The Collect or Opening Prayer

The Collect or Opening Prayer follows the Kyrie litany and the Gloria. Its origin and the authorship of the varying prayers are not always clear.  St. Justin Martyr (100 AD or so to 165 AD) gives an account of the liturgy that begins immediately with the readings, lacking any such opening prayer. It appears that the Collects begin as prayers said at various stations prior to the liturgy, as at the tombs of martyrs. The first official Collects may have been composed by Pope Damasus (366 AD to 384 AD). By the time of the Leonine Sacramentary (used from the fourth to the seventh centuries) the Collects were complemented with three other prayers: the Prayer over the Gifts, the Prayer after Communion and the Prayer over the People.  The Collects allude to the liturgical season or a particular occasion or a given feast or sanctoral memorial.

The fundamental role of the priest is to function as an instrument for Christ in the forgiveness of sins. While we may bring many intentions to Mass, the greatest need that we lay before the Lord is for his mercy.  We can already see why the Confiteor and Kyrie should have themselves inserted into the ritual.  They spell out what the priest collects from the many to offer in his one prayer to the heavenly Father. We are called to have both a personal and a communal faith within the unity of the Church.  The priest is not excluded, for the peace he extends to the congregation they return to him.  This is one of the reasons why certain liturgists wanted the sign of peace repositioned at an early point in the liturgy. The peace of Christ always symbolizes unity and solidarity.  Akin to the sign of peace or the kiss of peace, the priest also kisses the altar.  The altar table is a profound symbol of Christ and his redemptive sacrifice. 

Before the Collect, the celebrant says, “Let us pray . . . .” After the prayer, the people respond, “Amen.” They affirm the priestly prayer.  At one time in its history, the deacon would intervene and direct the congregation to kneel in prayer and later to rise. Today, the priest may pause for congregants to silently make their private prayer intentions but often he moves quickly to the Collect where he gathers them into a common petition. Ideally, the congregants should have already formulated their prayer intentions before Mass.  The typical Roman Collect is succinct or brief. By contrast, a number of the modern Collects for American saints tend to be wordy— a point of humor for certain liturgists when speaking about our verbosity. The Collects are structurally addressed to God the Father and usually include a dependent clause prior to the petition.  Here are two examples:


Almighty and ever-living God,
who as an example of humility for the human race to follow
caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross,
graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering
and so merit a share in his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever. R/. Amen.


O God, who on this day,
through your Only Begotten Son,
have conquered death
and unlocked for us the path to eternity,
grant, we pray, that we who keep
the solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection
may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit,
rise up in the light of life.
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. R/. Amen.

Historically while Collects are almost always addressed to God the Father, there were a few Collects addressed to God the Son, as on Corpus Christi; however such would be the exception.  No Collects are directed to the Holy Spirit.  The Collect is also employed in the Liturgy of the Hours as the prayer of the day. While some Catholic authorities would argue that the Eastern rites and the Orthodox churches have nothing that directly corresponds to our Collects; they themselves would point out their Synapté or Synaptai (plural).  These are supplication prayers that form a litany.

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Gloria (Glory to God)

The Gloria began its life as a “private psalm” or Greek metrical hymn composed in the early Church. It was modeled on the biblical psalms. The hymn is initiated with the angels announcing Christ’s birth to shepherds (Luke 2:14). Pope Telesphorus who reigned from 126 AD to 137 AD purportedly used the hymn at Christmas Mass. Tradition has it that St. Hilary of Poitiers (310 AD to 367 AD) played a role in introducing the hymn to the West through his translation of the “Laudamus te” text of the Gloria. Scholars track its mention to a treatise on holy virginity by St. Athanasius (293 AD to 373 AD) where it is referenced as part of Morning Prayer and in the Alexandrian Codex of the fifth century. It appears again as a morning prayer in the Apostolic Constitutions7:47: 

“(Glory be to God in the highest, and upon earth peace and good-will among men. We praise You, we sing hymns to You, we bless You; we glorify You, we worship You by Your great High Priest; You who are the true God, who are the One Unbegotten, the only inaccessible Being. For Your great glory, O Lord and heavenly King, O God the Father Almighty, O Lord God, who takes away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. You who sits at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us, for You only are holy; You only are Christ, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.) The Father of Christ, the immaculate Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world, receive our prayer, You who sits upon the cherubim. For You alone are holy, You alone are the Lord Jesus, the Christ of the God of all created nature, and our King, by whom glory, honor, and worship be to You.”

