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  • Alexandra Clark | The Daily Knight

The Meaning behind all the Signs of the Cross, the Steps, the Prayers & other Gestures at Holy Mass

Alexandra Clark | The Daily Knight

Take from the The Douay Catechism of 1649

Free PDF of of the entire Catechism here.

CHAP. XXII. The Substance or Essence, and Ceremonies

of the Holy Mass, Expounded

Q. 945. WHAT is the mass?

A. It is the unbloody sacrifice of Christ's body and blood, under the forms of bread and

wine. The word Mass, used in English, being derived from Missa, Latin; and the word

Missa, though it may have other derivations, may be well taken from the Hebrew word

Missach, which signifies a free voluntary offering.

Q. 946. Who instituted the substance or essence of the Mass?

A. Our Saviour Christ at his last supper, when he consecrated, i.e. converted the

substance of bread and wine into his own true body and blood, and gave the same to his

disciples, under the outward forms of bread and wine, commanding them to do what he

had done in commemoration of him. Luke xxii. 19.

Q. 947. Who ordained the ceremonies of the mass?

A. The church, directed by the Holy Ghost.

Q. 948. For what end did the church ordain them?

A. To stir up devotion in the people, and reverence to the sacred mysteries.

Q. 949. For what other end?

A. To instruct the ignorant in spiritual and high things by sensible and material signs; and

by the glory of the church militant to make them comprehend something of the glory of

the triumphant church.

Q. 950. What warrant hath the church to ordain ceremonies?

A. The authority of God himself in the old law, commanding many and most stately

ceremonies in things belonging to his service. See the whole book of Leviticus.

Q. 951. What besides?

A. The example of Christ in the new law using dust and spittle to cure the blind, the deaf,

and dumb. He prostrated himself at prayer in the garden three times. He lifted up his eyes

to heaven and groaned, when he was raising Lazarus from the dead, which were all


Q. 952. Did he use any ceremonies at the last supper, where he ordained the

sacrifice of the mass?

A. He did; for he washed the feet of his disciples, he blessed the bread and the cup, and

exhorted the communicants.

Q. 953. What signify the several ornaments of the priest? (see video explaining this here)

A. The Amict, or linen veil, which he first puts on, represents the veil with which the

Jews covered the face of Christ, when they buffeted him in the house of Caiaphas, and

bid him prophesy, "who it was that struck him."

2. The Alb signifies the white garment, which Herod put on him, to intimate that he was a


3. The Girdle signifies the cord that bound him in the garden.

4. The Maniple, the cord which bound him to the pillar.

5. The Stole, the cord by which they led him to the crucified.

6. The priest's upper, Vestment, represents both the seamless coat of Christ, as also the

purple garment with which they clothed him in derision in the house of Pilate.

7. The Altar-stone, represents the cross on which he offered himself unto the Father.

8. The Chalice, the sepulchre or grave of Christ.

9. The Paten, the stone which was rolled to the door of the sepulchre.

10. The Altar-cloths, with the corporal and Pall, the linen in which the dead body of

Christ was shrouded and buried. Finally, the candles on the Altar puts us in mind of the

light which Christ brought into the world by his passion, as also of his immortal and ever

shining divinity.

Q. 954. What meaneth the priest's coming back three steps from the Altar, and

humbling himself before he begins?

A. It signifies the prostrating of Christ in the garden, when he began his passion.

Q. 955. Why doth the priest bow himself again at the Confiteor?

A. To move the people to humiliation; and to signify that by the merits and passion of

Christ, (which they are there to commemorate) salvation may be had, if it be sought with

a contrite and humble heart.

Q. 956. Why doth he beat his breast as Mea Culpa?

A. To teach the people to return into the heart, and signifies that all sin is from the heart,

and ought to be discharged from the heart, with hearty sorrow.

Q. 957. Why doth the priest, ascending to the Altar, kiss it in the middle?

A. Because the Altar signifies the church, composed of divers people, as of divers living

stones, which Christ kissed in the middle, by giving a holy kiss of peace and unity, both

to the Jews and Gentiles.

Q. 958. What signifies the Introit?

A. It is, as it were, the entrance into the office, or that which the priest saith first after his

coming to the Altar, and signifies the desires and groanings of the ancient fathers longing

for the coming Christ.

Q. 959. Why is the Introit repeated twice?

A. To signify the frequent repetition of their desires and supplications.

Q. 960. Why do we add unto the Introit, Gloria Patri, &c. glory be to the Father,

&c. Amen?

A. To render thanks to the most Blessed Trinity for our redemption, accomplished by the


Q. 961. What means the Kyrie Eleison?

A. It signifies, "Lord have mercy on us," and is repeated thrice in honour of the Son, and

thrice in honour of the Holy Ghost.

Q. 962. Why so often?

A. To signify our great necessity, and earnest desires to find mercy.

Q. 963. It signifies, "Glory be to God on high;" and is the song which the angels

sung at the birth of Christ, used in this place to signify, that the mercy which we

beg, was brought us by the birth and death of Christ.

Q. 964. What means the Oremus?

A. It signifies, "Let us pray;" and is the priest's address to the people, by which he invites

them to join with him, both in his prayer and intention.

Q. 965. What means the Collect?

A. It is the priest's prayer, and is called a Collect, because it collects and gathers together

the supplications of the multitude, speaking them all with one voice and also because it is

a collection, or sum of the Epistle and Gospel, for the most part of the year, especially of

all the Sundays.

Q. 966. Why doth the clerk say, Amen.

A. He doth it in the name of the people, to signify, that all concur with the priest, in his

petition of prayer.

Q. 967. What meaneth the Dominus Vobiscum?

A. It signifies, "Our Lord be with you," and is used to beg God's presence and assistance

to the people, in the performance of that work.

Q. 968. Why is it answered Et cum Spiritu tuo, "and with thy spirit?"

A. To signify, that the people with one consent do beg the like for him.

Q. 969. Why are all the prayers ended with Per Dominum nostrum Jesum

Christum, &c. "Through our Lord Jesus Christ?"

A. To signify, that whatsover we beg of God the Father, we must beg it in the name of

Jesus Christ, by whom he hath given us all things.

Q. 970. What signifies the Epistle?

A. It signifies the old law; as also the preaching of the Prophets and the Apostles, out of

whom it is commonly taken: and it is read before the Gospel, to intimate that the old law

being able to bring nothing to perfection, it was necessary the new should succeed it.

Q. 971. What means the Gradual?

A. It signifies the penance preached by St. John Baptist, and that we cannot obtain the

salvation of Christ, but by the holy degrees of penance.

Q. 972. What means the Alleluiah?

A. It is the voice of men rejoicing, and aspiring to the joys of heaven.

Q. 973. Why is the Alleluiah repeated so often at the feast of Easter?