ROME, 10 FEB. 2004 (ZENIT).
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of
liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
Q: In our parish, the priest has invited people to
join him in the “Through him, with him and in him.” I thought this was
reserved especially for the priest—am I wrong? If it is not appropriate,
what would be the most charitable way to approach him?—K.S., Utica, New
A: You are quite correct. The General Instruction
on the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 151, clearly states: “At the end of the
Eucharistic Prayer, the priest takes the paten with the host and the
chalice and elevates them both while alone singing or saying the doxology,
‘Per ipsum’ (Through him). At the end the people make the acclamation,
Amen. Then the priest places the paten and the chalice on the corporal.”
The priest says or sings this prayer alone (or with
other priest concelebrants) because it forms an integral part of the
Eucharistic Prayer, which has always been reserved exclusively to the
The people give their assent to the priest’s words
through their saying or singing the Amen, often called the great Amen as
being the most important of the Mass. This Amen is seen as the definitive
conclusion to the Eucharistic Prayer and its doxology (a prayer of praise)
symbolized by the fact that the priest does not lower the chalice and
paten until the people conclude the Amen.
True, the present rite of the Mass includes the
assembly’s proclamation of the mystery of faith after the consecration.
But this is not, strictly speaking, a part of the Eucharistic Prayer, and
this rite is omitted if for some good reason a priest celebrates alone or
concelebrates with no ministers or assembly present.
This practice of the people joining in the doxology
is found in several places, sometimes due to a priest’s mistakenly
inviting the people to join in. More often, it probably sprung up shortly
after the introduction of the vernacular, from the people’s spontaneously
joining in a rhythmic text. If this was not corrected in time, a habit
formed—and this usually proves very hard to eliminate.
As to how you should approach your priest? I
suggest that you kindly point out to him the relevant norms but at the
same time suggest an alternative way of distinguishing the importance of
One possible suggestion is to ask him to sing the
doxology so that the people’s response is also sung. Another possible way
of solemnizing this Amen is to follow the practice, now common at papal
Masses, of repeating it three times in a simple but uplifting tone. This
also provides a key for making the musical transition to the Our Father.
This solution, along with an appropriate
catechesis, might also help ease the change in custom in those churches
where joining in the doxology has become an ingrained habit. In these
cases it is necessary to move toward fidelity to liturgical law while
avoiding unnecessary confrontation by apparently impinging and curtailing
the assembly’s range of action.
Just as in the moral life, the most effective way
of combating a bad habit is not to concentrate so much on repressing the
vice as to form the contrary virtue.
* * *
Follow-up: “Through Him, With Him ...”
In response to our reply on the people joining in
the “Through him, with him, in him” (see Feb. 10), one priest wrote
describing how he politely persuaded his flock to stop joining in the
doxology: “by pointing out [to the faithful] that the ‘Amen’ is their
“While the ‘Mysterium Fidei’ proclamation is to be
said or sung by priest and people,” he wrote, “the ‘Amen’ is only said by
the people. So I tell them, ‘I won’t say (sing) your part, if you don’t
sing my part.’”
The priest is correct regarding the celebrant’s not
joining in the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer and I think his pastoral
suggestion is a very valid one.
I would point out however, that the rubric which
states that the people together with celebrant and concelebrants sing the
acclamation after the priest sings the ‘Mysterium Fidei’ is found only in
the present English Missal and does not correspond to the Latin.
The new General Instruction of the Roman Missal,
No. 151, also makes no mention of the priest’s joining in when it says:
“After the consecration when the priest has said, ‘Mysterium fidei’ (Let
us proclaim the mystery of faith), the people sing or say an acclamation
using one of the prescribed formulas.”
However, I would not labor this aspect too much
for, unlike the final Amen, it is more practical than theological. In some
cases, pastoral necessity requires the priest to intone and join in this
acclamation in order to assure that it is sung.
A correspondent from Australia asked if the Sanctus
were not an example of priest and people joining in the Eucharistic
While the Sanctus (Holy Holy Holy) did not form
part of the earliest known Eucharistic prayers, it entered very quickly,
first in the East and later into the Roman Rite, perhaps introduced by
Pope Sixtus III (died 440). Although it is, in a way, a part of the
Eucharistic Prayer, it is so in the manner of an acclamation, proclaimed
by all, which expresses very well both the universality of the Sacrifice
and that the Eucharist is, above all, a sacrifice of praise.
In principle it should be sung by priest and
people, although during several centuries the people were habitually
substituted by the choir which sang an elaborate version during which the
priest recited the Sanctus silently and began the recitation of the rest
of the canon.
The very fact that the community aspect of the
Sanctus has always existed, and has been constantly confirmed in Church
documents, shows that the Church has never considered it either an
exception nor in contradiction to the principle that only the priest alone
should recite the Eucharistic Prayer.
Writing from the Philippines, an Irish priest who
often ministers to the deaf suggested that there is, perhaps, one official
precedent for the congregation praying the doxology with the priest. This
would be the Eucharistic Prayer for the Deaf approved by the Congregation
for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, Protocol No. 1621/85 for the
bishops of England and Wales.
“The text, with the official introduction,” he
writes, “is in Liturgy, Volume 16, No. 6, August-September 1992, pp 39-48,
published by the Liturgy Office of the Bishops’ Conference of England and
The text for the last part of the Eucharistic
Prayer with the rubric is:
we praise you for ever
with Jesus, your Son,
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
He takes the chalice and the paten with the host and
lifts them up while the people respond:
we praise you,
we thank you,
we adore you
for ever and ever.
Our correspondent comments: “It would be impossible
for the priest to sign while holding up the paten and chalice!”
This might indeed constitute an exception, although
considering the extraordinary circumstances involved and the necessary
demands of sign language, I do not think we can draw any general
theological conclusions from this fact.
Finally, another Irish correspondent, a woman from
County Mayo, asks if the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your
apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you” should also be said or
According to the rubrics, this prayer should be
said by the priest alone; the people answer with Amen. The only place
where I have found this prayer said by all is in Ireland. When I enquired
during a recent visit, a priest told me that the common recital had been
recently introduced as a special means of asking for peace in the country.
This may have been the reason (I have no other
source of information on this topic). From a theological and pastoral
prospective such a motivation would appear to greatly limit the scope and
depth of Christ’s peace no matter how desirable the cause.
I did notice that the common recital was very
unevenly practiced, largely depending on who celebrated Mass.
I was also unable to ascertain by whose authority
it was introduced. Such a change would normally require the approval of a
two-thirds majority of the bishops and the Holy See.