"Through Our Lord Jesus Christ "

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: I have one question about the collect and the prayer after Communion, both in the original Latin and in the new English translation of the missal. Before the new translation, the collect would generally end with the words such as, “We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.” Likewise, the prayer after Communion would generally end with “We ask this through Christ our Lord” or words to that effect. The emphasis was on the fact that our prayers are being offered through Jesus Christ. However, in the new translation, consistent with the original Latin, the collect leaves out the words “We ask this” and instead simply says, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ .…” And likewise the prayer after Communion simply ends with the words, “Through Christ our Lord” or a similar phrase. The final sentence of these prayers could have the same meaning as was the case with the former translation, namely, that we are offering the prayer through Christ our Lord. But it could also mean that we are asking God to give us the gift through Christ our Lord. Thus, for example, for the Feast of the Baptism of Lord, the collect offers the prayer, “Grant that your children by adoption, reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, may always be pleasing to you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ ….” The emphasis could be on the fact that we are offering the prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ. But the emphasis could also be that we are asking that, through Jesus Christ, the Father give us the gift of being always pleasing to him. Is the main meaning one or the other of these interpretations, i.e., the prayer being offered through Jesus, or the gift being given through Jesus? Or is there an equal emphasis on both meanings? I would note in passing that this potential for ambiguity is one reason why, in English syntax, we do not usually have a prepositional phrase stand alone as a sentence. — E.H., Falls Church, Virginia

A: Apart from simply being faithful to the Latin original it is also likely that the translators decided to use the less explicit phrase precisely because this “Through Christ” is subject to several shades of authentic meanings.

Indeed, the earlier English translation with “We ask this” would seem to actually limit the meaning of the prayer while the “ambiguity,” or rather multiple meanings, of the simple “Through Christ” is theologically richer.

Some of these shades of meaning are already seen in the New Testament.

For example, the Letter to the Ephesians, in connection with the prayer of thanksgiving, admonishes the faithful to give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (5:20). They are also encouraged to do all things in Christ’s name or in union with him (Colossians 3:17).

The “through him” is sometimes even introduced into actual prayer, such as at the beginning and end of the Letter to the Romans: “First, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you” (1:8) and “[T]o the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever” (16:27).

2 Corinthians 1:20 is also quite explicit: “For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him [Christ]; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.”

According to the great liturgical scholar J.A. Jungmann, the interpretation of this Pauline text is that “The faithful in public worship, by the Amen, declare their agreement with the prayer offered through Christ for indeed it is he whom God has given us as Savior and Mediator.”

Therefore, the expression “Through Christ” entails not only agreement with the content of the prayer but also recognition of Christ’s role as mediator between God and man, indeed as the “one mediator” (see 1Timothy 2:5).

The early Christians were already aware of the possibility of mediation of prayer, but this role was generally attributed to an angel who would transmit, so to speak, the prayer from the heart of man to God.

However, since Christians also offered prayer to Christ himself, at least in private, it is highly improbable they were thinking of mediation in this sense of transmission of prayer.

Rather than as the “one mediator” they considered him as mediator in a new way. In one sense he is the mediator who has won our salvation through the events of his paschal mystery.

In another sense Christ’s role as mediator is not limited to the historical events of our salvation but continues because he lives forever with God as head of the Church, his mystical body. He is our eternal advocate (see 1 John 2:1; Romans 8:34). He is also our high priest, as stressed throughout the Letter to the Hebrews.

Therefore, for those of us who are united to him in his Church, Christ acts as a mediator of our prayer in that he supports our prayer and gives it a strength and efficacy that it would not have if it were not through him.

In Jungmann’s words: “The prayer of the individual who belongs to Christ, to his Church, gains only in him its full resonance before God. Jesus’ holy soul vibrates with the prayers of his Church, that is, he is aware of the prayers of his own and concurs with them, as long as they are good. […] Likewise, the Church’s prayers of praise to God gain meaning and value only because Christ as High Priest stands at her head and joins in them.”

Another great liturgical scholar, Odo Casel, completes Jungmann’s concept, which he considered as being too much from a purely moral angle. He adds that the “Through Christ” should also be understood physically: “The God Man is essentially mediator of every prayer that takes place in Christ and in the Spirit; he acts always as head of the mystical Body.”

Hence there are many shades of meaning encapsulated in the short expression “Through Christ,” and all are present each time we priests recite it and the faithful complete it with their Amen.

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Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. 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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