New USCCB Document Highlights Biblical Quotations in the Mass

The Catholic Mass draws heavily from Scripture—in every prayer you hear quotations and allusions to biblical texts. In fact, last year I did a series of presentations now available through Saint Joseph Communications here (shameless plug!) exploring the biblical backdrop for the prayers of the Mass. 

Now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has put out a footnoted version of the prayers of the new translation of the liturgy, alerting you to the Biblical background of each of the prayers.

Some examples:

  • The response: “The Lord be with you”

    • “Soon, along came Boaz from Bethlehem and said to the harvesters, „The LORD be with you,‟ and they replied, „The LORD bless you‟” (Ruth 2:4).
  • The Confiteor: “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters,
    that I have greatly sinned. . .”

    • “Then David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly in doing this thing’” (1 Chr 21:8).
  • The introduction of the “Lord, have mercy” (Kyrie): “You were sent to heal
    the contrite of heart. . .”

    • “[The LORD] heals the brokenhearted; he binds up all their wounds” (Ps 147:3); “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners” (Is 61:1).
  • The “Mystery of Faith”: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your
    Resurrection until you come again.”

    • “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

You can check the whole thing out here. Suffice it say, this document is extremely helpful and I am grateful for it.

At the same time, one must admit that this resource is not totally complete or exhaustive. In fact, some rather important references have been surprisingly neglected. For example, the reference in the Creed to Jesus being seated at “the right hand of the Father” is clearly a reference to Psalm 110, which in the New Testament is applied to Jesus’ ascension into heaven (e.g., Acts 2:34). Indeed, this allusion in the Creed is recognized by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see n. 535 to paragraph no. 659).

In fact, as I read this I noticed that the footnotes repeatedly ignore biblical passages cited by the Catechism in connection with the prayers of the Mass. The inescapable conclusion is that whoever put this together (1) is not a Scripture scholar (e.g., any scholar would immediately catch the allusion in the Creed to Ps 110—it is one of the frequently cited passages in all of the New Testament!) and (2) is not all that familiar with the Catechism. The latter element is rather surprising. One would expect that this document—which is extremely helpful to Catechesis—would have been put together in consultation with people who know both Scripture and the Catechism. 

Nonetheless, despite its weaknesses, this is a very good start. Whoever put it together has done the Church a great service. It is vitally important that Catholics understand the biblical basis for the prayers of the Mass and for too long a systematic review has been absent in Catholic catechesis.

This document is an extremely valuable and important resource. I am sure that I will make use of it over and over again in the future. Many thanks to the USCCB for it.