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Concelebrants at the “Mysterium Fidei”

Date: October 3, 2021

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I noticed that in the booklets for concelebration recently published in Spanish, it says that the concelebrants are not to say the acclamation after the "Mysterium fidei," which only the people are supposed to say. I had never heard or read that before, and checking in the concelebration booklets in Latin (2009) and English, I found that they explicitly stated that the concelebrants say this together with the people. On the one hand, it is absolutely clear that in a Mass with only priests concelebrating, the “Mysterium fidei” is omitted. Are the priests in a Mass with people not to say the acclamation? Where do they get this from? Does that apply to all the other answers where in the Missal it says "The people"? For example, in the offertory reply, "Blessed be God forever"? What about Masses when no laity are present, and the greetings and blessings are omitted -- should that also be the case when only priests are present? -- A.S., Ulestraten, Netherlands

A: The booklet issued by the Spanish bishops’ conference in 2017 is one of the most detailed and practical booklets for this ritual action. However, as our reader has noticed, it also differs in some of its interpretations of the rubrics from other such booklets.

One of these is the point mentioned by our reader. There is a clear norm that a priest celebrating alone and priests concelebrating with no faithful present omit the words “Mystery of Faith” and its corresponding acclamation. The Spanish text indicates that priests always refrain from proclaiming the acclamation which is proper to the people.

The original context of this norm was a response to a doubt published in Notitiae, the official organ of the Congregation for Divine Worship. The text says:

“3. When no member of the faithful is present who can make the acclamation after the consecration, should the priest say 'The mystery of faith'?

"Resp.: In the negative. The words The mystery of faith, which have been taken from the context of the words of the Lord and placed after the consecration, 'serve as an introduction to the acclamation of the faithful' (Cf. Const. Missale Romanum). When, however, in particular circumstances no one is able to respond, the priest omits these words, as is done in a Mass which, out of grave necessity, is celebrated without any minister, in which the greetings and blessing at the end of Mass are omitted (Inst. gen., n. 211). The same holds true for a concelebration of priests in which no member of the faithful is present. (Notitiae: 5 (1969), 324-325, n.3.)”

To grasp the context of this rubric, we repeat in part what we wrote in Zenit on October 7, 2014:

“In the pre-conciliar liturgy, these words are found within the rite of consecration of the chalice. To wit:

"'For this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal Covenant: the Mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of me.'

“Everybody admits that the expression 'The mystery of faith' is non-biblical and was added to the consecration formula before the sixth century. Some authors plausibly suggest that it was added by Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) in order to combat the Manicheans who denied the goodness of material things. In this way the Pope underlined the gift of salvation itself comes through the shedding of Christ’s material blood as well as through partaking in the material elements used in the Eucharistic sacrifice that makes this sacrifice present in the here and now.”

After much debate the expression was removed from the consecration in the new Eucharistic Prayers proposed. Pope St. Paul VI mandated that the expression “Mysterium fidei,” whose presence in the canon had been hallowed by centuries of use, should be conserved, not in the formula of the consecration, but as an introduction to an acclamation by the people.

My 2014 column in Zenit continues: "With respect to its meaning we can say the following. The possible historical context of Manichaeism mentioned above has little relevance for today. I believe that the best key to interpreting the present liturgical meaning of the expression comes from the texts of the people's acclamations:

"'We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.'

"Or:

"'When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.'

"Or:

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

“All three expressions show that the expression 'The mystery of faith' is not limited to the Real Presence but rather to the entire mystery of salvation through Christ's death, resurrection and ascension which is made present in the celebration of the Eucharist.”

While I am very grateful for its overall precision and care with which the Spanish booklet draws together norms dispersed in several documents, I do think the compilers may have been too literal in some interpretations. 

The authors of the booklet may have considered that we are before a response of the people and so the priests should not intervene. While it is a people’s acclamation, and hence is omitted when there are no faithful present, I am not sure that this reality necessarily translates into a prohibition of priestly recital when the people are present.

However, it is theologically logical for the priests to omit it. This is because the theological reality encapsulated in the people’s acclamation are recited extensively by all the concelebrating priests in that part of the Eucharistic Prayer, called the anamnesis, that immediately follows the consecration.

Thus, for priests to recite the acclamation absent the faithful would, in some way, constitute a duplication of prayer themes.

There could be some situations when it is pastorally advisable for concelebrating priests to join in; for example, when they are the majority with very few faithful present. Such situations are quite common in Masses at priestly colleges in Rome where most of the participants are priests, with the exception of a deacon or a couple of religious or lay staff members.

The Spanish booklet has a similar indication regarding the Amen after the concluding doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer when the people are present. However, I am unaware of any document that suggests omitting this in a Mass or concelebration with no faithful present. It is true that it is the people’s great Amen, but this is not something exclusive; and the solemn prayer must be concluded by someone.

As a general rule I would say that, with the exception of the “Mysterium Fidei,” concelebrations with only priests present do not necessarily have to follow the rules for a single priest celebrating alone, and the principal celebrant can make the usual greetings, salutations and final blessing.

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Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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