Ascent and Descent in the Mass of the Holy Family

Lately, I’ve written twice* about the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. I’ve approached this event as the fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. It also provides the Gospel (St. Luke 2:42-52) read on the Feast of the Holy Family, which we celebrated at the beginning of this month. I noticed something striking about the Offertory and Communion readings for the Mass, at least in the Traditional Latin Mass (English translation from the Baronius Press Missal):

Offertory: The parents of Jesus carried Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord. (St. Luke 2:22)

That passage is from the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the fourth Joyful Mystery.

Communion: Jesus went down (descendit in Latin) with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. (St. Luke 2:51)

That’s from the Gospel reading for the same Mass. Note how fitting the readings are in context:

1.) At the Offertory, the prayer recalls Our Lady and St. Joseph offering Our Lord in the Temple. Like Our Lady and St. Joseph, the priest and congregation (each in their respective role) offer Jesus in the Mass. Our Lady and St. Joseph went up to Jerusalem to present Our Lord in the Temple, just as the Offertory involves a certain ascent to the Lord as the Mass draws near its climax.

2.) At Holy Communion, the prayer recalls Our Lord descending from Jerusalem to Nazareth to be subject to Our Lady and St. Joseph. In the Eucharist, Our Lord descends from Heaven (the true Jerusalem on high) and “subjects” Himself to those who receive Him in the Sacrament. Hidden beneath the Eucharistic Veil, Jesus is meek and obedient to us, as He was to Our Lady and St. Joseph. Woe to us if we abuse this privilege by receiving Our Lord unworthily.

Additionally, in the Gospel reading, Jesus returns from the Passover sacrifice in Jerusalem to His hidden life in Nazareth. In Holy Communion, Our Lord joins us before we depart Mass (the renewal of Christ’s Paschal Sacrifice) and return to our own hidden life. We descend from the “Jerusalem” of the Mass to the “Nazareth” of our daily lives, but Our Lord remains with us. He descended to dwell with Our Lady and St. Joseph (descendit cum eis), and He condescends to abide with us.

* Here and here.

One thought on “Ascent and Descent in the Mass of the Holy Family

  1. I admit that my reading of the concept of ascent into the Offertory prayer is forced. I came up with the title before I realized that that passage has no word for “going up.” I must have inferred it from the explicit “descendit” in the Communion reading. Still, overall, the motions in the Offertory (Our Lady and St. Joseph going to Jerusalem to offer Our Lord) and in the Communion (Our Lord descending from Jerusalem to live with Our Lady and St. Joseph in Nazareth) are complementary and frame the Canon in between. One is an “upward” motion on our part (Sursum corda — Up hearts!), the other God’s downward motion.

    Of course, we wouldn’t be capable of the initial upward “offertory” motion unless God gave us the grace to do so. In the Gospel reading, Jesus has already been with Our Lady and St. Joseph forty days (plus nine months in the womb) when they present Him in the Temple. In the Traditional Latin Mass, the Offertory speaks as though Christ is already on the altar, although the priest has not confected the sacrament yet. Is this prolepsis the liturgical analogue of prevenient grace, which enables our willing acceptance of sanctifying grace?


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