The Four Ends of the Mass as Elements of Christian Society

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is first and most importantly an act of worship of the Divine Trinity. It is the highest act of the virtue of religion, which itself is expressed most excellently in the cult of sacrifice.

As Father Feeney beautifully stated it in his “The Eucharist in Four Simple Mysteries,” “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a Divine Giver giving a Divine Gift to a Divine Recipient. It is God giving God to God!” We mortals, by virtue of our sacramental baptism, are lawfully deputed to co-offer that sacrifice with the priest-celebrant and thereby to participate in this godly sacrificial spectacle, so worthily called by our Eastern Christian brethren, “the Divine Liturgy.”

It is wrong to reduce the Mass to a mere act of human fellowship. It is also wrong to reduce it to a catechetical tool. While the Traditional Latin Mass, which more perfectly expresses Catholic doctrine, is superior to the Novus Ordo on that account, it would be wrong to exaggerate this secondary aspect of the Mass over and above what is primary. In fact, to emphasize this teaching aspect of the Mass over what is primary and most important, is to fall into one of the Protestant errors concerning the Mass that is so often part of the ambiance of the Novus Ordo.

None of this is to diminish the importance of the ancient axiom lex orandi lex credendi, which says, in summary, that the words of the traditional worship of the Church are a reliable aqueduct of apostolic tradition, and are, therefore, useful for theological argumentation.

Though the Holy Mass and all the Church’s other liturgical rites are not primarily and most importantly catechetical and didactic, they very much are catechetical and didactic. But they are so in a higher and more mystical way than classroom teaching ever could be.

The four ends of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and petition — provide us with a wonderful schema for deriving lessons from the liturgy. For it is certain that, in offering to God what is His due in these four ends, we may learn a great deal about God, about our obligations to Him and our neighbor, and about ourselves.

Adoration is “an act of religion offered to God in acknowledgment of His supreme perfection and dominion, and of the creature’s dependence upon Him” (Catholic Encyclopedia). By it, we render glory to God. In the Mass, the Gloria (adoramus te, benedicumus te, glorificamus te) and Sanctus express this beautifully, as do many of the Psalms — e.g. the shortest (116) and the last (150) of the Psalter — and such liturgical hymns as Saint Thomas’ hymn to the Blessed Sacrament, Adoro Te Devote. Father Michael Jarecki, our dear departed chaplain, used to give people a simple but firm grasp of the concept of adoration in his inimitably ardent way: “You know what adoration is? It’s BIG God and little me!”

Thanksgiving is the rendering of gratitude to God for all the benefits He has bestowed on us. Liturgically, it is richly expressed in the text of the Preface, which varies in part depending on the liturgical day, but always begins (after the versicles and responses) with the priest chanting these words: “It is truly meet and just, right, and availing unto salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty and everlasting God.” Many other prayers of the ordinary and propers of the Mass express thanksgiving. There is a votive Mass of Thanksgiving in the Roman Missal (which simply has a second collect, secret, and postcommunion added to another set of propers). The frequent liturgical (and extra-liturgial) use of the words Deo Gratias throughout history are a wonderful witness to the tradition of rendering thanks to God.

Reparation is “The act or fact of making amends. It implies an attempt to restore things to their normal or sound conditions, as they were before something wrong was done” (Father Hardon’s Catholic Dictionary). The Council of Trent taught “That the Sacrifice of the Mass is propitiatory both for the living and the dead. … Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not as yet fully purified, is it rightly offered, agreeably to a tradition of the apostles.” All those prayers expressing contrition, sorrow, the need of forgiveness, etc. — abundant in the Mass — show this end of the Mass. The three beautiful “humility prayers” that follow immediately after the Agnus Dei are especially indicative of this end.

Petition is what most people probably mean when they use the word “pray.” It is to ask for something, to beseech or supplicate the Almighty for what we need, either in the order of nature or in the order of grace. Jesus Himself gave us the example in that prayer which is uniquely called “the Lord’s Prayer,” because He taught it to us. It is common to speak of the “seven petitions” of the Our Father, each of which asks for a distinct blessing from God. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass makes numerous petitions for spiritual and material favors for ourselves and others. In the propers of the Mass, these are always notable in the collect, secret, and postcommunion prayers. Indeed, the Church, in her liturgy, not only prays on our behalf and encourages us to pray with her, but also teaches us how to formulate worthy petitions for which to ask. Special liturgical rites such as ember days and votive Masses often make very focused and specific intentions that are worthy of our attention.

