What is the Mass of the Pre-sanctified?
On Good Friday, we celebrate the Liturgy of the Passion. Since the earliest times of the Church, no Mass has been offered on Good Friday. Instead the service has consisted of a solemn procession, readings (including the Passion in the Gospel of St. John), a series of petitions, the veneration of the cross, and a Communion service. The simple Communion service includes the recitation of the Our Father, the proclamation “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, happy are those who are called to His Supper,” and then the reception of Holy Communion (which was consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper) by the celebrant and the faithful. The omission of Mass reflects the deep sorrow the Church has in remembering the sacrifice of our Lord on the first Good Friday.
The reception of Holy Communion was introduced to the Good Friday Liturgy about the year 800. Prior to that time, there was simply the service of readings, a series of petitions and the veneration of the cross. Because the Holy Eucharist is the best way that the memory of the passion of our Lord is renewed, the distribution of Holy Communion (again, consecrated the evening before at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper) became the practice, and both the celebrant and the faithful received.
Unfortunately, the distribution became restricted to the celebrant alone in the late Middle Ages, a restriction officially mandated in the 1600s. Instead of the simple Communion Service, there was now “The Mass of the Pre-sanctified,” which proceeded as follows: After the veneration of the cross, a procession formed and proceeded to the place where the Holy Eucharist had been reposed after the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The idea of the reposition being that the Lord had been “entombed.” The Holy Eucharist (the large priest’s Host specifically) was then placed in a chalice and carried back to the altar in procession with lit candles. The celebrant and other ministers then approached the altar to celebrate “The Mass of the Pre-sanctified.” (Note that although called “Mass,” it was not a true Mass because there was no sacrifice and consecration. The Host had already been consecrated, hence “pre-sanctified.”) The celebrant then incensed the Blessed Sacrament. The Host was then placed on the paten, and then the corporal, without the saying of any prayers. The deacon then placed wine in the chalice, and the subdeacon, water, with no blessings or prayers offered by them or the celebrant. The celebrant then incensed the “oblation” (i.e. referring to the Sacred Host and the chalice with the water and wine even though again technically there was no sacrifice), the cross and the altar. The celebrant then said to the people, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” After the recitation of the Our Father, the celebrant elevated the Host so that it could be viewed by the people, and consumed the Host and then the chalice of wine in which he had placed a fragment of the Host. Given this description, one could see how it was like a Mass but not a Mass. After receiving Holy Communion, the priest concluded the liturgy similarly as we do today, and then he and the other ministers processed from the church.
Pope Pius XII in 1955 (when he issued a new Holy Week Ordinal) suppressed the “Mass of the Pre-sanctified” to avoid the confusion of there being a Mass. He also reinstituted the distribution of Holy Communion for the faithful. The Liturgy of the Passion celebrated today therefore better reflects the practice of the early Church.
Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)