The Threefold Presence

During the Mass of Christmas Day here in Heiligenkreuz a young American will be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church. Since some of his Protestant relatives will be present, I put together a booklet with the entire text of the Mass, professio fidei, and confirmation, with English translations, and short notes on each part. It made me reflect again on the beautiful structure of the Roman Liturgy, even after the reforms of the last century.

Intelligible division, as every Thomist knows, is into either two or three. A division into more than two or three is understood as being composed of divisions into two or three. (It seems that the mind can only understand numbers greater than three as being composed of twos or threes). Now, we are accustomed to first divide the Mass into two parts– the liturgy of the word (of catechumas) and of the eucharist (of the faithful). But there is a case to be made that one ought really to make the first division into three. A confrere of mine pointed out that there are three processions with lights and incense in the mass: at the Introit, the Gospel, and the Sanctus. These correspond to the threefold presence of Christ in the Mass: in the synaxis (“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”), in the Word, and then most of all in the Blessed Sacrament. To each of these corresponds a solemn greeting of the Lord: the Kyrie, the Alleluia, and the Sanctus. Thus one could divide the Mass into three parts–from the Introit to the Collect, from the first reading to the Credo, from the offertory onward. Note that each of these parts is longer than the one before it corresponding to the more noble mode of the Lord’s presence in each.

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