Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: On November 14, 2006, you gave your personal opinion with respect to the actions of a priest who celebrates alone. In that article, you explain that there is no overall clear directive, but one must interpret the general principle that monitions directed toward the people are omitted. I would appeal that words as ancient as “Mysterium Fidei” – indeed, for centuries part of the consecration itself – are more than a monition directed toward the people. — J.M., Belleville, Illinois
A: Although the original article contained some elements of personal interpretation, the directive to omit the “Mystery of faith” was not among them. This indication is first found in a response to a doubt published in Notitiae in 1969. It has since been incorporated in the rubrics for concelebration published by several bishops’ conferences. The most recent, to my knowledge, is the very detailed concelebration booklet published by the Spanish bishops in 2017, which also directs concelebrants not to join with the people in reciting the acclamation.
The original Notitiae response was:
“3. When no member of the faithful is present who can make the acclamation after the consecration, should the priest say ‘The mystery of faith’?
“Resp.: In the negative. The words The mystery of faith, which have been taken from the context of the words of the Lord and placed after the consecration, ‘serve as an introduction to the acclamation of the faithful’ (Cf. Const. Missale Romanum). When, however, in particular circumstances no one is able to respond, the priest omits these words, as is done in a Mass which, out of grave necessity, is celebrated without any minister, in which the greetings and blessing at the end of Mass are omitted (Inst. gen., n. 211). The same holds true for a concelebration of priests in which no member of the faithful is present. (Notitiae: 5(1969), 324-325, n.3.)”
In order to explain the context of this rubric we must repeat what we wrote October 7, 2014:
“In the pre-conciliar liturgy, and hence also in the extraordinary form, these words are found within the rite of consecration of the chalice. To wit:
“‘For this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal Covenant: the Mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of me.’
“Everybody admits that the expression ‘The mystery of faith’ is non-biblical and was added to the consecration formula before the sixth century. Some authors plausibly suggest that it was added by Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) in order to combat the Manicheans who denied the goodness of material things. In this way, the Pope underlined the gift of salvation itself comes through the shedding of Christ’s material blood as well as through partaking in the material elements used in the Eucharistic sacrifice that makes this sacrifice present in the here and now.
“The expression was removed from the consecration rite after a series of long debates by the experts preparing the new rites. At first, there had been no intention of introducing new Eucharistic Prayers but simply to make some minor adaptations to the Roman Canon. The experts, however, as they are wont to do, were quickly gridlocked into opposing proposals. Pope Paul VI then decided to leave the canon as it was and approved the suggestion that alternative prayers be prepared.
“None of the new prayers proposed retained the non-biblical expression ‘mystery of faith,’ and the forms of consecration were slightly different in each one. Paul VI again intervened and mandated that the form of consecration must be the same in all of the Eucharistic Prayers and that the expression ‘Mysterium Fidei,’ whose presence in the canon had been hallowed by centuries of use, should be conserved, not in the formula of the consecration, but as an introduction to an acclamation by the people.
“This acclamation by the people was a novelty for the Roman rite although quite common in some other ancient rites such as the Alexandrian.
“With respect to its meaning, we can say the following. The possible historical context of Manichaeism mentioned above has little relevance for today. I believe that the best key to interpreting the present liturgical meaning of the expression comes from the texts of the people’s acclamations:
“‘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 three expressions show that the expression ‘The mystery of faith’ is not limited to the Real Presence but rather to the entire mystery of salvation through Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension which is made present in the celebration of the Eucharist.
“In Ireland the bishops received approval for a fourth option, ‘My Lord and my God.’ It is a curiosity that in one of his memos Paul VI had suggested that this particular expression was not suitable for the acclamation for, while it expresses a truth of the faith, it appears to center the attention primarily on the Real Presence rather than on the Eucharistic sacrifice in its entirety.
“Perhaps if one takes into account the biblical context of St. Thomas the Apostle’s proclamation of the divinity of Christ, at once wounded and risen, then this expression also embraces the entire mystery.”
As I mentioned before, in some Catholic rites such acclamations are an integral part of the Eucharistic Prayer. For example, in the Syro-Malabar Qurbana (Mass), they use the anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari, one of the most ancient texts known, possibly dating back to the third century.
In this text the prayer that roughly corresponds to our “May the Lord accept the sacrifice…” is found within the Eucharistic Prayer after the equivalent of the Sanctus:
“C: Bless me, O Lord!
“The celebrant turns to the people and says:
“My brethren, pray for me that this Qurbana may be completed through my hands.
“He turns back to face the altar
“R (People): May Christ hear your prayers and receive your Qurbana. May He exalt your priesthood in the Kingdom of heaven and be pleased with this sacrifice which you offer for yourself, for us and for the whole world that hopefully awaits His grace and mercy, forever. Amen.”
Then follows the institution narrative. The people respond Amen after the consecration of the body of Christ and again after the blood.
Later in the intercessory prayers, there are other moments in which the faithful may respond. For example:
“For the Supreme Pontiff, Mar (Name), Bishop of Rome, the head and ruler of all the Churches of God; for the Major Archbishop, Mar (Name), the head and father of our Church; for our Archbishop, Mar (Name); for our Bishop Mar (Name), who now presides over Your people; for the entire holy catholic Church; or priests, rulers and those who are in authority, O Lord God almighty, receive this Qurbana!
“R: Amen. [Or: Our Lord, have mercy on us!] C:
“For the honor of all prophets, apostles, martyrs, and confessors, and for all the just and holy Fathers who have found favor in Your presence, O Lord, receive this Qurbana!
“R: Amen. [Or: Our Lord, have mercy on us!]
“C: For all those who mourn and are in distress, for the poor and oppressed, for the sick and the afflicted, and for all the departed who have gone forth from among us in Your Name; and for this people who look for and await Your mercies; and for my own weak, sinful and unworthy self, O Lord, receive this Qurbana!
“R: Amen. [Or: Our Lord, have mercy on us!]”
Thus, while an acclamation of the faithful is relatively new within the Roman liturgy, it is a common and venerable part of other liturgical traditions.
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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. 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.