Why the Acclamations at the “Mystery of Faith” Need Further Consideration

eCatholic-stock-photo-39There is a moment in the Eucharistic Prayer in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite at which the priest awkwardly summons the people to respond by using a sentence fragment: “The mystery of faith” (mysterium fidei). The 1970 translation from the Latin tried to complete the fragment by supplying some additional words: “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.”

But regardless of the specifics of the wording, it seems an awkward moment, something interjected into the action of the Eucharistic Prayer.

But even in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the traditional Latin Mass celebrated before1970) the phrase mysterium fidei “mysteriously” lurked about in the words of the consecration over the chalice:

Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei, novi et aeterni testamenti: mysterium fidei:
qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.

For this is the chalice of My blood, of the new and eternal testament: the mystery of faith: which will be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins.

What was the phrase doing there? How did it get inserted into the very words of consecration?

There are many theories but no one really knows. Father Joseph Jungmann, S.J. has studied this as much or more than anyone else and he says,

Regarding the words mysterium fidei there is absolutely no agreement. A distant parallel is to be found Apostolic Constitutions, where our Lord is made to say at the consecration of the bread: “This is the mystery of the New Testament, take of it, eat, it is my body.” … What is meant by the words mysterium fidei? Christian antiquity would not have referred them so much to the obscurity of what is here hidden from the senses … Rather it would have taken them as a reference to the grace-laden sacrament in which the entire object of faith, the whole divine order of salvation is comprised … How or when or why this insertion was made, or what external event occasioned it cannot readily be ascertained (Jungmann, Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol 2 pp. 200-201, Christian Classics).

So, the precise origin and meaning of the phrase, “the mystery of faith” is itself mysterious. It is surprising to me that this interjection, a phrase not found in any biblical account of the words of consecration by our Lord Himself, would have been introduced into such essential words. But there it is, right in the words of consecration as they have existed in the Roman Rite for a thousand years.

With little explanation, the phrase was relocated in the 1970 Missal so that it now occurs after the words of consecration. Having consecrated the wine in the Chalice, the celebrant proclaims, as a kind of detached phrase, “The mystery of faith.” And the people may answer with one of three acclamations:

We proclaim your Death, O Lord,
and profess your Resurrection,
until you come again.

When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup,
we proclaim your Death, O Lord,
until you come again.

Save us, Savior of the world,
for by your Cross and Resurrection
you have set us free.

The typical explanation for this is that acclamations after the consecration were common in ancient liturgical practice, especially in the East. But while Eastern liturgies contain acclamations of varying sorts after the consecration, that is true throughout those liturgies.

In the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, there are the following set of acclamations related to the words of consecration:

Priest: Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.

People: Amen.

Priest: Likewise, after supper, He took the cup, saying,

Priest: Drink of it all of you; this is my Blood of the new Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

People: Amen.

Priest: Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming, We offer to You these gifts from Your own gifts in all and for all.

People: We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, Lord our God.

So, if the intention was to imitate the Eastern liturgies, why not imitate them more closely with two amens, an announcement of the paschal mystery by the priest, and a doxology by the people? Why call the practice “ancient” (despite no obvious precedent in the Roman Rite) and then introduce a modern abbreviation of an ancient Eastern practice?

Another question that arises is why borrow from the Eastern rites at all? There is a general (though not absolute) norm that we should refrain from “mixing rites.” This is because each of the rites, Western and Eastern, has its own genius and structure that should be respected. While the essential aspects of liturgy exist in all the rites, language, musical style, vestments, ceremonial details, and other particulars vary a good deal and their integrity should be respected.

In this case, a new element borrowed from the Eastern Rites was introduced, but in a kind of minimized way that some argue respects the integrity of neither the Roman nor Eastern Rites.

Add to all this that the Roman Rite actually did have a kind of acclamation (at least in sung liturgies) after the consecration that had its own genius. It was the Benedictus, the second half of the Sanctus. In sung liturgies it was a widespread practice to sing the first half of the Sanctus at the end of the preface and the second half (the Benedictus) after the consecration of the Chalice. Thus the post-consecratory acclamation was

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest!

