The Art of Celebration VIII: The Liturgy of the Word

The restorative, formative power of Scripture has been recognised from the Church’s beginning.

At the beginning the Church had, in writing, the scriptures of the Jewish people only – but from and in these she learnt to know Christ and to witness to Christ.

This is made most evident in St Luke’s account of the disciples meeting with the risen Lord during their long and at first sad walk to Emmaus.

It is evident too in the addresses given by the likes of Peter and Stephen in Acts of the Apostles, (cf Acts 3 and Acts 7.)

Even during the time of the composition of the New Testament certain apostolic writings were being recognised as Scripture, (cf 2 Peter 3.15-16). And by 2nd Century it seems that the Bible, as the Church knows it now, was at least well on the way to formation. Justin Martyr, c150AD, notes that at the beginning of Sunday Liturgy

the records of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as time allows

And that pattern endures to today – renewed and restored in the wake of Vatican II

What is the Liturgy of the Word about? It is most evidently a ritual in which scripture is read aloud to the congregation. But we need to be mindful that this reading is only a means to an end: the word is read so that people might hear it and take it to heart, and indeed be changed, renewed, by it.

So when we consider the Liturgy of the Word from the perspective of people’s participation in it, to the fore needs to be how what is done helps people to listen, and take it to heart.

There follows below some paragraphs from the introduction to the Missal. I have highlighted phrases which emphasise what the performance of the rite is expected to achieve.

B) The Liturgy of the Word

55.       The main part of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of the readings from Sacred Scripture together with the chants occurring between them. As for the Homily, the Profession of Faith and the Universal Prayer, they develop and conclude it. For in the readings, as explained by the Homily, God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present through his word in the midst of the faithful. By silence and by singing, the people make this divine word their own, and affirm their adherence to it by means of the Profession of Faith; finally, having been nourished by the divine word, the people pour out their petitions by means of the Universal Prayer for the needs of the whole Church and for the salvation of the whole world.


56.       The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favour meditation, and so any kind of haste such as hinders recollection is clearly to be avoided. In the course of it, brief periods of silence are also appropriate, accommodated to the assembled congregation; by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the word itself begins, after the First and Second Reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the Homily.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal

The congregation is invited to listen, and the listening that the celebration of the Liturgy is intended to foster is much more than dutiful listening. It is more fundamentally about personal response to, engagement with, the living Christ who is present through his word in the midst of the people.

So to the fore in our evaluation of the appropriateness, worthiness, of any celebration of the Liturgy of the Word must be not only evaluation of the quality of the proclamation, but also of the way in which the performance of the ritual allows time and space for response to, engagement with, the living Christ.

The Missal clearly considers the provision of silence as important to enable quality listening and response. Yet significant silence is invariably in short supply, if not indeed virtually absent. And in consequence we experience the Liturgy of the Word as being much more about things being read, than it is about things being pondered on, let alone responded to – by the congregation as a whole and within the liturgical action

Why is this? In part it may be an unhelpful hangover from the way the Tridentine Mass came to be celebrated – i.e. with the Liturgy celebrated in a language most often congregation did not understand, with hand missals regularly discouraged by the Church, and the congregation encouraged to its own private and often aliturgical devotions rather than participating in the Mass more regularly.

It may also be that many in the congregation are lacking confidence in praying with Scripture, and – in any case, may not many of them have got used to thinking that, after all if there is anything in these words  the priest will explain to us what he thinks we need to know in the sermon? (Sorry, ‘homily’.)

There may well be other explanations also. But when the focus is more singly on listening that listening and responding, how far we are from the vision of renewal that came from Vatican Council II and that is well provided for in the Missal’s General Intruction.

In the Eucharistic Prayer bread and wine is transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood for a hungry people. In the Liturgy of the Word it is intended that that hungry people itself be transformed through its being fed with the word so we might learn to long to become more and more like the Word, healed to become more like him, strengthened to be more like him – and more ready to take up our share in his work in the world.

– – – –

It is likely that when (if?) we begin to work to make silence a more secure and constitutive feature of the Liturgy of the Word we will need a strategy to help the congregation as a whole to use the silence with profit. We will need too a strategy of confidence-building that all members of the congregation will be ready to fruitfully consider the scripture and prayerfully respond to it.  And we will need perseverance too, to sustain the process of change until these things can become second nature to ministers and (other) congregants…

Until we do this it is sadly the case that this Liturgy of the Word is somewhat empty of meaning to many our congregations, and clerical. When the opportunity for the congregation to enter into personal and particular relationship with the living Word is frustrated and compromised, the power of God’s Word, life and energy leaches from what is offered to the congregation. And this at the very time we should have benefit of these things as we prepare for our great Thanksgiving and for our sacramental Communion with the Lord.