The Apostolic Constitutions is a work compiled between 375 AD and 390 AD. Pope Symmachus (498 AD to 514 AD) extended the use of the Gloria to bishops on Sundays and for the commemoration of martyrs. The early forms of the hymn varied greatly. While not mentioned in the Gelasian Sacramentary, it is referenced in the Gregorian Sacramentary. Ascribed to Pope Gelasius I (492 AD to 496 AD), the former liturgical book was likely written between the sixth and eighth centuries. The Gregorian book was written in three stages between 590 AD and 638 AD). Around the seventh century, the Gloria would replace the older Trisagion in the defunct Galilean rite as well as in the Milanese (Ambrosian) and Mozarabic (Hispanic).  The Eastern rites would not employ the Gloria.  While the invocation “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us,” occurs in all Eastern liturgies, it is familiar to Catholics as part of the Divine Mercy devotion. Liturgically it is sung on Good Friday as one of the reproaches and is used in the Liturgy of the Hours during Lent and Advent. The Trisagion finds mention in the acts of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD). It is commonly used throughout the Church by the eleventh century.

The Gloria as we know it becomes a hymn to the Trinity:

To the Father—

Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to people of good will.

We praise you, we bless you,

we adore you, we glorify you.

We give you thanks for your great glory,

Lord God, heavenly King,

O God, almighty Father.

To the Son—

Lord Jesus Christ, only Begotten Son,

Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,

You take away the sins of the world

have mercy on us;

You take away the sins of the world,

receive our prayer;

You are seated at the right hand of the Father:  have mercy on us.

For you alone are the Holy One,

You alone are the Lord,

You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ,

To the Holy Spirit—

With the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Note that mention of the Holy Spirit is curt as if it were a last minute addition. This has been a perennial issue in the West that while heightened attention is given to the first and second Persons of the Trinity, the third Person (while mentioned) is largely neglected by comparison. However, the Church would insist that the three Persons are co-equal in the godhead.   

Sometimes called the Greater Doxology or the Angelic Hymn, it is recited or sung at Mass on Sundays outside of Lent and Advent, as well as during the octaves of Christmas and Easter and certain solemnities. There is a structural connection between the Kyrie and the Gloria.

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Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy)

Going back in time, while the Church of Jerusalem logically offered the Eucharist and the prayers of the Church in Hebrew and Aramaic, the Church of the Diaspora Jews and the Gentile converts celebrated their liturgies in Greek.  When the faith came to Rome there was a transition to the language of the empire, Latin.  A few Mass parts betray this linguistic history, as with the “Alleluia” being a transliteration of the Hebrew, “Glory to the Lord!” and the Greek, “Kyrie eleison,” meaning “Lord have mercy.” Having said this, there is no evidence that the “Lord Have Mercy” was part of the Mass in the West prior to the fourth century. It has definite biblical roots and likely spread to the West from its use in Antioch and Jerusalem. St. John Chrysostom (347 AD to 407 AD) who came from Antioch often used the expression. Tagged as a response to the litanies of Antioch, it becomes the first prayer of the Mass.

Pope Gregory I (590 AD to 604 AD) found himself frequently challenged for borrowing elements from the East. He defended his use of the Kyrie, distinguishing it from the practice of the Greeks with the added assertion, “Christe eleison,” or “Christ have mercy.” We can conclude that as a fragment of a litany, the focus moved from any petition to the words, themselves. It was introduced to Rome about the year 500 AD. The number of recitations became fixed, first as nine with sets of three and today with just the three petitions themselves, “Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy.” Over time this prayer of the Church would know accretions, notably the following:

  • Lord, unbegotten King and Father, the true essence of the godhead, have mercy on us.
  • Lord, source of Light and Creator of all things, have mercy on us.
  • Lord, you who have signed us with the seal of your image, have mercy on us.
  • Christ, true God and true Man, have mercy on us.
  • Christ, Rising Light, through which are all things, have mercy on us.
  • Christ, Perfection of Wisdom, have mercy on us.
  • Lord, life-giving Spirit and power of Life, have mercy on us.
  • Lord, Breath of both (the Father and the Son), in whom are all things, have mercy on us.
  • Lord, Purifier of Sin and Giver of Grace, we beseech you not to forsake us because of our offenses, O Comforter of the afflicted soul, have mercy on us.