For the rest of these lines it is our goal to consider how the four ends of the Mass can be formative of a Christian atmosphere which elevates our behavior, our manners, and therefore our culture. Such an atmosphere facilitates that profoundly Christian thing of pursuing the good of virtue together in society.

While adoration is due to God alone (to offer adoration — latria — to a creature is the essence of idolatry), there is a worship, or honor, that is due to Mary and the saints, and, due proportion being guarded, even to our fellow mortals yet living. “Honor to whom honor is due,” says Saint Paul (Rom. 13:7). In other words, the person who is truly disposed to honor God, also honors God’s image in man. This is to observe the economy of Saint John the Beloved, who asks, rhetorically, “For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not?” (1 John 4:20).

So the person well disposed to adore God is also well disposed to show respect and reverence to men who deserve it, either by virtue of their office or their moral excellence. True, we do not confuse the first with the fourth commandment, but the ideal of reverence is found in both.

Placing this culture of reverence and respect in the context of the liturgy itself, we may observe the sacred courtesy that is shown to God’s ministers at the altar, especially the celebrant, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The bows, the reverent kisses of the hand, the gracious and dignified accommodation of the needs of the celebrant as he ministers at the altar, all carried out in an ordered, masculine, and hierarchical ceremonial that uplifts all and degrades none — all of this shows a social worship of genuine refinement and courtesy, a word that comes from that same Old French word whence comes “court.” Courtesy described how one behaved in the court of a king, and our Catholic sanctuary is the earthly court of the King of Kings.

Is it any coincidence that our modern egalitarianism is accompanied by course manners, disrespect, and a rude upturning of natural and supernatural social hierarchies? No, it is not. And this is paralleled in novel liturgy that is both anthropocentric and trite.

We ought to see teaching manners and respect to children and youth against this backdrop. Real manners are not arbitrary and baroque refinements meant to cramp social interaction. They are, rather, conventions that foster a well ordered and virtuous social intercourse. Manners are not virtues, but they are the custodians of virtue.

What is said of adoration can be applied mutatis mutandis, to thanksgiving. When we render thanks to God, it is an act of the virtue of religion, which is part of justice. According to Saint Thomas, there is a distinct special virtue, also part of justice, called gratitude, which is something we are obliged to show all our benefactors. Saint Thomas has much to say about this virtue (see here, and a summary here), as well as about its opposite, ingratitude (here and here). In speaking about gratitude, the Angelic Doctor distinguishes it from the virtue of religion, but he also relates it to our gratitude to God. This suggests the similarity that exists between thanking God and thanking our fellow creatures.

It may seem like a small thing to teach a child to say “thank you” — something he will need to be taught both by instruction and (more) by example — but it is not a small thing. And parents should insist on this, for it is obligatory to thank a benefactor for a gift.

We can ask forgiveness of our fellow creatures just as we ask forgiveness of God. But after we have apologized and been forgiven, we need to repair the evil done. If one breaks another person’s window with his wayward baseball, an apology is in order, but so is payment of money to replace the broken window. This is a simple matter of justice. Being habituated by our life of prayer (and sacramental confession) to admitting our guilt and seeking to make right should have the additional good effect of making us contribute more to the common good of society by setting right the wrongs we have done. One of the most repulsive things to behold is a Catholic who is quick to spot the beam in the eye of his brother while ignoring his own massive ocular plank. Just as we ought to teach children to say “thank you,” we should teach them to say, “I’m sorry,” “please pardon me,” etc., when such words are necessary.

Lastly, there are right ways and wrong ways of making petitions to our fellow creatures. “Please,” which literally means, “if it pleases you,” is a polite way of making a request. The modern welfare state and the progressivist multiplication of a variety of non-extant “rights” have both turned us into a society of brats who cannot even ask for something politely or graciously, assuming that we have a “right” to whatever we want. As with the aforementioned conventions regarding manners, not only must we say “please” ourselves, we must demand it of our children.

Another vantage point to this question gives us a further insight. So far, we have been looking at the question from the top down, emphasizing how rendering our homages to God can positively influence the societies we form. But we can also look at the question from the bottom up. Grace builds on nature. If we are incapable of showing respect, reverence, humility in making supplication, gratitude for favors received, and sorrow and restitution for wrongdoing, what is there for grace to build upon in our dealings with God and our neighbor?

Forming societies built upon the four ends of the Holy Mass and their moral and social ramifications is to rebuild Christian culture. This is the Catholic response to the diseased pornocracy that seeks to engulf us and rob our children of their innocence. We cannot meet them on their own tilted playing field, but must have recourse to a higher court, that of Heaven, whose courtesies we must bring down to earth as part of our mission to sanctify it.

Sursum corda! Lift up your hearts!