Reflection Questions

  • What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Liturgy of the Word?
  • Who in your parish community might be interested in exploring some of the challenges presented by what theGeneral Instruction of the Missal establishes as the Church’s expectations for the Liturgy of the Word?
  • What might prove to be challenges to bringing about change – where it is necessary?
  • What reasons can you suggest for addressing those challenges?
  • What strategies for renewal might be employed during Mass? During on-going formation for readers and musicians, and clergy? By way of continuing formation for the congregation more broadly?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.

Acknowledgements as

~ Excerpts from the English translation and chants of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
Photograph: (c) 2015, Allen Morris. Weekday chapel, Cathédrale de la Résurrection d’Évry.


Origins and Influences IX: Eucharist in the 150s AD

Justin Martyr, as he is usually termed, was born c100AD in Samaria, Palestine. He converted to Christianity, probably from paganism. His surviving works are all defences of, arguments for, Christianity – and in two of them he addresses the theme of the Eucharist.

The first of them, The Dialogue with Trypho, offers a conversation between Justin and Trypho, a Jew. In conversation, Justin tries to persuade Trypho to convert to Christianity, and answers his various objections. In the dialogue Justin argues that the Eucharist is the Sacrifice pleasing to God, which is offered now by the Church in the bread and cup of thanksgiving. (cf Malachi 1.10b-12a). He argues this has replaced the sacrifices of Judaism (which, in any case, had ceased with the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple).

The second, the First Apology, dated around 150AD, is addressed to the Emperor, Antoninus Pius, arguing against the persecution of the Church, and defending the virtue of Christianity. For our purposes it is most notable for giving us our earliest (relatively) full description of how Christians celebrated Eucharist.

In the Apology Justin actually gives us two descriptions, the first being the conclusion of a longer baptismal liturgy and the second seemingly an account of the more usual Sunday practice.

The conclusion of a Baptismal Liturgy

65.1 After we have thus baptized him who has believed and has given his assent, we take him to those who are called brethren where they are assembled, to make common prayers earnestly for ourselves and for him who has been enlightened’ and for all others everywhere, that, having learned the truth, we may be deemed worthy to be found good citizens also in our actions and guardians of the Commandments, so that we may be saved with eternal salvation.

When we have ended the prayers, we greet one another with a kiss.

Then bread and a cup of water and (a cup) of mixed wine are brought to him who presides over the brethren, and he takes them and sends up praise and glory to the Father of all in the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and gives thanks at some length that we have been deemed worthy of these things from him. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving, all the people give their assent by saying “Amen.” “Amen” is the Hebrew for “So be it.”

And when the president has given thanks and all the people have assented, those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the bread and wine and water over which thanks have been given, and take them to those who are not present.

There are a number of points that are worth commenting on.

  • The common prayers would seem to be akin to the Prayer of the Faithful of Mass today. Prayers offered by the Church for the world, for herself and for particular needs.
  • The kiss -the sign of peace – here follows the common prayers, preceding the bringing of the offerings to the altar, perhaps in conscious obedience to Jesus’ words at Matthew 5.23-24: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift”
  • The elements brought to the altar may have been not only the bread and cup of wine mixed with water but also a second cup which was of water only. There is a certain ambiguity in the Latin, one cup with wine and water mixed or a cup of water and a cup of wine mixed with water. There is a plausibility with either reading, but Justin does not explain further on the significance of the two cups.
  • There is little detail given of the prayer of Thanksgiving, the Eucharistic Prayer, but Justin notes the particular significance of the congregation’s concluding and affirming Amen.
  • The Prayer is offered by the ‘President’. Justin uses the word proestos – a Greek word meaning ‘leader’ – the implication being this is a corporate work carried out by a leader with others, not a (for example, priestly) work for the congregation.
  • Deacons distribute the Eucharistic food and drink to the gathered assembly, and then take some of it to those who are not present. Again there seems to be an emphasis on the integrity of the body of the faithful – all of those present, and with those unable to be present.

Our thanksgiving/eucharistic food

This account of the Eucharist which concludes the Baptismal Liturgy is followed by a further exploration of the nature of Eucharist

66.1 And we call this food “thanksgiving“; and no one may partake of it unless he is convinced of the truth of our teaching, and has been cleansed with the washing for forgiveness of sins and regeneration, and lives as Christ handed down.

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but just as our Saviour Jesus Christ, being incarnate through the word of God, took flesh and blood for our salvation, so too we have been taught that the food over which thanks have been given by a word of prayer which is from him, (the food) from which our flesh and blood are fed by transformation, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.

For the apostles in the records composed by them which are called gospels, have handed down thus what was commanded of them: that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and said, “Do this for the remembrance of me; this is my body”; and likewise he took the cup, gave thanks, and said “This is my blood”; and gave to them alone.

And the evil demons have imitated this and handed it down to be done also in the mysteries of Mithras. For as you know or may learn, bread and a cup of water are used with certain formulas in their rites of initiation.

