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Godzdogz

The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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Preface Dialogue

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Liturgy of the Eucharist has begun. The gifts of bread and wine have been brought up, prepared and then blessed upon the altar. The people are standing and all is set for the central act of the Mass: the Eucharistic Prayer. It is time for the priest and people to place themselves entirely in the presence of God.
 
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right and just.

This dialogue between priest and people opens the Preface, the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer. It is an invitation to prayer, a call-and-response that invokes God’s presence in our hearts.

The first exchange has already occurred twice before, at the Greeting and at the Gospel, and will return twice afterwards, at the Peace and the Final Blessing. So, this middle occurrence is a dramatic pivot in the Mass, signalling the transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The new translation, ‘And with your spirit’, has been explained in a previous post.

The second exchange is no different from the old translation, which was already a good rendering of the Latin. Note that ‘hearts’ here is rich with significance: it denotes all our cares, our hopes and fears, our thoughts and beliefs. So, for St. Thérèse of Lisieux, prayer is essentially ‘a surge of the heart’. At the altar of God, we offer up all that we are.

In the third exchange the theme of Eucharist – thanksgiving – is now explicitly introduced. We are about to join ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice of thanksgiving, when we receive his Body and Blood. Here we see another improvement in the translation. The response ‘It is right to give Him thanks and praise’ has been replaced with ‘It is right and just’, which is simply a direct translation of Dignum et justum est. This new version has restored the reference to justice. Christ, the Paschal Lamb, executed divine justice when he offered himself as a pure and willing victim for our redemption, ‘while we were yet sinners’ (Rom. 5:8). Instead of condemning us, God’s judgment entails our rescue from sin (Jn. 3:17): thus is God’s justice revealed in His love – and what better reason to give Him thanks?

There is one further advantage to the phrase, ‘It is right and just’. Like a musical counterpoint, which is clear in the Latin and has been restored to our English version, the priest immediately develops the same theme as he continues with the Preface:

It is truly right and just, our duty and salvation,
always and everywhere to give You thanks.’

Matthew Jarvis OP

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