By Dr. Jenny O'Brien
The words ‘through Christ our Lord, Amen’ are familiar to us as the conclusion to many of the Church’s formal prayers.
During Mass they end the Prayer over the Offerings of bread and wine, and the Prayer after Communion. At the end of the Collect (Opening Prayer) they appear in the longer form: ‘Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.’ And at the end of the great Eucharistic Prayer there is the even longer form: ‘Through him and with him and in him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours for ever and ever. Amen.’
You may be surprised to know that these simple phrases are extraordinarily rich in theological meaning. They help us to understand how we, the baptised faithful, relate to the risen Jesus and to the three divine persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let us look first of all at what they tell us about ourselves and the risen Christ. They remind us that at our baptism, we were incorporated into Christ, which is to say we became part of the Body of Christ: He is the head and we are the members. We are forever attached to Christ and to every other baptised person in a permanent relationship of love. We are literally ‘Christ’ians. When Christ prays, we pray and when we pray Christ prays, and nowhere is this more true than when we celebrate the liturgy.
The Second Vatican Council reminded us that ‘every liturgical celebration is an action of Christ the Priest and his Body, the Church’. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #7) The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1073) later restated this truth: ‘Liturgical prayer is a participation in Christ’s own prayer addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit’. In other words, it is not the private prayer of isolated individuals who happen to be physically together, it is the united activity of the Body of Christ. Here we see the second great theological truth: In the liturgy our prayer is addressed to God the Father through the impulse and energy of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus himself taught his disciples to address God as ‘father’ in their prayer. Why? Because the Father is the one who bestows upon us every good. Not only does this refer to every element of the created universe, but to the wonderful ‘goods’ that are Jesus himself (whose person and life revealed to us just what the Father is like) and the Holy Spirit (who reminds us of everything that Jesus taught and inspires us to carry it out). Our attitude towards the Father is one of utter gratitude and thanksgiving, of desire that God’s name be held in greatest esteem, that God’s reign might come to full fruition, and that God might provide for us in our need and protect us from all evil.
When we pray ‘through Christ our Lord’ we are aligning ourselves with Christ and orienting our lives constantly to God. When, in the introduction to the Eucharistic Prayer, we are enjoined to lift up our hearts, we respond with enthusiasm, ‘We lift them up to the Lord’. And when the priest asks us if we should give thanks to the Lord our God, we acclaim, ‘It is right and just’. This is who we are: the Body of Christ giving thanks and praise to God.
And our final word – Amen! – is the Hebrew shorthand for ‘Truly, this is so!’ or ‘Yes, let this be so!’ We acknowledge that all that has been prayed is indeed true, but also our desire that it might be God’s will that is done. Again we join ourselves with Jesus whose focus was always to ‘do the will of the Father’ (cf. Jn 6:38).
So next time you pray, ‘Through Christ our Lord, Amen’ remember the extraordinary significance of these words and the reality of who you are as part of the Body of Christ.