  • The  food and drink is named after the action, the praying over them – thanksgiving/eucharistein.
  • The eucharistic food and drink is reserved for those who have been baptised. This same care is there right from the beginning that the Eucharist is food and drink for those who have been baptised and who live as Christ handed down. We have previously observed in the Didache.
  • Justin considers the gospels to have been written by the apostles. Scholars now see the link between the apostles Matthew and John and the gospels that bear their names as less immediate. Mark and Luke of course were not apostles, although traditionally Mark and Luke were close to Peter and Paul respectively.
  • Mithraism was a religion popular in the 1st and 2nd Centuries. It had elaborate initiation rites and, as Justin notes, these included a share meal. It seems unlikely that there was direct influence of Christianity on Mithraism or vice versa.

The Sunday Liturgy

67.1 And thereafter we continually remind one another of these things. Those who have the means help all those in need; and we are always together.

And we bless the Maker of all things through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit over all that we offer.

And  on the day called Sunday an assembly is held in one place of all who live in town or country, and the records of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as time allows.

Then, when the reader has finished, the president in a discourse admonishes and exhorts (us) to imitate these good things

Then we all stand up together and send up prayers; and as we said before, when we have finished praying, bread and wine and water are brought up, and the president likewise sends up prayers and thanksgivings to the best of his ability, and the people assent, saying the Amen; and the (elements over which) thanks have been given are distributed, and everyone partakes; and they are sent through the deacons to those who are not present.

And the wealthy who so desire give what they wish, as each chooses; and what is collected is deposited with the president.

He helps orphans and widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause are in need, and those in prison, and strangers sojourning among us; in a word, he takes care of all those who are in need.

And we all assemble together on Sunday, because it is the first day, on which God transformed darkness and matter, and made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead on that day; for they crucified him the day before Saturday; and the day after Saturday, which is Sunday, he appeared to his apostles and disciples, and taught them these things which we have presented to you also for your consideration.

I will not comment on all the significant elements of the passage above, only those which did not appear in the previous excerpts from Justin’s 1st Apology.

  • Justin twice observes that the community gathers on Sunday – in the opening and closing sentences of this section. The reason for Sunday gathering will be explored below, but here it suffices to note that Justin does not tell us when on Sunday the assembly gathers. Is it on Saturday evening, in Roman counting, but the beginning of Sunday, according to Jewish custom? Or is it Sunday itself, as it were? We don’t know. Neither do we know whether at this time the weekly gathering was still preceded by a shared meal as was the earlier custom, or whether there had been a separation between them, even a jettisoning of the shared meal in favour of (only) the Eucharistic rite.
  • Justin says readings from apostles or prophets are read. Does this mean sometimes readings came from the Old Testament and sometimes from the New? Or might it be both. Either way the reading seems to be determined not by set readings from a Lectionary but reading (and listening!) according to the time available.
  • The reader reads, and the presider, with the rest of the assembly listens. Then the presider gives his discourse. This same model is the norm proposed by the Roman rite today where readers, psalmist and deacon proclaim the word, and then the priest/bishop preaches.
  • In the same way that there does not seem to have been a Lectionary, neither did the President have the convenience of a Missal with composed Eucharistic Prayers – he prayed to the best of his ability. Later, perhaps in order to protect against heresy being imported, presidents were required to use given texts for the thanksgiving.
  • If we have doubt as to whether this is Mass, perhaps the reference to a collection will assuage those doubts!
  • It is perhaps surprising that what is collected (money, food? We are not told) is lodged with the president. Surprising only because one might have thought it would be given to the deacons to dstribute – but Justin only witnesses to their service of the distribution of the eucharistic food (and drink?). It is the president who is singled out as the caregiver here.
  • And finally Justin again returns to Sunday and now gives expounds on its meaning.

A familiar pattern for the Eucharist

Taken all together these descriptions of the Church’s prayer can provide the following structure pretty similar to the outline of our celebrations of Mass today,

  • Gathering of the Assembly
  • Readings
  • Homily
  • Prayer of the Faithful
  • Kiss of Peace
  • Presentation of the gifts/collection for the poor
  • Prayers and thanksgiving by the Presider
  • Distribution of the ‘eucharistized’ bread and wine

There are of course differences to what we do know, but not many. And maybe those differences challenge us about how we are and how we do things – maybe particularly the effects of doing things by the book; the direct link between our Sunday assembly and the care of those not able to be present, and of those in need.

Reflection questions

  • What most strikes you in Justin’s account of the Thanksgiving?
  • Is there anything notable absent from it?
  • What do you think are the positives and what might be the negatives of Liturgy from the Books?
  • How is ministry encouraged in your community?
  • How does the community take responsibility for the care of absent members and the needy?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.


  • Translation of First Apology taken from R.C.D Jasper and G.J Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist Early and Reformed. 3rd revised edition. Collegeville: Pueblo Publishing, The Liturgical Press, 1990.
  • The Roman Missal (c) 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
  • Photograph (c) 2012, Allen Morris. Statue of St Justin Martyr, from church of Justin Martyr, Nablus, Palestinian Authority territory.
  • Graphic (c) Jonathan Stewart, 2007
  • Text (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

Origins and influences VIII: The earliest known Eucharistic prayer?

