Liturgy of the Catholic Church

Liturgy and Para-Liturgical Celebrations

Gloria’s “Sin” and Agnus Dei’s “Sins”

And More on Concelebrants

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

Q: A question has come up regarding the use of the word “sin” in the Gloria and “sins” in the Agnus Dei. Would you please explain the theological reason for this? — S.G., Colorado Springs, Colorado

A: I would be at a loss to explain the theological reason for this difference for the simple reason that I don’t believe there is much difference.

The difference is in the translation, not in the original Latin. The Latin in all three cases (counting the “This is the Lamb of God” that is said by the celebrant) uses the same plural form “peccata mundi.”

There is a discussion among the experts as to the best translation of this formula. Some sustain that it is best translated as a simple plural “sins.” Others render it as an abstract singular “sin,” meaning the totality of sin in the world.

This difference is seen in some other versions. The Italian missal translates the expressions each time as sins, “i peccati,” whereas the Spanish conveys it as sin, “el pecado.”

The first translation is perhaps closer to the literal sense and, being more concrete, it tends to includes not only the sins but in some way also refers to the sinners.

The second translation might lay greater stress on the universal and even cosmological effects of redemption, in the sense that Christ’s death and resurrection has also restored a certain sense of order to creation itself. It could be said that all things are recapitulated in Christ, to use an expression of St. Paul (Ephesians 1:10) which was later theologically developed by St. Ireneus of Lyon.

Both translations, however, essentially express the same underlying reality. It may be that the English translators Solomonically divided their options. But it might also mean no more than that different people were responsible for different parts of the missal and never got together to iron out the creases.

The most important thing is that Christ, the Lamb of God who died and rose for us, is the source of all salvation and has the power to effectively take away our sins, and all sin from the world. This power is exercised above all through the sacraments, especially the re-enactment of his paschal sacrifice that is the holy Mass.

* * *

Follow-up: When Concelebrants Exit

Our July 10 column on ending a concelebrated Mass brought to light a couple of related topics.

A reader in Kuwait asked: “In India, it has become a common practice that instead of kissing the altar before and after Mass, priests touch the altar by their hands (fingers) and then touch their face with the fingers. Is this permitted?”

I must confess ignorance as to whether it is explicitly permitted, but I can help to find the answer.

The general norms for adaptation allow bishops’ conferences to propose changes to some rites and gestures of the Mass if a particular gesture common in Western culture is judged unsuitable or liable to misinterpretation in a different cultural context. Likewise the bishops could propose a different gesture which conveys the same meaning as the one replaced.

If two-thirds of the bishops vote in favor of the change, and it is later approved by the Holy See, it becomes particular liturgical law for the country in question.

In that case the change or adaptation must be incorporated in some way into the missal. This could be either as an addition to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), an appendix with local norms, or in the rubrics.

If there is no mention of any such change in the missal or in any published decrees of the bishops’ conference, then one may presume that it is a case of private initiative on the part of priests.

The priests are always free to propose to the bishops any worthwhile adaptation. But in the meantime they should return to approved norms.

A reader from Kalisz, Poland, asked: “Paragraph No. 275 of the GIRM says that ‘a bow of the head is made when the three divine Persons are named together and at the name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Saint in whose honor the Mass is being celebrated.’ What about a case of a concelebrated Mass, when one of the concelebrants (or the main celebrant) recites his part and comes upon the name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary or of the saint in whose honor the Mass is being celebrated — do all the concelebrants (and the main celebrant) bow their head at that moment, even though they are not reciting that particular word? Or does this norm only apply to the priest who recites the particular word in a given moment?”

Only the priest who recites the text makes the bow at this moment. When a bow is foreseen in prayers said by all together, then all make the bow.


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