While the Church would add tropes to the nine acclamations, they would be abolished by Pope Pius V. However, new ones are restored as an option with the Missal of Pope Paul VI (promulgated April 3, 1969): 

You were sent to heal the contrite of heart: Lord, have mercy.

You came to call sinners: Christ, have mercy.

You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us: Lord, have mercy.

The tropes amplify their penitential nature.

There is an absolution prayer that either comes between the Confiteor and Kyrie or if the Confiteor is omitted, after the Kyrie. It is a plea for mercy toward those who are still properly disposed— the forgiveness of venial sins. Originally it was associated with another prayer, the Indulgentiam, which was subtracted from the reformed Mass. Still found in the Tridentine liturgy, it is as follows: “May the Almighty and merciful God grant us + pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins.” Critics claimed not only that it was somewhat redundant, but that in translation it might be confused with the absolution from the sacrament of penance. What remains is the more tentative Misereatur prayer said by the priest:

May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.

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Confiteor (I Confess)

While the priests who celebrate Mass in the early Church may have made a personal confession of sinfulness or reflected upon their spiritual standing prior to celebrating Mass, it would be many centuries before any such prayer is formalized for the Western liturgy.  The first evidence of the Confiteor is in a quote by Bernold of Constance (died 1100 AD). This reckoning also includes the Misereatur and Indulgentiam prayers. It appears in the Ordo Romanus XIV in the fourteenth century.

The Confiteor is shorter in the reformed rite from that of the Tridentine Mass. Further, it is only said once and not separately by the priest and people.  It is sometimes omitted for an extended Kyrie. It is as follows:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, [striking the breast] through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

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Sign of the Cross & Greeting

The priest begins the Mass with the sign of the cross and a liturgical greeting. While there may follow a Confiteor, Kyrie and Gloria; it is the Collect that is organically connected to the greeting. The Collect would have him “collect” both the gathered people and their prayer intentions so as to bring them before God. The salutation is within the unity and peace of Christ.  The priest or bishop introduces himself to the congregation.  Next, in the Collect, the celebrant will present his congregants to the Lord.  There are a number of different greetings that can be employed after the sign of the cross:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord be with you. (used in Egypt)

(Bishops Only) Peace be with you. (used in all the Eastern rites)   

The response from the people in the pews is always the same,

And with your spirit.

The greeting, “Peace be with you,” is in the first Roman ordo and it introduces the Collect. Indeed, St. Augustine (354 AD to 430 AD) would attest to it. It is important to look at its source in John 20:19-23: 

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”

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The Introit (Entrance Antiphon) or Hymn

If the given antiphon is not used, as in many Masses with music, then the substituted hymn accompanies the procession. Weekday Masses frequently have the Introit recited, either by the congregation as the priest approaches the altar or by the priest after he has made the sign of the cross and extended the greeting. Given that the prayer book of the Jews becomes that of the early Christians, there can be no doubt that the psalms were employed for singing at the beginning of the liturgy. The text of the antiphon varies with the season and type of celebration. The Eastern rites by comparison do not include an Introit because there is no procession to the altar. Their ritual begins in the sanctuary. The Western rite ordinarily begins outside the sanctuary with a procession. The old ritual also included fixed prayers at the foot of the altar which arguably complemented the true variable Introit. Indeed, the old Judica Me prayer is currently the actual Introit for the Mass of the Fifth Sunday of Lent:

Give me justice, O God, and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless. From the deceitful and cunning rescue me, for you, O God, are my strength.

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The Structure of the Mass

The Mass is divided between two essential parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  (Formerly, the first part of the Mass was labeled the Mass of Catechumens given that the early Church would allow inquirers to be fed by the Word but not by the great mystery of the Eucharist. These potential converts were dismissed at the time of the offertory.)  There are a number of parishes that follow this pattern today, with the candidates and catechumens departing for continued instruction and prayer.  It is suspected that the reservation of the second half of the liturgy to baptized believers, once called the Mass of the Faithful, was why many who opposed the Church made up all sorts of horrendous stories about what Christians did at Mass, including allegations of cannibalism.  Those not initiated, as well as those who had excommunicated themselves through grievous sin, were cast out and could not take Holy Communion.

While we have newer Eucharistic prayers today, the Roman rite consists in a consistent outline of the Mass parts and certain essential prayers in the canon, regardless of the exact oration selected. 