It is easy when we look at ancient texts to forget that they come from cultures very different to ours.

It is generally helpful to maintain a hermeneutic of suspicion – to strip away our presumptions, and work hard at noticing what is actually there in the text, and where there are ‘absences’, things we might expect to be there, but that the text is silent about.

This week we look at a very early Christian text, from a work known as the Didache, the ‘Teaching’. In it we find some prayers related to eucharistia, the ‘Thanksgiving’.

Different dates for the Didache are suggested – some as early as the earliest writings of the New Testament, and others well into the 2nd C AD. If it is as early as some thing it not only gives us what is possibly the first Eucharistic Prayer but also the earliest record of the Lord’s Prayer! It is a notable document.

A word of caution though. We need to ask whether Didache‘s ‘Thanksgiving’ the equivalent of our Eucharist? It is an obvious question, but scholars argue over the answer. What seems safest is to say it is an early Christian meal, and most likely one of the rituals out of which developed the (now) classical forms of the Eucharist of the Church, East and West.

The full text of the relevant extract from the Didache can be downloaded here

Didache provides prayers to be said before and following a meal.

The description begins with a prayer of thanksgiving over a cup and then a thanksgiving and intercession over what is described as ‘broken bread’. Was the bread broken before or during the meal? Before, during or after the thanksgiving and intercession? The text itself gives no indication – and other ritual traditions make any of these options possible.

Let’s look at the first prayer, concerning the cup.

We give thanks to you, our Father,
for the holy vine of David your servant,
which you have made known to us
through Jesus your servant;
glory to you for evermore.

The prayer over the cup gives thanks to God – “our Father”. Thanks is given for “the holy vine of David” made known to us (ie to the Christian community – an identification supported by words related to the bread) through Jesus. So presumably the cup is a cup of wine. And arguably what the prayer is thanking God for is the community’s being part of, or joined with, the holy vine, through Jesus, the Father’s servant.

The Greek here translated ‘servant’ is ‘pais’, which can also be translated child. Both terms are of course respectful and helpful ways of referring to Jesus. However it is most common in the Church’s earlier prayers – from a time when the Church was seeking to find the right language to speak of Jesus. It tends to suggest that the prayer uses a relatively ‘low’, early, Christology. That said – in our day when the Church continues to struggle to share the good news with the most vulnerable and is herself perceived as oppressive – it might be language we would do well to recover and make fuller use of – without compromising our fully developed and established Christology which acknowledges Jesus also as our Lord and God, and as Second person of the Holy Trinity.

If this were a typical Eucharistic Prayer from our time we would expect the cup to be blessed after the bread. However recall that Luke’s account of the ritual at Last Supper begins with a thanksgiving over a cup, and that Paul at 1 Cor 10.16-17 speaks first of a cup of blessing before he speaks of bread broken. Other early evidence also suggests that at least some Christian communities were familiar with this practice at (what is certainly) celebrations of the Eucharist.

One of the things we might expect if this were Eucharist is a explicit association of cup with Last Supper and the blood of sacrifice. But Didache does not provide us with that, nor does it when it comes to the words over the bread.

We give thanks to you, our Father,
for the life and knowledge
which you have made known to us through Jesus your servant;
glory to you for evermore.

As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains
and having been gathered together became one,
so may your church be gathered together
from the ends of the earth into your kingdom;
for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for evermore.

Again the focus is not on Last Supper and Passion, but on the integrity of the church gathered in Christ. That focus is there in our contemporary Eucharistic Prayers too, but it is less to the fore. One of the reasons for looking back to ancient texts is to be helped to notice things we may be less attentive to in our current texts!

In the extracts from Didache that we have looked at, maybe nothing so far leaps of the page saying these are prayer for Eucharist, not just a thanksgiving at a regular meal.

But next comes the following instruction:

Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord. For concerning this also the Lord has said, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs.”

This is no ordinary meal. It is a holy meal, reserved to a people who have chosen Christ and who have been baptised into him.

The preceding chapters of Didache present the sort of moral and ethical teaching that they may have negaged with before being admitted to baptism, a teaching of the Two Ways, a teaching which interestingly does not name Jesus, though it does quote teaching of his that we are familiar with from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Again all this would seem to suggest this is an early work, maybe written before Matthew and Luke, but familiar with some of the prior traditions on which those Gospels would draw.

The prayers from Didache quote above are used before eating and drinking the food and drink of the Thanksgiving. The next rubric intorduces a concluding prayer saying

After you have had your fill, give thanks thus:

‘After you have had your fill….’ Does this indicate a substantial meal followed the prayer? Or simply a partaking of holy bread and cup?

The prayer that follows suggests it could have been either.

That prayer, the prayer after the meal, gives thanks for the holy name (not here, ‘Jesus’, but the Father’s ‘name’), and gives thanks for faith and eternal life made known in Jesus; also for creation – especially food and drink, (particularly spiritual food and drink), and prays that the Church will grow into the kingdom.

