Written by Robert Higdon
There were 54 Rites of Mass composed by the apostles according to the language and custom of the countries they evangelized. In this essay all comments are centered on the Roman Rite.
Why select the Roman Rite to comment on, if it is just one among many? Is it because it is said in Latin? No, in fact, the original language that it was written in was Syro-Chaldaic, composed by St. Peter in Antioch. It was the language used by the people of Judea at the time of Christ. It is divine providence that chose Latin, soon to be ‘non-vernacular’, as the language of the Church. This ‘dead language’ for the Church was to be a sign of Her unity in ‘Her Liturgy’ and to protect the meaning of ‘Her dogmas’ (for the meanings of words in any vernacular language tend to change over time – in a dead language the meanings of words never change).
The importance of the Latin Roman Rite is that it is the Rite of some 95 percent of all Catholics. It is the Latin Roman Rite that St. Paul spread throughout his missionary expeditions.
It is the Latin Roman Rite St. Francis Xavier spread Throughout Asia. It is the Latin Roman Rite the Conquistadors spread throughout South America with Our Lady of Guadalupe’s help. It is the Latin Roman Rite that was first said on the shores of America at that location, which is now called St. Augustine in Florida, long before the Pilgrims landed. Obviously, Our Blessed Lord got in the Liturgical boat of St. Peter; it is the Latin Roman Rite God chose to evangelize world-wide!
Before proceeding, permit me to define the words Tradition and Custom which are used frequently in this document:
Webster defines Tradition: “The handing down of beliefs or customs; an instituted pattern of action (as a religious practice).”
Webster defines Custom: “Long established practice considered as unwritten law. Usage or practice common to many.”
Also Cannon Law 27 (new version) explains that custom is the best interpreter of laws.
So when we look at liturgical law according to canonical tradition, in order to understand the law correctly, it must be understood according to the tradition that has established the liturgical custom. As the ancient Father, St. John Chrysostom says: “Is it tradition? Ask no more.”
TRADITION OF THE FIRST MASS
The comments in this section are based on the book: “How Christ Said the First Mass” by Father James L Meagher, D.D. Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of Divinity. He was President of the Christian Press Association Publishing Company in New York which published the book in 1906. The book (440 pages – complete with references and a detailed index) is currently available from Tan Books and Publishers, Inc.
The author goes into great detail to show how the Roman Rite of Mass, in particular, is patterned after the Liturgy of the traditional Jewish Passover Feast. Nearly every detail of the Mass has its counterpart in the Passover Liturgy. From the procession, prayers at the foot of the altar (the same psalms quoted), the Confiteor, and even the Canon are strikingly similar. He points out that God himself gave detailed instructions to Moses and Aaron how the Passover feast was to be conducted.
God also detailed the Liturgical garments in a “striking minuteness, he laid down material, color, shape and ornament of vestments worn in public worship, and forbade them at any other time”. The Church today uses the same type liturgical vestments made of linen, and the same liturgical colors, red, white, green and violet. The Church only added the color black to express sorrow. To illustrate the Divine concern about vestments he points out that they are mentioned 167 times in the Old Testament, and 59 times in the New Testament.
Now let us review some pertinent quotes to illustrate the similarity of the Passover and the Roman Rite Liturgy as sung by Christ at the first Mass:
· “The synagogue services were not only sung by the Rabbi and his ministers, but the people also took part in the congregational singing. There was a night foretold by Israel’s great prophet, Isaiah, when the Lord Messiah would come and sing the Passover service. Numberless proofs force us to believe that the Last Supper was a pontifical High Mass sung by the Lord, his apostles and the people taking part in the congregational singing.”
· “Christ was therefore a priest according to the order of Melchisedech when he offered bread and wine at the Last Supper, and a priest according to the order of Aaron when he brought the lamb of Passover to the Temple to be sacrificed.”
· “The liturgy of the Passover, formed of Prayers, Psalms, chants, anthems, directions, rubrics, etc.. were the foundations on which the apostles, apostolic men and great saints formed the fifty-four different Liturgies of the Mass. The most famous, the Roman Rite, established by Peter in the Eternal City, and with little change comes down to us under the name of the Latin or Roman Mass.” . . .