OFFICE FOR THE LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
The Apologetic Prayers of the "Ordo Missae"
A Silence That Contemplates and Adores
The sacred liturgy, that the
Second Vatican Council understands as the
sacerdotal action of Christ, and therefore the source and summit of ecclesial
life, can never be reduced to a simple aesthetic reality, nor be considered as
an instrument for purely pedagogical or ecumenical ends. The celebration of the
holy mysteries is above all an act of praise of the supreme majesty of God one
and three, an act desired by God himself. In this act, man, personally and in
community, presents himself before the Lord to give him thanks, aware of the
fact that his very being cannot achieve its proper fullness if he does not
praise God and do his will, in constantly seeking the kingdom, which is already
present and, nevertheless, will arrive definitively in the day of the "parousia"
of the Lord Jesus.
In light of this, it is clear that the direction of every liturgical action --
which is the same for the priest and the faithful -- is that directed toward the
Lord: to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Thus "the priest and
people certainly do not pray toward each other but toward the one Lord." It
is a matter of the continual living of the "conversi ad Dominum," that turning
to the Lord, which supposes "conversion," the directing of our souls toward
Jesus Christ and, in this way, toward the living God, that is, the true
In this way the liturgical act is lived as a virtue of that virtue of religion
that, consistent with its nature, is characterized by a profound sense of the
sacred. In it, the individual and the community must be aware of meeting each
other, in a special way, before him who is thrice Holy and the Transcendent.
Hence, "a convincing indication of the effectiveness of Eucharistic catechesis
is surely an increased sense of the mystery of God present among us."
The appropriate attitude in the liturgical celebration can only be that of
complete reverence and stupor, which flows from our being aware that we are in
the presence of the majesty of God. Was this not perhaps what God himself wanted
to indicate when he ordered Moses to take off his sandals before the burning
bush? Was it not perhaps from this awareness that the attitude of Moses and
Elijah was born, they who did not dare to look at God face to face?
It is in this framework that we can better understand the words of the second
canon of the Mass that perfectly defines the essence of the priestly office: "Astare
coram te et tibi ministrare" (To stand before you and serve you). There are
therefore two tasks that define the essence of the sacerdotal office: "Standing
in the presence of the Lord" and "serving in his presence." Benedict XVI,
commenting on this ministry, noted that the term "service" is used primarily to
refer to liturgical service. This implies various aspects, including nearness
The Pope wrote: "No one is closer to his master than the servant who has access
to the most private dimensions of his life. In this sense 'to serve' means
closeness, it requires familiarity. This familiarity also bears a danger: when
we continually encounter the sacred it risks becoming habitual for us.
"In this way, reverential fear is extinguished. Conditioned by all our habits we
no longer perceive the great, new and surprising fact that he himself is
present, speaks to us, gives himself to us. We must ceaselessly struggle against
this becoming accustomed to the extraordinary reality, against the indifference
of the heart, always recognizing our insufficiency anew and the grace that there
is in the fact that he consigned himself into our hands."
In effect, before any liturgical celebration, but in a special way before the
Eucharist -- the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, thanks to
which this central event of salvation is made truly present and the work of our
redemption is realized -- we must fall down in adoration before the Mystery: the
great Mystery, the Mystery of mercy. What more, in fact, could Jesus have done
In the Eucharist he shows us in a real way a love that goes "to the very end"
(John 3:1), a love that does not know limits. We are astonished and dazed
before such an extraordinary reality: With what humble condescension God desired
to unite himself to man!
If in a few weeks we find ourselves standing, deeply moved, before the manger,
contemplating the incarnation of the Word, what must we not feel before the
altar upon which Christ makes his Sacrifice present in time through the poor
hands of the priest? There is nothing to do but to kneel and adore the great
Mystery of faith in silence.
The logical consequence of what has been said is that the people of God must be
able to see, in the priest and in the other ministers of the altar, a
comportment that is full of reverence and dignity, that is capable of helping
them to penetrate invisible things without many words or explanations.
In the Roman Missal of Pius V, as in the various Eastern liturgies, we find very
beautiful prayers with which the priest expresses the deepest sentiment of
humility and reverence before the holy mysteries: They reveal the substance
itself of any liturgy. Some of these prayers that are present in this Missal
-- which in its 1962 edition is the Missal of the "extraordinary form" of the
Roman Rite -- have been taken up in the Missal promulgated after the Second
Vatican Council. These prayers are traditionally called "apologies."
The "Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani" refers to these prayers in Section
33. After the reference to the prayers that priest says as celebrant in the name
of the whole Church, the GIRM states that "at times he prays only in his own
name, asking that he may exercise his ministry with greater attention and
devotion. Prayers of this kind, which occur before the reading of the Gospel, at
the preparation of the gifts, and also before and after the Communion of the
priest, are said quietly."
From "I" to "we"
These brief formulas prayed in silence invite the priest to personalize his
work, to give himself to the Lord in his own name too. At the same time they are
an excellent way to set out -- like the other faithful -- toward the encounter
with the Lord not only the communal way but in an entirely personal way as well.
And this is a first aspect of essential importance, because only in the measure
that we understand and internalize the liturgical structure and the words of the
liturgy, can we enter into an interior harmony with them. When that happens the
celebrating priest does not speak with God only as an individual but rather
enters into the "we" of the praying Church.
