St. Vincent Ferrer, O. P.
The Life of Jesus in the Mass
Every Christian ought to believe what the Master, Jesus, on Holy Thursday ordained and instituted the holy sacrament of the Mass, to the holy apostles present, and he commanded them that they were to do the same with great reverence and perpetual memorial, according to what St. Luke says (Lk 22:19), and St. Paul to the Corinthians: "Do this in memory of me," (1 Cor 11:24) Namely: you should want to recall and remember devoutly, by hearing Mass, the entire blessed life of Jesus Christ. For this reason the priest, when elevating the chalice, says: "As often as you shall do these actions, do this in memory of Me." He does not say: "In memory of my passion," but "in my memory," signifying that the Mass comprehends not only the sacred death of Jesus Christ, but also, quietly [tacite] his blessed life, beginning from his incarnation up to the holy Ascension.
Someone might say: This command was given and imposed only to priests and not to laypeople. I reply that this command was also given to the laity. To the priests it was ordained that they remember the holy life of Jesus Christ by devoutly celebrating Mass, to the laity however by devoutly hearing, attentively listening and contemplating.
And I find that the Son of God, descending from heaven and assuming human flesh in the virginal womb of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, up to the day on which he ascended to heaven did thirty principal deeds which is comprehended and reprised in the Mass. And they are the following.
1. The first work which our Master and Savior Jesus Christ, did for us in this world, was his sublime and wonderful incarnation, when descending from heaven he placed himself in the bosom of the Virgin Mary, by which he put on our vesture, that is our humanity; for the divinity was hidden under the humanity. And this wonderful work is symbolized and represented in the Solemn Mass, when the priest enters the sacristy, signifying the entry of the Son of God into the bosom of the Virgin Mary, where he was clothed with our humanity.
Here the devout Christian ought to contemplate three things: first, that just as in the sacristy there are relics, jewels, and other ecclesiastical decorations, so in this glorious sacristy, that is in the Virginal womb, there were relics, namely the power of God the Father working, wisdom and the person of God the Son incarnating himself and the grace of the Holy Spirit informing. There were jewels namely grace and virtues, for in the Virgin Mary dwells the fullness of grace and virtues; and ornaments with which our high priest is about to celebrate Mass, on Good Friday, on the altar of the True Cross, in the sacred and sanctified body of Jesus Christ, from the purest and most chaste blood of the Virgin Mary formed and incarnated.
Second is that when the priest is vested in the sacristy, no lay person sees him; but they believe that he is vested and the hope that he will come forward shortly. For which it must be noted that when [dum] our high priest Jesus Christ vested himself in the virginal womb of the Virgin Mary, no one from the Jewish people saw him or knew him; in the same way that his Incarnation was hidden and kept secret, the believers however believed and hoped that he would vest himself, that is be incarnated and born of the Virgin, just as it had been prophesied by many prophets.
Third is that the priest in the sacristy puts on seven vestments. Namely the cassock, if he is a simple priest -- a rochet if is he is a bishop, a scapular if he is a monk;-- amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole and chasuble. So, our great high priest vested himself in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who is called a sacristy, seven vestments, namely the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, by which the most sacred Body of Jesus Christ is vested and dressed, (Isaiah 11:2-3) This is the first work in the symbolism of the Mass.
2. The second work which our Savior Jesus did was when on the night of his birth day, God and man he came out from the virginal womb and revealed himself to the whole world, ant the night, which had been dark, is illuminated like the day. And he wished to be born before Joseph and Mary, and placed in the middle of two animals, the ass and the ox. And a multitude of angels were singing: "Glory to God in the highest!" And the shepherds worshiped.
Secretly he remained in the glorious sacristy, that is in the Virgin Mary, after his birth, openly and publicly he declared himself. This is symbolized when the priest comes out from the sacristy. The Deacon represents the Virgin Mary, the Sub-deacon, St. Joseph, two acolytes the ox and the ass. The light which they carry signifies the brightness which showed forth at the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Priests who with candles and with a loud voice sing "Glory to the Father…" when the priest goes out from the sacristy, they represent the multitude of angels singing: "Glory is given to God, etc." The cymbals sound and the bells ring, which signifies the great joy of the shepherds when they were celebrating with the sound of flutes [tibiarum] the birth of our Savior and high priest. When he exits from the sacristy, dressed in gleaming vestments, the priest symbolizes the purity of Jesus Christ who pure and shining remained without the stain of sin.