Pope Benedict, writing as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005, made some important but often-forgotten observations and suggestions regarding the Benedictus and its current placement, even going so far as to suggest a change, or at least another option:

Whereas the Sanctus evolved from Isaiah 6, the Benedictus is based on the New Testament rereading of Psalm 118:26 which … on Palm Sunday received a new meaning. … As the youth of Jerusalem shout this verse to Jesus they are greeting him as the Messiah. … The Sanctus [therefore] is ordered to the eternal glory of God; in contrast, the Benedictus refers to the advent of the incarnate God in our midst … For this reason, the Benedictus is meaningful … as an exclamation to the Lord who has become present in the Eucharistic Species. The great moment of his coming, the immensity of his real presence … definitely call for a response.  … The reformers of the liturgy composed an acclamation of the people [We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again] … But the question of other possible acclamations to welcome the Lord who is coming/has come, has been posed. It is evident to me that there is no more appropriate or profound acclamation, or one that is more rooted in tradition then precisely this one: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” It is true that splitting the Sanctus and Benedictus is not necessary, but it makes a lot of sense. The pedantic proscription [forbidding] of such a split … should be forgotten as quickly as possible (Joseph Ratzinger, Collected Works, “Theology of the Liturgy.” Ignatius, Vol 11, pp. 477-479).

And therefore we see that there is valid support for an acclamation within the tradition of the Roman Rite that does not need to borrow from other rites (thereby compromising the integrity of both).

Since the current practice has been occurring for over forty years, one need not insist on the suppression of (three) acclamations. However, what about introducing the Benedictus (the second half of the Sanctus) as a valid option when the priest summons the people by saying, “the mystery of faith”? This would respect current practice, while introducing the option of another one more in keeping with the Western, Roman Rite. Time would then tell which prevails or if both simply go forward as options.

For the record, I agree with (then) Cardinal Ratzinger that the Benedictus as a post-consecratory acclamation is a fabulous option. It perfectly describes the reality of the incarnation, a notion that befits the transubstantiation of the elements that has just occurred: the eternal Son of God, ever to be praised in the highest heavens, has now come among us. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Indeed, Hosanna in the Highest!

Some may argue that we should align with the Eastern Rites, which speak more to the full paschal mystery. But why not allow each rite to have its own genius? The Roman Rite would emphasize the incarnation, the Eastern rites the paschal mystery, each in accord with its own tradition.

Your thoughts, charitably expressed, are always appreciated.

Here are the Sanctus and Benedictus from Hassler’s Missa Secunda:

24 Replies to “Why the Acclamations at the “Mystery of Faith” Need Further Consideration”

  1. Father,
    Interesting observation.

    Recall also that in the same Divine Liturgy you mentioned used my the Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic there is also a Hymn/Antiphon that is chanted, the first part at the beginning of the Anaphor..
    THe Second part…chanted later in response to the actions of the Holy Spirit.

    Cherubic Hymn

    We who mystically represent the Cherubim,
    and who sing to the Life-Giving Trinity the thrice-holy hymn,
    let us now lay aside all earthly cares

    Part II
    that we may receive the King of all,
    escorted invisibly by the angelic orders.

  2. Critics of Paul VI’s modern liturgy often claim the Roman Rite has been Protestantized, and perhaps it was. But Bugnini’s liturgical revolution seems to have been more “easternizing” than anything. Why did the Roman Church abandon its own liturgical traditions of the Christian West? Was the goal rapprochement with the Orthodox? If so, it doesn’t seem to have worked. In my experience, because the Orthodox value liturgical integrity so much, they tend to see the “reforms” following Vatican II as a tragic mistake within the Roman Church. Nobody wants a hybrid East/West liturgy.

