For the three years that I served as Bishop Paprocki’s Master of Ceremonies, I joined him for many Confirmations around the diocese. He and I met with the candidates for Confirmation each time before the Mass. Among other things, Bishop Paprocki would talk to the young people about what to do when receiving Confirmation. He explained that as he applied the Sacred Chrism to their foreheads, he would say: “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” He would then ask them if they knew how to respond, which many did by shouting out “Amen!” He would then go on to explain what that word means, that it is a word of assent, basically meaning “I believe, it is true, so be it.”
I always appreciated this brief moment in Bishop’s talk to the children because having an understanding of what this simple, but powerful, word means is very important. We say Amen all the time, and as a result of that, it can become a little mechanical without our taking time to really consider the significance of what we are saying.
In the first section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which deals with the articles of the Creed, the very final few paragraphs deal with the final word of the Creed, which is Amen. Here are a few of the main points made by the Catechism:
The Creed, like the last book of the Bible, ends with the Hebrew word amen. This word frequently concludes prayers in the New Testament. The Church likewise ends her prayers with “Amen.” (CCC 1061)
In Hebrew, amen comes from the same root as the word “believe.” This root expresses solidity, trustworthiness, faithfulness. And so we can understand why “Amen” may express both God’s faithfulness towards us and our trust in him. (CCC 1062)
Think about our saying Amen when we receive Holy Communion. The priest, deacon, or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion says to us: “The Body of Christ”, to which we respond: “Amen.” Over my nearly 12 years as a priest, I have distributed communion to thousands of people, and it throws me off when I do not get the expected response. Sometimes there is no response, sometimes there is an alternate response. Is that permissible? Here is what the General Instruction for the Roman Missal says:
the Priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, The Body of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed, in the hand, the choice lying with the communicant. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes the whole of it. (GIRM, 161)
This makes it clear that there is to be a response, and that the only acceptable response is say “Amen”. With that knowledge, we can now all be in communion with what the Church asks of us, and to respond as she asks is a sign of humility and obedience, two virtues that the Lord loves to see in us!
Assuming grace, we can conclude that some have never been given those instructions, but anybody who has now read this article knows and can share it with others as well. Just know this is not meant to call anybody out, for those who make a different response may be making a more intentional response than just an automatic response without any thought to what Amen means. Regardless, all of us stand to benefit from examining how we respond each time we approach the Eucharist, saying with great faith and devotion: Amen!