3. The third wonderful work which Jesus Christ did was when on the eight day after his nativity he willed to be circumcised. For original sin circumcision happened, for which in no way was Jesus Christ obliged, since he was without any stain of sin, but accepting it he taught us a great example of humility, wishing to appear a sinner and in the likeness of sin.
And this the priest symbolizes when making a profound bow he confesses that he is a sinner, saying: "I confess to almighty God, " etc. Although the priest be sacramentally absolved, he is nevertheless bound to declare himself a sinner, even if he were holier than John the Baptist; for demonstrating and signifying that Jesus Christ, who is the beginning and fullness of all sanctity and perfection, wished to appear a sinner, subjecting himself to the law of circumcision, so that he might put an end to it and complete it; or signifying the mystical body of the Church and all of mankind.
4. The fourth work which he did was when he summoned the three kings form the East, led by a star, which led them up to the manger of the ox and ass, in the middle of which they adored and confessed him to be God and Lord of the universe, offering him gold, frankincense and myrrh.
This is symbolized when the priest, after the confession, ascends the altar and kisses it, profoundly bowing his head saying,: " Take away from us, O Lord, we beseech You, all our iniquities that we may enter with pure minds into the Holy of Holies,"(1) and just as three kings brought three gifts, the priest offers, by bowing himself, the incense of devout prayer, the gold of adoration with great reverence, and the bitter myrrh, signing himself with the sign of the Holy Cross in memory of the sorrowful and bitter passion of Jesus Christ.
5. The fifth work which Jesus Christ did in this world, was when he wished to be presented in the temple. His glorious mother brought him there and presented him, and there were present Simenon and that holy widow, Anna, praising God.
This the priest symbolizes when he comes to the side of the altar, receives the missal and reads the Entrance Antiphon [Introit] of the Mass. The Deacon and Sub-deacon and assistant symbolize the glorious Simeon and the prophetess Anna. The Acolytes and the others, who should not approach the altar, symbolize the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, and the other ancients and parents, who were standing at a distance hearing and devoutly paying attention. Truly the virgin Mary was entirely worthy that she would approach the altar, but she chose not to, to give an example to the laity who also as holy and justified, ought not ascend to the altar unless because of an urgent necessity, otherwise not without sin.[non sine damno.] When the holy man Simeon received the glorious Son of God, he sang four verses (Lk 2:29-32), signifying the four actions which the priest does; namely, the reading of the Introit; Kyrie eleison, which is the same as imploring the mercy of God the Father for himself and others, the Glory to God, and the Prayer.
6. The sixth work which Our Lord Jesus Christ did in this world, was when he fled from the promised land to the land of Egypt, yielding the place to the fury of Herod. And here he remained with his glorious mother and St. Joseph for seven years.
And this is represented in a solemn Mass when the Sub-deacon with one acolyte goes to read the Epistle, the priest remaining at the altar with another and a Deacon; and then the take themselves from the altar, and are seated; and sitting, they do seven things, which represents the seven years when Jesus Christ remained in Egypt: First, the epistle is read, second the Responsory, third the Alleluia (a Hebrew word which means "We praise God," fourth, a sequence [prosa]; fifth a blessing is given to the Deacon, -- he performs the last act standing, signifying that in the seventh year Jesus Christ returned to his own land.
7. The seventh work which he did in this world, was when, having returned from Egypt into the promised land after the death of Herod, led by his Mother and St. Joseph into the temple of Jerusalem, and there he stayed. And on the third day, his Mother and Joseph discovered him in the middle of the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.
And this represents the priest, when rising from his seat, goes to the altar and with devout attention listens to the singing of the Gospel, signifying that in the temple Jesus Christ listened to the Jews and he having been questioned prudently was instructing them in the faith of the Messiah. And so, the gospel ended, the priest intones the Credo, "I believe in one God."
8. The eighth work which our Savior Jesus Christ did in this world, was that when he was found by his mother and St. Joseph in the temple, so much was their joy that they were not able to keep from tears; which Jesus Christ seeing, out of humility and love,, left the teachers and came with them to Nazareth where, that he might console them of the sadness which they had had at his omission, he served them, according to the gospel which says: "He was subject to them," (Lk 2:51).
