In tomorrow’s blog I will be looking at a few of the “prefaces” we use at Mass (these occur just before the Holy, Holy, Holy (Sanctus)). As a preface to speaking about those prefaces tomorrow, today I would like to consider the purpose of the preface and the dialogue that precedes it.
For, indeed, a short dialogue happens in the Mass just after the prayer over the gifts and before the singing of the Sanctus. It is called the “preface dialogue” and it is really quite remarkable in its sweeping vision and its heavenly call. Here is the dialogue, along with a rather literal translation. Pay particular attention to the second 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)
This is a fairly familiar dialogue to be sure. But to some extent, it fails to take wing because of the rather earthbound notion that 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 myriad angels and saints we worship the Father through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus.
So, what is the celebrant really inviting us to do when he says, “Lift up your hearts”? 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 follow? 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 the feast of the day.
The prefaces are remarkable summaries of salvation history, of what God has done for us. They announce beautifully some aspect of God’s grace for which we are grateful and thus entering into this great act of thanksgiving (Eucharistia).
Linguistically, the prefaces are minor masterpieces, especially in the Latin, where they make use of creative word order and subordinate clauses. They are succinct and they masterfully sum up certain aspects of salvation history.
The preface always ends in this or a similar manner: and so with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the hosts and powers of Heaven we sing the hymn of your glory as without end we acclaim, Holy, Holy, Holy … And by this, 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!
In tomorrow’s post I will present and examine a few examples of the Sunday prefaces we use at this time of the year.