"Within the Action"

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: A curious rubric now appears in the Roman Missal. Just before the recitation of the «Communicantes» (#86) in Eucharistic Prayer I, there appears the phrase «Within the Action.» The meaning of this phrase has puzzled me. Is «the Action» the Eucharistic Prayer itself? If so, why should the «Communicantes» be singled out, since all the other prayers also belong to the EP? Or does the «Communicantes» have a special status within the EP? — D.J., Buffalo, New York

A: The «Infra Actionem» is the most extensive of three groups of prayers that receive a title in the Roman Canon. No. 85, which begins «Remember, Lord, your servants N. and N.» is entitled, «Commemoration of the Living.» No. 95, after the consecration and the other prayers, is called the «Commemoration of the Dead.» The meaning of these two is obvious; that of «Within the Action» is, as our reader notes, probably incomprehensible to all but specialists.

While liturgical scholars have names for the other parts of the Eucharistic Prayer, these three are the only ones found in the missal itself.

The heading «Infra Actionem» is found in the Roman Canon just before the prayer «Communicantes»: «In communion with those whose memory we venerate …» followed by the mention of Mary, Joseph and the first list of saints. The «Communicantes» stresses our fellowship with the saints while at the same time, in saying that we venerate their memory, we become aware of the distance that still separates us from them and our need for their intercession.

It appears that the expression «Infra Actionem» historically referred to a variable formula to be inserted within the fixed text on special occasions. The words mean that the following text was to be inserted «within the action.» Thus it is probable that the «Communicantes» was not originally a fixed part of the canon but inserted on special feasts. Gradually it was transformed into a permanent fixture of the prayer with some variant formulas on special feasts.

These headings are found in the so-called Gelasian Sacramentaries, a Roman liturgical manuscript written in the sixth or seventh centuries from whence it eventually migrated into the Roman Missal.

The Gelasian manuscripts also help us understand the meaning of the obscure expression «within the action.» These frequently head off the initial dialogue of the preface as «Incipit canon actionis» («here begins the canon of the action»). This means that the text beginning the Eucharistic Prayer is designated as the canon (norm or fixed framework) of the subsequent sacred activity. The sacred activity embraces all the aspects of the Eucharistic Prayer.

Later the word canon was identified with the Roman Eucharistic Prayer (that is, Eucharistic Prayer I).

In the Gelasian texts the title «Infra Actionem» is generally found before the «Communicantes» formulas to be inserted during the liturgical year. It likewise appears before the various «Hanc Igitur,» the prayer which begins «Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family ….»

It is not clear when the heading «Infra Actionem» was left alone before the «Communicantes,» said every day in the Roman-rite Mass for well over a thousand years.

The present Roman Missal includes special «Communicantes» during the octaves of Christmas and Easter, on Holy Thursday, Epiphany, Ascension and Pentecost.

The «Hanc Igitur» has variant formulas for Holy Thursday and the Easter vigil and octave. The rituals for sacraments and sacramentals also provide special insertions at this point for baptism, confirmation, first Communion, ordination, matrimony, funerals, perpetual religious profession, etc.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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