And this humble service the priest symbolizes when, having said the Creed, he turns himself to the people saying, The Lord be with you; and then he arranges [disponit] the host and chalice, and the other things pertaining to the holy sacrifice, in symbolizing the deference of Jesus Christ toward the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph; as it is said by St. Paul and St. Matthew ch. 20, " the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister," (Mt 20:28)
9. The ninth work which he did in this world was when thirty years old, he left Nazareth where he was serving his mother and St. Joseph, and in many ways: for with the other boys he used to go to the spring, which was a long way from Nazareth just as the monastery of the Çaydia is from the town of Valencia. Of this service the Master of Church History (Peter Comestor, 1178) makes explicit mention. Also he would help St. Joseph in his carpentry work, just as Matthew says in ch. 13:55, and Mark ch. 6:3, and according to the Gloss, by St. Nicholas of Lyra in these gospels. And after he had completed thirty years, he left them and went to the Jordan River, and received baptism which baptism indeed was not necessary for him, but he accepted it so that through contact with his sacred body there might be communicated to the water the regenerative power for saving those believing and obeying him.
And this the priest symbolizes when he washes his fingers, not because of necessity, since he is pure in conscience through sacramental confession, and clean by a natural bath, but to commemorate the testimony of humility which Jesus Christ gave wishing to be baptized.
10. The tenth work which our Savior did in this world was, according to Luke, Mark and Matthew, that after the baptism he went into the desert and fasted forty days and forty nights, neither eating nor drinking, but the whole time staying in prayer, not praying for himself but for us.
And this is symbolized when the priest at the middle of the altar bows profoundly and says, "In a spirit of humility…,"(2) praying that in the Holy Sacrifice, we might become a sacrifice [hostia] which is pleasing to the Lord our God. This prayer commemorates the prostrations and humiliations which the Savior was doing in the desert, praying and beseeching. The priest however turns himself around to the people saying: "Pray brethren…," for me that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable before God. And those attending then should say, "The Holy Spirit come over you, etc…" (3)Note that the prayer of Jesus Christ in the desert was secret; so in this step, the priest prays secretly so that not even the deacon nor the Sub-deacon can hear.
11. The eleventh work which Jesus the Savior did was that after he had fasted he began to preach, crying out: "Do penance, and the kingdom of God is at hand."
And the priest symbolizes this by saying, in a loud voice, "Lift up your hearts."(4) By teaching us that Jesus Christ taught both by mouth and by example. And so as he sings the Preface he holds his hands up, and not down. [elevatas et not demissas.]
12. The twelfth work which Jesus Christ did in this world was that not only was he teaching by word and deed, but he confirmed his sacred teachings with miracles. For only God can work such things, namely raise the dead, give sight to the blind, heal the paralytics.
And this the priest commemorates when three times he says, "Holy," denoting that Jesus Christ worked miracles not through his human power, but in virtue of the three divine persons, Father and Son and the Holy Spirit, of one all powerful God. Finally he says: "Hosanna," that is "Saving," to demonstrate that Christ worked miracles so that he might save us.(5)
13. The thirteenth work which he did in this world was when after he had preached and worked many miracles, at thirty-three years of age, he came to Jerusalem so that he might dine with his disciples. And secretly many things were necessary for the redemption of mankind, especially two, namely the institution of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and the great sermon which is prolonged in St. John , from chapter thirteen to seventeen.
And this is symbolized when the priest quietly reads the Canon, only the deacon hearing, just as only the apostles heard the sermon of Christ.
14. The fourteenth work was when, these two thing done, he entered into the garden [to] Jericho, and there offered three prayers, demonstrating that in so far as man he prayed to God the Father for three conditions of persons, namely for the holy fathers who were in purgatory, for those present in the world at that time, and for those in the future. After the third prayer he sweat blood, warning that those who were to come, with special fervor ought to pray because of the great dangers and trials which shortly will come upon them and which they will not be able to overcome unless by fervid prayers and in the strength of patience.
The priest symbolizes these three prayers by making three signs of the cross over the chalice, saying, "Blessed, ascribed, ratified…" and finally two other crosses, of which one over the chalice saying "And of the blood," that we might know that in his Passion he prayed for himself insofar as he was a man, and for us sinners.(6)
15. The fifteenth work was when after the aforesaid prayer a great multitude of people, came forward with a great clamor, with swords and clubs, to seize Jesus. And he calmly [benevolenter] was willing to be seized and bound and led before Pilate who sentenced him to death on the cross: from which sentence he wished not to appeal, but gently assumed and carried his blessed cross.
And this is represented in the Mass when the priest takes the host for consecrating it, which he holds in his hands, saying, "And lifting up his eyes to heaven," etc.(7) And then there is a great sounding of bells and of the bell wheel [rotae](8) signifying the tumult and sounds of the Jews when they arrested Jesus. Then the priest makes the sign of the cross over the host saying: "Bless and break," etc.signifying the sentence of death passed by Pilate.
