Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On the Great Amen: Some Theology and A Moment

The priest concludes the Eucharistic Prayer with the Final Doxology, or the per ipso:

Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever.
To which the congregation responds: Amen.

This prayer is the final summation of the orations that consecrate the Eucharist. It's as if he's been threading the shoelace all along, and this prayer is the big bow on top that ties it all together. So it's kind of a big deal.

I've been noticing recently that most of the hymn settings of the Great Amen shift the focus away from the Holy Eucharist being offered to the Triune God in glory and to the congregation's assent that this is as it should be. How many times have you heard four bars of instrumental introduction, plus "Amen" repeated between three and twenty times, and maybe a few other words thrown in there for good measure? This is especially dramatic when the per ipso is spoken and the Amen is sung. The focus is unquestionably on the congregation's assent.

Recently, I was attending Mass with a few of my priest classmates (other laypeople were invited, but didn't come). When it came time for the Eucharistic Prayer, eight priests stood around the altar, and I knelt alone in the congregation (wearing pink, to boot). At the per ipso, eight strong male voices sang out:

Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever.
And my lone voice responded:

Truly this was a demonstration of the respective importance of those words. The Sacred Liturgy is so beautiful when it's done simply but as written.


  1. Anonymous4:54 PM

    You paint such a beautiful picture with your words. You truly do talk prettier than anyone I know, only in heart and composition combined.

    I notice that as my faith has deepened and my reverence has grown, I no longer speak my prayers, I whisper them. Part of surrending in faith has been to unconsciously, (the dedication is conscious but not corresponding action happened without thought), surrender my voice. My responses need only to be heard by the Lord and what is happening in the Mass is so/not/about my voice ringing through the church clearly proclaiming "Amen."

  2. Dear Claire Christina,

    I found your blog via the cannonball. Keep plugging away at the writing, ok? I enjoyed perusing your pages, and will add you to my blogroll (do not expect this to spike your stats).

    Lazy Disciple

  3. Dear Claire Christina,

    I found myself reading this blog entry on google reader thinking to myself "ultra-conservatives misinterpret motivations of modern liturgical church goers once again..." about half the way through reading it, it occurred to me that I should look at what the blog was that was publishing it. It was thou....hahahaha!!!

    So only recently (like over the past six months or so) has the extended Amen started bothering me at all,and even now I'm not sure why it bothers me -- probably because I'm so unused to it: I might go to a Mass once a month that has it now a days.

    But I need a fundamental reorientation of my perspective of the Mass, because I still haven't overcome my Eucharistic devotion.

    WHAT DO I MEAN? For something so scandalous, I had best have a meaning, and this is it: I used to see the Mass as nothing else than the means of getting the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ for the sake of Eucharistic piety (instead of Eucharistic piety being for the sake of the Mass). As such the great elevation of the Eucharistic Species was the highlight of my Mass, since it was a primary opportunity to worship the Lord in the hands of the priest.

    Forget the meaning of the words (I never got this whole "addressed to the Father" thing), the prayer of the priest was "every honor and glory be yours..." (WHAT A BEAUTIFUL PRAYER IN WORSHIP OF GOD!), and God in the Eucharistic species was before meat that moment, so I delighted in singing my heart out, hands upraised, and participating in that great doxology of worship the priest had just uttered.

    There was never in my whole life a single element of giving my assent to the prayer, even though that's what "amen" means: my experiential understanding was PARTICIPATING in the prayer, that the "amen" was an act that made me give worship to the Holy Trinity along with the priest.

    For the reason I wanted it to last as long as possible, since at all other times the priest spoke on behalf of me, but at that moment, I could fully under it with my song into that worship, and, the Eucharistic Lord before me, offer adoration with my heart and my words.

    Even with the reorientation of Eucharistic piety toward the Holy Sacrifice and the worship of the Father, I still can't quite understand why a prolonged 'Amen' detracts from the sacrificial action. Nor can I explain why I have grown to dislike it.

    But it remains an extremely minor issue to me.

  4. Dear Joe,

    I comment not upon the intention nor upon the experience as felt by most people - only upon what the liturgical action tells us about theology. The moment in question is supposed to be one of praising the Triune God for and with the great gift of the Eucharist. Instead, it is often seen instead as the people's chance to finally participate in the sacred action - an idea which possesses a grain of truth, to be sure, but only a grain, as the people's assent does nothing to add to the sacramental gift, and the emotionality of the assent does not necessarily make it a greater sacrifice.

    I am glad it is a minor issue to you, and I hope I was clearer above than I think I was (unfortunately, better words fail me).


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...