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LITURGY Q&A: Easter Prefaces

They Underline the Joy of the Season

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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: I’ve noticed that the preface of Easter is a bit different from the others. It goes as this: «It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation … you, O Lord.» However, the other goes: «It is truly … to give you thanks … Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.» Why is the address (the former, «O Lord»; the latter, «eternal God») different? Some versions of the Chinese sacramentaries are not distinct, the addresses are all the same. Is that wrong? Meanwhile, I was wondering why there is no sprinkling during the Easter Vigil liturgy presided over by Pope Francis. Would you please comment on that? — D.Z., Beijing

A: With respect to the sprinkling at the Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica: While I am not privy to the master of ceremonies thinking, I can only suppose that it is omitted for practical reasons. Anyone who knows the dimensions of this great church knows how long it would take to walk up and down the main aisle. Even if the Holy Father were to sprinkle from the main altar, the holy water would not even reach the closest concelebrants but would land on the pavement. Thus it would not be exactly the best reminder of the waters of baptism. Finally, I think that the rite may be avoided in deference to the Holy Father’s age and difficulty with climbing and descending stairs.

With respect to the Easter prefaces: For most of Church history there was only one Easter preface which, with some minor adjustments, is the one that corresponds to Easter Preface I.

In this preface, the original Latin text has a slight variation in the introduction with respect to most other prefaces.

In the first translation into English this minor distinction was not rendered but was always translated as: «Father all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.» Given the influence of the English version on other translations, it is quite possible that this is why there is no distinction in the Chinese text. I think our reader will forgive me if I refrain from commenting further on the merits of a liturgical translation in Chinese.

The latest, and more accurate, English translation does capture the distinction. Thus most prefaces begin with: «It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.»

The Easter prefaces, on the other hand, begin, «It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously, when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed» [see 1 Corinthians 5:7].

The cause of this difference is, I would suggest, the desire to underline the importance of Eastertide as a unique and special time of the year.

This desire probably led the unknown author of the preface to make some changes in its usual initial part. That, in turn, required some stylistic adjustments to keep the necessary balance in the syllables according to the rules of Latin rhetoric and composition. These changes also allowed it to be sung with the traditional melody.

In the present Missal, four additional texts have been added to the original Easter preface. This has been done basically by leaving intact the initial and final phrases of the original preface while expanding the message of the central part to include further nuances related to the Easter mystery.

In the first part of each preface, the expression cited above from 1 Corinthians 5:7 is, in a way, the axis around which all five prefaces revolve.

The final part of the five prefaces has the motive that should radiate the entire 50-day period of Eastertide: the paschal joy that extends to every part of the world and to all peoples. This conclusion, although it is of ancient origin, had disappeared from the Easter preface of the Missal of St. Pius V, which used the same conclusion as during the rest of the year. It had been partially conserved, however, in the preface of Pentecost and is now restored to the entire season.

The historic first preface, after recalling the theology of Christ as our Passover, calls him the «true Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world.» Although Christ is not called the «true lamb» in any part of Scripture, the expression reflects the theology of St. John in which Christ (true light, true bread, and true vine), by his death and resurrection, fulfills and substitutes the symbolic prophetic figure of the paschal lamb.

The dominant motif of Preface II is not directly Christ but those who are inserted in the new life in him. We are children of the light (see Luke 16:8 and 1 Thessalonians 5:5) and with his resurrection, the halls of the heavenly Kingdom are thrown open to us.

In Preface III, titled «Christ living and always interceding for us,» we contemplate Our Lord in the triple aspect of his mystery as he offers himself, intercedes for us, and has a glorious life and dies no more. This preface reflects above all elements of the theology of the Letter to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation.

«The restoration of the universe through the Paschal Mystery,» the title of Preface IV, contains three proclamations: the old order is destroyed; the universe cast down is renewed; and integrity of life is restored to us in Christ. Therefore the work of Christ is not just a fixing of the old order but something far more that leads to fulfillment.

Finally, Preface V, «Christ, Priest, and Victim,» exalts him as priest, victim, and altar, seeing this as the definitive fulfillment of all that the Old Testament sacrifices prophesized. This preface is especially inspired by the Letter to the Hebrews (2:17; 10:12; 13:10).

Thus, through the prefaces, the Church offers us a rich theology that should lead us to live the joy of Easter throughout the year.

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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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