The Catholic Mass is clearly addressed to God the Father. As the first or Roman canon solemnly proclaims, “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your son, our Lord.” The other assorted canons all follow this worthy lead of focusing the undivided attention of both priest and people on the heavenly Father. The familiar second canon again affirms this fitting concentration of the assembled faithful on God above: “Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ at whose command we celebrate these mysteries.” This rubric of heeding the Father first of all during Mass needs occasionally to be recalled since, now that Mass is offered around an altar rather than merely at an altar, the priest celebrant might feel compelled to make continued eye-contact with the assembled congregation throughout the whole Mass.
There are times during Mass when both rubrics and logic indicate that a celebrant should be squarely “facing the people.” But this rubric confirms that otherwise the celebrant has been facing God present there in the midst of the community. During Mass God must always be central both to the priest’s mind as well as to his senses. Alas, excessive eye-contact with the congregation was quite common in the 1960s and 70s as celebrants adapted to the liturgical adjustments of Vatican II. Such attempts at inclusiveness were understandable and well-intentioned but frankly were often a distraction since the community’s minds and hearts should be likewise focused not on the priest but on God present and active within the assembly.
Towards the beginning, the middle and the end of the celebration of Mass, priest and people are invited to join their hearts and minds together in three petitions, usually to God the Father, labelled collect prayers. The English word “collect” comes from the Latin word “collecta” meaning “gathered.” Hence these are prayers in which the intentions of the whole gathered community are presented to God. The first collect is offered at the beginning of Mass just before the service of the Word. The second collect is prayed after the bread and wine have been prepared as suitable gifts before the sacrifice, just before the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. The final collect is heard concluding the Communion Rite just before the final blessing ending Mass. The first collect recently received some surprised attention when an extra word, not found in the authoritative Latin edition of the Roman Catholic Mass, was discovered in English missals.
By an ancient tradition, the collect prayers are usually addressed to God the Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. Hence the first collect prayer might end: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.” The second and third collect prayers usually end simply with “Through Christ, our Lord.” The people affirm these collect prayers with a resounding, “Amen!” When the liturgy passed from Latin into English over fifty years ago, the word “one” was inexplicably inserted before the word “God” in the first collect. So the collect concluded: “…one God, forever and ever.” No other linguistic translation was found with this error. Roman liturgical authorities therefore decreed that henceforth Masses offered in English should omit the word “one” and adhere to the ancient formula in which the word “God” stands alone. A recent editorial in the R.I. Catholic made note of this modification.
Although long forgotten, except by Church historians, the first centuries of the Christian church were beset by the Arian heresy which understood Jesus to be an exceptional creature but not a Divine being. Some in the ancient world considered Christ to be a demi-god, fashioned by God the Father to do his bidding. This heresy was quite widespread and pestered the Church for centuries. In opposition to any traces of Arianism that might have endured in the Church, the solemn word “God” was inserted at the conclusion of the Church’s official prayers boldly attesting to the Divinity of Christ. The word “God,” standing alone without any modifiers, is a verbal, and in this case oral, act of faith in the Divine Nature of Jesus Christ.
Each Divine Person’s role in responding to prayer might be understood differently — “to” the Father, “through” the Son, and “in” the Spirit — but their share in the Divine Nature is unquestioned. Each is God, no hesitation there. Both in her theology and in her liturgy, the Church professes that all three Persons possess fully and equally the same Divine nature. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. Still there is only one God. Blessed be the Holy and Undivided Trinity!