16. The sixteenth work was when, sentenced to death, Jesus Christ was led to death on Calvary and there he was crucified between two thieves, one on his right who is called Dismas, the other on the left named Gestas.
And this is signified when the priest elevates the host in which is Christ, God and man and he holds it with both hands. The right signifies the good thief, the left the bad. After this he elevates the chalice, signifying that Jesus Christ on the cross offered and sacrificed his precious blood to God the Father for the redemption of mankind. For which reason the priest elevating the precious blood, ought to say to himself, "We offer to you Lord the inestimable price of our redemption."
17. The seventeenth work which Jesus Christ did was that, when he was crucified, he did not cease praying. And first he said in a loud voice, "Eli! Eli! Lama sabachtani." – My God My God why have you abandoned me!" To which words St. Jerome adds: "Look on me.:" And he continued prayer up to the verse: "Into your hands I commend my spirit." And there were 150 versicles (syllables?) Christ in the Cross said as many syllables as there are psalms, 150.
And while he was on the cross the wicked Jews did not cease laying on him injuries and curses, and others, saying, "Vah, you who destroy the temple of God, etc.," (Mt 27:40). Others: " If you be the Son of God, come down from the cross." Others finally, "He saved others; himself he cannot save," (v. 42). And the Lord calmly did not reply, but continued in prayer with great patience.
And this the priest symbolizes when holding his arms extended in the form of a cross, he prays saying, "Mindful, therefore, Lord, we, Your ministers,," etc.(9)
18. The eighteenth work which Jesus Christ did in this world was when although already wounded with four wounds, namely in his hands and feet, nevertheless he wished, after his death to be pierced with a lance in his sacred side, whence flowed out blood and water. Which miraculously happened, contrary to nature, for all his blood had already been poured out, first in the scourging, then in the crowning of thorns, and in the nailing of his hands and feet.
And these five principal wounds are signified, when the priest makes the sign of the cross five times over the host and precious Blood saying, "Through him, and with him, etc."(10)
19. The nineteenth work was when Christ crucified, crying out said the seven [last] words, which is commemorated when the priest recites the Our Father, in which seven petitions are contained. And indeed he does not say it secretly, but singing, just as Christ on the cross spoke out with a loud voice.
20. The twentieth work was, that Christ wanted his most sacred humanity to be divided in three parts; namely, the body on the cross, the blood shed in the tortures, and the soul which descended to hell to the holy fathers.
And this is represented in the Mass, when the priest divides the host in three parts. It must be noted however that he holds them together, because, even though the most holy humanity of Christ had been divided, never was the Divinity separated from it; moreover its was united to each part, as St. Paul says: "What he assumed once, he never divided," [?]. It is similar to when a fragment of crystal is exposed to the sun, and then it is smashed into many more fragments, the sun lights up each part in the same way that it lights up the whole crystal; so each part of the humanity of Christ personally and substantially was filled with Divinity, just as the fragment of crystal is filled with the sun.
21. The twenty-first work which Christ performed was when he converted the many kinds of persons, wishing to show the fruit of his passion. And first, he converted the thief, a man of bad life and wicked deeds; second, a centurion, a leader of soldiers who said, "Indeed this man was the son of God," (Mk 15:39); and third, ordinary people, according to which St. Luke said "And all the multitude of them …saw the things that were done," namely the miracles which happened, "returned striking their breasts," (Lk 23:48).
These various persons are symbolized in the Mass when the priest three times says "Lamb of God,"(11) first for every sinner, signifying that the Lord Our God wishes to spare him just as he spared the thief, second signifying that just as Jesus Christ illuminated the centurion, so the governors of the people, whether spiritual or temporal he desires to illuminate them, and to pardon them. And just as souls moved by the passion of Christ come to salvation, so the priest, saying the third Lamb of God, asks on behalf of the whole Christian people, that the Lord deign to keep them in peace and in health, to pardon the sins of each, and to make them worthy participants of his holy grace.
22. The twenty-second work which Christ does in this world, was that after his holy passion he did not immediately ascend into heaven, but through his most profound humanity wished first to descend secretly to hell, that he might give glory to the holy fathers, awaiting with great expectation. At the moment they saw him, they were filled with great exultation, enjoying essential glory, now and forever free from any pain.
