The Illocutionary Acts of the Catholic Mass

I have heard that there are four major transformations in the Catholic Mass correlated to certain illocutionary acts. The term ‘illocutionary act’ is a linguistic term. Thus, I will briefly analyze the Mass linguistically. An ‘illocutionary act’ is a phrase that when said enacts in its saying that which it talks about. For example, ‘I baptize you…’ enacts that which it talks about, baptism. A similar thing occurs when the judge declares someone to be guilty of charged, or when the priest proclaims the husbandry and wifery of the two who are married, or when, for example, that I resign from my job as I am enacting my resignation.

The first transformation is from violence to peace. The violent crucifixion of Christ becomes in a simplistic manner the means of consolation through empathy (hence the cliche ‘offer it up’) and the absolution of one’s sins. What, then, is the key illocutionary act here? Such an act may be found signified in the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and enacted in the Sign of the Peace, wherein it is admitted that our sins are taken away and we embrace one another in communion. It sets up for that which is to come, the Passion of Our Lord. 

The second transformation is from death to life. The eschatological element to the Mass is when either the priest and/or we allude to Judgment Day on which God will judge us for either a second death or a second life thereafter in a Trinitarian communion with Himself. Such an element resides in the Profession of Faith, the Our Father prayer, and can reside in the readings and/or the homilies. Additionally, the telos of peace (the first transformation) necessitates the death of sin (the second transformation). We are not returned to our pre-Fallen state of harmony where we are without Christ, but rather we are brought into a post-Second-Coming participation in the Holy Trinity through Him on the Cross (i.e. the apex of His moral teachings). This participation supposes a new society that we can begin to cultivate here on earth. 

The third transformation is commonly named the ‘transubstantiation’ or the morphing of the “what-ness” (essence) of the bread into the “What-ness” who is Christ. The key illocutionary act here is when the priest in persona Christi says that “this is My body.” The mystery lies linguistically in that the words “Whatness” and “who” are next to one another as if they are the same, for, indeed, in Christ they are. And He directs us not only towards an interior communal peace but an outer one as well.

The fourth and final major transformation is our isomorphism with the body of Christ in order to become his Body as a community in communion with the Holy Trinity. Whatever society we were before the Mass, we are invited into a new society, a Trinitarian society, through Christ in the Eucharist. Hence, we are to “go in peace, now and forever,” and to bring the liturgy into our homes and lives as a preparation for this same phenomenon to occur in heaven. 

I have hoped to shed some light on the Mass. Of course, linguistics is no small angle to view it nor the only angle of studying it, but its fullness may certainly come alive for those who are interested in the liturgy linguistically or otherwise.

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