4 August 2023

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

There appears to be a consensus that there is no evidence for the Our Father being in the Mass anywhere in Christendom before about 350. Before that, it was a non-liturgical prayer used, perhaps several times a day, either privately or among groups of the Faithful. And the evidence is that during this period, when Christians shared the Our Father, they concluded it with a kiss of peace. The earliest evidence I know for this is in Tertullian (c160-225; see de Oratione PL 1 1176-9). A custom had grown up of people omitting the Peace after the Our Father when they had been fasting. Tertullian disapproves of it because it includes an inclination to boast publicly about fasting, contrary to Matth 6:16. He calls the kiss the signaculum orationis; the sealing (as a document might be sealed) or finishing-off of the prayer. Rhetorically, he asks: 'What prayer is complete when the holy kiss has been torn from it? Whom does the Peace impede as he is doing his duty towards the Lord? What sort of sacrifice is it, from which people go away without the Peace?' And a couple of paragraphs earlier, speaking about the ending of the prayer, he uses the phrase assignata oratione; 'when the prayer has been sealed'. Similarly, Origen (c185-254) , commenting on the Kiss of Peace referred to by S Paul in Romans 16 and elsewhere, describes it as happening 'after the prayers' (PG 14 1282). Since S Paul never specifies where the kiss is to be given, Origen's 'after the prayers' presumably reflects the usage of his own time.

It seems highly likely that what happened is this. When the Our Father was introduced into the Mass, it brought with it its concluding signaculum, the Kiss of Peace. Thus the Pax in the Liturgy is not, in itself, a reconciliatory preparation for Communion, but a 'signing off' from the Our Father and the Eucharistic Prayer. We find this situation reflected in the Letter of Pope S Innocent I to the Bishop of Gubbio in 416 (PL 56 515). Troublemakers in Gubbio had been saying that it was better to follow the custom of another Church as to the position of the Peace rather than that of Rome; the Pope responds ' the Pax has to be done after all the things which I'm not allowed to mention to show that the people have given their consent to everything which is done in the mysteries and celebrated in Church, and to demonstrate that they are finished by the signaculum of the concluding Pax'. The fact that he employs the very term signaculum which had been used by Tertullian suggests that we are dealing with conventional usage widespread enough to be common to Rome and North Africa and over a period of at least two centuries.

Thus the Roman position of the Peace appears to have a meaning and logic which go even beyond the introduction of the Our Father into the Mass, back to those early days when Christians met in little groups to say the Lord's Prayer together. That logic was the communal and corporate assent of God's People to the Lord's own Prayer. Of course, this does not exclude the notion of the Peace as a gesture of reconciliation among those who, as one Body, are just about to receive in the Eucharist the one Body and the one Cup of the Blood of the Redeemer. That theme is itself suggested by the last few clauses of the prayer, concerning mutual forgiveness.

But I wonder if there is a slightly different alternative narrative which might be valid here. Might the passage I have quoted from Tertullian relate not to the extraliturgical use of the Lord's Prayer among Christians, but to its use within the Mass? He does seem to be talking about something more corporate than merely a semiprivate prayergroup. And note the phrase 'What sort of sacrifice ...?' And there is a paragraph nearby where he criticises the habit of sitting down after the Peace; if the Peace simply concludes a little prayer meeting, why should the participants not be allowed to sit down once it was over?

Another And ... Having criticised his fellow Christians for witholding the Kiss so as publicly to flaunt the fact that they had been fasting, he goes on ' ... on the day of the Pasch, on which there is a rule of fasting which is common to all and as it were public, we rightly drop the kiss, because we don't care about hiding the thing [i.e. fasting] which we are doing with everybody else'. Those familiar with the traditional Roman Rite will recall that, to this day, we do not exchange the Sign of Peace at the Good Friday Mass of the Presanctified, nor at the Mass of the Easter Vigil (even though the celebrant has said the words). This is because we are all deemed to have been fasting.

Questions arise: if the Our Father was within the Mass as early as the time of Tertullian, what does this do to our understanding of the early history of the Liturgy? How are we to fit in the apparently second century evidence for the Peace coming at an earlier point in the Mass? Why should those fasting consider it appropriate to withold the Kiss? What is the relevance of all this to the Eucharistic Fast, first witnessed in North Africa at the end of the fourth century? And does the evidence we have considered derive support from Dom Gregory Dix's compelling theory about the Mass of the Presanctified (i.e., that the third century practice of Christians communicating themselves privately on weekdays from the Host which they had reserved at the Sunday Mass, and blessing by the recitation of the Lord's Prayer and then drinking a cup of wine as an 'antitype' of the Blood of Christ, is found as the Communion Rite of the traditional Roman Good Friday liturgy, simply transferred from the private to the communal context)?

