Liturgy of the Catholic Church

Liturgy and Para-Liturgical Celebrations

Agnus Dei, Beyond the Norms

ROME, APRIL 24, 2007 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.


Q: It has always been my understanding that the Agnus Dei was a set part of the Mass, consisting in singing twice “Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”; and concluding with “Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” However, at the Mass which I attend in my parish, it is used as an opportunity for creative expression, with the cantor singing such phrases as “Prince of Peace,” “Lord of Lords,” and other expressions to the refrain from the congregation of “Have mercy on us” until the end of the Communion procession, at which time it will segue (unannounced) into “grant us peace.” While this can be very edifying and pleasing, it does not seem to me to meet the requirements of the liturgical norms. — C.C., Dallas, Texas


A: The norms regarding the singing on the Agnus Dei are found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 83: “…The supplication Agnus Dei, is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; or it is, at least, recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has reached its conclusion, the last time ending with the words ‘dona nobis pacem’ (grant us peace).”


Therefore, as a rule, the invocations may be repeated if the rite of fraction is prolonged. But there is no mention of inserting new invocations or of prolonging the Agnus Dei as a Communion song. Thus the invocation “Grant us peace” should be said at the end of the fraction and no extra invocations introduced.


That said, the melody used in the Agnus Dei may be taken up again after the “Lord, I am not worthy” and used as a Communion song. In this case there is no obstacle to introducing adequate new invocations as described above.


This can be a way of using certain classical polyphonic versions which would be too long for the present rite. A system similar to the one described by our reader is long-established custom in some European cathedrals.


The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger considered this practice legitimate in a conference given at Regensburg on the occasion of his older brother’s retirement as music director of that city’s cathedral.


* * *


Follow-up: Origin and Use of the Paschal Candle


Our eagle-eyed readers spotted some discrepancies in my April 3 piece on the paschal candle.


When mentioning the use of the paschal candle at funerals I should have said “may be used,” as this is an option not a mandate.


I also mentioned the “blessing” of the candle in general terms whereas in fact it is the new fire, not the candle, that is blessed.


All the same, as we suggested in our column of April 11, 2006, a pastor of multiple parishes may simply bless extra candles after the Easter vigil.


One priest with several parishes asked if he may continue using paschal candles from previous years in those parishes where there has been no Easter vigil.


Each parish should have a new candle every year as a sign of each community’s participation in the Easter mystery. However, if this represents a heavy economic burden and the candle receives little use during the year, then a candle with a changeable date could be used.


Finally, I mentioned that the candle is lit during all liturgical offices during the 50 days of Easter. This is not obligatory, however, and the liturgical norms would only require that candle be lit for the more solemn ceremonies; for example, for all solemnities, all Sunday Masses and all daily Masses during the Easter octave.



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