In the wake of the modern ecumenical movement and following decades of watered down catechesis it is no wonder that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is so misunderstood. Indeed, for many the Mass is simply a communal “celebration” to be lead by a “presider”. The understanding that the Mass is a true and proper sacrifice which is offered to God the Father has often been lost. The realization that it is Christ who offers Himself, both priest and victim, in an un-bloody manner on the altar is absent among many.
That 10 percent of Protestants in the United States are ex-Catholics speaks loud and clear to this crisis. Further, a 2008 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that 43 percent of Catholics agreed with the statement, “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.” Some surveys have shown that number to be as high as 70 percent.
The following selected excerpts are from “The Holy Mass” by Dom Prosper Guéranger. A Benedictine priest, as well as abbot of Solesmes Abbey and founder of the French Benedictine Congregation, Dom Prosper was one of the foremost liturgists of the late 19th century. In the beautiful and soaring language of Guéranger we find a clear and unambiguous explanation of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. His description of consecration is an antidote in and of itself to the poor catechesis so many of the faithful have received.
From “The Holy Mass” by Dom Prosper Guéranger…
Consecration of the Host
“…the Sacrifice of the Mass is one and the same with the Sacrifice of the Cross; for the same Lord, when He first immolated Himself in the Cenacle, on the Eve of His Sacrifice, was to be immolated the next day on Calvary…the priest…takes the Bread into his hands…he too raises his eyes to heaven, imitating what he is saying that Our Lord did. It is not mentioned in the Gospel that Jesus raised His eyes to heaven, on this occasion, but tradition tells us so, a tradition so certain that Holy Church makes a point of giving it here her full acceptance…
The Priest then holds the Host in both his hands, between the thumb and index finger, and pronounces the words of Consecration, in a whisper, yet distinctly, and keeping his eyes fixed on the Host which he intends to consecrate. The moment that these words of Consecration are uttered, the Priest, on bended knees, adores the Sacred Host. The rubric says statim, at once; he must leave no interval, for the Bread has gone, there remain now but the species, the appearances; it has yielded its place to the Lord, it is the Lord Himself whom the Priest adores. Rising from his own act of Adoration, the Priest uplifts the Host, raising It above his head, to show It to the Faithful so that they too may adore.
Formerly the Host was not elevated at this part of the Mass, but only just before the commencing of the Pater. In the Eleventh Century, Berengarius, Archdeacon of Angers, having dared to deny the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, this Showing of the Sacred Host to the people, in the Mass, immediately after Consecration was introduced, in order to excite them to adoration.
After this august ceremony, the Priest lays the Sacred Host on the Corporal and again kneels in adoration before It. From this moment, each time that the Priest touches the Host, he will genuflect both before and after doing so; before, because he is going to touch the Lord, and after, in order to pay Him homage. Besides this, he will not disjoin the thumb and index finger of each hand, until the Ablution, because these fingers are sacred, and have alone the honour of touching the Lord. For this reason, at his Ordination, the Bishop consecrated these fingers in a more special manner, putting the holy oil upon them first, and thence spreading it over the rest of the hand; if a Priest were to lose one of his index fingers, he would need permission from the Pope himself to touch the Body of the Lord with another finger.
Thus is accomplished the Great Mystery of Transubstantiation (that is to say, the changing of one substance into another), according to that word of Our Lord to His Apostles: Do this in commemoration of Me: Hoc facite in meam commemorationem (St. Luke xxii. 19); on condition, however, that the Minister be a Priest validly ordained, and that he pronounce these sacramental words over true bread and natural wine, with the intention of consecrating as the Church does. These conditions fulfilled, God is not free, He is bound by His own Word, and the Mystery must consequently be achieved…
As soon as these above named sacred Words are pronounced, the Body of Our Lord is truly on the Altar; but because, since His Resurrection, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Redeemer cannot be separated, he is on our Altar in a Living State, just as He is in heaven, that is to say, glorious as He has ever been since His Ascension.”
Consecration of the Wine
“The Chalice being uncovered, the Priest pronounces these words: Simili modo post coenatum est and then taking the Chalice into his hands, he continues: accipiens hunc praeclarum calicem in sanctas et venerabiles manus suas. Notice this expression, praeclarum calicem. How Holy Church extols this Chalice which held the Blood of the Lord, and which she is now placing in the hands of her Priest! In the Psalm, we have the Prophet telling us: Et calix meus inebrians quam praeclarus est! (Ps. xxii. 5). Yea, truly, my chalice is inebriating! how august is it! how glorious, how magnificent! Mother Church finds this phrase so well suited to the Sacred Cup which is used to hold the Blood of Jesus Christ, that she now pours out her own sentiments in these very word. The Priest continues: item tibi gratias agens. The Priest spoke previously of this giving of thanks, when, at the consecration of the Host, he said that Our Lord, raising His eyes, gave thanks. Then, taking the Chalice in his left hand, and blessing it with his right, he says: benedixit, deditque discipulis suis, dicens: Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes. The Priest then pronounces the words of Consecration over the wine, whilst he holds the chalice somewhat raised…
Such are the words of Consecration of the Wine, the effect of which is so tremendous. They constitute together with the Words of Consecration of the Bread, the Sacrificial Act itself. Our Lord is the Victim, the Victim immolated on our Altar; not merely in the sense that the Holy Mass, by the mystic separation of the Body and Blood, represents and recalls to us the bloody sacrifice of Calvary; but furthermore, because of the very state and proper destination of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, under the Eucharistic Species. Never was victim in any sacrifice, more truly slain and immolated, than is this Divine Victim of ours, as soon as the Consecration is achieved, when He who is the Splendour of God the Father, has now no other end and destination for this His Divine Glory, Beauty, and very Life, than to enter into us, there to be wholly lost and consumed.
So then, the Sacrifice is verily and indeed accomplished. God has looked upon It, and we can truly say to Him: Behold what was done on Calvary, and were it not for the immortality of Thy Son, the resemblance would be complete. For the accomplishing of this Sacrifice, the Priest lends his ministry to Our Lord who has bound Himself to come down to be thus immolated each time any mortal man invested with the Sacerdotal dignity, holding in his hands bread and wine shall pronounce over them certain words. But who is it that here offers the Sacrifice? Is it the Priest, or is it Jesus Christ? It is Our Lord Himself, in the person of the Priest, who is but one with Him; there is but this single restriction, i.e., that he would not come down on the Altar, if the Priest did not give his concurrence. The Sacrifice, then, is but one, whether it be offered on Calvary or on the Altar.”