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Abraham in the Catholic liturgy

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Abraham figures prominently in Catholic liturgy. Of all the names of the Old Testament used in the liturgies of the Roman Rite, a special prominence accrues to those of Abel, Melchisedech, and 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. Abraham's name occurs so often and in such a variety of connections as to give him, among Old Testament figures, a position of eminence in the liturgy, perhaps surpassed by David alone.

Roman Martyrology (Martyrologium Romanum)

  • Abraham is commemorated on 9 October: "Commemoratio sancti Abrahae, patriarchae et omnium credentium patris, qui, Domino vocante, ab urbe Ur Chaldaeorum, patria sua, egressus est et per terram erravit eidem et semini eius a Deo promissam. Item totam fidem sua in Deo manifestavit, cum, sperans contra spem, unigenitum Isaac et iam seni a Domino datum ex uxore sterili in sacrificium offerre non renuit"[1] (The commemoration of Holy Abraham the patriarch and father of all believers, who at the Lord's call left Ur of the Chaldees, his homeland, and became a wanderer in the land that God promised to him and his descendants. He also showed complete faith in God when, hoping against hope, he did not refuse to offer in sacrifice his only son Isaac, whom the Lord had granted him when he was already old and his wife was sterile). As thus revised in the twentieth century, the Roman Martyrology provides a much more complete picture of Abraham than it did when it limited itself to saying only: "Eodem die memoria S. Abrahae Patriarchae et omnium credentium Patris."

Roman Ritual (Rituale Romanum)

  • In the Commendation of the Dying, "Abraham, our father in faith" and "David, leader of God's people" are the only two names from the Old Testament mentioned in the special litany.[2] An earlier form of the rite mentions Abel instead of David. In a prayer of commendation that follows, eight Old Testament names are mentioned, including the invocation "Deliver your servant, Lord, as you delivered Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees."[3]
  • The Rite of Funerals includes the prayer: "Almighty Father, eternal God, hear our prayers for your son (daughter) N. whom you have called from this life to yourself. Grant him (her) light, happiness, and peace. Let him (her) pass in safety through the gates of death, and live for ever with all your saints in the light you promised Abraham and to his descendants in faith ...";[4] and the responsory for singing while the body is sprinkled with holy water and incense includes the words: "May Christ, who called you, take you to himself; may angels lead you to Abraham's side."[5]
  • In the Order for the Blessing of Travellers, one of the readings proposed is the account in Genesis 12:1-9 of Abraham's response to God's call, "Go forth to a land I will show you";[6] and the prayer of blessing to be said by a priest or deacon who is to accompany the travellers begins: "All-powerful and ever-living God, when Abraham left his own land and departed from his own people, you kept him safe all through his journey ..."[7]

Liturgy of the Hours (Liturgia Horarum)

  • In the Tridentine Roman Breviary the readings from the Genesis, that contain the formal narrative of Abraham begin on Quinquagesima Sunday with the call of Abraham, continue next day with the account of the separation of Abraham from his nephew Lot, and end with the sacrifice of Melchisedech on Shrove Tuesday, a total of three days. In the two-year cycle of readings proposed for the modern Liturgy of the Hours, the narrative of Abraham takes up twelve days (Wednesday of week 2 to Saturday of week 3 on the even-numbered years).
  • Every day the Liturgy of the Hours mentions Abraham in the Magnificat (last verse: "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"). He is mentioned in the Psalter in Psalms 46 (47):10 and 104 (105):6, 9, 42. And since he is mentioned in 71 verses of the New Testament alone (41 of them outside the Gospels), his name appears also many times in other parts of the Liturgy of the Hours, especially since in 1970 "a more ample selection from the treasury of God's word" is included in the Liturgy of the Hours.[8] Abraham is also mentioned in the antiphon to the Magnificat of Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent, with reference to the Gospel of that day, which contains Jesus' declaration: "Before Abraham was, I am." In the Tridentine Missal this Gospel was read on the fifth Sunday of Lent, which until 1960 was called "Passion Sunday" and the corresponding Magnificat antiphon was used on that day in the Roman Breviary.

Roman Missal (Missale Romanum)

  • Mention has already been made of the prayer in the Canon of the Mass, when the priest, referring to "the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation", prays: "Be pleased to look upon them with serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim." The idea of sacrifice is common to Western and Eastern 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, an element used for classifying liturgies.
  • The second (in the pre-1950s Missal the third) of the Old Testament readings of the Easter Vigil between the lighting of the Paschal Candle and the Blessing of the Font recounts the sacrifice of Isaac imposed upon Abraham (bibleverse||Genesis|22:1-19). Before the early 1950s, the priest read this lesson quietly for himself (as he did for all chants and readings at Mass executed by others, with the sole exception of the Gospel) while it was being chanted for the people, a practice that Pope Pius XII eliminated. The dramatic incidents in this passage of Scripture must have impressed early Christian catechumens deeply, as they are represented on the walls of catacombs and on sarcophagi. The following prayer begins: "God and Father of all who believe in you, you promised Abraham that he would become the father of all nations, and through the death and resurrection of Christ you fulfil that promise ...".
  • Until it was removed by Pope Pius XII, another lesson (then the fourth) was followed by the prayer: "O God, grant that the fulness of the whole world may pass over to the children of Abraham...".
  • There are now dozens of Scripture readings at Mass that mention Abraham. In the Tridentine Missal they were fewer, but they included the already mentioned John 8:46-59 and also Galatians 3:16-22.

Abraham is referred to also explicitly (e.g. "May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, be with you") or implicitly (e.g. In figuris praesignatur, cum Isaac immolatur in the Sequence of Corpus Christi) in various other liturgical texts within the Missal.

Roman Pontifical (Pontificale Romanum)

  • In one of the Prefaces of the Consecration of an altar, the bishop says: "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 and exorcisms.


  1. Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  2. Pastoral Care of the Sick, 219
  3. Pastoral Care of the Sick, 220
  4. Rite of Funerals, 167
  5. Rite of Funerals, 47
  6. Book of Blessings, 440
  7. Book of Blessings, 446
  8. Apostolic Constitution Laudis canticum

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