There 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.
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.
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: