Sunday, May 07, 2006

The dope on tropes


It's almost impossible to find a new, English-language setting for the Mass that doesn't have a series of tropes for the Agnus Dei.

Agnus Dei, for you non-Catholics, is Latin for "Lamb of God." At the end of the liturgical prayers, before the distribution of Communion, we sing/pray: "Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace."

Well, these modern settings -- Marty Haugen's Mass of Creation, Christopher Walker's Celtic Mass, for instance, just to name two (and both of which, by the way, sound so perky and 60s Rock Opera that I'm not sure how they wound up in a Mass instead of on a stage somewhere)-- offer a series of "verses," presumably to keep the faithful occupied while all the hordes of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (NOT "Eucharistic Ministers!") are piling forward and being served Communion themselves:

Lamb of God...
Bread of Heaven...
Tree of Life...
Prince of Peace...

The problem with these tropes, as they are called (a literary device, words conveying imagery, subsituting for the literal thing they are depicting) is that they competely detract from what is going on in the Mass at that point in time.

We have observed the Birth of Christ on the altar with the Consecration; now we are at Calvary. The common misconception is that we Catholics attempt to re-sacrifice Christ at every Mass; perhaps it is better to think of this moment in the Mass as a bringing out of eternity (kyros) and into our own time (chronos) the once-for-all Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Here we, through the Mass, are transported to that moment when the spotless Lamb of God was lifted up for my sins, and yours, those of the whole world, prefigured from the earliest pages of Scripture, through Abel's sacrifice, the ram that took the place of Abraham's beloved son Isaac on the altar, to the Passover Lamb... in the New Testament John the Baptist identified Jesus as "The Lamb of God" (see image above) and finally to the cry of the Church in Heaven in the Book of Revelations, "Lamb of God!"

The Latin, therefore, is restricted to identifying Him with the words consistent with the Scriptures: "Lamb of God!" Not, you will observe, "panis caelestis" or "arbor vitae," but "agnus Dei" -- Lamb of God. It is through the gory shedding of His blood that we have hope of salvation, forgiveness from sins, victory over sin and death. Only the image of the Lamb is acceptable here.

My first happy act as the new Music Director of Our Lady of the Americas Catholic Church has been to abolish the use of those distracting tropes and to begin a return to our full recognition of Christ as the Spotless Lamb of God.

Pray for me and my new parish.

2 comments:

Angela Messenger said...

As usual your description of the Mass leaves me breathless!

Chris said...

The parish I attend uses the straight "Lamb of God" but regular parish in town, mine is a university parish, uses tropes. It is distracting when I find myself having to attend Mass there. I spend more time trying to figure out what they are going to sing next than actually paying attention to what is happening at the alter.

p.s. PoC from DFC forum.