Kneeling Through the Doxology

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Kneeling Through the Doxology

ROME, 18 MAY 2010 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. Q: I wonder why in the United States the rule is to keep kneeling for the final Amen of the doxology, while in other countries the rule is to stand. In some places, people even elevate the hands, as in the Old Testament, while acclaiming the Amen. That Amen is accompanied by a sign of elevation-offering, which implies a movement of the whole community toward God. Kneeling at that moment seems to contradict the original meaning of the great Amen. What is important is not the rule in itself, but the meaning of the liturgical gesture in the whole context of the celebration. — J.D., Poteet, Texas

A: The U.S. version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says in No. 43: "In the dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer [...]." In the original Latin and other languages, the norm states that the people kneel during the consecration from the epiclesis to the "Mysterium fidei." It adds, however, that the custom of remaining kneeling for the entire Eucharistic Prayer may be praiseworthily maintained in places where it is prevalent.

Therefore, the two alternatives are a question of local tradition and custom. The Holy See approved the U.S. bishops' adaptation of the general rule because it was already a well-established practice in the country.

Although our reader makes an interesting point regarding the sign of elevating-offering, I believe that asking the people to rise up before the Amen would actually interrupt the prayer's natural flow. While gestures are important, the faithful's essential participation at this moment is in joining in the great Amen that concludes the canon. With this Amen the people in a way make all of the prayers and intercessions proclaimed by the priest their own and, through the priest, unite themselves to Christ's eternal sacrifice.

For this reason, the priest and deacon should hold the paten and chalice aloft until the Amen is fully concluded. As is mentioned in GIRM, No. 180: "At the final doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands next to the priest, holding the chalice elevated while the priest elevates the paten with the host, until the people have responded with the acclamation, Amen."

Related to this is a recent 2009 official response to a doubt published in Notitiae, the organ of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. The doubt asked if it was licit at a concelebration for several priests to raise sundry chalices during the doxology.

The Vatican congregation responded negatively and specifically reprobated the practice. The congregation stressed that only one paten and chalice should be raised at this moment. The congregation explained that it was not so much a gesture carried out to show the host and chalice to the people but rather to ritually express the words said by the priest in the final doxology.

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Follow-up: Kneeling Through the Doxology [6-1-2010]

Related to the reply on the doxology (see May 18), a reader from Singapore had asked: "In the Order of the Mass, the response to the doxology, 'Through him, with him, in him ...' is 'Amen.' However, a popular musical setting commonly sung by choirs in many parishes has the response, 'Amen, Alleluia, forever and ever, Amen.' Is it proper for the response to be modified in this way? After all, it is mentioned in canon law No. 846 that 'The liturgical books, approved by the competent authority, are to be faithfully followed in the celebration of the sacraments. Accordingly, no one may on a personal initiative add to or omit or alter anything in those books.'"

I believe that, as well as the aforementioned canon, the principles involved in responding to this query are elucidated in the following documents.

The Holy See's 2001 instruction on liturgical translation, "Liturgiam Authenticam," says the following regarding setting liturgical texts to music:

"60. A great part of the liturgical texts are composed with the intention of their being sung by the priest celebrant, the deacon, the cantor, the people, or the choir. For this reason, the texts should be translated in a manner that is suitable for being set to music. Still, in preparing the musical accompaniment, full account must be taken of the authority of the text itself. Whether it be a question of the texts of Sacred Scripture or of those taken from the Liturgy and already duly confirmed, paraphrases are not to be substituted with the intention of making them more easily set to music, nor may hymns considered generically equivalent be employed in their place."

More than two decades earlier, in 1973 the U.S. bishops' liturgy committee had replied to a similar query regarding a changed version of the Our Father:

"In determining the suitability of sung settings of liturgical texts, a threefold judgement must be made: musical, liturgical and pastoral (see Music in Catholic Worship, number 25). While the musical and pastoral appropriateness of this particular piece of music is debatable, strictly liturgical considerations are very clear. "Regulation of the liturgy and approval of liturgical texts is clearly described by the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (see Sacrosanctum Concilium, paragraph 22). All liturgical texts used in the dioceses of the United States of America must be approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and subsequently confirmed by the Holy See. "In keeping with these norms, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the current text for the Order of Mass in 1973, a decision which was confirmed by the Holy See the following year. These texts, including the text of the Lord's Prayer, may not be changed by anyone except the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and then only with confirmation by the Holy See ...."

In the same spirit, the 2007 guidelines issued by the U.S. bishops' "Sing to the Lord" address this question in No. 109: "Composers who set liturgical texts to musical settings must respect the integrity of the approved text. Only with the approval of the USCCB Secretariat for Divine Worship may minor adaptations be made to approved liturgical texts."

Although our reader writes from Singapore, the text referred to was originally published in the United States and before the present norms came into force.

Although I am unaware if this modification has received any form of official approval, I do not believe that it is just a minor adaptation that can be approved by the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Divine Worship but rather a change that would require eventual approval from the Holy See. A minor change could be the triple repetition of this Amen, which is quite common even at the Vatican, or a small variation in the order of words that does not impinge on meaning. Adding words not in the original text would not usually be considered minor.

In the case of the doxology, I would say that the previously mentioned addition probably weakens the simple and direct force of the faithful's concluding "Amen" ("so be it") to the whole Eucharistic prayer.


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