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The New Prefaces of the EF Mass, Part 5: The Preface of the Blessed Sacrament

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Yesterday, we finished off the new optional prefaces for the EF Mass which come from the OF (for the Angels, St John the Baptist, the martyrs, and the wedding Mass), so today we begin the prefaces that originated with the neo-Gallican liturgical reform. Hitherto, these have been included in the appendix of some editions of the Missal “for certain places”; with the promulgation of the decree Quo magis on March 25 of this year, they may now be used everywhere, although their use is not obligatory.

As noted earlier in this series, the preface of the Roman Mass was originally highly variable, but at the end of the 11th century, their number was reduced to ten, plus the common preface, and with a few exceptions, this remained the general custom for the rest of the Middle Ages and into the Tridentine period. When the neo-Gallican liturgical reform movement began in the later 17th century, it did not at first change this custom, but in the second revision of the Missal of Paris, promulgated by Abp Charles de Ventimille in 1738, new prefaces were added for Advent, Holy Thursday (also said at votive Masses of the Sacrament), Corpus Christi, All Saints (also said on the feasts of Patron Saints), Saints Denys and Companions, and for Masses of the Dead. Earlier today, our friends at Canticum Salomonis published a translation of the relevant section of Abp de Ventimille’s pastoral letter of March 11, 1738, announcing his new edition of the Missal.

Charles de Ventimille (1655-1746), archbishop of Paris from 1729 until his death. Portait made in 1731 by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743). Public domain image from Wikiedia Commons.

“The same reason [viz. that minds might be elevated to God, and helped to enkindle the holy fire of faith, hope, and charity] has led us to add certain Prefaces when proper ones were lacking, to wit for Advent and certain greater solemnities of the year, namely Corpus Christi, the Dedication, All Saints, and others. Thus we have tried, as much as possible, to draw near to the ancient custom of the Roman Church, where almost every Mass was assigned its own Preface, as is still the case today in the churches that use the Ambrosian Rite.”

This change was then widely imitated in the rest of France, usually by copying the Parisian prefaces, but also by composing new ones. When the neo-Gallican Uses were gradually suppressed over the course of the 19th century, some of their features were retained by being incorporated into the French supplements “for certain places” in the Roman liturgical books, these prefaces among them. The new decree Quo magis gives universal permission to use those of the Blessed Sacrament, of All Saints and Patron Saints, and the Dedication of a Church. Here then is the preface of the Blessed Sacrament.

“VD: per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Qui, remótis carnalium victimárum inánibus umbris, Corpus et Sánguinem suum nobis in sacrificium commendávit: ut in omni loco offerátur nómini tuo, quae tibi sola complácuit, oblatio munda. In hoc ígitur inscrutábilis sapientiae, et immensae caritátis mysterio, idipsum quod semel in Cruce perfécit, non cessat mirabíliter operári, ipse ófferens, ipse et oblatio. Et nos, unam secum hostiam effectos, ad sacrum invítat convivium, in quo ipse cibus noster súmitur, recólitur memoria Passiónis eius, mens implétur grátia, et futúrae gloriae nobis pignus datur. Et ídeo…”

Since this preface was not adopted into the Novus Ordo, there is no official English version of it; here is my own very literal English rendering.

“Truly it is worthy… through Christ our Lord. Who, the vain shadows of carnal sacrifices being removed, entrusted to us His Body and Blood as a sacrifice; that in every place there may be offered to Thy name that pure sacrifice that alone hath pleased Thee. Therefore, in this mystery of unsearchable wisdom and boundless charity, that very thing which He completed once in the Cross ceaseth not wondrously to have effect, He himself being the one who offers and the offering. And He inviteth us, who are made one victim with Him, to the sacred banquet, in which He himself is received as our food, the memory of His passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us. And therefore with the angels and archangels …”

The words “that in every place there may be offered to Thy name that pure sacrifice” are taken in part from the Prophet Malachi 1, 11, a text which was already understood to be a reference to the Eucharistic sacrifice by St Justin Martyr in the mid-2nd century. In the Missal of Abp de Ventimille, they are also used as the Introit of the proper Mass for the Octave of Corpus Christi.

The words “the sacred banquet, in which He himself is received as our food, the memory of His passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us” are taken from the traditional Magnificat antiphon of Second Vespers of Corpus Christi. This may be an example of the infighting which so often takes place when different parts of a liturgical reform are done by different committees. Like all properly modern-minded reformers, the Neo-Gallicans were painfully obsessed with making the liturgy “more Scriptural”, which is to say, replacing the Church’s own poetry with artlessly selected Biblical quotations. In 1736, Abp de Ventimille had promulgated a new breviary for his diocese, in which St Thomas’ Office of Corpus Christi, universally recognized as one of the finest ever composed, was almost completely rewritten; the result is inferior to the original in every respect. It seems likely that the author of the new preface of the Sacrament decided to incorporate this citation of St Thomas in protest against this act of vandalism.

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