Benedict XVI’s sermon for the Chrism Mass priestly vestments

Here are a few quick notes on the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass with Pope Benedict.

The Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica was primarily in Latin, even the renewal of the promises by the priests and even the invitation to the congregation to pray for their priests.  The Third Eucharistic Prayer was used and the second acclamation after the consecration.

The choir, as usual, sang terribly flat against the organ, but they sang with Gregorian chant and also the new compositions which I sincerely dislike, not because they are not Gregorian chant, but because they are gooey and effeminate even when sung by the young cleric chosen by Marini who might have a manly voice for change.  The readings were in the proper Latin rite tones and sung pretty well.  The deacon of the Gospel actually sounded as if perhaps he might be shaving by now!  But I seriously digress.  If I have time later, and my automated recordings turn out, perhaps I can put together an audio clip of example of what I a talking about.  On to more substantive things.

At the Mass the Holy Father gave a splendid sermon about the priest, who acts in persona Christi at the Lord’s altar using as a departure point the symbolic meaning of the priest’s vestments for MassHe cited the old vesting prayers the priest would always use when dressing before Mass.

Here are some fast notes to give you a sense of the sermon.  Eventually an English version will be released, but who knows when.  I am confining myself only to notes on the section about the priest’s vestments.  These are notes, and not a translation.

Beginning with the amice, the Holy Father explained how the priest would place first the cloth upon his head, like a hood, as a symbol of the discipline of his senses and thoughts, which ought not stray off into extraneous things.  He must be disposed to receive his "orientation" from the words and prayers.  This is what ars celebrandi is – the proper way of celebrating. This is, of course, a key concept in his post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis.   

The prayers for the alb and the stole have the same basic focus.  The evoke the festive garb the father placed on the prodigal son who returned to his home poor and filthy.  When priests who acts in persona Christi must remember how far away from him they are.  We must remember how much filthiness there is in our lives.  This reminded me of what the Pope wrote for his stations of the Cross, used when the late Holy Father was dying.  The prayers call to much the Apocalypse of John and the 144,000 elect who washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (Ap 7:14).  When we wash something in the Lamb’s Blood, it becomes clean and white because the Blood is the love of the Crucified Lord.  This is the Blood that washes us and fills our darkness with light.  When we put on the alb we must remember: "He suffered for me also.  It is only because His love is greater than all my sins, that I can represent Him and by a witness of His light."

We can connect the robe of light that the Lord gives us in baptism, and which in a new way the Lord bestows in priestly ordination, to the nuptial garment in the parable of the banquet.  Gregory the Great distinguished between the version of St. Luke and St. Matthew.  For Gregory, Luke spoke of the eschatological banquet in heaven and Luke spoke of the nuptial banquet of the Church’s liturgy.  In Matthew the king enters to see his guests and throws out the man improperly dressed.  Gregory explains that the man was not dressed in love, the purple garment of the two-fold love of God and neighbor.  Quoting Gregory, "In what condition do we want to approach the feast of heaven, if we do not put on the nuptial garment – namely love, which is the only thing that can make us beautiful?" (Gregory the Great Hom. 38, 8-13).  Benedict said that a person without love is dark inside.  The darkness outside is only a reflexion of the inner blindness of the heart.

We must ask ourselves as we celebrate Mass if we wear this garment of love.  Let us ask the Lord to remove from us all hostility, to take away every sense of self-sufficiency, and re-vest ourselves truly in the garb of love so that we can be luminous and not belong to the darkness.

The traditional prayer for the chasuble makes a connection between the priestly vestment and the Lord’s yoke placed upon the priest (cf. Matthew 11:29).  To carry the Lord’s yoke means above all to learn from Him and to be ready at all times to go to His school.  We must learn gentleness and humility, the humility God showed in his manner of being a man.  Gregory Nazianzen asked why God desired to become man.  God wanted to to take stock of what it truly means to be obedient and wanted to measure it to the depths through suffering in His love for us.  In this way He could know directly what we experience, what is asked of us, how much latitude we merit.  (Disc. 30; Disc theo. 4.6).  Sometimes we want to say to Jesus: Lord, your yoke isn’t light at all.  Rather, it is extremely heavy in this world.  But looking upon Him who bore everything, our complaints are extinguished.  His yoke is to love with Him.  And the more we love Him, and with Him we become men who love, then light His apparently heavy yoke becomes for us.

For your reference, here are the vesting prayers of the priest before Mass.  

Said in the Sacristy, as the Priest prepares for Mass

The Prayer of Intention:

I wish to celebrate Mass and confect the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the rite of the holy Church, to the praise of almighty God and all of the Church Triumphant, for my well being and that of all of the Church Militant, for all those commended to my prayers in general and in specific, and for the favorable state of the holy Church. Amen.

Washing his hands, he says:

Give strength, O Lord, to my hands by this washing, so that I may serve You without sin, either physical or mental. 

For the amice, he says:

Lord, put the helmet of salvation on my head, that I may be defended against the incursions of the devil.
 
For the alb, he says:

Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my mouth, so that, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may offer you praise forever.
 
For the cincture, he says:

Bind me up, O lord, with the cincture of purity, and extinguish the flames of lust in me; that the virtues of continence and chastity may find root in me.

For the maniple, he says:

May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors.

For the stole, he says:

Adorn me, O Lord, with the stole of immortality, which was lost with the lies of our first parents; that, however unworthy I may be to go into your sacred mysteries, I may merit eternal joy through them.
 
For the chasuble, he says:

O Lord, You who said: "My yoke is easy, and my load is light"; make me worthy to bear that yoke and that burden, that I may earn your grace.

Amen. 

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