At last we have proof of Fr. Simon’s impending senility: we have seen him muttering to himself during the Mass! Even if you have not had the opportunity to join us for worship at one of the short, simple said masses during the week when we are gathered in the Sanctuary, you will probably only have seen his lips move and may wonder what is being said.
These are not sly instructions to the servers, but a series of prayers asking for God’s help and support as the priest undertakes various key parts of the Eucharist.
As the Priest puts on the alb, stole and chasuble, he says quietly various prayers of preparation, based upon Ephesians 6:13-17 which is why it is desirable for there to be a few moments of quietness before the beginning of the service, so that both choir, servers, readers and clergy may be properly prepared.
Before the Gospel, the Priest turns to the altar and asks for God’s blessing on him ‘on my heart and on my lips that I may worthily proclaim God’s Holy Gospel ‘. This is based upon the words of Psalm 51:15. If the Gospel is to be read by a Deacon, then this blessing is sought from the president of the mass, and if the Bishop is present, then a Priest will seek the blessing from the Bishop.
During the offertory hymn, as the elements are brought to the altar, the Priest gives thanksgiving to God for them. In a said mass, these are said aloud and the congregation responds to them. They are based upon the Jewish Berakah or table prayers which are the basis of the whole Eucharistic structure. God is blessed for his gifts and is asked that our offering of them will be suitable. It is thought the Berakah grew out of the grain-offering made to God (Leviticus 2:14), and is characterised by its transformation into the ‘Bread of Life’ (John 6:35) and ‘Our Spiritual Drink’ (1 Corinthians 10:3-4).
After the elements are placed on the altar, (if incense is used, the elements and the clergy are censed at this point to signify the process of transformation into something holy and set apart), the Priest then bows before the altar and says sotto voce: ‘Lord, we ask you to be pleased with the sacrifice we offer with humble and contrite hearts’ (Isaiah 57:15). S/He then turns to the server to ritually clean the hands with the words: ‘Lord, wash me from my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin’ (Psalm 51:2)
In the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, as Blessed Sacrament and Precious Blood are elevated to show to the congregation, you will often see Fr. Simon say his own prayer of devotion towards the sacraments. This is most commonly the words of S. Thomas the Apostle from John 20:28 and (to my mind) the most profound statment of faith “My Lord and My God“.
After the consecration and the presentation of the sacraments to the people, the priest prays “Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy, I eat your body and drink your blood. May it not bring me condemnation, but health in mind and body’’, before partaking of the sacraments. As a prayer of preparation before receiving, it is a very effective one, and I commend it to you all before you engage with the holy mysteries.
As you can see, the whole of the Mass is wrapped up in prayer and scripture, as your priest and other clergy celebrate in partnership with you these most special gifts. The whole of the mass is a form of prayer, not just the intercessions or the Eucharist. Your participation in that is vital, for your response, your ‘Amen’ (“let it be so”) echoes the company of heaven (Revelation 5:14). I encourage you all therefore to participate in that continuous cycle of prayer that is worship: to lift your eyes from the reading sheet to the mysteries of salvation replayed on the altar and to stand in the presence of God made known in the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine.