The Mass in Slow Motion: The (Remarkable) Preface Dialogue

A short dialogue happens in the Mass just after the prayer over the gifts and the before the singing of the Sanctus. It is called the “preface dialogue” and it is really quite remarkable in its sweeping vision and heavenly call. Part of the reason we miss it’s significance is that the translation of the Latin is difficult to accomplish in English. Allow me to give the current translation so you’ll recognize it and then render a more literal version of the Latin.

  • The Lord Be with you
  • And Also with you
  • Lift up your hearts
  • We lift them up to the Lord
  • Let us give thanks to Lord our God
  • It is right to give him thanks and praise

A fairly familiar dialogue to be sure. But to some extent it fails to take wing because of the rather earthbound notion most moderns have of the Mass. Very few attending mass today think much of the heavenly liturgy. Rather they are focused on their parish Church, the priest in front of them and the people around them. But this is NOT an adequate vision for the Mass. In the end there is only one liturgy, the one in heaven. There is only one altar, the one in heaven. There is only one High Priest, Jesus in heaven. In the Mass we are swept up into the heavenly liturgy. There with myriads of angels and saints beyond number we worship the Father through Jesus, with Jesus and in Jesus.  In the Mass we are swept into heaven!

With this in mind consider a more literal rendering of the preface dialogue. Pay attention especially to the middle dialogue:

  • Dominus Vobiscum (The Lord be with you)
  • et cum spiritu tuo (And with your Spirit)
  • Sursum corda (Hearts aloft!)
  • habemus ad Dominum (We have, to the Lord!)
  • Gratias agamus, Dominio Deo nostro (Let us give thanks to the Lord our God)
  • Dignum et justum est (It is right and just).

What is the celebrant really inviting us to do? After greeting us in the Lord he invites us to go to heaven! But remember the priest is in persona Christi. Hence when he speaks it is really the Lord Jesus who speaks making use of the voice of the priest. And what does the Lord really say to us in the magnificent dialogue and preface that follows?  Allow me to elaborate on the fuller meaning of this text:

Let your hearts be taken up! Come and go with me to the altar that is in heaven where I,  Jesus the great High Priest, with all the members of my body render perfect thanks to God the Father! You are no longer on earth, your hearts have been swept aloft into the great liturgy of heaven! Come up higher. By the power of my words you are able to come up higher! Since you have been raised to new life in Christ, seek the things that are above where I am at my Father’s right hand. Come up now and enter the heavenly liturgy. Hearts aloft!”

The congregation’s response is meant to be a joyful acknowledgment and acceptance of the Lord’s action in summoning us to the heavenly liturgy. Here too allow me to elaborate:

“We have our hearts lifted to the Lord. We have entered the Heavenly Liturgy by the power of your grace, for you our head have taken us, the members of your body there. We are in the heavenly realms with you, worshipping the Father and giving him perfect thanks and praise. It is right and just that we should do this through you, with you and in you!

Then the celebrant sings or says the preface wherein some  specific things for which we are thankful are enumerated. The text of the preface changes based on the season or the saint or feast of the day. But it always ends in this or a similar manner: and so with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven we sing the unending hymn of your praise: Holy, Holy, Holy….  And thus we are reminded that our worship is caught up into the heavenly liturgy where our voices join innumerable angels and saints in the glorious act of praise. We are in heaven! Our hearts (our very selves) are aloft!

Hence the Mass is never just the “10:00 am Mass at St. Joe’s”  It is the heavenly liturgy. Until recently Churches were designed to remind us that we were entering heaven. As we walk into older churches we are surrounded by windows and paintings that depict the angels and saints. Christ is at the center in the tabernacle. And all the elements that scripture speaks of as in the heavenly liturgy are on display not only in the building but in the celebration of the liturgy: Candles, incense, an altar, the hymns that are sung, the Holy Holy Holy, the scroll is brought forward in the Book of Gospels, the lamb on the throne-like altar, , the prostrations and kneelings of the saints before the Lord. All these things are described in the Book of Revelation descriptions of the heavenly liturgy. None of these things are in our churches or the liturgy for arbitrary reasons. We are in the heavenly realms and the heavenly liturgy and so we see and experience heavenly things. Hearts aloft!

This video I made some time ago shows forth traditional Church Architecture as a glimpse of heaven. The Latin text of the Music by Bruckner describes how the form of the Liturgy and even Church architecture is set forth by God who first gave it in elaborate instructions to Moses on Sinai. Here is the text with my translation:

Locus iste a Deo factus est  (this place was made by God)
inaestimabile sacramentum; (a priceless mystery)
irreprehensibilis est. (It is beyond reproach)

12 Replies to “The Mass in Slow Motion: The (Remarkable) Preface Dialogue”

  1. Great post, Monsignor. When I first started reading it, I thought you were going to mention the prayer in which the priest says “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred Body and Blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.” This prayer is one of my favorite parts of the Mass, since it always reminds me that I am part of a liturgy that includes all the angels and saints in heaven.

    By the way, is the prayer that I mentioned new? I don’t recall hearing it at Mass until recently.

    1. Gary,
      The prayer “Almighty God, we pray that your angel…” is from Eucharistic Prayer One (the Roman Canon), occurring shortly after the Consecration. It is not exactly new, as it dates from the 4th or 5th century; it may be “new to you” simply because most priests rarely use Euch. Pr. One because it’s the longest. And by the way, the deplorable (and soon to be replaced!) ICEL translation of the Latin completely omits one beautiful phrase from this prayer–in conspectu divinae maiestatis tuae–“in the sight of thy divine majesty.”

    2. No, the prayer is quite ancient, being part of the Roman Canon is probably dates to the 5th Century or some argue before. It may be that you’ve only heard it recently because many priests seldom use the Roman Canon since it is longer that 2 or 3. Perhaps you have recently been assigned a priest who uses it!

  2. I don’t know whether it is the case at most parishes that this dialogue is spoken rather than sung. At the Masses I’ve attended, the Preface is spoken, and tends to sound something like this:

    P: The Lord be with you.
    C: andalsowithyou
    P: Lift up your hearts
    C: weliftthemuptotheLord
    P: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
    C: itisrighttogiveHimthanksandpraise

    I wonder whether the priest sometimes feels as though he’s trying to hold back a horse intent on bolting back to the barn.


        Not the best video/recording, but the tune presented here is what is usually used in my Lutheran church (albeit using English text).

        I believe that part of the value of liturgical music is that it can force a more appropriate pace for the text of the liturgy. The liturgy is not a burden, something to get out of the way as quickly as possible! I suppose that singing a particular text a zillion times can become as mindless as speaking it a zillion times, but perhaps if one isn’tgoingthroughthetextlikethis maybe one has a better opportunity to give some thought to the value of the words coming out of one’s mouth.

    1. I don’t often think about how we sound, until my 4 yr old repeats what she thinks she heard. To her ears, she heard, “forgive us our trash passers,” and it made sense to her, since I’m usually on the kids about picking up the “trash” they leave around the house.

  3. The title of your post is also the title of a wonderful little book by Msgr. Ronald Knox that was published many years before Vatical Council II. He is describing, of course, the typical Tridentine Mass of the time, but his comments and elucidations are timeless and memorable. BTW, I have always been puzzled–and annoyed–by the inanity of “also” in “And also with you.”

  4. Msgr. Pope, I just love this! When I hear Mass I envision myself in the heavenly temple, assisting at the heavenly liturgy! This post drives that home very well. Thanks for writing it!

  5. Msgr. Pope,

    I must say I couldn’t agree with you more! For me I did not come to this realization until after I had attended my first Solemn High Mass (TLM). To me that ceremony is the most spiritually edifying worship this side of Heaven.

    “whether we better meet Christ in the Mass by soaring up to Him, or by dragging him down to our pedestrian workaday world… What really matters, surely, is not whether the faithful feel at home at Mass, but whether they are drawn out of their ordinary lives into the world of Christ…”
    -Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Triumph, Oct,1966

  6. Msgr. Pope,

    Your elaboration of the Sursum corda is wonderful! This post has made me wonder why the liturgy is so often understated. The real power and majesty of our worship can be missed especially by those of us who are not liturgically trained. maybe you should be serving on the ICEL.

    You struck a nerve with me when you said,
    “Until recently Churches were designed to remind us that we were entering heaven.”
    It is very evident that this is no longer the case in many places. I am often appalled by what the Church allows. Much of the architecture that has been forced on the faithful in the last half century is simply tacky or out right ugly. Sadly this very often extends to the vestments and other furnishing of our Churches.

    On a different note I must thank you for your recent posts on marriage. They have reminded me of our Lords expectation of men that we are to love our wives as he has loved the Church even unto death on the cross.

    Thank you for your ministry.

    Yours in Christ,
    J. David Hill

    1. David: Several years ago my mother sent to me a copy of an architect’s proposal for her church’s new building. I showed it to my husband. We both had the same reaction: It looked like a SPACEPORT. My husband contemplated scanning the image, and replacing the cars with vehicles from The Jetsons (I’m probably dating myself with the reference to that cartoon.

      Fortunately Mom’s church didn’t go with the spaceport design.

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