And this the priest prefigures when he puts a particle of the Host into the chalice to denote how the soul of Christ descending to hell, so rejoiced the holy fathers and confirmed them, that they hardly knew what happened to them in experiencing such a fullness of happiness. And from that sweetness and love they praised God saying, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; because he hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people," (Lk 1:68).
23. The twenty-third work which Jesus Christ did in this world, was when after his painful death, he willed and ordered his body to be taken down from the cross by his friends, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and Gamaliel, having received permission from Pilate, and they laid him to rest behind a large stone, which today still can be seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And then the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalen and the other devout persons let out great cries of grief.
And this is represented in the Mass when the priest, having given the sign of peace, (12) for a short period of time during which he held the body of Christ in his hands, ought to think of the sorrow of the Virgin Mary and of the others who were mourning, and so should shed many tears, and to conceive a special sorrow for his sins.
24. The twenty-fourth work was what Christ wished to be anointed with balsam and myrrh, to be wrapped in a clean burial cloth, and placed into a tomb newly carved in the stone, without any corruption or fracture.
And this is represented in the Mass when the priest takes the body of Christ, because the heart of the priest ought to be a new tomb, without corruption; and just as the tomb of Christ was of solid rock, so should he be strong in faith and a good life. And just as the body of Christ was wrapped in a clean shroud, so the conscience of the priest ought to be cleaned and shine forth with chastity. And just as the body of Christ was anointed with balsam and spices, so the heart of the priest ought to be saturated with every kind of virtue, not just the priest but also every Christian, hearing Mass, with these thoughts it is fitting to nourish their devotion.
25. The twenty-fifth work which Christ did was when he rose on the third day from death to life, and his tomb was opened.
And this the priest prefigures coming from the middle to the side of the altar, signifying that Christ from the mortal world passed into immortal life. And showing the empty chalice, as it signifies the open tomb, and Christ through his infinite power to have risen. And the deacon folds the corporal, in remembrance that the holy shroud by which the sacred body of Jesus was wrapped, had been found in the tomb.
26. The twenty-sixth work was that after his resurrection Christ appeared to the glorious Virgin Mary his mother, although of this in the Gospel there is no mention; the holy doctors but expressly affirm it, and especially St. Ambrose in his book On Virgins. And indeed it was exquisitely fitting that Christ before any others visited and comforted his mother, who more than others had suffered from his death.
And this the priest prefigures by saying, with his face to the people, "The Lord be with you."(13). And then he reads the Postcommunion which is a prayer of great consolation, representing the consoling words which Christ said to the his mother, and the great praise which the holy fathers gave to her saying: "Queen of heaven rejoice," etc.(14)
27. The twenty-seventh work which Christ did in this world, was when he appeared to the apostles together in the upper room, and said: "Peace be with you."
And this is represented in the Mass when the priest turning around to the people saying again, "The Lord be with you," (15) which is the same as namely peace be with you all.
28. The twenty-eighth work was when he gathered the apostles and said; "Go ye into the whole world, and preach …," (Mk 16:15).
And this is symbolized at Mass when the priest says: "Go, the Mass is ended." every believer returning to his work, because the holy sacrifice is completed.
29. The twenty-ninth work was when he fulfilled the promise made to Peter an the holy apostles, namely, establishing St. Peter in possession of the papacy, saying, "Feed by lambs," Then indeed, according to all the teachers, truly he constituted him as the head of the universal church. And to the other apostles he said: "Receive the holy spirit; whose sins you forgive," etc., giving power of forgiving sins which is divine power.
And this is represented at the end of Mass which the priest humbling himself profoundly, bows his head as much as he can before the altar and says, : May it be pleasing to you Blessed Trinity…"(16) petitioning the Trinity that the Holy Sacrifice be acceptable to God, and be beneficial for all the people. Ant this bow which he makes kissing the altar denotes the infinite mercy of our Gold who did not consider it unworthy to humble his divine power, passing on to sinful men the power of forgiving sins. And finally making the sign of the cross over the people signifying that their sins are forgiven though the sacred passion of Christ.
30. The thirtieth and last work of Christ in this world was when, in the presence of his Mother and the holy apostles, and about fifty people, according to St. Paul, standing on the Mount of Olives he wished to ascend to heaven. And raising his hands blessed all these who were lamenting his absence, and he returned to where he had come from.
And this is signified in the Mass when the priest, having given the blessing, returns to the sacristy whence he had come.
And so the whole life of our Redeemer in the sacred holy sacrifice of the Mass is covered. To which glory may he lead us, he who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.
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