We give thanks to you, holy Father, for your holy name
which you have enshrined in our hearts,
and for the knowledge and faith and immortality
which you have made known to us
through Jesus your servant; glory to you for evermore.

You, Almighty Master,
created all things for the sake of your Name
and gave food and drink to humans for enjoyment,
that they might give thanks to you;
but to us you have granted spiritual food and drink and eternal life
through Jesus your servant.

Above all we give thanks to you because you are mighty;
glory to you for evermore. Amen.

Remember, Lord, your church, to deliver it from all evil
and to perfect it in your love,
and gather it together from the four winds, having been sanctified,
into your kingdom which you have prepared for it;
for yours is the power and the glory for evermore.

May grace come, and this world pass away. Amen.

Hosanna to the God of David.

If anyone is holy, let him come;
if anyone is not, let him repent.

Maranatha. Amen.

This section of Didache concludes by saying

But allow the prophets to give thanks as long as they wish.

This raises the question, who prayed this prayer. Sometimes prophets, who could extemporise on the prayer. At other times who? And were they constrained to use the given text or could they too improvise, with a warning not to go on too long!? We do not know.

But the recognition that those Christians with the standing and authority of prophets were free to vary the texts suggests, and reminds, that Didache comes from a time when characteristic Christian practice was being formed.

The Church’s prayers have a never simply come out of nowhere. Often they are fashioned and refashioned by reflecting on her tradition, adapting what has been used previously and fitting it for its new purpose.

We see this in how the Synoptic Gospels present Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper. He offers fresh meaning – and in this case – imparts new reality through his adaptation of the Passover meal – what was active remembrance of God’s saving act in liberating his people from Egypt becomes sacramental anticipation of the salvation won in the Sacrifice of Calvary.

Many scholars suggest that what we see in the ‘eucharistic’ prayers of Didache is an adaptation of what was a usual form of Jewish prayer, Blessings prayed at the end of a meal. The earliest full texts we have for these Blessings date from the 9th C AD but it is possible that there were relatively little changed from the pattern of prayer familiar even in the 1st C AD.

You can download an example of the Jewish prayer below.

The Jewish prayer offers blessing to God for food; thanksgiving and blessing for the Land, Law and Life; and offers intercession and blesses God for mercy to the people Israel and on Jerusalem.

Perhaps Didache riffs on this tradition (if it was such by that time) giving thanks for food, faith, and interceding for Church – drawing from Jewish tradition but also marking out its distinctive, different faith and identity.

Some questions for reflection

  • How would you explain for the generous hospitality to all offered by Jesus at the multiplication of the loaves and fish, and the instruction to share ‘eucharistic food’ only with the baptised?
  • What are the pros and cons about extemporising prayer? Why do most established Christian traditions use approved prayer texts?
  • For what are you mindful of thanks being given at Mass in our contemporary Eucharistic Prayers?
  • Are you familiar with the practice of praying at meal times? What is its value?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.


  • Translation of Didache: (c) Paul F. Bradshaw, Maxwell E Johnson. Published in The Eucharistic Liturgies. Collegeville: Pueblo Books, Liturgical Press, 2012.
  • Photographs. (c) 2013, Allen Morris, Grave marker, Arles Antique, Arles, France.
  • Text (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

The Art of Celebration VII: The blessing and sprinkling of water

Again, it is fortuitous that we consider this optional feature of Sunday Mass during the Easter season – for this season is the particular time singled out in the Roman Missal for this blessing and sprinkling to especially but occasionally substitute for the Penitential Act.

This optional rite echoes the rite which is a required part of the Easter Vigil when after those to be baptised have been baptised and confirmed, the faithful present are invited to renew their promise of of baptismal faith (although they can also be invited to renew this promise during the baptismal liturgy iteself (Roman Missal, The Easter Vigil, 49).

On Easter Day the renewal of promises and the sprinkling follows the homily and takes the place of the Creed.

Dear brethren (brothers and sisters), through the Paschal Mystery
we have been buried with Christ in Baptism,
so that we may walk with him in newness of life.
And so, now that our Lenten observance is concluded,
let us renew the promises of Holy Baptism,
by which we once renounced Satan and his works
and promised to serve God in the holy Catholic Church.

There follows the renewal of baptismal promises and then the priest says:

And the Priest concludes:

And may almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has given us new birth by water and the Holy Spirit
and bestowed on us forgiveness of our sins,
keep us by his grace,
in Christ Jesus our Lord,
for eternal life.  All: Amen.

And then the priest sprinkles the assembly with water blessed at the Vigil.

The prayer highlights the way our keeping of Lent prepares us for continuing to live the life of Easter, and the way we were initiated to that life in Baptism.

On other Sundays there is no renewal of promises and the sprinkling (and prior blessing of water, if needed) replaces the Penitential Act. Perhaps in consequence of the absence of the promises on other Easter Sundays the prayer of Blessing is more extensive, echoing some of the principal themes of the blessing of water at the Vigil (and Baptism).

