WDTPRS – The Doxology, Great Amen, and YOU: The mighty voice of the one True Priest

Here is my latest hecatomb for The Wanderer to which you may subscribe digitally.

I worked my way through an examination of the new, corrected translation of the Order of Mass, including the Roman Canon.  Then I returned to look at, piece by piece, the 2nd and 3rd Eucharistic Prayers.

I may be transitioning the column into something else, since the raison d’etre of the column in the The Wanderer‘s inky and electronic pages, will be partly resolved – after 11 years – in November 2011.

That said, here is a foretaste of this week’s piece.  This column in particular might be useful for your own fuller, more active participation at Holy Mass in both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  If you read nothing else, skip down to where I set the RED markers.

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  The 3rd Eucharistic Prayer – Part 9

As of this writing, the Church in the United States will have a new translation for Holy Mass in 3 months and 27 days.  In England and Wales, the Order or Ordinary of Mass will be in use from September onwards.

We concluded our look at the text of the main body of the 3rd Eucharistic Prayer.  All that remains is the final “doxology”.  “Doxology” is from the Greek roots doxa “glory”, and logien, “to speak”.  All the Eucharistic Prayers in the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum end with this doxology, taken from the end of the Roman Canon.

Per ipsum
Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti, omnis honor et gloria per omnia saecula saeculorum. R. Amen.

A saeculum is “a race, breed, generation”.  It also means, “the ordinary lifetime of the human species, a lifetime, generation, age (of thirty-three years)”, which is the length of the earthly life of the Lord.  Also it is, “the human race living in a particular age, a generation, an age, the times”.   By extension it comes to indicate “the utmost lifetime of man, a period of a hundred years, a century” and also, like the Biblical Greek word aiôn, “the world, worldliness”.  A form of saeculum was sometimes used to express “forever, to all eternity, endlessly, without end”, as we see St. Jerome (+420) use it in in saeculum (Vulgate Exod 21:6 ; Dan 3:89) and in saeculum saeculi (Ps. 36:27; 2 Cor 9:9) and in saecula (Ps 77:69; Rom 1:25). Jerome also uses in saecula saeculorum (Tob 9:11; Rom 16:27; Apoc 1:6, et al.).  The early Latin writer Tertullian (+ c.220) used it, even before Jerome (ad Uxor 1, 1).  St. Ambrose (+397) also makes use of it (Hexaëm 3, 17, 72).

The per omnia saecula saeculorum has the impact of an endless time period, as if each day of an interminable age were itself like an age made up of days the length of unending ages.

Through Him, and with Him, and in Him all glory and honor is to You, God the Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, through the unending ages of ages.  R. Amen.

I will add some emphases so you can see the changes more easily.

Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever. R. Amen.

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, for ever and ever.

In the Extraordinary Form, before the doxology, the priest uncovers the chalice, genuflects, picks up the consecrated Host and, while saying the Per ipsum, makes signs of the cross with It over the open top of the chalice.  He covers the chalice again, genuflects, and then says aloud or sings the “Per omnia saecula saeculorum”. The choir and servers, sometimes  with the congregation, respond “Amen”.  In the Ordinary Form these gestures were excised, but the ancient practice of the congregation raising the Amen was revived.


A great liturgical scholar of the last century, Jerome Gassner, OSB, has some comments about this doxology Per ipsum in his book The Canon of the Mass: Its History, Theology, and Art (London: Herder, 1949).  Thus, Gassner:

It is the sacred art of the psalms to conclude with a doxology.  This practice was continued by the apostles in epistles, instruction, and prayers.  Then there is the doctrine of St. Paul about the reconciliation of the universe in Christ contained in this solemn conclusion, and at the same time, with the words “forever and ever,” an allusion to the consummative sacrifice in heaven, to this never-ending canticle of the Lamb, to the eternal hymn of praise and thanksgiving.

