The Roman Canon: By the Hands of Your Holy Angel

Angel sculpture from the Ponte Sant'Angelo, Rome. By Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Angel sculpture from the Ponte Sant’Angelo, Rome.
By Gian Lorenzo Bernini

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but at this time of year, we’ve been hearing a lot from the Book of Revelations.  It’s one of my favorite books of the New Testament.  There is so much interesting and bizarre imagery and visions that it holds our attention pretty well!  There are things covered with eyes and horns, people holding trumpets, horsemen of the apocalypse – all things you probably wouldn’t want to run into as you’re leaving Mass on Sunday.  I remember when I was in grade school, we used to bring our Bibles to our penance services so we could read the weird stories when we were finished with confession, almost like a comic book.

The next part of the Eucharistic Prayer that I want to focus on sort of mimics that.  The priest bows and says:

In humble prayers we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy body and blood of your son may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.

As he finishes, he makes the Sign of the Cross.  Of all the parts of EPI, this probably stands out because of the behavior that accompanies it.  In some ways, it might make us think of a scene out of Revelation, with an angel standing before the golden altar in heaven, incensing and raising our prayers to God (Rev. 8:3-4).  But if we’re thinking of it like I used to in grade school, like a comic book, we can tend to simply observe what’s going on as if from a distance.

But the Mass, and especially this part of the Mass, isn’t about observing, it’s about participating, as the prayer mentions.  When I say participation, yes, I mean praying the words aloud (just pretend if you have to, for me!), and yes, I mean singing with the community, and yes, I mean trying to pay attention and not let our minds wander.  But in this passage, the participate referenced is more than that – it’s an offering.

The music and the homily and all the other things that we might normally consider participation are important, and hopefully they help us participate, but the most important part of participation is what we offer from our hearts.  The musicians and lectors do their part, but the hard work is up to us!  What are we bringing to place before the altar?  What are we entrusting into the hands of that holy angel to be offered to God?  Let’s do our best to offer a joyful and thankful heart, so that we “may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing!”


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