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Liturgy: "Through Him, With Him ..."

ROME, FEB. 10, 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 York

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 priest.

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 this moment.

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: Where the Tabernacle Should Be

Our reply on the proper location of the tabernacle (Jan. 27) generated lots of e-mail. Several readers asked why it is no longer permitted to have the tabernacle on the altar of celebration.

To answer this question I think it is first necessary to reflect on the relationship between the Mass and devotion to the real presence of Our Lord.

The Church's highest and holiest action is the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass. John Paul II reminds us in his encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia": "The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church." No other action of the Church can compare to the Mass in importance.

While the Church has always reserved the Eucharist -- above all, to make sure Communion was available to the sick and dying -- there was no particular devotion to the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle for almost a thousand years.

Thus in the writings of great Church Fathers such as saints Ambrose, Augustine and Pope Leo the Great, one finds nothing about visits to the Blessed Sacrament yet much about the greatness of the Eucharistic celebration.

The martyrs of Roman times had no Eucharistic devotions. Yet, when the martyrs of Abitene were arrested in 304 for illegal gatherings, they boldly stated that they could not live without their Sunday Eucharist. In more recent persecutions, such as in my native Ireland, it was impossible to have the reserved Eucharist. But people took great risks in order to assist at Mass in the hills. The priests who celebrated these ...

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