About the scriptural background of the doxology he continues:

It is a text from the Epistle to the Romans that has primarily inspired the final doxology (Rom 11:36): “For of Him and by Him and in Him are all things: to Him be glory forever. Amen.” “Of Him”, i.e., all things depend upon Him as upon their cause and creator; “by Him,” i.e., they are sustained by Him; “in Him,” i.e., unto Him as to their last end.  The sacerdotal mediation of Christ is expressed in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews (2:10): “For it became Him, for whom are all things, who had brought many children into glory, to perfect the author of their salvation, by His passion.  For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one.”  Of some influence upon the doxological conclusion of the orations, has been the text of the Epistle of St. Jude (Jude 25): “To the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory and magnificence, empire and power, before all ages, and now, and for all ages of ages.  Amen.”

Gassner offers also an interpretation of the Per ipsum.  He is writing about the end of the Roman Canon, the 1st Eucharistic Prayer, but the text is the same.

For the interpretation of the text itself the double nature of Christ is the directive principle: through Christ as the mediator infinite glory is given to the Father and the Holy Ghost in two ways: (a) so far as He offers Himself; (b) so far as through Him all homage and adoration of all creatures ascend to God as a pleasing sacrifice.  With Him, the Father and the Holy Ghost jointly receive all honor and glory, since Christ is God, a Person of the Blessed Trinity, to whom the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered.  In Christ are honored the Father and the Holy Ghost; because of the unity of essence the divine persons are eternally in each other (“perichoresis”).

Through Christ, our head and mediator, we render to God all honor and glory inasmuch as we offer the Eucharistic sacrifice “through Him and with Him” as His priests, ministering unto His high priesthood.  Further, we give all glory and honor to the Father and the Holy Ghost inasmuch as “in Him” we are included in the victim which is the mystical body, and are jointly offered with Him.

The most important Amen of the Canon, which was originally only one, may be traced back to the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (I Cor. 14:16): “Else if thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that holdeth the place of the unlearned say Amen to thy blessing?”

Gassner ends his book with a brief examination of this great Amen.  Keep a couple things in mind as you read this.  Gassner mentions St. Justin (+ 165), a Christian apologist and one of the earliest Christian writers.  Greek apología is a systematic defense of a position, whence the term “apologetics”, a reasoned presentation of and defense of the Faith.  St. Justin’s First Apology, addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and the Roman Senate, contains some of one of the earliest commentaries we have on the Eucharistic celebration revealing essentially the same structure as our Holy Mass today.  The Didache, or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”, is dated to the late 1st or early 2nd century.  It concerns, among other things, early Christian ritual, including the Eucharist.  Some Fathers of the Church considered it inspired.   Let’s continue now with Gassner:

The Amen is found in the Didache (10): “If anyone is holy, let him come; if anyone is not so, let him repent.  Maranatha.  Amen.”  It is recorded by St. Justin (I Apol., 65): “When he has ended the prayers and thanksgiving, all the people present cry out, saying Amen.”  The Greek liturgy still preserves the people’s answer after each consecration.  The original Amen expresses the union of the faithful with the hierarchical priest, ratifying the sacred action.  It is the assent, a testimony, a confession of faith in the redemptive mysteries celebrated in the sacramental mode of the Eucharistic sacrifice.  It is also a testimony that the Holy Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ in His Church.


St. Augustine (+430), in the longest surviving sermon we have from him, the monumental s. 198.57 (Dolbeau 26, perhaps delivered in Carthage in 404) gave an explanation of the liturgical Amen.  Augustine is opposing pagan neo-Platonic theurgy and Donatist errors about the mediation of holiness to people depending on the person of the priest or bishop.  For Augustine, the whole Eucharistic assembly raises prayer and sacrifice to the Father as one, with the priest relating to the congregation as Christ the Head to Christ the Body.  So, the Amen of the congregation is charged with significance.  In the ancient Church and into the medieval period Amen was raised with loud voices.  Let’s hear something of s. 198.57:

We do have a mediator and high priest.  He has ascended into heaven, he has entered into the inner place behind the veil, into that true, not merely symbolic, holy of holies.  The sacrament of this reality is celebrated in the Church; you are praying with us inside, to the bishop’s words you replay, “Amen.”  That, you see, is the way the people, as it were, underwrites his words (subscribit), because all of us belong to the body of the priest.  So don’t let anybody, as the saying goes, sell you smoke (fumos vendat); we have one mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ; it is he who is the atonement, he the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2); let us all hold on to him without a qualm.

