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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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INTRODUCTORY RITES OF THE MASS

The Introit Chant or Hymn & Procession

A hymn or expanded Introit chant might accompany the procession to the altar.  If it is not recited or sung by the congregation then the priest will recite the antiphon verse at the altar, after the sign of the cross and greeting. The Introit opens the liturgical worship.  If not to accompany the procession then it should at least promote congregational unity and help turn minds to the mystery being celebrated.

An example of such an Introit is the following prescribed for Trinity Sunday: “Blest be God the Father, and the Only Begotten Son of God, and also the Holy Spirit, for he has shown us his merciful love.”  The antiphon for the Fifth Week in Ordinary time is as follows: “O come, let us worship God and bow low before the God who made us, for he is the Lord our God” (Psalm 95:6-7). As with psalms and chants used for the Offertory and Holy Communion, they might be expanded or sung antiphonally. The earliest liturgies do not use musical instruments but rely upon choruses of human voices. A trained schola becomes increasingly important. Today a hymn befitting the theme of the liturgy is often substituted on Sundays to allow for congregational singing during the processional from the church doors to the altar.

Kissing the Altar

Given the association of the altar with the sacrifice of Christ, the altar has come to signify something of Christ even though the real presence of Christ is acknowledged in the sacrament reserved in a tabernacle.  As so often happens after many centuries, there is an expansion of the meaning or symbolism of the gesture.  The kiss is augmented from a welcoming of Christ to a greeting of the Church, his bride. This latter meaning is advanced with the placement of relics from the saints within altars proper or in altar stones. Either way, the priest kissing the altar serves as a salutation toward the place where the divine mystery will be celebrated.  

Incensing the Altar

While the Jews traditionally employ incense in their worship and sacrifices, the early Christians in the gentile world often avoid it because of frequent use in the pagan cults.

“Thus shall Aaron offer his bull for the purification offering, to make atonement for himself and for his family. When he has slaughtered it, he shall take a censer full of glowing embers from the altar before the LORD, as well as a double handful of finely ground fragrant incense, and bringing them inside the veil, there before the LORD he shall put incense on the fire, so that a cloud of incense may shield the cover that is over the covenant, else he will die” (Leviticus 16:11-13).

However, with the final demise of paganism, there is a widespread transition from profane idol worship to sacred worship. Popular in the East, and employed in the West (particularly in processions) against the stench of filthy city streets, its use becomes increasingly esteemed.  The use of incense expresses a special festivity. Its perfume smell and the smoke readily lend themselves to religious symbolism.  Scripture affirms its use in Psalm 141:2 “Let my prayer be incense before you,” and the golden bowls of incense allude to the prayers of the saints in the Book of Revelation. Our prayers are compared to the smoke rising up to heaven.  The incensation of the altar shows it honor; but it is also a prayer gesture invoking purification (its singular usage) and divine protection for all who are drawn to it.  

The Sign of the Cross & Greeting

The liturgy will begin and end with the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  We are all marked by this sacred sign as belonging to Christ.  The making of the cross is a dedication of all that we shall do as the work of our Lord.  It also expresses the great revelation of the Trinity that raises Christianity or Catholicism to a supernatural faith.  God reveals himself to us to facilitate a relationship with him. We participate or are in dialogue with the celebrant who is a sharer in the one high priesthood of Christ.  The Mass is our one great communitarian prayer or act of worship.  A priest offers one of several variations in greeting: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” or something as simple as “The Lord be with you.”  The congregation responds, “And with your spirit.”

The Penitential Rite

The Confiteor

As with the Creed, while we say the Confiteor together, the language is expressed in the first person singular.  The priest who would come to the altar (along with the people whom he takes spiritually with him) must possess the essential characteristic of personal humility.  Each of us freely admits that he or she is a sinner and the priest acknowledges that he is the first among them. This part of the Mass is not about announcing or telling our many sins as in sacramental confession but rather is an admission of our sinful condition.   Indeed, the more with which one has been entrusted, the more accountable will that one be before the judgment seat of almighty God.  Nothing can be feigned, nothing can be hidden.  Each of us stands spiritually naked before the Lord. While it is said that this prayer finds its roots in the private prayers of popes at the foot of the altar, one has to wonder if it might have far older origins, from the days when a penitent would confess his sins to a priest before the gathered congregation. The priest and then the people would acknowledge their unworthiness and dependence upon the Lord. Like the earth and moon, the Confiteor always possesses a companion prayer, the Misereatur: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”  A remnant prayer of sacramental absolution is removed with the Vatican II reforms, enhancing the moral weight of the Misereatur prayer.  What would serve as “a type of absolution,” the Misereatur, is more appropriately an intercessory prayer that works in tandem with the Confiteor: “. . . 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.”  Our confession to God includes the Church, both in glory above and in pilgrimage here below.  Many other names and embellishments are eliminated centuries ago prior to the Missal of Pius V. Striking the breast is a common feature of the confession. The inspiration is Luke 18:13: “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”

