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I was trying to source this quote,

The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer - Pope Paul VI

but the Google, in her wisdom, seems to think I only want to see what my fellow zealous Mary lovers have to write in their circa '96 tabular/framed web pages.

Usually when someone attributes something to a Pope, they say, "at such and such an audience on the feast of St. So and So" but not this quote, it's just left out there.

What I really want to know is, if the Catholic Church considers Mass to be a Prayer. I've always heard, and taught, that Mass is the greatest prayer and the Rosary somehow eeks out Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction for the #2 spot (although that logic is troublesome).

I can't find this tidbit in the Catechism, and my personal collection of wonderful Catholic texts are somewhat older that Pope Paul VI, so please, if anyone has his breviary wherein he scrawled this magnificent truth, please let me know!

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2 Answers 2

James T has identified that the sentiment expressed is Thomist.

I can't find anything positively identifying Paul VI either, but I did find something of Benedict XVI:

The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive "nourishment": the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, Lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation. All these expressions of prayer, which have their centre in the Eucharist, fulfil the words of Jesus in the priest's day and in all his life: "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep" (Jn 10: 14-15).

[However, see also CCC 2763; I'd be interested to know how that apparent contradiction is resolved.]

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He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that - GKC Orthodoxy. Good opportunity to take Chesterton's advice! –  Peter Turner Aug 31 '12 at 13:02
    
I suppose the word "prayer" is being used equivocally -- in CCC 2763 it probably means a brief fixed text; the same sense as when a person says "I forgot to say my prayers this morning". In the quotation from Pope Benedict it probably has the more general meaning of "raising the heart and mind to God". In any case the Lord's Prayer is always recited at just about the dramatic center of every Eucharistic Liturgy, which in a way resolves the apparent contradiction quite nicely. –  Ben Dunlap Apr 12 '13 at 5:27
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I've also not been able to find a definitive attribution of this phrase to Pope Paul VI. Google Books has nothing helpful, and neither does a site search on vatican.va (I tried a few variations and keywords, in English and Latin).

However, I did discover evidence that the basic sentiment did not originate with him (whether or not he said that exact phrase at some point in his life). For example, this is from Picart's Religious ceremonies and customs (1723-1737) 1, as translated by William Burder (1841) 2 :

The Catholics look on the sacrifice of the mass as the most acceptable of all adorations, and the most effectual of all prayers. The Church not only prays herself at this sacrifice, which the priest offers up to God in the most solemn and majestic manner; but Jesus Christ also, by the sacrifice of his own body, is said to offer up to the Father the most perfect adoration that can possibly be paid to him, since it is offered by a God.

original: Nous devons expliquer un peu en détail les Ceremonies du Sacrifice de la Messe , que les Catholiques regardent comme la plus excellente de toute les adorations , & la plus efficace de toutes les prieres. Non seulement l'Eglise prie pour elle même à ce sacrifice, qu'un Prêtre offre à Dieu de la maniere la plus auguste que l'esprit humain ait pû concevoir; mais Jesus-Christ lui-même offre à son Pere par le sacrifice de son corps l'adoration la plus parfaite qu'on puisse lui rendre, puisqu'elle lui est rendue par un Dieu.

As with many other points of Catholic belief, we can turn to Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo to learn more:

Saint Thomas defended the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and he brilliantly articulated the Church's understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass as the most perfect prayer of the Church.3

Aquinas' Summa Theologica contains a lot of material on these points. One relevant passage is II-II 83.17, where he discusses the "parts of prayer" - supplication, prayer, intercession, and thanksgiving - and notes that all are present in the rite of the Mass:

A gloss on 1 Timothy 2:1 says that "in the Mass, the consecration is preceded by supplication," in which certain sacred things are called to mind; that "prayers are in the consecration itself," in which especially the mind should be raised up to God; and that "intercessions are in the petitions that follow, and thanksgivings at the end."

The "gloss" he refers to is uncited here, but I think it is meant to point to one of Augustine's letters, sent to Saint Paulinus of Nola (Letter 149), which includes an extensive exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:1, the different forms of prayer named there, and their relations to the Mass. Elsewhere, Aquinas discusses how prayer and sacrifice are related as offerings to God, and records detailed observations about different prayers and other points of the Mass ceremony.

In summary, whether or not Paul VI said this, it's certainly the kind of thing he might have said! It's also worth noting that this idea depends on the Eucharist being a sacrifice, and not a memorial - otherwise it's not truly an "offering" according to Aquinas - so it's very much consistent with Catholic perception.

1. Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde representées par des figures dessinées de la main de Bernard Picard: avec une explication historique, & quelques dissertations curieuses. 7 vols. Amsterdam: J.F. Bernard, 1723-1737. Online at http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/picart. Quotation can be found at the bottom of vol. 1, p76.
2. Religious ceremonies and customs. William Burder. London. 1841. Page 205.
3. Prayer as a journey: Medieval spiritual paths. Christian Raab, OSB. In The tradition of Catholic prayer. Monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. 2007.

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