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The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Catholic Art by H. Reed Armstrong

MAY 30, 2013

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Catholic Art

by H. Reed Armstrong

According to the new English edition of the Roman Missal, the priest, in the introductory rite, addresses the congregation as follows: “Brethren (Brothers and sisters), let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” The term, “sacred mysteries” in reference to the Mass is of ancient origin as is the “breaking of the bread,” or the “the Lord’s supper.” All of these terms refer to the events of Our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, starting on Holy Thursday with the Last Supper, His death on Good Friday, and His coming forth from the tomb on Easter morn. While the Protestant denominations have downgraded or denied the sacrificial nature of the sacred mysteries, retaining only the idea of “the Lord’s supper” as a symbolic memorial, the Catholic Church has steadfastly upheld the “Real Presence” of Christ’s very body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharistic species as well as the sacrificial nature of the Mass. As stated in the venerable Baltimore catechism, The Mass is the Sacrifice of the New Law in which Christ, through the ministry of the priest, offers Himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine.”

In order to grasp the sacrificial nature of the Catholic Mass, however, one must first look to the ritual “holocausts” of the Old Testament. Although the ritual holocausts of the Jewish People were multitudinous, as listed in the Book of Leviticus, the sacrificial offerings of Abel, Abraham, and the Passover ordained by God through Moses are of the highest significance.

For the Christian, however, as eloquently explained by St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Doctor of the Church, all the holocausts set forth in the Old Testament are fulfilled in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.

All the sacrifices of the old law were figures of the sacrifice of our divine Redeemer… the sacrifices of peace…the sacrifices of thanksgiving … the sacrifices of expiation … and finally, the sacrifices of impetration. … Jesus Christ has, then, paid the price of our redemption in the Sacrifice of the Cross. But he wishes that the fruit of the ransom given should be applied to us in the Sacrifice of the Altar. … Hence the Roman Catechism teaches that the Sacrifice of the Mass does not serve only to praise God and thank him for the gifts he has granted us, but is the true propitiatory sacrifice, by which we obtain from the Lord pardon.

The actual depiction of the Sacrifice of the Altar in art, however, did not develop until medieval times when images of the Mass and the moment of Consecration itself began appearing in prayer books and missals.

Depictions of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass continued uninterrupted through the Renaissance, as in the oft depicted Mass of St. Gregory. In the most popular, by Adriaen Isenbrant, painted ca. 1500 and now in the Prado museum in Madrid, Pope St. Gregory is shown saying Mass when Christ appears on the altar as the Man of Sorrows at the moment of consecration with his hands opened showing the  wounds of his passion. According to tradition going back to the 8th century, while saying Mass one day, Pope Gregory became aware of a disbeliever (the woman who had actually baked the bread) and began to pray for a sign that would leave no doubt about the real presence of Christ in the Sacred Host.

Depictions of the Mass in art, however, reached an apogee in the post-Tridentine Baroque. Continue reading

What is the Object of Human Life? by Winston Elliott III

What is the Object of Human Life?

by Winston Elliott III
Russell Kirk

In the paragraphs below, from A Program for Conservatives, Dr. Russell Kirk addresses conservatives with words which remind us of our pilgrim status in this world of tears. We are not called to material success. We are called to obedience. We are called to love. The True, the Good, and the Beautiful will find their true place in our culture only when many more of us are obedient to Love.

“What is the object of human life? The enlightened conservative does not believe that the end or aim of life is competition; or success; or enjoyment; or longevity; or power; or possessions. He believes instead, that the object of life is Love. He knows that the just and ordered society is that in which Love governs us, so far as Love ever can reign in this world of sorrows; and he knows that the anarchical or the tyrannical society is that in which Love lies corrupt. He has learnt that Love is the source of all being, and that Hell itself is ordained by Love. He understands that Death, when we have finished the part that was assigned to us, is the reward of Love. And he apprehends the truth that the greatest happiness ever granted to a man is the privilege of being happy in the hour of his death.
He has no intention of converting this human society of ours into an efficient machine for efficient machine-operators, dominated by master mechanics. Men are put into this world, he realizes, to struggle, to suffer, to contend against the evil that is in their neighbors and in themselves, and to aspire toward the triumph of Love. They are put into this world to live like men, and to die like men. He seeks to preserve a society which allows men to attain manhood, rather than keeping them within bonds of perpetual childhood. With Dante, he looks upward from this place of slime, this world of gorgons and chimeras, toward the light which gives Love to this poor earth and all the stars. And, with Burke, he knows that “they will never love where they ought to love, who do not hate where they ought to hate.”
Winston Elliott III is Editor-in-Chief of The Imaginative Conservative.
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