| By Bishop Earl Boyea

The Single Word That Rings Throughout the Universe

“AMEN!” This is the Great Amen, not the wimpy Amen. St. Justin Martyr, already in the second century, describing the Mass, wrote that when the priest “had ended the prayers and thanksgiving, all the people that are present answer with the acclamation, ‘Amen.’” This Hebrew word has been taken into many languages. It means “So be it,” or “I agree,” or “This is the truth.”

So, at this point in the Mass, at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, to what are we saying, “Amen?” This takes us back to the words spoken, or preferably sung, by the priest which elicits this Amen: “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, forever and ever.” 

The “him” refers to Jesus. It is through Jesus that we have been able to honor God. But that is not all. He is not out there on his own with all of us watching. Rather, we are also with Jesus in giving glory to God. And this is not merely a matter of us standing alongside him. No, we are in Jesus. We are one with Jesus in this great act of worship of God. All that has been happening during the Mass has been the work of Jesus Christ and the renewal of his sacrifice to the Father and we have been in him all along the way. It is that to which we acclaim, “Amen.”

We are only able to make such a bold statement and agree to it so forcefully because we are in the unity of the Holy Spirit, united as the body of Christ, the Church, joined together. And our unity is not just to respond to this prayer of the priest. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that all throughout this Mass we have been members of that body of Christ, acting as one in our worship of the Father. St. Augustine, in speaking about our saying Amen when receiving Communion, notes: “Be then a member of the body of Christ that your Amen may be true.” (CCC 1396)

The Book of Revelation records a vision of a huge and diverse crowd before the throne of God, and joining the angels, they acclaimed, “Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Perhaps, this is a reminder that our Amen is always proclaimed in union with all God’s servants all over the world and throughout all of time, by the living and the dead, by angels and saints. We may be only fully aware of the people sitting around us in Church as we proclaim our assent to what has been happening during the Mass and our own Amen may come out rather perfunctorily. Nonetheless, this is a challenge to all of us to mean what we say.

Finally, it is reported that Jerome once said that the Amen in the Roman basilicas reverberated like a heavenly thunder. That was no whimper, and neither should our Amen be.

Bishop Earl Boyea is the fifth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.