Three Oft-Forgotten Acclamations of Eucharistic Piety

In the afterglow of Corpus Christi, we do well to consider some of our liturgical practices. Over the years on this blog we have done a good deal of this (e.g., Worthiness to receive Communion).

In this post, I would like to consider three rather obscure but still important moments that are often lost in the minds and hearts of the faithful – the Mystery of Faith,  the Amen, and the Agnus Dei. They rise in importance because they are moments that belong especially to the faithful rather than the clergy.

I. The Mystery of Faith (Memorial Acclamation)

In the Ordinary Form of the Liturgy, an acclamation of the people has been added just after the consecration. The priest bids them to acclaim the paschal mystery that has just been made present in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. He says or sings “The mystery of faith.” At this point the rubrics indicate “And the people continue, acclaiming …” Note that it is not anticipated that the priest should join them. At other times the rubrics do dictate that the priest and people sing together. (For example, at the Sanctus the rubric states, “[The priest] joins his hands and concludes the Preface with the people, singing or saying aloud …”)

But in the case of the Mystery of Faith, the rubric simply says, “the people continue, acclaiming …” There are three options:

1. We proclaim your death or Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again.

2. When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup we proclaim your death O Lord, until to come again.

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

While these acclamations are relatively new in the Roman Missal (introduced in 1970), they echo the practice of the Eastern Churches, which contain several acclamations by the people during the Eucharistic Prayer (specifically the Anaphora). For example, in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the people sing “Amen” after the consecration of the bread and again after the consecration of the wine. The priest then sings, Thine own, of thine own, we offer unto thee, on behalf of all and for all. And the people respond, We praise thee, we bless thee, we give thanks unto thee and and we pray unto thee, Lord our God.

The memorial acclamation in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the inclusion of which was not without controversy (I have written on this before), is an important moment for the people to acclaim the paschal mystery that has just been made present to them. Too often, unfortunately, they seem distracted or uninvolved. Clergy should not usurp the acclamation for themselves by singing it too loudly. Even if it is necessary to “get the people started,” the priest should then pull back and listen reverently to the response that really belongs to the congregation. This is a moment for the people of God to express their praise and worship of the Lord, now on the altar, in a reverent fashion. It does belong to us clergy to instruct the faithful on the meaning and importance of this moment in terms of Eucharistic piety.

II.  Amen

The Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayer is another moment for God’s people to acclaim their “yes,” solemnly and joyfully, to what has just taken place. In this case as well, the speaking or the singing of the “Amen” is assigned to the people, not the clergy. The rubrics state, “The people acclaim: Amen.”

The celebrant, in persona Christi Capitis, has been speaking to the Father on their behalf, recalling the great works of God and the Sacrifice of the Cross made present in the Eucharist. He has asked mercy for the Church: the clergy and all the people, living and deceased.

At the conclusion, the celebrant and deacon hold aloft the Body and Blood of the Lord and sing or say, Through him and with him and in him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever. It is for the people, not the celebrant, to acclaim “Amen.” It is their “yes,” their acknowledgment of all that has been said and has taken place.

Thus, the “Amen” ought to be a vigorous one. There is no need for histrionics, but a good, firm “Amen” is surely called for as a sign of our Eucharistic faith and our grateful spirits. At times, though, it seems one can barely detect the joy and firm affirmation that is deserved. Eucharistic piety demands more than a distracted, feeble “Amen.”

III.  The Agnus Dei

Just prior to the Agnus Dei, the optional (though seldom omitted) sign of peace is sung or said. Unfortunately, there are often excesses in what ought to be a modest greeting to those immediately nearby. These excesses often lead to the eclipse of what is a beautiful and pious hymn of preparation for Holy Communion: Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us … grant us peace.

The recitation or singing of the Agnus Dei begins just after the sign of peace, but many people do not take the hint to refocus and join in. Instead they continue glad-handing as if it were merely background noise/music to the sign of peace. It is not. It is part of a eucharistic piety meant to prepare us for Holy Communion. Consider that the words of the hymn are very tender. We invoke Him who is the Lamb of God to have mercy on us and grant us peace to approach the Eucharistic altar without servile fear.

The Agnus Dei is especially a song of the people, because the celebrant is usually busy with other prayers. He may join towards the end, but this is a moment for the people to prepare for Holy Communion.

Here, then, are three acclamations of Eucharistic piety that help frame the liturgy and draw us to devotion. My sense is that they are underappreciated by many of the faithful and that clergy often usurp the role given to the lay faithful here, sometimes even acting as a “song leader.”

Ideally, the faithful can discover their own role here and see that the acclamations are not mere formulae, but prayers of a people who believe and celebrate what is announced.

