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Christmas Acclamation

Substitute Response Is Out of Place


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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: During this Christmas season, our church has been singing “Oh come let us adore him” during the Mystery of Faith. Is that correct? It just didn’t seem right. Please explain why every priest doesn’t use this Mystery of Faith during Christmas? — D.P., North Andover, Massachusetts
A: The principal reason why other parishes do not do this, and that this parish should stop doing so, is that it is not found in the Roman Missal as an authorized response to the Mystery of Faith.
In the Latin missal, and in most English missals, there are three formulas for this acclamation. In Ireland the phrase “My Lord and my God” is also approved for liturgical use by the Holy See.
Introducing new texts within the missal is not within the province of priests nor even individual bishops. Two-thirds of a bishops’ conference may approve modifications which can only be introduced with the consent of the Holy See. Thus the Second Vatican Council document “Sacrosanctum Concilium” (No. 22) enunciates the basic principle which has been repeated in all subsequent documents:
“Therefore, absolutely no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”
Another reason is that this expression actually limits the scope of the acclamation and weakens its theological value.
The words “Mysterium fidei,” although not found in the New Testament institution narratives, form part of the formula of consecration in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. According to some experts it is probable that the expression was inserted by Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) to combat the Manicheans who denied the goodness of material things. He also added the expression “a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim,” to the reference to Melchizedek’s offering. This text reads in an unofficial translation:
“Take this all of you and drink it: For this is the chalice of My blood, of the new and eternal covenant: the mystery of faith: which will be shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. As often as you shall do these things, you shall do them in remembrance of me.”
Later in time this expression was seen as important to combat certain errors regarding the Real Presence, especially by clerics. Thus Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) wrote that:
“The expression ‘Mystery of faith’ is used because here what is believed differs from what is seen, and what is seen differs from what is believed. For what is seen is the appearance of bread and wine and what is believed is the reality of the flesh and blood of Christ and the power of unity and love” (Denzinger 782).
After Vatican II, with the introduction of new Eucharistic Prayers and the desire to have a single, biblically based, formula for the consecration in all four, Pope Paul VI decided to remove the words from the formula of consecration and gave them their present function as an introduction to an acclamation of the faithful. This practice was traditional in some Eastern Churches, especially the Liturgy of St. James, but constituted a novelty in the Roman rite. The acclamations are:
“We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.”
“When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.”
“Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.”
All of the acclamations, in the tradition of the Liturgy of St. James, are directed toward Christ rather than to the Father and make reference to the saving action of his death and resurrection and look forward to the Second Coming.
The first two options are derived from 1 Corinthians 11:26 — “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” The third option seems to be based upon John 4:42, when the woman who met Jesus at the well is told by her fellow Samaritans, “We know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
In the present form, although the proclamation includes faith in the Real Presence it is, in a way, seen as an invitation to the faithful to respond to all that is implied by Christ’s command to “do this In memory of me.”
In this way they go to the root of the mystery of the Mass as a holy and living sacrifice, and stress the inseparable bond of the passion and the last supper in light of the need of Christians to persevere in the faith regarding the whole paschal mystery of Christ’s death resurrection and ascension into heaven. There is also a mention of Christ’s second coming in glory to judge the world, which in a way reminds us that the Eucharist is also the bread of life which nurtures us on our journey to the definitive goal of being with him forever.
Compared with this, “Come let us adore him,” while very much in the Christmas spirit and probably inspired by the hymn “Adeste Fidelis,” is far less rich and complete.
The same could also be said, perhaps, for the “My Lord and my God” which has been approved for Ireland. Perhaps if one places the text in its original context of St. Thomas’ proclamation of faith in the divinity of the risen Christ, it captures some of the richness of the other acclamations. It is more likely, however, to be interpreted as referring exclusively to faith in the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the sacred species and tends to leave out the other aspects of the Mass considered by the original acclamations.
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Readers may send questions to 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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