The Kyrie

The supplication, “Lord, have mercy” is very much the cry of God’s people that finds resonance in the sacerdotal (priestly) oration. This plea for clemency transports us to the very first days of the faith in the gentile or Greek speaking world.  Indeed, the fact that the Greek language is retained is a residual testimony of its antiquity.  Finding its source in the Gospel, it fits neatly into the admonitions of John the Baptizer, of Christ and later of his Church, “Repent and believe.”  While early Jewish Christians delight in being the chosen people who get to witness the realization of the ancient promise entrusted to them of a long-awaited messiah; the gentile believers initially wrestle with providence, finding it hard to believe the good fortune that has come to them.  They are made inheritors of a new faith that begins with another people. While not the direct beneficiaries of the covenant with Abraham and Moses; the new covenant of Christ consummates the old and is given to them as an unwarranted gift.  The apostle Paul struggles to get them to fully appreciate that they are now of the same standing as the believers in Jerusalem.  They keenly feel that they are undeserving.  The Kyrie Eleison is a cry for mercy but it is also a witness that this petition is efficacious and not made in vain. God hears their plea for mercy and he comes to their rescue.  Contrition and sorrow for sin is the necessary disposition for faith and for the graces that come from the divine mysteries. The Kyrie Eleison emerges in the worship of the Church as a repeated litany.  Why is it repeated?  Such reflects the fickle human condition.  We struggle to be good.  Despite our best intentions we sometimes fail.  Again and again, we ask for forgiveness and reaffirm our faith and desire to be faithful to the commandments.  When we look at the trajectory of this litany, it shares something of its history with the restored bidding prayers, general intercessions or Prayer of the Faithful.  “Lord, have mercy” is often interchangeable with “Lord, hear our prayer.” Given various attached intentions, tropes find themselves frequently inserted into the prayer.  While some authorities argue that the three petitions refer to the Trinity, the truth is that the prayer is directed to Christ.  This becomes clear with the second invocation, “Christ, have mercy.” Reconciliation with God is made possible by the saving intervention of Jesus Christ.  The priest or deacon may lead the congregation but oftentimes a choir or cantor assumes this direction— emphasizing once more that the Kyrie Eleison is a prayer from God’s people in the pews, not just the clergy.  While the direction is often neglected today, it remains customary for the priest and people to focus upon the crucifix during these petitions for mercy. 

The Gloria 

The “Glory to God” hymn like the “Lord, Have Mercy” litany is not a composition intended originally for Mass. Over time it is added to liturgies of great festivity, such as Sundays and solemn feasts. The Glory to God highlights the meaning and the obligation to give adulation to almighty God.  While praise is directed to God; in return, it brings us God’s peace. The early Church utilizes and imitates the Hebrew psalms in the creation of its own Christian treasury of sacred song. The sources for the texts come from the Scriptures and the living faith of the Church.  If the Kyrie is an expression of sorrow for sin and the need for mercy; the Gloria builds upon this sentiment by acknowledging divine forgiveness and breaking out in a hymn of great joy.

While there are varying versions of the Gloria, we can trace the development of what we know in the West through the Greek Alexandrian school of worship and faith. The teachers of Alexandria emphasize the mystery of the incarnation.  Thus, the Gloria begins with the hymn of angels over the nativity scene and later makes numerous references to Jesus in a Christology that emphasizes his divine identity or personhood and the profound unity between his human and divine natures. A defunct Nestorian version would tend toward the heresy of “adoptionism,” undermining this unity and his divinity.         

The oldest Western text is traced back to 690 AD. The Gloria is composed of three sections:  (1) the hymn of the angelic host at the nativity as detailed in Luke 2:14; (2) the various forms of praise enunciated of almighty God and claimed by various names or titles; and (3) the invocation of the Lord Jesus Christ who is “Only Begotten Son,” “Lord God,” “Lamb of God,” and literally the one Way to the Father.  The obvious emphasis is “God as God” and then Christ. The mention of the Holy Spirit at the end seems only tagged in passing or to make the hymn complete.  The Eastern churches and the more contemporary Charismatic movement in the Catholic Church have sometimes been critical of the minimization of the Holy Spirit in Western theology and worship. This issue is demonstrated in the Gloria.  Yes, our religion affirms the oneness of God (natural faith), the mystery of the Trinity (supernatural faith), the significance of Christ (redemption) and the importance and operation of the Holy Spirit (giver of life and sanctification); but the Holy Spirit is the least spelled out.  The tendency of the Gloria is to emphasize a duality between God the Father and God the Son just as similarly reinforced in the writings of St. Paul. 

The “peace” in the Gloria is brought down from heaven to earth by Jesus Christ.  The “people of good will” does not mean good or well-meaning recipients of the Lord’s peace; rather, it refers to “divine” good-will, pleasure, favor or grace.  Men are graced by the good news they receive.  The selection of these men is not a matter of capricious accident but of God’s providence and grace.  The two truths of the nativity hymn are in regard to the laud of God and the peace given to men.  This glory and peace must not be seen as something locked into the past or as just predictive of the future.  The hymn is realized every time it is sung, either by angels or by men in worship.  The truth of Romans 8:28-33 is realized:

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.”

