| CANON OF THE MASS (cont.)
(Taken from Notes Made at the Conferences of Dom Prosper Guéranger).
The various Prayers of which the Canon is composed are of the highest antiquity; nevertheless, they cannot be traced to the very first days of Holy Church; this is proved by the fact that the Divine Service was at first performed in the Greek tongue, a language in much more general use, at that epoch, than the Latin. It is probable, therefore, to suppose that the Prayers, such as we have them, were drawn up verging on the Second Century, or possibly as late as the first years of the Third. Every Church has its Canon; but if these differ a little as to form, the substance is always the very same, and the doctrine expressed in their various rites, agrees often identically with that expressed in our Latin Rite. We have in this fact, an admirable proof of the unity of belief, be the Rite what it may.
The initial letter of the first Prayer of the Canon is T, which is equivalent to the Hebrew Tau, and which, by its very shape, represents a Cross. No other sign could better be placed as a heading to this Great Prayer, in the course of which the Sacrifice of Calvary is renewed. Thus it was, that when those magnificent Sacramentaries were first of all written, ornamented with vignettes and rich designs of every kind, this Tau was lavishly treated in decoration, and at length came the happy idea of painting a figure of Christ on this Cross, supplied by the Text itself. By degrees the design got enlarged, until it ended in becoming a representation of the entire scene of the Crucifixion; still, large as it was, it continued to be merely an adjunct to the initial letter only of the Prayer Te igitur. But at length, a subject of so great importance, was deemed worthy of being treated quite independently of this, and the result was a separate picture. So that now, there is no complete Missal without an engraving of Christ on the Cross, placed on the leaf facing that on which the Canon begins. And this can be traced to the simple fact of this little vignette which ornamented the Ancient Sacramentaries. As to the importance of the Tau itself, we hear mention of it even in the Old Testament; for Ezechiel says, speaking of the elect, that the blood of the Victim being taken, all those whom God had reserved to Himself should be marked therewith on the forehead with the sign of the Tau, and that the Lord had promised to spare all those thus marked (Ezechiel, ix. 46.). This is explained by the great fact that we are all saved by the Cross of Jesus Christ, which was made in the form of the Tau. In confirmation also the Bishop marks the Tau with Holy Oil, on the forehead of those whom he confirms. Our Lord’s Cross was in the shape of a Tau, thus: T. Above it a piece of wood was placed as a support to the Title affixed, and thus is completed the shape of the cross such as we now have it; for we learn, in St. John, that the cause of Our Lord’s death was placed above the cross: Scripsit autem et titulum Pilatus, et posuit super crucem (S. John, xix. 19). Notice of what high importance is this one letter which commences the Great Prayer of the Canon.