I remember following along in the missalette during Mass as a layman, and whenever the Roman Canon (the first Eucharistic Prayer) was used, wondering why there were words in red brackets that no priest (!) ever read: [Through Christ our Lord. Amen.]
Was there some rule written someplace, that these words were always to be omitted? If so, then why print them?
The answer is “no“; the red brackets signify that the words are optional. At some point, probably a few years after ordination, I started including the bracketed words pretty much every time I used the Roman Canon. It seemed right and most in continuity with our Catholic tradition. I wonder if any other priests do so while celebrating the Novus Ordo?
I suppose the words are in brackets because, on the one hand, the liturgical reformers may have been bashful about doing too much violence to this prayer, which is the oldest of our Eucharistic Prayers, having sanctified generations of Catholics for well over 1,000 years. Rather than completely cut some things out of it, then, they put in the brackets to make them optional. The outcome, of course, was that they came to be completely omitted in most places. That is — if this prayer was even used anymore (in many parishes it has not been heard for years!).
On the other hand, it seems that on the part of the reformers, there was a sense that this particular phrase was an interruption in the larger prayer. That is an understandable concern. I do not like the mentality that then says that we might be free to alter something used by the Church for so long. This is indeed the “hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity” of which Pope Benedict XVI spoke. But the sentiment is understandable.
The great liturgical scholar, Josef Jungmann, saw these conclusions as ways of dividing up the principle sections of the larger prayer: “Our intercessory prayers and commendations, like all our prayers, should be offered up only ‘through Christ our Lord.’… Like a sign-post marking the line of our prayer, the formula is found today after successive stages all through the canon.” (Missarum Sollemnia [The Mass of the Roman Rite], vol. II, p. 178)
Indeed, the Roman Canon covers a lot of territory and is a long prayer. Having occasional conclusions with pauses is a good way to keep our prayer focused and orderly. It also makes it into a sort of litany, for in the Preface prayer that precedes the Sanctus and the Canon, we start everything off “through Christ our Lord” (e.g., “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord…“). We also end the Canon that way: “Through Him (Christ), with Him, and in Him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit…”. Thus we conclude each major section of our prayer through Christ also, continually pleading to the Father through his Son.
As I wrote recently, when options are presented in the newer form of the Mass, I think it’s best to choose what is most in line or in continuity with our tradition. These prayer conclusions remain as obligatory in the older form — the Traditional Latin Mass or Extraordinary Form. They have been spoken in the Eucharistic Prayer or Canon since at least the 9th century in some places, and since about he 11th century pretty much everywhere (cf. Jungmann, p. 179). Who are we to declare them optional now? That’s a good question any priest can ask when evaluating options: “Who am I? What did my forefathers in the faith do?”
It seemed good to write this post because if I had the above doubt when I was a layman in the pew, I am sure that others have had it and have it still now. And so that, perhaps, some priests might take up the practice of including these words in each place where they are now listed as optional. It is important to remember that, in the Novus Ordo, the Roman Canon “may always be used” and is especially indicated for Sundays and certain feasts. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 365a)