Sep 17, 2004


The Preface is an introduction to the Eucharistic Prayer. After the salutation of the Priest "The Lord be with you," the congregation responds "And also with you". Here we have an incorrect translation of the Latin text "Et cum spiritu tuo." More literally rendered the text should read "And with your spirit." I have great hopes that this will come to fruition because of the document Liturgiam Authenticam1 and the subsequent rejection of the English translation of the 4th edition of the Roman Missal by the Holy See. Nonetheless, it is observed that the vernacular translations of the Liturgy are to be understood in accordance with the mind of the Church as expressed in the original Latin text.2 At the words “Sursum corda” the Priest uplifts his hands "expressing the longing for that which is exalted above us, that is, for the heavenly and eternal."3 "The meaning of the words is most comprehensive: they signify that we should withdraw all the faculties of our soul from what is earthly, and consecrate them exclusively to intercourse with God and divine things."4 St. Cyril of Jerusalem teaches, "No one should be present in such a manner, that, although he may say with the lips: ‘We have lifted our hearts to the Lord’, his thoughts are directed to the cares of this life. We should indeed think of God at all times; but if this be impossible, on account of human frailty, we should take it to heart most especially at least during the Holy Sacrifice."5

As previously noted, the Roman Liturgy has contained various numbers of Prefaces throughout its history. From the time of St. Pius V it has contained a total of eleven, and of these they date to St. Gregory the Great, except that of the Blessed Virgin Mary which dates to Urban II. Eastern liturgies on the other hand have maintained but a single Preface in their liturgies. "In addition to the ordinary Preface, the Roman Missal contains ten others which have a special festal character, since sundry mysteries of the ecclesiastical year are therein prominently set forth as special motives of praise and thanksgiving. In the liturgy of the Church is conspicuously set forth the love of gratitude toward God; the sentiment of fervent thanksgiving for the salvation given us by Christ, for the grace of faith, for the glory of the redemption, for the blessed hope of heaven, day after day finds its touching expression, as beautiful as it is joyful, in the Preface of the Holy Mass. But when on the great feasts of the ecclesiastical year, the mysteries of sacred history, the great deeds and benefits of divine love seem to reveal themselves more lively and brightly to the soul and to move the heart in the fullness of their beauty and glory, -- then it is that the hymn of thanksgiving and praise rises to the greatest heights of enthusiasm and jubilation.”6

From this understanding of the Preface the Church in our times has added many additional Prefaces. “The reason why so many Prefaces are included in the Roman Missal is that they set forth in different ways the motives of the thanksgiving expressed in the Eucharistic Prayer; also they bring out more dearly various aspects of the mystery of salvation."7

For these texts I do not have their Latin originals. I count for the first Eucharistic Prayer a total of 48 possible Prefaces. They are two for Advent, three for Christmas, one for the Epiphany of the Lord, one for the Baptism of the Lord, two for Lent in General, one each for the Sundays of Lent (proper), one for Palm Sunday, one for Holy Thursday, five for Easter, two for the Ascension, one for Pentecost Sunday, eight for Sundays in Ordinary Time, one for the Holy Trinity, one for the Triumph of the Cross, two for the Holy Eucharist, one for the Presentation at the Temple, one for Christ the King, one for the Dedication of St. John Lateran, one for the Blessed Virgin, one for the Assumption, one for Sts. Peter and Paul, one for All Saints, five for Christian Death.8

One of my favorites is for Holy Eucharist I (P47):

“Father, all-powerful, and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the true and eternal priest who established this unending sacrifice. He offered himself as a victim for our deliverance and taught us to make this offering in his memory. As we eat his body, which you gave for us, we grow in strength. As we drink his blood, which he poured out for us, we are washed clean. Now, with the angels and archangels, and the whole company of heaven, we sing the unending hymn of your praise:"9

Also for comparison with the 1962 Roman Missal, the English translation of the Preface for the Feast of the Holy Trinity (P43):

“Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks. We joyfully proclaim our faith in the mystery of your Godhead. You have revealed your glory as the glory also of your Son and of the Holy Spirit: three Persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendor, yet one Lord, one God, ever to be adored in your everlasting glory. And so, with all the choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise:"10

I will close our contemplation of the Preface with the words of the GIRM (1970): “[One of the constituent parts of the Eucharistic Prayer is that of thanksgiving] this finds its clearest expression in the Preface, wherein the priest, in the name of all the people of God, offers praise and thanksgiving to God the Father for the whole work of redemption or for some particular aspect of it, according to the day, feast, or season."11

1 Liturgiam authenticam, Sacred Congregation For Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, May 7, 2001. Of particular interest is the instructions given concerning the translation and approbation of sacramental formulae, as found in Chapter 3, Section 3, Nm 85. 85. “As regards the translation of the sacramental formulae, which the Congregation for Divine Worship must submit to the judgement of the Supreme Pontiff, ...” This has been the de facto process involved in the translation of sacramental formulae from the approved Latin text into vernacular translations where the vernacular in some way deviates from the Latin text. See note below. Cf. SCDW, 25 October 1973: AAS 66 (1974) 98-99; SCDW 5 June 1976: Notitiae 12 (1976) 300-302.

2 Insauratio Liturgica, 25 January, 1974, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (SCDF). This is especially noted with regards to sacramental formula hence the SCDF declared, “When a vernacular translation of a sacramental formula is submitted to the Holy See for approval, it examines it carefully. When it is satisfied that it expresses the meaning intended by the Church, it approves and confirms it, stipulating, however, that it be understood ... et seq (see above text). Further more in the publication Notitiae (a monthly publication of the SCDW) it is noted that translations of the essential formulae of the sacraments are submitted to the Holy Father himself for approval. Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post-conciliar Documents, Gen. Ed. Austin Flannery, O.P. 1981 edition.

3 The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Litugically and Ascetically Explained, Rev. Dr. Nicholas Gihr, 1877 1st edition, 1897 6th edition, translated from German ©1902, printed 1924, page 555.

4 Ibid., page 555.

5 Ibid., page 556, quoting St. Cyril in his Mystag. Catechism n.4.

6 Ibid., page 569. The Prefaces for the 1962 Roman Missal are the Nativity, the Epiphany, the Quadragesima, the Passion and Cross, the Paschate, the Ascension, the Penetcost, the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Feast of the Apostles.

7 General Instruction on the Roman Missal, Ch VII, Art II, Nm 321. (1970 edition).

8 Daily Roman Missal, Rev. James Socias, Midwest Theological Forum, 2003, pages 694-745.

9 Ibid., page 722.

10 Ibid., page 719.

11 General Instruction on the Roman Missal, Ch II, Art. II, Sec C, Nm 55(a) (1970 edition).

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