Everywhere heard will be the judgement-call.
But at God’s altar, oh! remember me.

Thus Monica, and died in Italy.
Yet fervent had her longing been, through all
Her course, for home at last, and burial
With her own husband, by the Libyan sea.

Had been; but at the end, to her pure soul
All tie with all beside seem’d vain and cheap,
And union before God the only care.

Creeds pass, rites change, no altar standeth whole;
Yet we her memory, as she pray’d, will keep,
Keep by this: Life in God, and union there!

Indeed. But the poet has missed the mark. St. Monica begged to be remembered at the altar. Union with God–we find it at the altar.

Some of our beloved separated Christian brethren ask us, How did the Last Supper become the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

The answer is two-fold:

1. The Last Supper did not become the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; the Last Supper established the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The words of institution themselves refer to the offering of the sacrifice. The Lord did not simply say, “This is my Body.” He said, “This is my Body which will be given up for you.” “This is the chalice of my Blood, which will be poured out for you.” The Lord’s own words indicate that Last Supper and the Crucifixion are inseparable from each other.

2. That said, we freely acknowledge that the Church had to establish the ritual by which Christ’s command to ‘Do This…’ would be carried out. The priests of the New Covenant, though we stand in the place of Christ and speak His words to effect–we cannot do so without acts of religious submission of our own.

We priests stand in the place of Christ, but we also represent the Christian people before God, and we are ourselves Christians. We, too, must exercise our religion as we carry out our exalted role. We do so by praying, of course; and our prayers are not just for ourselves, but for the whole Church.

The amazing thing is that Christ, being a perfectly religious man, and a priest, as well as God, did the same thing! He, too, gave thanks to the Father and implored His blessing in the course of the offering of the sacrifice of His own Body.

So, when we priests of the New Covenant surround the essential words bequeathed to us by Christ with other words of prayer–thanksgiving, intercession, supplication–we are imitating Christ when we do it.

Thus, at Mass, the sacred words of institution are spoken as part of an anaphora or offering, a eucharistic prayer.

Throughout the wide world of the nascent Church, the Apostles and their first successors stood at the altar of Christ and offered Him to the Father by pronouncing anaphoras with arms outstretched. This happened in Rome, as well as in the Holy Land, Asia Minor, Greece, Egypt, Syria, etc., etc.

The precise way in which this was done in Rome is called The Roman Rite.

Still more to come, dear patient reader!

One thought on “No altar standeth whole? (Roman Missal IV)

  1. Father Mark,

    I’ll explore another aspect of the poem — the passage of time — which I think ties in to your origin of the Mass and current-day renewal of the sacrifice.

    Carthago delenda est: Cato the Elder’s recurrent pronunciamento.

    One could hardly imagine our attaching any importance to Carthage today, although, amazingly enough, we and our allies are bombing right next door; and we followed events in Tunisia with interest earlier this year. Some things fade with time, especially when stone is not left upon stone, and the location is ploughed with salt sowed in the furrows.

    The Mass is not one of these. “Living” is the word that best describes the continual recreation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, with Him present — through Him, and with Him, and in Him.



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