On these other Sundays of Easter Time the priest introduces the rite, saying:

Dear brethren (brothers and sisters),
let us humbly beseech the Lord our God
to bless this water he has created,
which will be sprinkled on us
as a memorial of our Baptism.
May he help us by his grace
to remain faithful to the Spirit we have received.

If there is a weakness in the prayer of blessing that follows it is that it is mostly looking back – to saving mysteries, to baptism celebrated etc, rather to the living of the Baptismal life, (which is better expressed in the concluding words of the introduction.

Lord our God,
in your mercy be present to your people’s prayers,
and, for us who recall the wondrous work of our creation
and the still greater work of our redemption,
graciously bless this water.
For you created water to make the fields fruitful
and to refresh and cleanse our bodies.
You also made water the instrument of your mercy:
for through water you freed your people from slavery
and quenched their thirst in the desert;
through water the Prophets proclaimed the new covenant
you were to enter upon with the human race;
and last of all,
through water, which Christ made holy in the Jordan,
you have renewed our corrupted nature
in the bath of regeneration.
Therefore, may this water be for us
a memorial of the Baptism we have received,
and grant that we may share
in the gladness of our brothers and sisters
who at Easter have received their Baptism.
Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Weaker still are the prayers offered for blessing the water outside of Easter Time. They rather narrowly focus on forgiveness and protection – presenting the faithful as more or less passive recipients of grace rather than active collaborators with it.

To occasionally replace the Penitential Act with the rite of blessing and sprinkling does help vary the experience of a congregation, provide a reminder of the foundational importance of baptism, and open us up to another way of contemplating and praying about God’s saving work, freeing us from the bonds of sin and for a life focussed on love and service.

Of particular importance for the prayerful engagement with this rite is the chant that accompanies the sprinkling.

The Missal offers a range of mostly scriptural texts, and also allows for other appropriate chants.

During Easter Time

Antiphon 1                                                                                       Cf. Ez 47: 1-2, 9
I saw water flowing from the Temple,
from its right-hand side, alleluia:
and all to whom this water came
were saved and shall say: alleluia, alleluia.

Antiphon 2                                                                              Cf. Wis 3: 8; Ez 36: 25
On the day of my resurrection, says the Lord, alleluia,
I will gather the nations and assemble the kingdoms
and I will pour clean water upon you, alleluia.

Antiphon 3                                                                                      Cf. Dan 3: 77, 79
You springs and all that moves in the waters,
sing a hymn to God, alleluia.

Antiphon 4                                                                                                  1 Pet 2: 9
O chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation,
proclaim the mighty works of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light, alleluia.

Antiphon 5
From your side, O Christ,
bursts forth a spring of water,
by which the squalor of the world is washed away
and life is made new again, alleluia.

Outside Easter Time

Antiphon 1                                                                                                    Ps 50: 9
Sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed;
wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

Antiphon 2                                                                                             Ez 36: 25-26
I will pour clean water upon you,
and you will be made clean of all your impurities,
and I shall give you a new spirit, says the Lord.

Hymn                                                                                                   Cf. 1 Pet 1: 3-5
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy has given us new birth into a living hope
through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
into an inheritance that will not perish,
preserved for us in heaven
for the salvation to be revealed in the last time!

The texts for the chant repay our use in meditation during the Liturgy and outside it too – they are somewhat stronger than the prayers provided!

Questions for reflection

  • When and why is the Blessing and Sprinkling rite used in your community?
  • How is its meaning presented to the assembly?
  • What music is used, and who is it sung by?
  • In what other ways and when is the significance of baptism explored with your Sunday congregation?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.

Acknowledgements as

~ Excerpts from the English translation and chants of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
~ Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
~ Photograph: (c) 2003, Allen Morris. Stained glass, former Dominican chapoel, Eindhoven Netherlands.

The Art of Celebration V: The Gloria

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.

We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
         have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world,
         receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father,
         have mercy on us.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.

The Gloria is an ancient hymn, that is sung at Mass on Sundays (other than during Advent and Lent) and on Feast Days and Solemnities. It is fortuitous that our consideration of the hymn in this series of mini-essay coincides with the Gloria reappearing in our Sunday celebrations as we celebrate the Easter Vigil and begin our keeping of the 50 days of Easter Time.

The Gloria is one of the so called psalmoi idiotikoi – non-biblical psalms written by the early Church to serve the Liturgy and complement biblical songs. It first appears in the Apostolic Constitutions a late-4th Century Syrian Church Order – a guide to Christian life, church discipline and liturgy. The manuscript tradition reveals two forms of the song.

The first – presumably the older form – is addressed to God the Father only, making reference to Jesus as High Priest, Son and Lamb that takes away the sin of the world, but not addressing Jesus directly, and not making any mention of the Holy SPirit.