Various synonyms of praise give accent to what God gives. We thank him for his great glory.  Christ’s kingdom breaks into the world first through the person of Jesus and then through his mystical body, the Church. A new order is established through the grace and love of God.  The Gloria like a knife slices through any and all narcissism and egoism.  God is glorified just for being God. God is called by many names and then there is the saving name of Jesus Christ who is acclaimed as the Lamb of God and repeatedly invoked to “take away the sins of the world,” “have mercy on us,” “receive our prayer,” and “have mercy on us.”  Jesus Christ makes possible true worship.  The praise of God transitions to praise of Christ. Over time this festive hymn is applied to all festive Masses. 

The Collect

The Collect or Opening Prayer concludes the introductory rites of the Mass.  It is really the only priestly prayer within this section of the liturgy.  The celebrant makes the sign of the cross to start the Mass and extends a brief greeting to the assembled.  He may lead the people in the Confiteor and/or the Kyrie but these prayers are offered by the people. He acknowledges these prayers with a short absolution but that is about it.  He might intone the Gloria but here again all sing or recite the hymn.  The Collect or Opening Prayer is included in take-home missals but not pew missals.  After saying, “Let us pray,” he alone says the prescribed words. The prayers of the people are left unspoken, the quiet intentions they have brought to the Mass. It is the first of three important orations in the Mass, each coming after a significant section:  the introductory rites, the offertory, and the Eucharist and rite of Communion.  The priest collects or gathers the people and their intentions into the worship.  He speaks for them to the Lord.    

Some of the ancient fathers and modern day liturgists would argue that public prayers should follow this pattern:  (1) praising God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit; (2) thanksgiving to God; (3) confession of fault, weakness or dependence; (4) petitions for heavenly things; and (5) a closing doxology. However, the Collects of the Roman Rite do not do this and are predominately prayers of supplication or petition.  Note for instance the Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter or the Divine Mercy:  “God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

The petitions are either direct or subjunctive in nature.  While they can be descriptive, they are often quite brief.  As with the example here there can sometimes be a bit of a rhetorical flair about divine attributes or about what God has done for us.  The content of the Collects can be quite general with little in the way of a clear thematic link to the liturgy.  The priest on our behalf is asking to be heard.  As a supplication prayer, we beseech God for help from his benevolent good-will, assistance by his infinite power, light against the darkness of ignorance, protection against evil and danger, guidance to be good, forgiveness of sins, and the meriting of salvation.

The formulation of the Collects will sometimes include a mirroring of contrasting notions:

  • “. . . that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy” (3rd Sunday of Lent).
  • “. . . make this most sacred night radiant” (Easter Vigil).
  • “. . . have conquered death . . . rise up in the light of life” (Easter Sunday).
  • “. . . we may be worthy for him to live with us always on earth, and we with him in heaven” (Ascension Vigil).
  • “. . . where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope” (Ascension).
  • “. . . grant that from out of the scattered nations  . . . may be gathered by heavenly grace” / “. . . the confusion of many tongues. . . into one great confession of your name” (Pentecost).

This back and forth literary convention is frequently found in the writings of ancient Christian writers and in sermons.  Indeed, it is a pattern that echoes from the Bible and the kerygma of faith.  We must die in Christ so as to rise with him.  We have to be poor in forsaking material things so as to be rich in embracing spiritual treasure. We belong either to the world or to the kingdom of Christ. There is the comparison of the passive receptivity of Mary as the “better part” over Martha’s active “doing” in terms of discipleship. We can live for ourselves or for others. We can think of our bellies or mortify ourselves with fasting and abstinence.  We are children of the light, not of the darkness.  We must proclaim the truth and not be a people who succumb to deception.     

The appeal in the Collect is to almighty God.  Despite the Church’s dependence upon Christ, the Council of Hippo in 393 AD insists that these prayers address God the Father. However, the most recent translation of the Mass prayers into English restores a literal address to “God” where before there seems an excessive substitution of the word “Father.”  Further, the corrected translations restore the Latin use of dependent clauses were a simplification of the prayers previously seems to imply a pelagian view of salvation and violates the intercessory role of saints in the sanctoral calendar. We cannot save ourselves.  When a Collect announces the memorial or feast of a saint, the oration still addresses God and supplication is made to him through the intercession of the saintly patron.  The basic rule of thumb must be kept— true worship is always directed to almighty God.  Indeed, for the first thousand years of the Church’s history, despite our trust in the saving work of Christ, there is not one case where Christ is immediately addressed here instead of God the Father.  Given the influence of the French church, this would change.  A current exception to the rule is the Collect for Corpus Christ. It appeals to Christ, his Passion, his Body and Blood, and the fruits of his Redemption. The ordinary location for mention of Christ is as part of the closing doxology.  The prayers end with the following formula:  “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” Our prayer, indeed the entire Mass and its saving mystery is made possible through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our eternal high priest who stands before the Father. Look to his relationships.  He is God’s Son and he is our master.  We belong to him.  He has purchased us at the great price of his blood.  The “Amen” is our assent to the priestly prayer.    