If the "celebratio" is prayer, that is, colloquy with God -- God's colloquy with
us and ours with him -- the celebrant's "I" is transformed, entering into the
"we" of the Church. The "I" is enriched and enlarged praying with the Church,
with her words, and a colloquy with the Lord really begins. In this way
celebrating is really celebrating "with" the Church: the heart dilates, not, of
course, in a physical way but in the sense that it is "with" the Church in
colloquy with God. In this process of the enlargement of the heart, the
apologetic prayers and the contemplative and adoring silence that they produce
represent an important element and this is why they have been a part of the
Eucharistic celebration for more than 1,000 years.
In the second place, in the journey toward the Lord, we become aware of our
unworthiness. Thus it becomes necessary during the liturgy to ask God himself
that he transform us and accept our participation in that "actio Dei" (action of
God) that configures the liturgy. In fact, the spirit of continual conversion is
one of the personal conditions that makes possible the "actuosa participatio"
(active participation) of the faithful and of the priest himself. "Active
participation in the Eucharistic liturgy can hardly be expected if one
approaches it superficially, without an examination of his or her life."
Recollection and silence before and during the celebration are understood in
this context and facilitate the realization of the words of Benedict XVI: "A
heart reconciled with God makes genuine participation possible." Again, it
follows that the apologetic prayers play an important role in the celebration.
For example, the apologetic prayers "Munda cor meum" (Cleanse my heart), recited
prior to the proclamation of the Gospel, or "In spiritu humilitatis," (In the
spirit of humility) which precedes the "Lavabo" after the presentation of the
offerings (bread and wine), allow the priest who prays them to be aware of the
reality of his unworthiness and, at the same time, of the grandeur of his
mission. "The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually
work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord's
The celebrant's silence and his gestures of piety move the faithful who are
participating in the celebration to be conscious of the need to prepare
themselves, to convert, given the importance of the liturgical moment in which
they are taking part: before the reading of the Gospel, or at the beginning of
the Eucharistic Prayer.
For their part the apologetic prayers "Per huius aquae et vini" (Through this
water and wine) during the Offertory, or the "Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine" (What
by mouth, O Lord), during the purification of the sacred vessels, are perfectly
situated in the desire to be introduced into and transformed by the "actio
divina." We must constantly bear in mind and heart that the eucharistic liturgy
is "actio Dei" that unites us to Jesus through the Spirit. These 2 prayers
orient our existence toward the incarnation and resurrection and, in reality,
constitute an element that favors the realization of that desire of the Church
that the faithful not be present at the celebrations as mute spectators, but
that they take an active part in giving thanks to God and learn how to offer
themselves together with Christ.
It does not seem excessive to us, then, to affirm that the apologetic prayers
play a primary role in reminding the ordained minister that it "is the same
priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the
minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is
truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the
power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius
At the same time, they remind the priest that, being an ordained minister, he is
"the sacramental bond that ties the liturgical action to what the apostles said
and did and, through them, to the words and actions of Christ, the source and
foundation of the sacraments." The prayers said by the priest in secret thus
constitute an extraordinary means to unify, to form a community that is
"liturgical" and that participates turned completely "versus Deum per Iesum
Christum" (toward God through Jesus Christ).
A work of the Trinity
One of the apologetic prayers retained in the post-conciliar "Ordo Missae"
spells out perfectly what we are saying: "Domine Iesu Christe, Filii Dei vivi,
qui ex voluntate Patris cooperante Spiritu Sancto per mortem tuam mundum
vivificasti" (Lord Jesus Christ, who by the will of the Father, with the working
of the Holy Spirit, brought life to the world by your death). In fact, the
prayers that the priest says in secret, and this one in particular, can in an
effective way help the priest and the faithful to achieve a clear awareness that
the liturgy is the work of the Most Holy Trinity. "The prayer and offering of
the Church are inseparable from the prayer and offering of Christ, her
Thus we see that for over 1,000 years the apologetic prayers configure
themselves as simple formulas purified by history, full of theological content,
that permit the priest who prays them, and the faithful who participate in the
silence that accompanies them, to be conscious of the "mysterium fidei" in which
they participate and so to unite themselves to Christ regarding him as God,
brother and friend.
For these reasons, we must rejoice that, despite the fact that the post-conciliar
liturgical reform drastically reduced the number and noticeably revised the text
of these prayers, they continue to be present even in the most recent "Ordo
Missae." The invitation to priests is not to skip these prayers during the
celebration and also not to transform them from prayers of the priest to prayers
of the whole assembly, reciting them aloud like all the other prayers. The
apologetic prayers base themselves on and express a theology that is different
and complementary to that which is behind the other prayers. This theology is
manifested in the silent and reverent way in which they are prayed by the priest
and accompanied by the other faithful.
 John Paul II, "Message to the Plenary Assembly of
the for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments", September 21, 2001.
 J. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Preface to the first volume of the Collected
 Cf. Benedict XVI,
Homily for the Easter Vigil, March 22, 2008.
 Benedict XVI, "Sacramentum caritatis", n. 65.
 Cf. John Paul II, "Message to the Plenary Assembly of the for Divine
Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments", September 21, 2001.
 Benedict XVI,
Homily for the Chrism Mass, March 20, 2008.
 John Paul II, "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," no. 11.
 John Paul II, "Holy Thursday Letter to Priests", 2004.
 Cf. John Paul II, "Message to the Plenary Assembly of the for Divine
Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments", September 21, 2001.
 Benedict XVI, "Sacramentum caritatis", no. 55.
 Ibid., no. 23.
 Cf. Ibid., no. 37.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council II, "Sacrosanctum Concilium", no. 48.
 Pius XII, "Mediator Dei," cited in "Catechism of the Catholic Church," no.
 "Catechism of the Catholic Church," no. 1120.
 Ibid., no. 1553.