Augustine uses the image of the people setting their own signature to the priest’s actions and words also in s. Denis 6, 3: “Ad hoc dicitis Amen.  Amen dicere subscribere est.  To this you say Amen.  To say Amen is to write one’s own name/sign/approve”.

Christ, Eternal Word, makes voices of the faithful His own mighty voice.

Christ is the only true Priest.  His sacrifice reconciles us with God once and for all.  Therefore, there must not be, indeed cannot be, any competition for the role of mediator between Christ and any other being.

This is important to remember today as we watch our Holy Church, ever without stain in herself but sinful only in us her members, torn by scandals involving our bishops and priests.

Christ is the only true Priest and the only true Holy One.  In this world, in our liturgical action, Christ acts through us, His priests and his people, Head united with the Body.  When the baptized are gathered with the priest at the altar of sacrifice, we are with the True Priest, Christ Jesus, sacramentally, in the heavenly holy of holies.

Our Amens during Holy Mass are charged with the might of Christ’s own voice in anticipation of the recapitulation of all things in Him before the Father who is all in all.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. “For Augustine, the whole Eucharistic assembly raises prayer and sacrifice to the Father as one, with the priest relating to the congregation as Christ the Head to Christ the Body.”

    Notwithstanding the final part, I wonder whether this statement of Augustine might have lent weight to the intent of the Novus Ordo authors to substitute a view of the Mass as a service celebrated collectively by the “assembly” with the priest as mere “presider”, to replace the traditional view of the Mass as a sacrifice offered by the priest as the celebrant.

  2. Mark of the Vine says:

    I think an audible Doxology at the Minor Elevation in the usus antiquior will perhaps be one of those acts of “mutual enrichment” that the PCED will decide on. Personally, I think it is quite a powerful prayer to be heard. What do you think, Fr. Z?

  3. Henry: eplace the traditional view of the Mass as a sacrifice offered by the priest as the celebrant.

    Yes, I think you are on to something. But what they failed to account for was the rest of Augustine’s understanding of sacrament and the “whole Christ” and mediation. I think they just got part of it, got excited about what was done in ancient times, and ran with it, rather blindly, straight off the cliff.

  4. bluesky74656 says:

    A priest at my parish recently used this as an example of something he wished would have been fixed in the new translation, but wasn’t. It seems to me that it should be translated “every glory and honor is yours” as opposed to “all glory and honor is yours,” since omnis is in the singular. “All glory and honor is yours” is grammatically incorrect since the “all” implies a plural while “is” is clearly singular.

  5. jesusthroughmary says:

    Bluesky –

    “Glory” and “honor” could be considered mass nouns, and therefore unable to take a plural.

  6. jesusthroughmary says:

    “Little”, “much” and “all” vs. “few”, “many” and “every”.

  7. albinus1 says:

    It seems to me that it should be translated “every glory and honor is yours” as opposed to “all glory and honor is yours,” since omnis is in the singular. “All glory and honor is yours” is grammatically incorrect since the “all” implies a plural while “is” is clearly singular.

    “Omnis” in the singular can also mean “all”, or “as a whole”. When Caesar writes, “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres”, he clearly means “All Gaul” or “Gaul as a whole”, not “every Gaul”.

    In addition, in English “all” can be used with a singular noun to mean “the entirety of”, as in, “I ate all my dinner”.

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