The Symbolism of the Offertory - Part 3

First Part: The Notion of Sign [continued]

St Thomas adds that the sacraments do signify three things:

In our sanctification three things may be considered; viz. the very cause of our sanctification, which is Christ's passion; the form of our sanctification, which is grace and the virtues; and the ultimate end of our sanctification, which is eternal life. And all these are signified by the sacraments. Consequently a sacrament is a sign that is both a reminder of the past, i.e. the passion of Christ; and an indication of that which is effected in us by Christ's passion, i.e. grace; and a prognostic, that is, a foretelling of future glory. (3a Q60, a 3, c)

Also, the Holy Mass signifies various things:

As was said above (Question 60, Article 6), there is a twofold manner of signification in the sacraments, by words, and by actions, in order that the signification may thus be more perfect. Now, in the celebration of this sacrament words are used to signify things pertaining to Christ's Passion, which is represented in this sacrament; or again, pertaining to Christ's mystical body, which is signified therein; and again, things pertaining to the use of this sacrament, which use ought to be devout and reverent. Consequently, in the celebration of this mystery some things are done in order to represent Christ's Passion, or the disposing of His mystical body, and some others are done which pertain to the devotion and reverence due to this sacrament.  (3a Q83, a 5)

For those of you who have done a bit of philosophy, one of our professors in EcĂ´ne drew our attention on the fact that any of the ten categories of Aristotle can be used as signs, and are indeed used throughout the holy liturgy.

The miracle of the mass is above all a transubstantiation, a change of substance (substance).

We find in the ceremonies of the mass a certain number (quantity) of signs of the cross, of altar cloths and of candles; we have the color (quality) of the vestments, there are ranks (relation) amongst the ministers, expressed by their roles (location) at the altar; we have to offer Mass at certain times (time), like the Midnight Mass, we must vary our position (position), such as sit, kneel, bow; the priest wears certain precise vestments (habit), each one having its own meaning. Some things are given (action), others are received (passion), and the meaning can be extremely profound. For example, in the exchange of peace, at the solemn high Mass: the priest first kisses the altar, he receives peace, which also signifies grace, from Our Lord who is Our Peace, who alone can forgive our sins.  Then the priest gives a kiss of peace to the deacon, who gives it to the sub-deacon.  In the modern mass, the peace no longer comes from the altar, the priests does not kiss the altar and communicate the peace of Christ; everyone just turns around and gives it to his neighbor, to signify than we no longer need to receive it from Our Lord, that everyone already has it by himself. 

Finally, we can also add that the omission of certain actions also can bear a meaning, all kinds of meaning. For instance, during a Requiem Mass, we omit a number of things, such as blessing the water before putting a few drops in the chalice.  The few drops of water represents us, the faithful uniting ourselves, our own little sacrifices to that of Our Lord.  But during a Requiem Mass, we want to the graces to go to the Holy Souls, as if we were saying to God, My God, this time, please give the merits of your sacrifice to them first, not to us!

In the Novus Ordo, they did suppress a number of prayers and ceremonies, at the Offertory especially, but to signify other things this time, to signify a change of meaning in the very nature of the Holy Mass, and especially of the Offertory.

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