Introductory Rites

  • Introit (Entrance  Antiphon /Hymn) & Kissing Altar
  • Sign of the Cross & Greeting
  • Confiteor & Kyrie Eleison & Absolution
  • Gloria (Glory to God)
  • Collect (Opening Prayer)

Liturgy of the Word

  • Reading(s)
  • Responsorial Psalm
  • Alleluia or Gospel Verse
  • Gospel
  • Homily
  • Creed (Profession of Faith)
  • Prayer of the Faithful

Preparation of the Gifts (Offertory)

  • Bringing Up the Offertory Gifts
  • Blessing of the Bread
  • Mixing Water into the Wine
  • Blessing of the Chalice
  • The Lavabo (The Washing)
  • The Orate Fratres (Pray Brethren)
  • Prayer over the Gifts

Liturgy of the Eucharist

  • Introductory Dialogue & Preface
  • Sanctus & Benedictus
  • Appeal to the Father or Plea for Acceptance
  • Epiclesis (Invocation of the Holy Spirit)
  • Consecration (Words of Institution)
  • Memorial Acclamation
  • Anamnesis (Memorial Prayer)
  • Oblation to the Father
  • Intercession of the Saints
  • Intercession for the Church & the Living
  • Intercession for the Dead
  • Closing Doxology & Amen

Rite of Holy Communion

  • Our Father, Deliver Us Prayer & Doxology
  • Sign of Peace
  • Fraction & Commingling
  • Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)
  • Secret Prayer for Priestly Worthiness
  • Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God)
  • Communion & Antiphon (Hymn)
  • Prayer after Communion

Concluding Rites

  • Final Blessing
  • Dismissal
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Comparing the Mass of the West with the East

While the origins of the Mass clearly go back to the Last Supper of Christ, the development of the liturgy does not become clear until the time of the Gelasian Sacramentary.  Once ascribed to Pope Gelasius I (492-496 AD), it is assembled between the sixth and the eighth centuries.  It is the oldest known Roman Missal. It presents the Roman Canon or First Eucharistic Prayer as we still know it. The trajectory of a rite clearly orchestrated by the papacy clearly begins with St. Gregory the Great (590-604). He makes three additions to the sacramentary: the use of Kyrie eleison, an addition to the Hanc igitur, and the insertion of the Our Father prior to Holy Communion. The liturgy has only known two major reforms in its long history, that of Pope Pius V (1566-1572) and Pope Paul VI (1963-1978). The Roman Rite of the Mass, both old and reformed, is in many ways quite different from the liturgies of the Eastern churches.

For instance, (1) while the current Mass of Pope Paul VI has restored the Prayer of the Faithful or bidding prayers after the Credo and homily; the liturgical litanies so often sung by clergy or that are imbedded in the canon are absent. Indeed, today, these prayers of petition are written anew for every liturgy, and while introduced and closed by the priest, are most often read by a lay person instead of by a deacon at Mass.

(2) Another point of distinction is the placement of the sign of peace after the Lord’s Prayer and prior to the distribution of Holy Communion.  Most other rites place the sign or kiss of peace at the beginning of the Mass.

(3) Also, as a point of departure, our oldest continually used Eucharistic prayer (number 1) or the Roman Canon only has an implied invocation instead of a clear epiclesis to the Holy Spirit.  This is remedied in the newer anaphoras (2 through 4). 

(4) It should also be noted that the revised Eucharistic prayers place the various intercessions in closer proximity and in what seems a more logical progression than the Roman Canon. 

While the liturgy knows some pruning prior to Vatican II, it usually experiences additions instead.  Historically, the Roman Rite becomes a magnet attracting the elements of many of regional liturgies, sometimes without regard for redundancy or placement.             

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[73] Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 58:7-10 / Ps 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 / 1 Cor 2:1-5 / Mt 5:13-16

Isaiah is the great prophet for the coming Messiah and so it should not surprise us that his admonitions about charity deeply reflect our Lord’s ministry to the poor, the hungry, the hurting and the oppressed. Faith in the Lord has always included both doctrinal truths and a particular discipleship of giving and caring for others. This was not unique to Christians as the same God first made himself known to the Jews.  The Lord does not ask but commands— share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, cloth the naked— remain faithful and supportive of your people. Such generosity is noted as enlightenment to the mind and heart of God. It makes possible a healing and vindication that will be fully realized in Jesus Christ.    