  3. “The typical explanation for this is that acclamations after the consecration were common in ancient liturgical practice, especially in the East”. This is yet one of many examples of the Concilium’s obsession with an “archeological” approach to liturgical “restoration”. The Concilium, led by Msgr. Annibale Bugnini, relied so heavily on utterly undocumented “theory” and extensive “adaptations”—primarily from Eastern rites—that what we were left with is a liturgy that does not represent ANY tradition. Calling the 1969 Order of Mass a form of the “Roman Rite” is like calling the Lutheran or Anglican communion services forms of the Roman Rite. While one clearly can see the skeletal remains of the Roman Mass, their similarities crumble once one moves beyond these remaining, superficial scraps.
    I once heard Dom Mark Kirby, OSB (of Silverstream Priory, Ireland) theorize that the “mysterium fidei” likely was inserted by a scribe who, upon reaching that point in the Roman Canon, was overcome with emotion and moved to add those words. This quite possibly also would explain that fact that the institution narrative over the host (in the traditional version of the Roman Canon) ends abruptly with “Hoc est corpus meum”/”This is my Body”. Perhaps the scribe was so moved by the reality of what later would be defined as transubstantiation that he simply stopped there to emphasize this.
    As for substituting the Benedictus as an alternate acclamation, this really would not be a “restoration” of Roman Rite practice. The singing of the Benedictus post-consecration only occurs with choral polyphonic settings of the Mass, and it is sung while the priest continues the SILENT recitation of the Canon. Once again, the 1969 Order of Mass introduced a novel practice that NEVER occurred before in the ENTIRE history of the Roman Rite: “saying” the Canon aloud. The original practice was for it to be SUNG according to the Preface Tone (cf. “Ordo Romanus Primus”), then later to a “more solemn tone”: perhaps to the same melody as the Easter Vigil “Exultet”, since that melody is an ornamented version of the preface tone. The final evolution—no later than the 8th century, and likely much earlier—was for the Canon to be recited “secreto”/”silently”: the Western equivalent to closing the doors of the Byzantine Iconostasis or drawing the curtains closed during the Armenian Badarak. It then was a number of centuries after this final evolution and the concurrent development of polyphony that the Benedictus was sung post-consecration.
    The best “solution”? Scrap the “memorial acclamation” altogether, since it is utterly foreign to our tradition and restore the sung—or silent—canon. It is interesting to note that the first (1970) edition of the Missal of Paul VI included a rubric, after the Sanctus, which read “The Eucharistic Prayer MAY be recited aloud” [emphasis mine]: i.e. it was an “option”. As Cardinal Ratzinger once wryly pointed out, “options killed the Roman Rite”.

  4. Unrelated except in comparing ordinary and extra-ordinary Masses, but if any griping need be done, and changes introduced, it should be where attention on Christ on the altar is shattered by offering of a sign of peace….from the moment of confection, NOTHING should detract from the Real Presence of Christ on the altar….it destroys everything from mood to the faith of the people in the real presence and takes time to try to regain proper composure and awe of the gift present to God the Father and to us, awe often not there at the start and certainly disrupted for most by shifting attention to mere mortals…then the mystery of faith would not seem near so misplaced while the people contemplated that which can never be grasped, rather than still distracted by that planning on whose hand do you try to shake first..

    1. Though to be fair, the sign of peace at that point in the Mass is very ancient in the Roman Rite. I don’t like the way it is handled today either, but its been there a long time.

      1. Pope John Paul II wrote that the Eucharist is the sum and summit of our faith. The “mysterium fidei” in the words of consecration of the chalice in the extraordinary form of the Mass is consistent with this. The phrase mysterium fidei appearing where it does seems to me to be a reference to that just consecrated Blood. In the ordinary form, separating this Eucharistic acclamation and placing it after the consecration, and inserting a collection of choices, any of which could be accepted by any Protestant, and none of which have a specifically Eucharistic or even Catholic connotation, would seem to support that Bugnini, in addition to other obvious changes in the Mass, tried to Protestantize the Mass as much as he could.

  5. I wouldn’t be opposed to completely removing “The Mystery of Faith” (along with the Sign of Peace for a different reason!) However, I think that the second half of the Sanctus should remain where it presently exists. It is recalling the shouts of joy and welcoming to Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. “He is coming!” That’s the anticipation we should be experiencing at that precise moment in the Mass. Jesus is not on the altar yet, but He is coming very soon! Hosanna! “The mystery of faith” almost feels like “halftime” in the Eucharistic Prayer. “Let’s all take a break before the second epiclesis.” I know that’s not what’s intended, but it certainly can have that sense about it as it presently stands!

    1. Hmm… I’m not so sure the notion was merely that “he’s coming” but rather “He’s here!”

  6. Msgr,
    Thank you for writing great stuff. Thank you for being courageous!
    Another reason I find the O.F. acclamations awkward is that they are a break in the prayer which is addressing God the Father. Suddenly, we address God the Son, “O Lord,” and then, suddenly, go back to addressing God the Father, because we weren’t finished. Why interrupt the prayer? Ratzinger’s suggestion of the “Benedictus” has the added benefit that these words can be conceived of as addressed to God the Father, “Blessed is he,” as opposed to “Blessed are you.” In the E.F., we don’t address the Sacred species in prayer until the Agnus Dei, which is, of course, perfectly exquisite.