THANKSGIVING AFTER MASS

Just as we should come to Mass early so as to reflect upon our intentions and to prepare ourselves; at the end of the Mass we should not depart quickly. Ten minutes or so of reflection can have great spiritual value.  We can reflect upon the great mystery within which we have had a part.  We are moved by a profound gratitude.  The dismissal is not the end of the story. It has been said that given the speed of digestion, for ten or fifteen minutes we are actual living tabernacles of the Blessed Sacrament.  Once digested, and the accidents of bread are gone, then the substantial presence passes as well.  However, the Lord continues to be present through grace.  We are made spiritual temples of the Lord.

A famous Thanksgiving Prayer is that of St. Thomas Aquinas:

I thank You, Lord, Almighty Father, Everlasting God, for having been pleased, through no merit of mine, but of Your great mercy alone, to feed me, a sinner, and Your unworthy servant, with the precious Body and Blood of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this Holy Communion may not be for my judgment and condemnation, but for my pardon and salvation. Let this Holy Communion be to me an armor of faith and a shield of good will, a cleansing of all vices, and a rooting out of all evil desires. May it increase love and patience, humility and obedience, and all virtues. May it be a firm defense against the evil designs of all my visible and invisible enemies, a perfect quieting of all the desires of soul and body. May this Holy Communion bring about a perfect union with You, the one true God, and at last enable me to reach eternal bliss when You will call me. I pray that You bring me, a sinner, to the indescribable Feast where You, with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, are to Your saints true light, full blessedness, everlasting joy, and perfect happiness. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

A short Litany of the Sacred Heart was promoted by my old pastor, Msgr. William J. Awalt: 

  • Jesus, Infinite Goodness, Jesus, Lover of mankind, Jesus, most patient,
  • Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Make my heart like unto Thine.
  • Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
  • Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity,
  • Heart of Jesus, burning with love for me,
  • Inflame my heart with love for Thee and for those around me.
  • Pour into us, O Lord, the spirit of Thy love.
  • From anger and hate and from all evil wishes, O Lord deliver us.
  • Grant, O Lord, that every moment of this day in all my dealings with others, I may keep in my mind Thy words: “Whatsoever you do to one of them you do unto Me.”
  • Grant that I may rule all my dealings with others according to Thy command: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
  • Grant that I may think of them as You think of them and me.
  • Grant that I may feel towards them as You feel towards them and me.
  • Grant that I may speak to them as You would were You in my place.
  • Grant that I may bear with them as You bear with me.
  • Grant that I may consider it a privilege “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”
  • Grant that I may look for opportunities of doing good to them in a kindly, humble way – seeing You, serving You, in them.
  • Place Your thoughts in my mind, Your love in my heart, Your words on my lips – that I may learn to love others as You love me.

FINAL BLESSING & DISMISSAL

Announcements can be made, especially on Sundays.  Then comes the final greeting, “The Lord be with you” and the people respond, “And with your spirit.”  Given that the Eucharist is the Risen Christ, the old maxim takes on a heightened significance, “You are what you eat.” Our spiritual food is transformative. Priest and congregants alike are to take the graces of this abiding presence into the world.

The priest blesses the assembled.  Just as Mass begins with the sign of the cross, it ends with the same sign:  “May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, + and the Holy Spirit.” The admonition of Christ, “Take up your cross and follow me,” finds its realization here.  As we go out the church doors, we are all marked with the Cross. That which was once a curse and sign of dreadful foreboding is now extended as a blessing and sign of joyful hope.

There is one final dialogue between the priest or deacon and the people.  The dismissal is really a “sending forth.”  There are four variations:  (1) “Go forth, the Mass is ended.”  (2) “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”  (3) “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”  (4) “Go in peace.”  The people respond, “Thanks be to God.” There may be music at the end but it is not mandated. 

Back when I was a boy I was told a story from WWII about a cathedral damaged by bombing in France.  A number of American servicemen assisted the faithful in making repairs, restoring the pews and much more.  The church rose again from the ashes and rubble.  Then they turned to a statue of the Sacred Heart that had been damaged.  No matter how hard they tried, they could not fashion proper hands for those destroyed.  So they left the statue standing without hands, placing an adjacent plaque with these words: “I have no hands but yours.” Over the years I have heard virtually the same story but from Germany and England and even the United States.  The third variation is dated around 1980 with a statue damaged by vandals outside a church in California. The words are taken from a poem by St. Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.” To this very day, the statue lacks hands.

PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION

As he did with the Collect, the celebrant introduces the Prayer After Communion.  He says, “Let us pray.”  Any silence and opportunity here for prayer is very brief.  It may be enough to say “Thank you, Jesus” but not much more. The priest prays in the name of God’s people, the Church.  He prays that the many fruits of the Mass just said will be efficacious.  Who can say what miracles are made possible with each and every Mass.  The sick are healed.  The troubled are given peace of mind and soul.  Sins are forgiven.  Demons are exorcised.  The weak are shielded from harm. We are nurtured and fed by the Eucharist so that we might have God’s life and holiness within us.  We make all that has transpired our own by responding, “Amen.”

HOLY COMMUNION

The priest takes Holy Communion and then it is extended to others. We are instructed to be in a state of grace for the sacrament.  We are to fast from food and beverage for one hour before Communion.  This does not include water and medicine.  We are permitted to take the sacrament either standing or kneeling.  We can receive it either upon the tongue or in the hand.  We should always approach the sacrament with piety and devotion, recognizing the one who is present in the Eucharist. There should be a hunger or yearning for the sacrament. The sacrament of the Eucharist is frequently neglected because many fail to fathom its mysterious depths and meaning. Even some parents allow their children to be spiritually malnourished.  Too many stay away.  Too many no longer believe. Fortunately, there are still many parents mindful of their duty. They believe and extend what they believe to their children.  Similarly, there are those who share their faith in witnessing to their neighbor.  The greatest gift that any Catholic Christian could ever give is his or her saving faith in the Eucharist.  Theirs is not a transitory love but a love that embraces the cross and eternity.

What happens in Holy Communion? We receive the one who is the Holy of Holies. God comes to us that we might be made more authentically human. Indeed, that which is human is divinized and made more than before. Christ grants us rations for the journey, a share in his resurrected life. We become flesh-and-blood tabernacles to his abiding and real presence.  While the presence in the sacrament is fleeting, the divine presence endures through grace. The Eucharist is the manner of worship that God establishes and which brings light to the darkness.  It makes our hope real.

While we accept the sacrament in time, it touches eternity.  What we have done, we have done.  Harsh words can never be taken back.  Uncharitable acts can never be rescinded.  Much in the way of our sinful history is irreparable. But nothing of goodness is forgotten either. We cling in conscience to the mercy that God promises and extends.  We can be saved, but not because we are deserving or good (left to ourselves) but because God is good. Unlike the angels, we live in time and so can change direction. Redirected by providence and grace, the Mass allows us to then enter into an eternal NOW. Memory that sorely needs to be healed and often torments, transports us to those first recollections of kneeling at the altar rail.  We see in the mind’s eye the child we once were, receiving with faith and incalculable innocence, the Blessed Sacrament.  Where did time go? When baptized we were saints. How could we be so foolish? Why did we listen to bad companions? When did concupiscence get the upper hand and make us slaves to the flesh, inner contradictions to our very selves? Eyes have seen what they should not have seen. Can these eyes still look with adoration upon the upraised host? Hands have corrupted us by signs and deeds; how can we still extend them to Christ in his sacrament or to a neighbor in the sign of peace? Lips have exchanged veracity for deception; can they yet proclaim the truth that Jesus is Lord?  Our bodies have embraced lust and deadly sins; can they once again manifest tenderness and real love? We need medicine from heaven. We require the real food or rations from the Promised Shore. Any particular Holy Communion is every Holy Communion— Sunday after Sunday, on weekdays, on holy days, at funerals, at weddings, etc.  There is an eternal dimension to Holy Communion— the hundreds, the thousands, the tens of thousands of receptions.  While the fallen away and spiritually starving can count on their fingers how many times they have taken Holy Communion; those who go to Mass daily might receive over 25,000 times in a lifetime. Their response to the minister’s words, “The body of Christ,” becomes an eternal AMEN.  It is their yes to the self-donation and surrender of God’s Son.  It is their acceptance of divine mercy.  It is the password for entry into the eternal banquet of heaven.  Akin to vows, we become engaged actors in the marriage of the Lamb.  Always it is the Christ who suffers and dies once and for all.  And yet, in Holy Communion we are given the risen Christ, body and soul, humanity and divinity.

The eternal NOW of God targets the elderly man in his wheelchair cradling the sacrament in his hand and finds him again in accord with the young child receiving the Eucharistic Christ on the tongue at the altar rail.  Everything that Jesus is encounters everything that we are and all that we will become. Never underestimate the value of the family as the “little church.” The mind’s eye recalls good parents kneeling beside us as we pray and take Holy Communion.  They make possible that day and all the days since.  They show us the way by word and example. They close their eyes in this world and open them in the next. We know in faith that they have exchanged their pew for a chair at the banquet table of heaven. We remember them, we pray for them and desire to go where they have gone. They directly see the divine mystery that we know behind sacred signs.

The minister extends the sacrament and either says, “The Body of Christ” or “The Blood of Christ.” The communicant affirms the risen presence of Christ and responds, “Amen.”  Truly, it is so— yes, I believe!

Great care must be taken with communion that no host be desecrated and that no broken fragments be lost. There is a particular ritual adopted by the Church for communion and it must be insisted upon at all times.