I never cease to be surprised at what I find whenever I delve back into the history of the venerable and wonderful Roman Rite. 

I preserve a comment from an earlier post on this subject.


William Tighe said...

"Gregory the Great believed that the Our Father was the original Eucharistic prayer to explain why it is placed immediately after the canon."

You appear to be confusing Gregory the Great with Amalarius of Metz; and the notion that Amalarius thought that Gregory meant that the apostles consecrated the Eucharist is probably inaccurate as well; as G. G. Willis wrote:

The Lord’s Prayer

Since the time of St. Gregory the Roman Canon has been immediately been followed by the Lord’s Prayer, with its introduction and embolism. It is well known that it was St. Gregory himself who made some change in the arrangement of the Roman Mass at this point. He himself says that he did so in his letter of October 598 to John of Syracuse, and this statement was copied by his ninth-century biographer, John the Deacon.

There is no doubt about the text of St. Gregory’s letter, but there has never been agreement about its precise meaning, nor is it agreed what St. Gregory found in the Mass at this point, and what exactly was the change that he made. We begin by citing the text of his letter:

orationem vero dominicam idcirco mox post precem dicimus, quis mos apostolorum fuit ut ad ipsam solummodo orationem oblationis hostiam consecrarent, et valde mihi inconveniens visum est ut precem quam scholasticus composuerat super oblation diceremus, et ipsam traditionem quam Redemptor noster composuit super eius corpus et sanguine non diceremus.

In the first sentence of this passage scholars from Amalarius onwards have taken the words oblationis hostiam together, as meaning “the victim of the oblation”, and have therefore interpreted St. Gregory as meaning that it was the custom of the Apostles to consecrate the Eucharist to the accompaniment of (ad) the Lord’s Prayer (ipsam orationem) and of nothing else.

In the nineteenth century Probst perceived that it is much more natural to take the words orationem oblationis together, and hostiam separately. This would then mean that Gregory says that it was the custom of the apostles to consecrate the Host to the accompaniment of the “prayer of oblation” only. This view has been followed by Cabrol and Batiffol, among other modern scholars, and it is now probably the accepted view. It gives much better sense, and Brightman’s interpretation of the whole passage is by far the most satisfactory. St. Gregory says that we say the Lord’s Prayer immediately after the Canon, because it was the practice of the Apostles to consecrate the sacrament with the Canon, or eucharistic prayer, and therefore it appeared unseemly to St. Gregory that we should say over the oblation a prayer composed by some scholasticus and should not say over the Lord’s Body the prayer which the Lord himself taught. Brightman was the first to make the likely suggestion that the prayer of human composition said over the oblation was the oratio super oblata, the Roman title of the prayer which the Gallicans call Secreta. If this prayer, of human composition, was recited over the unconsecrated elements, St. Gregory might well think it unfitting that the Lord’s Prayer should not be said over the consecrated oblations. He therefore moved it to a position immediately following the Canon. Obviously St. Gregory knew no better than we do what text the Apostles used in consecrating the Eucharist: there is no record of this in the New Testament. But he may well have supposed that the Eucharistic Prayer in the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus, or that in the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions, was of apostolic derivation, and in fact neither of these has an oratio super oblata or the Pater noster.

The oratio super oblata was certainly said at the Offertory at Rome from the pontificate of Xystus III (432-440) or from that of Leo the Great (440-461), so it would be familiar to St. Gregory …

--- from A History of Early Roman Liturgy to the Death of Pope Gregory the Great by G. G. Willis, with a memoir of G. G. Willis by Michael Moreton (London, 1994: The Henry Bradshaw Society), Subsidia I, pp. 53-55.

El Codo said...

You raise from the dead the estimable and glorious name of Dom Gregory Dix whom you clearly revere Father as do so many of us. The question remains..why did he not become a Catholic but remained in that rotting carcass of the Established church?

William Tighe said...

El Codo can find the answer here in my book review (which at the moment is behind a paywall)


or in the book under review itself>

Ed the Roman said...

Which book I heartily recommend.

John F H H said...

The book itself as Homo Eucharisticus: Dom Gregory Dix – Reshaped is at

OR to order as A Very Anglican Monk at