By Dr. Judy Bullock
It has become commonplace in the world in which we live to express our agreement with something that has been said with an enthusiastic “amen.” Having its origin in Hebrew, “amen” is one of the many words taken from Scripture or the liturgy and adopted into everyday use.
Within the celebration of the Mass, we voice an “amen” many times. Although we may consider it a mere ending to a prayer, it is much more than that. The meaning of this Hebrew word is more or less equivalent to “so be it.” Within the liturgy, the people are given the opportunity to say or sing “amen” to what has come before, exclaiming their belief and affirmation, as well as, their hope that God will hear and answer this prayer. The “amen” that concludes the “Eucharistic Prayer” is sometimes referred to as the “Great Amen,” since our response gives assent to the content of this great prayer of thanksgiving and transformation. During the Communion rite, when we say “amen” before receiving the sacred Host and the precious Blood, we are expressing our belief in the presence of Christ in these sacred elements and our hope that we will be united as one in Christ.
When to respond
In the Mass, the “amen” response comes naturally to all Catholics. The beauty of the Roman Rite is that we don’t have to guess when the prayer comes to an end. When we hear a familiar lead in, such as “We ask this through Christ our Lord,” we know what to say.
To whom do we pray?
All the prayers of the Mass are directed to the first person of the holy Trinity with the exception of “The Mystery of Faith,” which is directed to Jesus Christ. The conclusion of each prayer reveals how the church prays: to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit. This well-known trinitarian formula is especially explicit in the doxologies or forms of praise that follow the opening prayer of the Mass and the “Eucharistic Prayer.” The priest concludes the opening prayer, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.”
The images that artists have rendered over the centuries have, for better or worse, provided visual icons that have formed, perhaps limited, our concept of the holy Trinity. For some of us these images are set in stone. We can only picture God the Father as a king or judge sitting on a throne; Jesus as Da Vinci painted him in the Last Supper; and the Holy Spirit as the proverbial dove or flame of fire. Perhaps tied closely to this are the terms related to the division of labor or responsibilities attributed to the triune God: creator, redeemer and sanctifier. All of these titles, depictions and descriptions are revelations expressing some aspect of God’s interaction with humanity. What we know from this is that the dynamic of love that is the Trinity is constantly offered to and interacting with all humanity — in the past, in the present and in the future. In the celebration of the Eucharist, we say “amen” to that.
Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.