Wednesday, July 19, 2006

One Voice for the Our Father

When in the old tradition of the Mass the Celebrant chanted the Our Father alone, he was not only following a venerable tradition which dates to the Early Church--which ought to be reason enough to retain this noble practice--he was also serving as bishop, the symbol of the unity of the Church. It is the same as when he chants the Collect alone (which, by the way, he should also do alone, especially in the Mass). It is called the collect because it is the prayer of the collected faithful: the many become one, expressed by the one mouth of the bishop.

Similarly, the Our Father is a prayer in which the many become one. The celebrant speaks for all the people, he performs a priestly duty here. But more importantly it is a Christic duty; in performing this duty he is serving as Christ for the people, presenting their petitions to God out of his own mouth.

After all, what gives us the right to call God our Father? Is He not the Father of Jesus Christ? And is not Jesus the only-begotten Son of God? God has no other children than Christ: he is the only. Then how is it that Jesus bids us to call God our Father? Surely, this can only be properly understood as an invitation for us to pray in Christ. We pray this prayer to God as though we were Christ Himself, for we are in Him. Heathen cannot rightly pray this prayer. It may not be prayed by one not baptized. This is why the pastor lays his hands on a child presented for Baptism, during the Our Father: it is an indication that the Our Father is here, in Baptism, being given to this candidate as a gift: he is being incorporated into Christ. Now, having been baptized into Christ, he is privileged to call God Abba, Father.

When at the High Feast of Salvation this principle is most properly expressed by the celebrant's utterance of this prayer alone. All Christians say this prayer day by day; but at the Altar, where the many become one, so the prayer fittingly becomes uttered by one voice, the voice of Christ. Christ employs the mouth of His servant, the celebrant, but the voice is most certainly His own. And thus all the people pray this prayer as one.

And it is said in immediate proximity to the Verba, the words of Institution, spoken also by the celebrant alone, in the stead of Christ.

Adapted from a 1999 article. Father Eckardt will be on vacation until mid-August. Comments will not be answered until then.


Latif Haki Gaba said...

I have not studied this rubric, but your thoughts on the one voice of the Pater Noster seem to follow from the fact that the priest when celebrating Mass is alter Christus. Christ our dear Lord comes to us, for us men and for our salvation, in the office of the celebrant, for He is about to feed us His own Holy Body and Precious Blood. He is both priest and victim. He is both butler and food. The priest dons the chasuble to signify this Christic yoke he bears. "Ministry 101" type of concept, your readers, including me, are thinking right about now; yes, but how the liturgical atmosphere in our churches would change, in many more ways than just the question of who says the Pater, if we would take this seriously.

M.L. Anderson (Herr Doktor) said...

I dare say not only the "liturgical atmosphere" in our churches, but the very "psychological atmosphere" amongst us all, would change.

Basil of Caesarea says "Let your Spirit curb our wayward senses," and this because our senses are dulled, and are too often enables to attach to the dross of everyday experience. What happens in the Divine Service is not the ordinary. Simeon of Jerusalem blesses God, and experiences peace "for my eyes have seen my salvation." In other words, the old man sees more than a weak and squirming babe, suckling at His Mother's breast. He sees his redemption ... drawn so nigh he can cuddle Him.

Christ empowers those in Him. The Celebrant chanting the Lord's Prayer reminds us that in Christ, God is our Father. Christ has given us cognitive minds, and as well as emotional hearts, to see Him. The rubric described by Father Eckardt helps to see. With our fallen neurophysiology, we need all the help we can get.

I think God promises us a vigorous and thriving community, if we were to take to heart what we say (if we actually still say things like the Nunc Dimittis), and open our eyes to what rubic teaches us. It would be revolutionary. But we need eyes to see, and ears to hear the hard truths. But the audience, of course, much prefer the self-soothing lullabies of Larry the Cucumber.

So the clerics try to entertain, and be Larry.

But does the Cucumber empower?

William Weedon said...

Dr. Eckardt,

You are no doubt familiar with this citation, but some of your readers might not be. It shows that the practice of the priest alone reciting the Our Father traces itself to Pope St. Gregory the Great:

Gregory the Great (Book 9, Letter 12, to John, Bishop of Syracuse):

But the Lord's prayer (orationem Dominicam) we say immediately after the prayer (mox post precem) for this reason, that it was the custom of the apostles to consecrate the host of oblation to (ad) that same prayer only. And it seemed to me very unsuitable that we should say over the oblation a prayer which a scholastic had composed, and should not say the very prayer which our Redeemer composed over His body and blood. But also the Lord's Prayer among the Greeks is said by all the people, but with us by the priest alone.

Here are the editors comments:

8 This whole passage in the original is;-"Orationem vero Dominicam idcirco mox post precem dicimus, quia mos apostolorum fuit or ad ipsam solummodo orationem oblatlonis hostiam consecarent Et valde mihi inconveniens visum est ut precem quam scholasticus composuerat super oblationem diceremus, et ipsam traditionem (Qy. for orationnem?) quam Redemptor noster composuit super ejus corpus et sanguinem non diceremus."... As to what is said by S. Gregory of the custom of the Apostles, the most obvious meaning of which is, that they used no prayer of consecratIon but the Lord's Prayer, we have no means of ascertaining whence he derived this tradition, or what the value of it might be. It does not, of course, imply that the words of institution were not said over the elements by the Apostles, but only that they used no other prayer for the purpose of consecration. Ways have been suggested, though not satisfactory, for evading the apparent meaning of the statement.

Father Eckardt said...

Fr Weedon,

Yes I am not only familiar with St. Gregory's comments, but aware that they indicate he held the Our Father to be itself the very canon "of consecration." This is remarkable. It means that St. Gregory may have understood exactly as I do that the liturgical place of this prayer was to fulfill the promise of Jesus, "Ask, and it shall be given you," and similar promises. These promises are especially meant to refer to the consecration of the Supper by the asking of the Our Father. In the West, of course, the Verba themselves indicate the place of the consecration, if indeed any can be precisely ascertained, but evidently the Pater Noster must be taken with the Verba as the fullness, for lack of a better word, of that "moment."

And now I really am going on vacation. Back in about three weeks.

Frank said...

Doesn't the fact that we can call God our Father in heaven deal with Christ’s human nature as well? I do appreciate what you say concerning the celebrant speaking for all the people when he performs his priestly duties. I agree with this and clearly understand what it is that you put forward. But should the Our Father not be said by laity at all during the Divine Service? I’m pretty sure you’re not saying that, but what is the flip side of the coin?

Father Eckardt said...

No, the reason the Our Father is best left to the priest alone to say is that it is consecratory in nature during the Mass. The celebrant is praying in persona Christi, even as he says the Verba and distributes the Sacrament. But when he prays, the whole congregation prays with him in the unified voice proceeding from his mouth, which, according to his office, is the mouth of Christ.