No matter what the mode of reception, Jesus remains truly present in the Eucharist. Communicants have the option of receiving on the tongue or in the hand. Once episcopal permission is granted, no priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister can strictly oblige one way over another. When taken by mouth the communicant tilts the head back and sticks out the tongue. Too often there are those who snap at the priest’s fingers or who fail to open their mouths.

While some critics claim that communion in the hand is a novelty that violates our Christian tradition. The truth is that it was the accepted practice for nearly 900 years. Over a long stretch of time, communion on the tongue replaces it, becoming the norm around 1000 AD. The communicant receives the host in his open hand, left over the right, steps to one side, picks up the host with his right hand, and immediately consumes the sacrament. He literally makes a throne for Christ the King. The communicant must not carry the host down the aisle (receiving it while in motion) or take it to the pew. The minister distributing the sacrament can rightly pursue the communicant and either compel reception or confiscate the host (if one obviously does not know what it is about). Children must be instructed very carefully. It may be preferable that they receive on the tongue to prevent embarrassing situations. The communicant does not cup his hands, side by side, a situation which might allow the host to slip to the floor. He does not slurp the host out of his hands. He makes no sacramental gestures, no matter how well-meaning, with the host. The communicant may not sign himself with the host. Further, if the communicant is holding something, like a purse or hymnal, then communion is received on the tongue. The situation is the same for those carrying babies. It is very disrespectful for the communicant to stretch out one hand and/or to pinch the host from the minister’s fingers. This violates the posture of receptivity that should be maintained by the communicant. Self-communication only comes after we have been served the host.

The permission for communion in the hand does not signify that it is the overriding preference of the Church. It is merely an option and communion on the tongue is still regarded as normative. No matter how one receives, there should be no rebuking of one another over it. The sacrament is to be a sign of Christian unity, not separation and contention. Obviously, communion in the hand brings with it a whole assortment of concerns that must be addressed. Any peril of profanation or hint of irreverence must be rebuked.

When there is INTINCTION, the dipping of the consecrated host into the chalice of the precious blood, communion in the hand is not permitted. The host, soaked from the precious blood, is placed directly upon the tongue. What the priest may do, the communicant may not. It is an abuse for the communicant to take the host and then to dunk it in the chalice held by the minister. When the precious blood is given from the chalice, the communicant first receives the host and then moves to the next station where the chalice is offered. The communicant is handed the chalice, takes a sip, and gives it back to the minister. The minister wipes with a purificator the area where the recipient drank and turns the cup for the next communicant. Under no circumstances whatsoever may the chalice be left on the altar for the communicants to serve themselves. The practice of giving the chalice ceased during the pandemic.

We must allow the priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister to place the host on our tongue or in our hand. When the latter option is chosen, the communicant should extend his arms somewhat and raise his hands to chest level. As for the former, the communicant should move close enough so that the minister need not reach out awkwardly.

Many Catholics feel unworthy to touch the host with their hands. This is well and good. We do not deserve to receive the host upon the tongue either. However, while we may come to the Lord in fear and trembling, we need to trust in the one who forgives his murderers from the Cross. Knowing our unworthiness to receive the Son of God, we say prior to communion: “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Jesus in his boundless love gives himself to us, despite our venial sins and weakness. We need to remember that the God who made the tongue also made the hand. Both can be used to God’s purposes, or distorted in sin. Christ sheds his blood that we might be healed and made holy in body and soul.

There are various secret or inaudible prayers during the liturgy.  When the priest takes communion, he says, “May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.” Similarly, with the chalice, he says, “May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.” When the vessels are purified, the minister says, “What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”

It is often my practice to sit and pause after giving out Holy Communion.  Instead of racing to get everything completed, this is an important time to ponder the gift of God’s Son that has been given us and how it should direct our lives.  This is a good period for sacred silence and personal prayer.  We need to exploit this opportunity for private dialogue with God.  We should reflect upon the Word and Sacrament, assimilating what they have to offer and allowing ourselves to be transformed by grace.  The Holy Spirit has been active in the liturgy but must also be effective in persons.

While many hosts are given out, each is the one Christ, whole and complete.  While we are many, we are also one in Christ.  Those who are properly disposed will find that the Eucharist is a medicine for healing and an antidote to sin.  If we are born again in Baptism, this new life is nourished by Holy Communion. It deepens our incorporation into the Church of Christ. 

We recall the critical words of St. Paul who tells us how he celebrates Mass and about the danger of factions in the community of faith:

“When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk. Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed? What can I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I do not praise you. For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment” (1 Corinthians 11:20-34).

Reverence for the Eucharist necessitates a concern for others, especially the poor.

Given Luke 22:18 and the Lord’s promise to abide with us until he comes again, there is a eschatological component to Holy Communion— we have not been abandoned, our Lord is food for the journey, one day we will see the mystery now hidden in the sacrament.  Christ has redeemed us from the devil and conquered sin, suffering and death.  The Eucharist is our encounter with the risen Christ, the one who has conquered the grave and has promised us a share in his life. Mindful of the appearance of the resurrected Christ to the men on the road to Emmaus, we are all pilgrims on a journey and the Lord reveals himself to us in the “breaking of the bread.” We read:

“But they urged him, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?'” (Luke 24:29-32).

