For centuries, usually through the quiet response of an altar server or through the sung response of a choir, the worshippers at a Catholic Mass affirmed the Eucharistic work of the celebrant through the “Great Amen” uttered at the conclusion of the canon of the Mass. Thus the people acknowledged in their hearts and asserted with their lips that the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ had been renewed on the altar of their parish church. “Yes! So be it! I agree! Amen!,” announced the Catholic laity, rejoicing that, once again, the death of Christ had been proclaimed, in fact, renewed, until he should come.
One of the significant liturgical changes resulting after the Second Vatican Council was to amplify the voices of the Catholic laity by inviting all those assembled to reaffirm the consecrating words of the priest through a brief but intensive response of their own. Raising the Body of Christ and the Precious Blood briefly, inviting the adoration of all present, the celebrant then places the Sacred Body and Blood on the altar and announces to the community: “The mystery of faith!” This terse phrase had previously been included in the actual words of consecrating the Precious Blood. Now they form an acclamation celebrating the fullness of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Both the Body “given” and the Blood “poured out” constitute an essential Christian value, a most central aspect of Church belief, indeed a quintessential mystery of the Catholic faith. The newer Memorial Acclamation along with the traditional Great Amen allows the congregation to acknowledge their baptismal dignity as a priestly people who actively and appropriately share in the Church’s solemn worship.
The poetic words of St. Thomas Aquinas, read this coming Sunday in the sequence before the Gospel, speak of the importance of proudly recalling the sacramental mystery: “What he did at supper seated, Christ ordained to be repeated, His memorial ne’er to cease.” As Jesus himself said at the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The current liturgy offers a choice of three memorial proclamations, spoken or sung by the faithful, which constitute variations on a theme closely associated with the words of St. Paul written to the Corinthians: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” The mystery, of course, is that the consecrated bread and the consecrated cup on the world’s Catholic altars actually renew and make present for every generation of believers the death and resurrection of Christ with all the atoning and redeeming power that was originally present on Calvary and on Easter morning. The mystery of faith announced and effected at Mass is clearly the whole Paschal Mystery, the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension which abolished every sin since Eden and unlocked the gates of heaven for all mankind.
The three options are, of course, familiar to any church-goer: A — ‘We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.’ B — ‘When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.’ C — ‘Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.’ Although two of the acclamations expressly mention Christ’s death and resurrection and one mentions only his death, certainly the whole Paschal Mystery — Good Friday through Ascension Thursday — is intended. Worshippers are invited not only to appreciate what Christ did for mankind in the past — his saving death and resurrection — but also to anticipate what Christ will do for those same believers in the future, finally welcoming them into the glory of heaven to enjoy with him the Father’s presence. Saluting the breadth of the Paschal Mystery in this coming Sunday’s Gospel account, St. John very powerfully makes this important connection between the Eucharist and the life to come: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him on the last day.” All of redemptive history, the past and the future, are celebrated through these three liturgical acclamations.
The Mystery of Faith, vocally proclaimed by a grateful assembly at every Mass, commemorates and recommends the wide panorama of Christian realities. The obedience of Christ facing death, the agony of Christ experiencing the cross, the joy of Christ’s resurrection to earthly life and the glory of Christ’s return to share the Father’s heavenly life, all of these events are enshrined for the ages in the sacramental ritual of Christ’s Body and Blood — the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.