The second, like the text used in the Roman Rite , does address Jesus directly, as Lord, only-begotten Son, and Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It also makes reference to the Holy Spirit, but in the address to Jesus not, as in the Roman Rite, in the concluding verse.

These features testify to the ancient origins of the song, suggesting it may have originated before the Arian controversy (c320-380 AD) concerning the divinity of Jesus and the theological reflection during the 4th and 5th centuries AD which gave greater precision to Christian discourse about the Holy Spirit, and clarity to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

The main difference between the Roman usage and that of the Eastern Church – to this day – is that for Latins the Gloria is a song sung at Mass, and for the Orthodox it is a song sung at Morning Prayer.

Somehow or other this Eastern song made its way West, and found its new home in the Eucharist. At first it was reserved for celebrations at which the bishop presided, but subsequently permitted in liturgies at which presbyters presided.

But whether it is sung at Morning Prayer or at Mass, the Gloria is a song of praise – a song for full-throated singing.

Sadly, this year, COVID restrictions will likely mean that the Church cannot sing the Gloria. In some places, instead, the singing of the hymn will be entrusted to socially-distanced cantors; in other places it will be recited by the congregation.

Reflection questions

  • Are there particular parts of the hymn that regularly stand out for you?
  • Why do you think the Church omits the Gloria on the Sundays of Lent and Advent?
  • How do you experience the difference between singing and reciting the hymn?
  • Do you have favourite musical settings of the hymn? If so, what makes them favourites for you?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.


~ Excerpts from the English translation and chants of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
~ Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
~ Photograph: (c) 2017, Allen Morris. ‘Gloria’ window, St Mary’s Priory, Abergavenny.

Gospel reading for Monday, 29th March

John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment. Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’

Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.


  • Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.
  • Photograph(c) 2017, Allen Morris. Detail of stained glass window. St Matthew’s Church, Walsall.

The Art of Celebration IV: The Penitential Act

Mass begins with our assembling together, and with the entrance procession and its song. Then comes the Sign of the Cross and the Greeting.

There may also follow some very brief introduction to the Mass of the day. These might usefully engage us with both the day we experience together and the Mass we are now celebrating. What is best to avoid is something which is a duplicate greeting, especially a second greeting that lacks the gravitas and beauty of the first.

If the priest and congregation have already greeted one another in words such as

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all.

And with your spirit.

to then go into

Good morning everyone,
Good morning, father.

not only seems redundant and lesser, it immediately leaves God out of things!

We can be much better helped into our celebration together if the greeting is followed by some acknowledgement of  the circumstances of our gathering (perhaps some important news event, perhaps something of the saint of feast day), and maybe to allude to a key theme in one of the readings, or from the Eucharistic Prayer chosen.

This is generally followed by the Penitential Act, with its own introduction provided – calling us to ‘acknowledge’ our sins and so as to be prepared for our celebration.

Brothers and sisters,
let us acknowledge our sins,
and so prepare ourselves to celebration the sacred mysteries.

The current English translation that gives us ‘so prepare ourselves’, clumsily overlooks the various things we have surely already done that we might be prepared to celebrate. The Latin lying behind the translation more accurately speaks of our being ready and prepared, able and apt from what we are to do.

It is helpful to notice the use of the word ‘acknowledge’ in the introduction. We come together as sinners – there is no getting away from that. And neither should we seek to get away from that, so we do, simply, acknowledge our being sinners – but not only ‘sinners’

Pope Francis engaged with the more when he chose at his motto, a phrase from a homily of the Venerable Bede – a phrase that might be rendered ‘sinners but chosen.’

We have come together as brothers and sisters in Christ, sinners who have been chosenand are being saved from our sin. Our celebration of the Penitential Act needs to do justice to both those things – our sinfulness and our being saved.

I said above that the Greeting and Introduction are generally followed by the Penitential Act. Let me briefly note when something else will replace it. First to note is the optional Asperges rite, which may be used on Sundays, and especially in Easter Time, blessing and sprinkling water as a reminder of Baptism. This will be the subject of another mini-essay in a few weeks time. Also it may be replaced by another rite particular to a particular celebration, for example the Procession or Solemn Entrance of Palm Sunday; or the occasional Rite of acceptance of Catechumens.

Back to the Penitential Act!

It is worth noting that the Penitential Act which we celebrate at Mass is a new rite, introduced to the Order of Mass following Vatican II, replacing what was a private rite of preparation for the priest and ministers. Now it is a properly communal  rite.

The Penitential Act is provided in three forms; first, the Confiteor; second, a brief responsory; and third, what might most helpfully be described as a Litany of Mercy. Each is followed by an absolution spoken by the priest and then by the Kyrie Eleison, except in the third case where the Kyrie is incorporated into the Litany itself.

Those preparing for a particular celebration of the Mass do well to note that there are choices to be made here. Which form is most appropriate to the particular occasion; to its place in the broader context of the seasons of the Liturgical Year; to the congregation and its needs.