ECCE AGNUS DEI or BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD

After a genuflection, the priest holds the sacred host slightly above the paten or chalice while facing the people and says:  “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.” Along with the people, he adds:  “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

The words, “Lord, I am not worthy” express the existential state of all creation as dependent and unworthy of the gifts and divine mercy shown us.  God loves us and saves us, not because we are good but because we are bad and he desires to make us good.  At every Mass, we acknowledge that the Jewish Messiah is the Savior for all the world.  We all play the part of the great believing Gentile, the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-11).

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.”  He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.”

SECRET PRAYER FOR PRIESTLY WORTHINESS

Following or as the people sing or recite the Lamb of God litany, the priest bows with hands folded and says quietly one of a couple of prayers for personal humility and hope.  An old pastor I knew would purposely tweak the prayers and say them louder than directed by the rubrics with the expectation that congregants might make them their own. While I would not make this deviation, congregants could certainly follow along in their missals: (1) “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your Death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.” (2) “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.”

The priest prays for unity with Christ.  The Church teaches that the sacraments are effective, even if the priest is unworthy and in sin.  However, in practice, the scandal of poor witness can do incalculable harm to the body of the Church.  A faithful priest begs that he may so reflect the Lord that the people will welcome the presence of Jesus Christ both in the minister and in the sacrament.  

AGNUS DEI or LAMB OF GOD

Jesus is indeed the Lamb of God— a Passover Lamb for a new Seder in his blood.  This oblation will not be for freedom from Egyptian slavery or from Roman oppression or strictly from any earthly bondage.  His liberation is cosmic!  Jesus is the Lamb of Victory over sin, suffering, death and the devil.  He is the sin-offering satisfying for our redemption.  He lays down his life for his own, his flock.  More than a good shepherd, he is the alpha ram among the many sheep of his flock.  John the Baptizer at the Jordon points him out to his followers: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:37).  He urges the apostle John and Andrew (brother of Peter) to go to Jesus.  

The apostles are well aware of the “lamb” that commemorates their protection from the angel of death and which brings about their freedom under Moses. Going back even further they would remember their father in faith, Abraham, and how God provides a sacrifice in place of his son, Isaac. John calling Jesus “the Lamb of God” strikes an immediate chord in his disciples. Jesus is the one whom they have been waiting. The pattern would be repeated again.  Just as the meat of a conventional sacrifice is given to God, to those offering the oblation and to the poor; Jesus would make himself an acceptable oblation to the Father and a spiritual food for his people.  Jesus is priest and victim. Jesus would die in our stead.  Twice the people say, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us” and then with the third acclamation, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”  This is the peace that the world cannot give.

SIGN OF PEACE

While the overture of the Sign of Peace exists in the pre-conciliar liturgy, the reformed ritual from Vatican II extends it as part of a recovery of an older form that is better in line with Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” There has been some discussion about placement.  Liturgists are still divided as to whether it should come at the beginning as part of the penitential rite or during the offertory or after the Lord’s Prayer.  The third is the traditional location and where a fragment is retained in the Tridentine Mass. This places the focus upon worthiness for Holy Communion. That is where we find it today.  The gesture of a handshake has been mitigated during the pandemic and many insert a bow of the head or a wave of the hand. 

The sign of peace was once practiced as a literal kiss of peace among members.  Changing propriety led to suppression.  As far back as 1248 AD, a “pax or peace board” was substituted, (made from wood, ivory or ornate metal), that was set upon the altar and then extended to those in the pews.  A subdeacon would take it to those outside the sanctuary.  Symbolizing the altar, it was kissed. However, many began to substitute the sharing of the pax for taking Holy Communion. There were also disputes over precedence or ranking. 

The added words of the priest are quite descriptive of what we are about:  “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. Who live and reign forever and ever.”  He will then extend peace as in the previous liturgical form:  “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” The people respond, “And with your spirit.” The priest or deacon may then invite the congregation to extend to one another some sign of Christ’s peace.  This peace means unity or oneness in Jesus Christ. It is an expression of a profound solidarity. That is really why scandal and a crisis about Eucharistic decorum has warranted discussion by the USCCB. Should those who are in egregious sin, teaching heresy or promoting public dissent be given Holy Communion?  Politicians and celebrities are frequently the ones that make this problematical. Many ordinary Catholics may be in irregular unions or living in sin but the priest would not withhold the Eucharist for fear of violating confidentiality and the seal of confession.  Nevertheless, the sign of peace should signify true unity with Christ and his Church. It is a precondition for reception. This remains a matter worthy of reflection and discussion. Should a person living in an irregular union or in a sinful lifestyle present himself for the sacrament?  If a person enables or promotes abuse, prejudice, racism or the death of persons as in euthanasia and abortion, should he or she be given the sacrament? Unless seriously remote, believers are forbidden to cooperate in evil acts.  How far can we compromise our integrity until the tension snaps the strands of faith and morals?  Is our claim to Catholicity a core dedication to the truth or only an affiliation due to habit or fellowship or nostalgia? 