Beware the Sins of the Pious – A Reflection on the Ways Satan Uses Even Good Things to Entrap Us

What is temptation? It is the work of Satan to drag you to Hell. He can read you like a book, play you like piano. Do not exaggerate his power—but do not underestimate it either.

Some of Satan’s subtlest work is done in the area of religious observance. There, he can cloak himself in the lamb’s clothing of piety, but, wolf that he is, distort it through excess or defect, thereby destroying you with what is good. Beware what some spiritual writers call the “traps of the pious.” Consider some examples:

He can discourage you in prayer, saying, “If only you would pray just a little longer, then God will give you what you seek.” The deception is that if we could pray a little longer, then we can never have prayed enough. Thus, though we pray, we still feel guilty and inadequate. And since we can never have prayed “enough,” prayer increasingly turns into a burdensome task. In this satanic deception, God becomes a cruel taskmaster demanding longer and more precise prayers, or prayer becomes a superstitious endeavor whose outcome we somehow control by the length and type of our prayers. Jesus counsels us that the Father knows what we need and that we should not think that merely multiple words and pious actions are necessary. We may need to persevere in prayer over time, but God is not a cruel tyrant demanding endless incantations.

Satan can take the beautiful practices of praying the rosary, attending daily Mass, or other devotions and use them to incite in us a feeling of smug superiority, elitism, or pride. Gradually, we being to think of others as less devout because they do not do or observe these things that are encouraged but not required.

A most extreme form of this comes from those who take the beautiful and powerful devotion to our Lady of Fatima and allow Satan to set them against the world’s bishops and even the Pope, claiming that they have failed (ineptly or willfully) to “properly” consecrate Russia. Never mind that Our Lady did not prescribe the exact wording of the consecration; still, somehow, they have failed. In this way, one of our most beautiful and informative apparitions can engender in some people distrust of the Church, disunity from multiple popes, and even disunity from Sister Lucia herself. It is an astonishingly crafty work of the evil one to take what is good and religious and corrupt it in the minds of some people.

Satan can also take what is required and turn it into a kind of religious minimalism, a way of keeping God at a distance. He tempts some souls with the notion that attending Sunday Mass, putting a little something in the collection plate, and reciting a few rushed prayers are the end of religion rather than the beginning of it. Such observances become a way of “checking off the God-box” so that we can be “done with God” for the week. These good practices become the whole of our observance rather than a foundation on which to build a beautiful and ever-deepening relationship of love with God.

Such minimal practices become a form of “God control” for those tempted in this way; it is as if to say, “I’ve done what I am supposed to do, now leave me be—but God needs to take care me now since I’ve done what I’m required to do.” In this way, the Church’s beautiful laws and the requirements describing the basic duties or foundation for a deepening relationship with God, become a kind of “separation agreement,” setting strict visiting hours and specifying who gets what.

Satan can take religious zeal and corrupt it into harsh and uncharitable zealotry. He can take a love for the beauty of the liturgy (ancient or new) and turn it into a persnickety insistence on exactly the right ingredients at the expense of charity and unity. “Make sure you celebrate the liturgy the way I like it. Anyone who doesn’t like what I like is antiquarian, a knave, or an uncouth troglodyte who must obviously hate the Church that I love so beautifully.”

Satan can take the beautiful love for the poor and corrupt it into an enslaving paternalism that locks them into dependency. It is a “love” that does not address their spiritual needs by speaking to them respectfully of their sins, does not seek to deepen their spiritual and family lives. In this way, the beautiful corporal works of mercy are either set at odds with the spiritual works of mercy or are considered adequate in themselves. Satan can send many to serve the poor, armed with half-truths and approaches that merely bandage external wounds, ignoring the deeper internal ones.

In a certain sense, any virtue will do; Satan can make use of any of them. He will seek to corrupt all of them, even the religious ones. He will just as surely go to work in the life of one in a church pew as one in a brothel or a gutter. No one is exempt from his work of temptation; his goal is to drag us to Hell.

What makes his work of corrupting virtue so insidious is the subtlety of his work, for he takes something that is intrinsically good and seeks to corrupt it, either by defect or by excess, turning it into some sort of caricature of itself.

Virtues, of course, are meant to work in combination with one another. For example, charity and truth should balance each other. Without charity, the truth can bludgeon; without truth, charity can become harmful, patronizing, and wickedly affirming. Charity and truth are meant to balance each other and to work alongside other virtues in a delicate interplay.

One of Satan’s tactics is to take one virtue and isolate it from others. Beware of these subtle tactics of Satan, who disguises himself well in the robes of virtue. He uses detached virtues, virtues out of balance and proportion.

Beware the traps of piety.