  7. This proposal has a lot of merit to it. One of the problems with the memorial acclamations a is that they are directed to the Son in the middle of a prayer directed to the Father — it’s a jarring moment in the prayer for many. Using the Benedictus takes care of this because it is not addressed as such to the Son but only acclaims His presence.

  8. Great article Monsignor. So well thought out! As I remember in the Latin of the Novus Ordo 1969 Missale Romanum, the Mysterium Fidei in recited in conjunction with the consecration of the chalice, not as something separate after. Of course there is no “Let us recite” in the Latin Novus Ordo 69 Missale, as far as I remember. Too, Saint Paul refers to the consecrated chalice in his Letter to Timothy regarding deacons as “the Mysterium Fidei.” Therefore the term does have apostolic foundation. Personally, I do not thing that any pope would add “Mysterium Fidei” to the words of consecration if they were not part of what Saint Peter bequeathed. That, it seems to be, would be too bold (even for a good intention) at this sacred moment. It is not the same as adding the names of martyrs. Do the Eastern Rites have “pro multis”? I assume they do. Nevertheless, the fact that the scriptures do not have “Mysterium Fidei” as part of the words of institution, does not mean that Our Lord did not say it.

  9. “So, if the intention was to imitate the Eastern liturgies, why not imitate them more closely with two amens, an announcement of the paschal mystery by the priest, and a doxology by the people?”

    The more I read Louis Bouyer, the more I’m convinced that the Eastern rites were used much more as excuses for changes than as models.

    Msgr. Klaus Gamber once pointed out that the re-positioning after the Consecration transforms it into a cue for the memorial acclamation – something alien to ALL of the ancient rites except the Coptic. The result is an abrupt change from addressing God the Father to God the Son.

  10. http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_03091965_mysterium.html

    “The Mystery of Faith, that is, the ineffable gift of the Eucharist…” – Blessed Paul VI


    “Mysterium fidei! If the Eucharist is a mystery of faith…” – Saint John Paul II

    As for the term “Mystery of Faith,” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    “237 The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the ‘mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God’. (Dei Filius 4)”

    And from the Catechism of Trent:
    “For when the consecration of the chalice is effected, it is called a mystery of faith… The words mystery of faith, which are subjoined, do not exclude the reality, but signify that what lies hidden and concealed and far removed from the perception of the eye, is to be believed with firm faith. In this passage, however, these words bear a meaning different from that which they have when applied also to Baptism. Here the mystery of faith consists in seeing by faith the blood of Christ veiled under the species of wine; but Baptism is justly called by us the Sacrament of faith, by the Greeks, the mystery of faith, because it embraces the entire profession of the Christian faith. Another reason why we call the blood of the Lord the mystery of faith is that human reason is particularly beset with difficulty and embarrassment when faith proposes to our belief that Christ the Lord, the true Son of God, at once God and man, suffered death for us, and this death is designated by the Sacrament of His blood.”

  11. I am looking at a copy of Josse Clichtove’s 1516 edition of Elucidatorium Ecclesiasticorum. It has: Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei, novi & aeterni testamenti, mysterium fidei, qui pro vobis & pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum. Haec quotiescunque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis. (135v) After he writes his commentary on the Consecration, he continues with: Unde & memores domine nos servi tui: sed & plebs tua sancta, eiusdem filii tui, domini dei nostri:tam beatae passionis, necnon & ab inferis resurrectionis, sed & in caelos gloriosae ascensionis: offerimus praeclarae maiestati tuae de tuis donis ac datis: hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam: panem sanctum vitae aeternae, & calicem salutis perpetuae.

    So the Latin rite did include a reference to the Resurrection and Ascension right after the Consecration. Since all of this was prayed silently, it was obviously not a response by the people, but it does give a recap of the basics of the faith. And it was addressed to God the Father.

  12. Strange you should bring this subject up. The thought occurred to me this past Sunday Sunday it was like a call for the seventh inning stretch.