The sacrament that is instituted for our salvation can come to our judgment and condemnation before God.  I suspect that many deny that such a conviction is possible.  Too many today, both in and out of the pews incoherently deny that one’s unity with Jesus can be severed. This lack of due diligence allows for a great deception where the spiritually gullible follow a counterfeit Christ that feigns saving everyone when he can save no one. Both top-notch theologians and on-and-off pew-sitters suggest that all might be saved even though the Scriptures clearly teach about the frightful prospect of hellfire and the loss of heaven. Good people frequently struggle with the heresy of universalism. But ours is no Pollyanna faith. Hardened hearts, sinful acts of commission or omission, can and do result in the terrible prospect of perdition.  A heretical mentality of indifference explains why many fail to pray for the dead. Everyone is presumed as in heaven. Compassion would have a decent person hesitate to tell anyone that his or her child or spouse or mother might be in hell.  You would likely be labeled as mean-spirited, intolerant and wrongly judgmental. In truth, we leave judgment to God but as Catholics we are called to appreciate that Jesus is both the Divine Mercy and the Divine Judgment. The priest who hesitates to give Holy Communion to an egregious public sinner or one who has rejected the Lordship of Jesus Christ may be struggling in conscience with not compounding the sin and guilt of the communicant.  Nevertheless, critics are quick to attack the priest.   

The priest mingles a fragment of the consecrated host into the chalice.  He prays, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”  Just as the two-fold consecration of bread and wine signifies the death of Jesus (separation of the body and blood), the commingling symbolizes resurrection (wholeness between the body and blood).  We are invited to have a share in our Lord’s new life.  The power of grace can divinize us and grant us immortality— if we are properly disposed.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

The movement of the liturgy picks up speed as we approach Communion. The Roman Rite has always been known for this and the brevity of its closing prayers and rituals. Before receiving the Lord’s great sacrament we turn to the oration given us by Jesus when his apostles asked him how to pray.  Our Lord does two things:  he gives us his prayer as our own and he gives us a model for all other Christian prayers. Lest we fail to appreciate the meaning of the Mass, the Lord’s Prayer gives a resounding reverberation to the entire liturgy. Indeed, any catechesis on the Mass can easily be hijacked by an explication of the Our Father.  Unpacking it is not easy.   The words we often speak in private, we speak together in unison at Mass.  The universal catechism states: [CCC 2803] “After we have placed ourselves in the presence of God our Father to adore and to love and to bless him, the Spirit of adoption stirs up in our hearts seven petitions, seven blessings. The first three, more theological, draw us toward the glory of the Father; the last four, as ways toward him, commend our wretchedness to his grace.” 

It is through faith and baptism that we are made adopted members of the royal household or family of God. God is our Father.  Jesus is our elder brother.  Mary is our Queen Mother.  God is in heaven.  Indeed, one might argue that heaven is in God or where ever God is.  The whole meaning of the incarnation and the redemptive work of Christ is that God makes a home with us so that we might have a room in his heavenly mansion. God’s name is Holy. Indeed, he is the source for all holiness: Holy, Holy, Holy. We submit ourselves to divine providence and to the divine kingdom that breaks into the world, first through the presence of Christ and now through his Church. We are made for God— to know him, to love him, to serve him, and to give glory to him, forever.  Each day is God’s gift to us.  We are dependent upon him.  He gives us food for our bodies and saving bread for our souls.  Our Lord enters the world to heal the rift between heaven and earth.  He makes possible the forgiveness of sins.  He is the Divine Mercy.  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are not bargaining with the Lord.  Rather, we are called to imitate the Lord in loving and forgiving others, even those who hate us and hurt us.  If Christ is alive in us then the Father will see his divine Son in us and give us a share in his reward or victory.  We pray to be spared temptations too great for us to endure but whatever comes, we trust the Lord will give us strength. We beseech deliverance from evil, in particular the devil.  We are no longer Satan’s property.  Our freedom from bondage has been bought at a great cost— the Cross.  Now we are summoned to take up our crosses and to follow him. 

The Our Father ends with a double embolism (qualifying insertion).  The first is the Deliver Us prayer which plays off the plea for freedom from evil. While the focus is the devil it would include bad men, natural calamities and institutional evil.  There are eschatological elements as we await the coming of the Lord:  “deliverance from evil,” “peace in our days,” “the help of mercy,” “freedom from sin,” “safety from distress,” and “a blessed hope.”  The second embolism is the familiar doxology that is often immediately added to Jesus’ words by Protestants: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.” It is arguably the Church’s immediate response to the Lord’s Prayer added by the early Church.  The doxology does not appear in the most ancient biblical texts. Voiced at worship, it is copied by scribes into subsequent bibles as an addendum to the words of Jesus.