Abraham (in Liturgy)
While of peculiar interest to the liturgiologist (especially in
the classification of the liturgies of the East and of the West,
as is noted below under MISSAL), the inclusion of noted names of
the Old Testament in the liturgies of Christian Churches must be a
subject of sufficiently general interest to warrant some brief
notice here. Of all the names thus used, a special prominence
accrues to those of Abel, Melchisedech, Abraham through their
association with the idea of sacrifice and their employment in
this connection in the most solemn part of the Canon of the Mass
in the Roman rite. The inclusion in the Litany for the Dying
(Roman Ritual) of only two (Abel and Abraham) out of all the great
names of the Old Testament must give these a special prominence in
the eyes of the faithful, but of these two, again, the name of
Abraham occurs so often and in such a variety of connections, as
to make his position in the liturgy one of very decided pre-
eminence. Of first interest will be the present use of the word
Abraham in the Roman liturgy:
Martyrology (9th October)
"Eodem die memoria S. Abrahae Patriarchae et omnium credentium
Patris" (The same day, the memory of S. Abraham Patriarch and
Father of all believers).
(a) In the Ordo commendationis animae (Recommendation of a soul
departing), the brief litany includes but two names from the Old
Testament, that of the Baptist belonging to the New Testament:
Holy Mary, pray for him. All ye holy Angels and Archangels,
for him. Holy Abel, pray for him. All ye choirs of the just,
for him. Holy Abraham, pray for him. St. John Baptist, pray
him. St. Joseph, pray for him.
In the Libera (Deliver, etc.), which follows shortly after, many
names of the Old Testament are mentioned, including Abraham, but
omitting Abel: "Deliver . . . as thou didst deliver Abraham from
Ur of the Chaldeans".
(b) Benedictio peregrinorum (Blessing of pilgrims etc.). The
second prayer reads: "O God, who didst guide Abraham safely
through all the ways of his journey from Ur of the Chaldeans....
(a) On Septuagesima Sunday the lessons from Scripture begin with
the first verse of Genesis, and the formal narrative of Abraham
begins with Quinquagesima Sunday, the lessons ending on Shrove
Tuesday with the sacrifice of Melchisedech.
(b) The antiphon to the Magnificat on Passion Sunday is: "Abraham
your father rejoiced . . ." (John, viii, 56). Again, the first
antiphon of the second nocturn of the Common of Apostles reads:
"The princes of the people are gathered together with the God of
Abraham". The occurrence of the name in the last verse of the
Maynificat itself: "As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham and his
seed forever" and in the Benedictus (sixth verse): "The oath which
he swore to Abraham our father . . ." make the name of daily
occurrence in the Divine Office, as these two Canticles are sung
daily the former at Vespers, the latter at Lauds. In the Psaltery,
also, recited during every week, the name occurs in Pss., xlvi,
10; civ, 9, 42. See also the third strophe of the hymn Quicumque
Christum quaeritis (Vespers of Transfiguration D. N. J. C. and
various Lessons in the Nocturns, e.g. Feria 3a infra Hebd. vi p.
Pent., Feria 3a infra oct. Corp. Christi, 2d nocturn).
(a) The third of the twelve lessons called " Prophecies" read on
Holy Saturday between the lighting of the Paschal Candle and the
Blessing of the Font deals wholly with the sacrifice of Isaac
imposed upon Abraham. The lesson (Gen., xxii, 1-19) is, like the
others, not only read quietly by the priest at the altar, but also
chanted in a loud voice simultaneously by a cleric. The dramatic
incidents thus rehearsed must have impressed the catechumens
deeply, as is evidenced by the reproduction of the incidents on
the walls of catacombs and on sarcophagi. The lesson is followed
by a prayer: "O God, the supreme Father of the faithful, who
throughout the world didst multiply the children of thy promise .
. . and by the paschal mystery dost make Abraham thy servant the
father of all nations...."
(b) Again, in the prayer after the fourth lesson: "O God, grant
that the fulness of the whole world may pass over to the children
(c) The Epistle of the thirteenth Sun day after Pentecost: "To
Abraham were the promises made.... But God gave it to Abraham by
promise...." (Gal., iii, 16-22).
(d) Offertory of the Mass for the Dead: "O Lord . . . may the holy
standard-bearer Michael introduce them to the holy light which
Thou didst promise of old to Abraham...."
(e) In the Nuptial Mass, the blessing reads: "May the God of
Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, be with you . . ."
(f) Of greater interest than anything thus far cited is the prayer
in the Canon of the Mass, when the priest extends his hands over
the Consecrated Species: "Upon which do Thou vouchsafe to look . .
. and accept them, as Thou didst vouchsafe to accept the gift of
Thy just servant Abel, and the sacrifice of our Patriarch
Abraham...." Here the Canon insists on the idea of sacrifice, a
fact common to Western liturgies, while those of the East, except
the Maronite, omit in their epicleses all reference to the typic
sacrifices of the Old Testament, and appear concerned with
impressing the faithful with the idea rather of sacrament and
communion. This is esteemed a fact of capital importance towards a
classification of the liturgies.
(g) In the Sequence of Corpus Christi while Abraham is not named,
his sacrifice (unbloody, like that of the altar) is commemorated
in the lines In figuris praesignatur, Cum Isaac immolatur....
In one of the Prefaces of the Consecration of an altar we read:
"May it have as much grace with Thee as that which Abraham, the
father of faith, built when about to sacrifice his son as a figure
of our redemption . . ." Again, in the Blessing of a Cemetery
(third Prayer) and in connection with Isaac and Jacob (sixth
Prayer). Finally, in two of the Prayers for the Blessing and
Coronation of a King. The exalted position of Abraham in Sacred
History, and the frequent use of his name in invocations etc. in
the Old Testament (e. g. Gen. xxviii, 13; xxxii, 9; xlviii, 15,16;
Exod., iii, 6,15,16, iv, 5; Tob., vii, 15 etc.), and the continued
use thereof by the early Christians (Acts, iii, 13; vii, 32) made
his name of frequent occurrence in prayers, exorcisms and even
amongst Pagans, ignorant of the significance of the formula "God
of Abraham God of Isaac, God of Jacob" etc., in magical rites and
incantations, as Origen testifies.
H.T. HENRY Transcribed by Tomas Hancil
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the
Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright © 1996 by
New Advent, Inc., P.O. Box 281096, Denver, Colorado, USA, 80228.
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