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Why No “Amen” at End of the Our Father

And More on the “Pray, Brethren …”

ROME, NOV. 7, 2006 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Why has the “Amen” been dropped from the “Our Father” at the Holy Mass? (it is not in the missalette.) My understanding is that “Amen” means “I believe.” I have come to believe that the additional prayers that were added to the Our Father in the Mass where the Amen is omitted, have now trained our faithful to omit it when we pray the rosary and the Chaplet of Mercy with our prayer group — or anytime we pray the Our Father in a group. I have also noticed this at Communion services where only the Our Father is prayed — the Amen is omitted — and on the Catholic radio station in my area. I firmly believe that we are doing something seriously wrong. — M.W., Forest Grove, Oregon

A: Our reader has made a very interesting point and illustrates an example of an unintended consequence of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council.

Before the reform the Our Father recited at Mass included the “Amen,” a term which may be roughly translated “so be it.” At solemn Masses the priest would sing the Pater Noster alone; at simple Masses he would recite it with the server but only the priest would say “Amen” in a low voice.

In 1958 the instruction “De Musica Sacra” laid down rules for the direct participation of the faithful, including permission for the assembly to recite or sing the Pater Noster in Latin with all saying “Amen” at the end.

The liturgical reform extensively reordered the Communion rites and this led, not so much to dropping the “Amen” after the Our Father but to its postponement.

One significant change was that a shortened version of the embolism: “Deliver us Lord from every evil …,” formally a prayer said silently by the priest while breaking the host, was now to be said aloud, taking its cue from the last words of the Our Father.

At the end of this prayer, instead of “Amen” the people respond with the acclamation: “For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.”

This acclamation was a new addition to the Communion rites and was probably added for ecumenical reasons. This phrase, although not found in the Gospel text, has traditionally functioned as a final verse of the Our Father in both the Eastern and Protestant traditions. In some rites all recited this verse while in others, such as the Byzantine, the priest alone adds it after the choir finishes the Our Father.

After this acclamation we find the prayer for peace. This prayer was formally a private priestly prayer recited after the Agnus Dei and before the sign of peace, which was exchanged only at solemn Masses and among the clergy alone. It is now recited aloud by the priest and has consequently been changed from the singular to plural (no longer look not on “my” but on “our” sins).

Finally, after all this, we have the “Amen” said by all, which in a way concludes the Our Father and the prayers that follow.

From a strictly liturgical point of view, this postponement of the “Amen” obeys a certain logic. It is unlikely that the formulators of the rite fully grasped this change’s capacity in forming the prayer habits of the faithful over time.

As our correspondent points out, many practicing Catholics habitually omit the final “Amen” from the Our Father, and this fact is probably attributable to the new liturgical practice.

That this “Amen” does form part of the Lord’s Prayer in non-liturgical contexts is shown, for example, by its inclusion in the common prayers found in the new Compendium of the Catechism.

Since it is highly unlikely that the liturgical text is going to change, the only solution is to pay attention when we pray the Our Father during the rosary and similar situations and form a habit of saying the “Amen.”

Catholic media, especially radio, can have a positive effect in this effort and should be politely encouraged to correct any oversights which have slipped in by force of habit.

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Follow-up: Changing the “Pray Brethren …”

After our brief comment on the possibility of using “Pray, my brothers and sisters” instead of “Pray, brethren” (Oct. 24) a reader from British Columbia made some reflections on aspects of so-called inclusive language.

Among other things she writes: “One of our priests insists on using ‘my sisters and brothers’ introducing the ‘Orate, fratres’ prayer. As a woman, I find it distracting, patronizing and condescending — pure pap. Is it somehow supposed to compensate for other more obvious ‘problems’? For example, consider that the Liturgy of the Word today — the readings from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and the Gospel of Luke — use at least 30 to 40 masculine pronouns in giving instruction or the relating of Jesus’ parables. Yet, in the past I had no trouble hearing the epistles or the Gospels and applying them to myself — a woman.

“However, this new insistence on paying lip service to the feminine pronoun form and replacing what once was generic and inclusive in the English language is playing havoc with my whole appreciation of holy Mass in the vernacular! I almost feel like shouting out, ‘Look, we have a Father in heaven! Jesus the Son of God came to us a male child, the Son of Man! The Holy Spirit is presented as ‘he’! We have an entirely male priesthood! What’s wrong with God’s plan? Did God somehow make a mistake? Doesn’t the imposition of a few feminine pronoun forms or artificially contrived inclusive terms work to bring about dissatisfaction with the way God has ordered things and willed the human race to re-create (procreate) itself? And for us — the whole human race to be redeemed?”

While I believe that few people will become dissatisfied with God’s plan because of the adoption of a few “inclusive” terms, our reader has touched a nerve regarding some aspects of the use of so-called inclusive language. That is, it often appears patronizing and thus is a source of distraction and annoyance to the very people it was meant to include.

I admit to being personally unconvinced by the arguments that English’s use of male pronouns in a generic sense to reference mixed groups or humanity in general, somehow excludes a part of humanity, except in the minds of those who have decided that it does.

Nor, for that matter, is this use exclusive to the English language. All the Romance languages, for example, use the male form more or less as English does and for good grammatical reasons.

Recent efforts by some Spanish and Italian public figures to imitate the English penchant for inclusiveness have led to linguistic gyrations. They are constrained by grammar to begin their addresses with the equivalent of: “I call on all male citizens and all female citizens…,” a mode of expression more likely to divide than to include.

One advantage of studying several languages is the discovery that assignment of grammatical gender is usually not based on logic. Romance languages, which, unlike English, assign grammatical gender to inanimate objects, frequently attribute opposite genders for the same thing in different languages. The same happens in forms of address; in Italian, for example, the courteous form of addressing a person uses a female form for both sexes.

The point I am trying to make is that such matters as the generic use of the male pronoun is merely a practical means of transmitting a simple message. And contorting the language to get around it can often lead to unnecessarily turgid prose.

In biblical and liturgical texts, as our reader points out, it can also lead to lack of clarity and even theologically erroneous expressions.

That said, it is also necessary to recognize that some aspects of language do change over time and may no longer convey the original intention.

Thus, not all expressions such as “brothers and sisters” instead of “brethren” are necessarily ideological uses of inclusive language. Rather, such uses might simply recognize the reality that in some parts of the English-speaking world the word “brethren” is now archaic and no longer conveys its original meaning.

The expression “brothers and sisters” in homilies might also serve to emphasize that we are addressing all present as members of the Church as God’s family.

Pope John Paul II usually began his discourses with “Dear brothers and sisters” and our present Holy Father follows the same path. At a recent canonization I even heard Benedict XVI use a formula that addressed the people as brothers and sisters in Latin (“Fratres sororesque carissimi”).

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