The text from Isaiah emphasizes that if we are available to the hurting and the marginalized then God will hear our prayers for help.  There is this reciprocity that Jesus echoes— it is in forgiving others and you will be forgiven.  Note that while the Lord first lists the charitable activities we should pursue, he next lists what must be avoided— oppression, false accusation and malicious speech.  You cannot be counted among the children of God if you manipulate or keep others in bondage.  You cannot be a harbinger of truth if you are in the grips of deception and lies.  You cannot expect your words of prayer to be received by the Lord when those same lips speak words of hatred and condemnation against others. 

We often treat charity as if it is something exceptional that should incur praise and thanks. The Communists wrongly interpreted it as a sentiment given Christians because of what they called a “pie-in-the-sky” enticement. In other words, we do good only so as to go to heaven. What they could not appreciate, lacking the gift of faith, is that the main motivation for Christian outreach to others is supernatural love. Believers are to so thoroughly love the Lord that this love spills over and includes both friends and enemies. Many critics regard this as a virtue that conflicts with our selfish and fallen human nature. While there is truth in this, it is also a virtue that builds upon the new man or new creation in Christ. Human nature is divinized by grace or made more than it was before. Charity is not just something you do, but the person you become— it opens us to the transformation of holiness.

One of the great literary philosophers Ayn Rand actually rejected the command of the Gospel and instead of speaking of selfishness as a vice she urged a reversal of values wherein one would regard such egoism as a virtue.  Speaking about the motives of individuals in society and the nature of proper government, she condemned altruism as destructive and counterproductive to our aims. Believe it or not, there are many politicians and judges that subscribe to her thinking. However, even if they feign religious faith, her ideas signify an anti-gospel. There are no supermen and life is not just all about you— your possessions, your power, your wealth, and your security. Rand once said in an interview when asked about Jesus, “It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.” Yes, she repudiated the sacrificial love of Christ that is realized again and again in the lives of saints and martyrs. She utterly rejected the notion of faith and espoused what is called objectivist atheism when speaking about reason. She would argue there is no life after death and no reward and so you have to take what you can now because this is the only life you will know. This thinking is the rationale for tax incentives given for charitable donations. It is argued that unless people get something in return, they will be less likely to remember the poor and the needy. But while many may take advantage of such offerings, it is not the principal reason why the saints are good and giving. I had a friend in this parish that died a few years ago. It was only after he died that many came forward to list the many things he did for them, for the children and the poor. We were all taken aback but his many acts of kindness. He did not tell anyone. He did what he did for the love of God and his fellow men and women.

When we find out about such men and women or when heroic sacrifices are made, we are moved and inspired. As the psalm says, “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” This theme of light is again taken up in today’s Gospel when Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” He does not mean just individually, because it is the Church that is “a city set on a mountain [that] cannot be hidden.” Literally, just as Jerusalem is built on a fortified high ground, the Church is the New Jerusalem— and together we must proclaim the truths revealed to us and we must live out our discipleship in love. He adds, “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Christ would have our charity be contagious. We want to please and honor almighty God.  As Christians, we desire that the heavenly Father will look down upon us and see something of his Son reflected in our fidelity and charity.

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Do Not Test God in Handling Snakes!


How are we to interpret Mark 16:18?

“They will pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them.”

Isn’t this promoting dangerous behavior? Should we take this figuratively? I’d appreciate your feedback.


It is best to read from Mark 16:16 to Mark 16:18:

“He said to them, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’”

Our Lord is not recommending dangerous behavior. The emphasis here is the great commission to take the Good News to the whole world. It is this saving faith that is lived out and shared that makes all the difference. The various signs are in respects to certain people but not all. Demons will be exorcised (Acts 5:16, 8:7, 16:16-18, 19:11-12). Some will be given the gift of tongues (Acts 2:4, 10:46, 19:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 12:28). Others will receive the gift of healing (Acts 9:17, 28:8). Miracles will happen. Some will also be protected from physical harm, such as from venomous snakes or even poison. Note the story involving Paul:

“Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire when a viper, escaping from the heat, fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must certainly be a murderer; though he escaped the sea, Justice has not let him remain alive.’ But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm” (Acts 28:3-5).

We would not go out looking for trouble but sometimes trouble finds us. Such signs will indeed be realized.

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