  13. All of this bickering over the liturgy exhausts me. If, during the Mass, I am thinking too much about how I don’t like this or that about the liturgy, then I have totally missed the point and robbed myself of time spent in prayer to the Lord. I, for one, resolve that I will no longer worry about the liturgy and leave that to others, like the bishops. Please consider whether your own peace and prayer life might benefit from doing the same.

    1. I wonder why you use a harsh word like “bickering” ?? This may indicate some need to improve your own prayer life too. Having legitimate discussions about the nature of the Liturgy CAN also be a way to grow in our understanding of it. There has never been an era in the Church when such discussion did not take place. Cardinal Ratzinger is not bickering, I don’t thinking I am. I cannot speak for all who comment here but perhaps they are not bickering either. Having preferences or a point of view is not wrong, even as you have a point of view and a preference that we stop “bickering”

  14. As was intimated by some here, there seems to be a Protestantising of the Mass, insofar as the real presence is concerned. If Jesus is present on the altar in the form of bread and wine immediately following the consecration, then why do we pray “…until You come again”? Clearly the de-formers wanted to move away from real presence and look at the Mass not as sacrifice, but as simple communal meal.

    1. Maybe. It doesn’t help to call them deformers however, no need for such terminology please. Let s limit the conversation to what we prefer or what seems best to us. This remains a valid form of the Mass and should be accorded respect. “Deform” suggests invalidity since sacraments consist of matter and form.

      But it is clear enough that the acclamation will come again refers to the paschal mystery and the Second coming. To speak of the second coming is not inconsistent with sacramental presence per se.

      1. Thank you for your criticism. Certainly the second coming is not inconsistent with sacramental presence. But why place it at this point? Why does the priest talk about the second coming right after Jesus has become present at the altar? That seems pretty obvious: getting our thoughts away from adoration of Christ now present on the altar.
        Please take note that nowhere do I imply invalidity of the Novus Ordo. All I am saying is that it is a deformation of not only the Mass of St Gregory, but a deformation of the wishes of the Council Fathers. The sooner the Church realises this, the sooner the Mass will again be more relevant to people in the 21st century, rather than continue as an anachronism of the World War II generation.

  15. It’s been several years since I’ve celebrated mass at a Byzantine Rite Catholic Church (mostly attend Latin rite now – especially since the restructure of the translation of the mass) but I seem to recall how much more similar the Byzantine was to what the current mass is and, how the “… sentence fragment: ‘The mystery of faith” was followed by
    “The sacrifice of praise.”
    Asking myself, self I ask – do I recall that right?

  16. Very interesting article.

    I’m just a guy, and a convert guy to boot, but what gets me, as I have gravitated now to the EF from the OF which I find to be a liturgy that encourages a certain sloppiness, “creativity” and irreverence, is why, if the vernacular was so all-fired important, the “change” in ’70 wasn’t merely for the Priest to read from the right side of the Missal page instead of the left.

    And yeah, I’ve read Jungmann, too {who deftly hints that change is coming…}. And yeah, I know that the vernacular positively wasn’t what it was all about. And yeah, I came to the Church from the Lutheran ecclesial group where I was well-prepared for the OF {too well prepared?} tho I had to learn to stand at communion instead of reverently kneeling. I never did buy the line they gave me in RCIA that the “Mass wasn’t Protestantized”, at least after I thankfully visited an EF parish for the first glorious time.

  17. A long time ago I was taught (as an Anglican) that “mysterium fidei” was an artefact of diaconal statements in the liturgy that were lost long ago with the disappearance of the original charism of the diaconate in Christ in the West. This phrase “MYSTERIUM FIDEI” was so important in indicating to the laity (or laics, if you prefer) the tremendous event taking place that by a gradual process this phrase was eventually given to the celebrating priest to declare not only to the laity but to himself. As you note, no one really knows. (In advancing any theory, the late Fr. Groeschel would inquire in response, “Were you there?”.)

    I would agree that the Mass of Paul VI would be greatly improved by placing the Benedictus after “Mysterium fidei.” However, after these years of putting Sanctus and Benedictus together, I think it would be better to leave that in place in the Ordinary Form. Nonetheless, I think you are on to something valuable. I think I would simply counsel that following “Mysterium fidei” it would be better to have one of the variant forms of the Benedictus i.e., ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.’ given as the response of the congregation assembled.

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