There is plenty of room for different decisions to be made as to which form to use and when but a sensible general plan (pretty much as commended in our Bishops’ Conference, Celebrating the Mass) is to use the Confiteor in Lent; the responsory form during Ordinary Time, and the Litany of Mercy during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Easter.

The Confiteor most firmly expresses the seriousness of our sin (greatly sinned/most grievous fault); and its all-pervasiveness (I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. It also achieves a happy marriage of individual and communal dimensions of confession and of intercession – I confess but to God and to my brothers and sisters (which brothers and sisters are also confessing to me and each other); and we together ask for prayer from Our Lady, the Angels and Saints, and each other. A lot is happening in these few words.

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
         And, striking their breast, they say:
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
         Then they continue:
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

The brief responsory is, well, briefer. The same ‘notes’ are there, but expressed less vigorously or fulsomely.

The Priest says:
Have mercy on us, O Lord.
         The people reply:
For we have sinned against you.

         The Priest:
Show us, O Lord, your mercy.
         The people:
And grant us your salvation.

The third form of the Penitential Act is the one that most commonly misused. The Missal provides us with a Litany of Mercy.

         The Priest:
You were sent to heal the contrite of heart:
Lord, have mercy.       Or:    Kyrie, eleison.
         The people reply:
Lord, have mercy.       Or:    Kyrie, eleison.

         The Priest:
You came to call sinners:
Christ, have mercy.     Or:    Christe, eleison.
         The people:
Christ, have mercy.     Or: Christe, eleison.

         The Priest:
You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us:
Lord, have mercy.       Or:    Kyrie, eleison.
         The people:
Lord, have mercy.       Or:    Kyrie, eleison.

However it is not uncommon to hear instead a Litany of Faults!

For the times we have turned from our neighbour’s need…
For the times we have gossiped…
For the times we have not paid proper attention to what the Missal asks us to do…

The Litany of Mercy allows us to ask afresh for mercy, but it is principally a confession of acts of the Lord’s saving love.

The edition of the Roman Missal for use in England and Wales useful includes an Appendix of additional sample invocations for the Litany of Mercy which can be used in place of the sample text included in the Order of Mass. Useful, if you easily have access to a Missal! But here they are as a downloadable PDF. Each one a helpful remembrance of the saving love of God, not one a direct reminder of our faults.

I end this mini essay with consideration of the absolution spoken by the priest:

May almighty God have mercy on us,
forgive us our sins,
and bring us to everlasting life.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal rather perfunctorily observes:

The rite concludes with the Priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance. (GIRM 51)

The absolution in the Sacrament of Penance confers forgiveness of sin. The absolution in the Penitential Act is different. In the Penitential Act we acknowledge our sin and engage with it afresh. So, in the Penitential Act, we also acknowledge God’s mercy and the salvation shared with us, in Baptism, in the Sacrament of Penance, in so many different ways, always for our benefit, and now once more to be received through the Eucharist, itself a sacrament of Reconciliation.

The absolution in the Sacrament of Penance neither petitions for forgiveness, nor is it authoritative declaration of new forgiveness, but it is a confident and encouraging statement of our hope in God’s ever-lasting mercy.

Thus reassured, on most Sundays of the year, the Church continues its prayer by singing its praise of God in the Gloria – the theme of our next mini-essay.

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.


~ Excerpts from the English translation and chants of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
~ Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
~ Photograph: (c) 2018, Allen Morris. Detail of Fresco of people at prayer from Caesarea Maritima, Israel. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Gospel reading for Sunday, 21st March

John 12:20-33

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:

‘Now the hour has come
for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I tell you, most solemnly,
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,
it remains only a single grain;
but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it;
anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for the eternal life.
If a man serves me, he must follow me,
wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say:
Father, save me from this hour?
But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name!’

A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.

‘Now sentence is being passed on this world;
now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I shall draw all men to myself.’

By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.


  • Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.
  • Photograph(c) 2019, Allen Morris. Glazing, St Mary’s church, Brecon, Wales.

Gospel reading for Saturday, 20th March

John 7:40-52

Several people who had been listening to Jesus said, ‘Surely he must be the prophet’, and some said, ‘He is the Christ’, but others said, ‘Would the Christ be from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from the town of Bethlehem?’ So the people could not agree about him. Some would have liked to arrest him, but no one actually laid hands on him.

The police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, ‘Why haven’t you brought him?’ The police replied, ‘There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.’ ‘So’ the Pharisees answered ‘you have been led astray as well? Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law – they are damned.’

One of them, Nicodemus – the same man who had come to Jesus earlier – said to them, ‘But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?’ To this they answered, ‘Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not come out of Galilee.’


  • Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.
  • Photograph(c) 2018, Allen Morris. Prophet, by Emil Nolde. Barber Institute, Birmingham.

Gospel reading for Tuesday, 9th March

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt.

Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt.

His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt.

And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’


  • Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.
  • Photograph(c) 2008, Allen Morris. Detail of Misericorde, Oude Kirke, Amsterdam, Netherlands.