Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback
Background Image

Abraham (in Liturgy)

Mentions of Abraham in the pre-Vatican II liturgy

Click to enlarge

Abraham (in LITURGY).—While of peculiar interest to the liturgiologist (especially in the classification of the liturgies of the East and of the West, as is noted below under Missal), the inclusion of noted names of the Old Testament in the liturgies of Christian Churches must be a subject of sufficiently general interest to warrant some brief notice here. Of all the names thus used, a special prominence accrues to those of Abel, Melchisedech, Abraham, through their association with the idea of sacrifice and their employment in this connection in the most solemn part of the Canon of the Mass in the Roman rite. The inclusion in the Litany for the Dying (Roman Ritual) of only two (Abel and Abraham) out of all the great names of the Old Testament must give these a special prominence in the eyes of the faithful; but of these two, again, the name of Abraham occurs so often and in such a variety of connections, as to make his position in the liturgy one of very decided preeminence. Of first interest will be the present use of the word Abraham in the Roman liturgy:

I. MARTYROLOGY. (9th October): “Eodem die memoria S. Abrahae Patriarchffi et omnium credentium Patris” (The same day, the memory of S. Abraham, Patriarch and Father of all believers).

II. RITUAL. (a) In the Ordo commendationis animae (Recommendation of a soul departing), the brief litany includes but two names from the Old Testament, that of the Baptist belonging to the New Testament:

Holy Mary,
All ye holy Angels and Archangels,
Holy Abel,
Bigg ceil
All ye choirs of the just,  ig angle Pray for him.
Holy Abraham,
St. John Baptist,
St. Joseph,
Bigg floor

In the Libera (Deliver, etc.), which follows shortly after, many names of the Old Testament are mentioned, including Abraham, but omitting Abel: “Deliver… as thou didst deliver Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans”. (b) Benedictio peregrinorum (Blessing of pilgrims etc.). The second prayer reads: “O God, who didst guide Abraham safely through all the ways of his journey from Ur of the Chaldeans….”

III. BREVIARY. (a) On Septuagesima Sunday the lessons from Scripture begin with the first verse of Genesis, and the formal narrative of Abraham begins with Quinquagesima Sunday, the lessons ending on Shrove Tuesday with the sacrifice of Melchisedech. (b) The antiphon to the Magnificat on Passion Sunday is: “Abraham your father rejoiced…” (John, viii, 56). Again, the first antiphon of the second nocturn of the Common of Apostles reads: “The princes of the people are gathered together with the God of Abraham“. The occurrence of the name in the last verse of the Magnificat itself: “As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever”, and in the Benedictus (sixth verse): “The oath which he swore to Abraham our father…” make the name of daily occurrence in the Divine Office, as these two Canticles are sung daily—the former at Vespers, the latter at Lauds. In the Psaltery, also, recited during every week, the name occurs in Pss., xlvi, 10; civ, 9, 42. See also the third strophe of the hymn Quicumque Christum quaeritis (Vespers of Transfiguration D.N.J.C. and various Lessons in the Nocturns, e.g. Feria 3a infra Hebd. vi p. Pent., Feria 3a infra oct. Corp. Christi, 2d nocturn).

IV. MISSAL. (a) The third of the twelve lessons called “Prophecies” read on Holy Saturday between the lighting of the Paschal Candle and the Blessing of the Font deals wholly with the sacrifice of Isaac imposed upon Abraham. The lesson (Gen., xxii, 1-19) is, like the others, not only read quietly by the priest at the altar, but also chanted in a loud voice simultaneously by a cleric. The dramatic incidents thus rehearsed must have impressed the catechumens deeply, as is evidenced by the reproduction of the incidents on the walls of catacombs and on sarcophagi. The lesson is followed by a prayer: “O God, the supreme Father of the faithful, who throughout the world didst multiply the children of thy promise… and by the paschal mystery dost make Abraham thy servant the father of all nations….” (b) Again, in the prayer after the fourth lesson: “O God, grant that the fullness of the whole world may pass over to the children of Abraham….” (c) The Epistle of the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: “To Abraham were the promises made…. But God gave it to Abraham by promise….” (Gal., iii, 16-22). (d) Offertory of the Mass for the Dead: “O Lord… may the holy standard-bearer Michael introduce them to the holy light which Thou didst promise of old to Abraham….” (e) In the Nuptial Mass, the blessing reads: “May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, be with you…” (f) Of greater interest than anything thus far cited is the prayer in the Canon of the Mass, when the priest extends his hands over the Consecrated Species: “Upon which do Thou vouchsafe to look… and accept them, as Thou didst vouchsafe to accept the gift of Thy just servant Abel, and the sacrifice of our Patriarch Abraham….” Here the Canon insists on the idea of sacrifice, a fact common to Western liturgies, while those of the East, except the Maronite, omit in their epicleses all reference to the typic sacrifices of the Old Testament, and appear concerned with impressing the faithful with the idea rather of sacrament and communion. This is esteemed a fact of capital importance towards a classification of the liturgies. (g) In the Sequence of Corpus Christi, while Abraham is not named, his sacrifice (unbloody, like that of the altar) is commemorated in the lines:

In figuris praesignatur,
Cum Isaac immolatur….

V. PONTIFICAL. In one of the Prefaces of the Consecration of an altar we read: “May it have as much grace with Thee as that which Abraham, the father of faith, built when about to sacrifice his son as a figure of our redemption…” Again, in the Blessing of a Cemetery (third Prayer) and in connection with Isaac and Jacob (sixth Prayer). Finally, in two of the Prayers for the Blessing and Coronation of a King. The exalted position of Abraham in Sacred History, and the frequent use of his name in invocations etc. in the Old Testament (e.g. Gen., xxviii, 13; xxxii, 9; xlviii, 15, 16; Exod., iii, 6, 15, 16; iv, 5; Tob., vii, 15 etc.), and the continued use thereof by the early Christians (Acts, iii, 13; vii, 32) made his name of frequent occurrence in prayers, exorcisms and even amongst Pagans, ignorant of the significance of the formula “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob” etc., in magical rites and incantations, as Origen testifies.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!