The Preface Dialogue: On your mark, get set, go!

| Father Thomas Margevicius | August 30, 2011 | 0 Comments

The following is the next in a series of articles regarding the new Roman missal, which will be used in the United States beginning Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent.

One part of Mass often overlooked is called the Preface Dialogue. It draws our attention to the high point of the Mass, the great Eucharistic Prayer. It’s kind of like getting ready for a race: “On your mark, get set, go!”

Let’s look at why the Preface Dialogue is so important.

God is a Trinity of Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Humanity was created in God’s communal image, which is why God told Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

But sin entered the picture, resulting in separation: Humans were cut off from God, and Adam and Eve covered themselves, hiding in shame from both God and each other.

The history of the Chosen People is the drama of the people drawing close to God, then falling back into separation — back and forth. Jesus became incarnate as part of this people in order to remedy this separation. Once and for all Jesus would definitely bring humans back to God and to each other.

On the night before he died, Jesus prayed that all his disciples may be one with each other and with the Father (John 17:21). And, when Jesus died, the veil in the Temple (that symbolized our separation from God) was torn from top to bottom. The Eucharist makes that sacrifice of Jesus present on the altar. Every element of the Mass aims at overcoming the separation that has plagued humanity since the beginning.

Serving a dual role

Liturgical dialogues — back-and-forth communication between priest and people — are distributed throughout the Mass: “The Lord be with you/And with your spirit,” “The Gospel of the Lord/
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,” etc. The General Introduction to the Roman Missal no. 34 emphasizes their importance:

“Since the celebration of the Mass by its nature has a ‘communitarian’ character, both the dialogues between the priest and the assembled faithful, and the ac­clamations are of great significance; for they are not simply outward signs of communal celebration but foster and bring about communion between priest and people.”

In other words, dialogues in Mass do two things: they bond the people with each other so they can pray together, and they bond the people to the priest when they all speak to him in unison. The unity of the mystical Body of Christ is both expressed and advanced by these dialogues.

Most dialogues contain two lines, but the Preface Dialogue at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer is three times as long. It’s as though the liturgy is telling us, “All along we’ve worked at praying in unison, but it’s especially important now because we’re beginning the most important part of the Mass.”

The General Instruction no. 78 put it this way:

“Now the center and high point of the entire celebration begins, namely, the Eucharistic Prayer itself, that is, the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. The priest calls upon the people to lift up their hearts toward the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving; he associates the people with himself in the Prayer that he addresses in the name of the entire community to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Further­more, the meaning of this Prayer is that the whole congregation of the faithful joins with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of sacrifice.”

In the new translation it will be prayed this way:

Priest: The Lord be with you. (Latin: “Dominus vobiscum.”)

People: And with your spirit. (“Et cum spiritu tuo.”)

Priest: Lift up your hearts. (“Sursum corda.”)

People: We lift them up to the Lord. (“Habemus ad Dominum.”)

Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. (“Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.”)

People: It is right and just. (“Dignum et iustum est.”)

Priest: It is truly right and just . . . (“Dignum et iustum est . . .”)

The language of this dialogue is very ancient and hard to translate. The verb “lift up” is not in the Latin, but is presumed. “Sursum corda” means literally, “Hearts aloft!”

Similarly, the response “Habemus ad Dominum” means literally, “We hold  toward the Lord.” Does it mean, “We are lifting them up” or “We have already lifted them up to the Lord, where we hold them now”? The Latin is ambiguous, which is the nature of liturgical language: It’s poetic and can have multiple meanings.

Running the race

The last line of the dialogue: “It is right and just,” is echoed by the priest as he continues the rest of the preface. It is “right” to give thanks because that is why humans were created, and it is “just” because God deserves to be praised.

When we join Jesus’ own self-sacrifice enacted in the Eucharist, the double separation that has plagued humanity since the beginning — cut off from God, and from each other — is overcome.

With the celebration of the Eucharist we can resume running the race toward the Father, with Jesus as our model and the Spirit empowering us. Let’s pray the Preface Dialogue with enthusiasm: On your mark, get set, go!

Father Thomas Margevicius is instructor of liturgical theology at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.

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Category: New Roman Missal