• Our Blogger

    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.

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Gerry on Ask a Priest
    Heather Morse on Ask a Priest
    Heather Morse on Ask a Priest
    Cliff on Ask a Priest
    Jeff C on Ask a Priest

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.

THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER

A Eucharistic Prayer is also called an Anaphora.  While there is great variation among the various rites of the Catholic Church, especially in the East, until the Second Vatican Council the Roman Canon or first Eucharistic Prayer was exclusively used with certain variations for many centuries.  While the stance for the prayer in many places (as in Spain, Italy, France and Mexico) is a combination of standing and kneeling (until the consecration); in the United States all but the priest are urged to kneel throughout. Pope Benedict XVI expressed his opinion in favor of the American option as a sign of reverence to the entire prayer. What we celebrate is something miraculous and appreciated by eyes of faith.  The Mass brings us to Calvary.  While the historical Cross of Christ is a bloody sacrifice; the Eucharist is a clean or unbloody re-presentation of that same one-time oblation. The unleavened bread and the wine are transformed through the words of consecration into the real presence of the Risen Christ, substantially present whole and complete in the sacrament of his body and blood.  As Jesus taught the murmuring crowd of Jews in the Gospel of John, his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink.

The Roman Canon “as we know it” goes back to 1570 AD and the Council of Trent, albeit until recent times in Latin.  Pope John XXIII added the name of St. Joseph to the prayer just as he was recently added to the other Eucharistic prayers. 

While there are special prayers for children and reconciliation, there are four standard prayers that are regularly used. The Roman Rite emphasizes similar elements in each anaphora. This part of the Mass is sometimes called the “canon” as it is fixed and generally unchanging. While the pattern varies somewhat between the prayers, here are the common elements as ordered in the Third Eucharistic Prayer:

01.  Praise & Thanksgiving (echoes the Preface and Sanctus)

02.  Epiclesis (Invocation of the Holy Spirit)

03.  Institution Narrative & Consecration

04.  Memorial Acclamation

05.  Anamnesis (Memorial Prayer)

06.  Oblation Offered the Father

07.  Intercession of Mary & the Saints

08.  Intercession for the Church

09.  Intercession for the Living

10.  Intercession for the Dead

11.  Concluding Doxology & Great Amen

The Mass is our most significant act of praise and thanksgiving.  The reason why we should not miss Mass has less to do with the precept of the Church and what we will receive as it does with what we owe to God.  Only with our priest can we offer this act of worship that most honors God.  Those who stop attending because they “get nothing out of it” are failing to appreciate that the point is the other way around, what we can give or offer Almighty God— the gift of his Son and ourselves joined to him.  This is the gist for the prayers of oblation to the Father after the consecration.

The epiclesis is the invocation of the Holy Spirit.  It is by the Spirit of God that Jesus performs his miracles, heals the sick and wounded, and resurrects the dead.  Indeed, Jesus rises from the dead by his own power, again the Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit that conceives the Christ by hovering over the sinless Virgin will come upon the gifts on the altar.  The priest will extend his hands over them.  He will make a sign of the cross.  Some of the Eastern rites will have the priest wave a cloth over the gifts, signifying the Spirit as the wind or breath of God.  Note that the priest breathes or speaks into the cup for the consecration of the wine.  The epiclesis and consecration are intimately connected in the overall liturgical action. 

The words of consecration constitute a narrative; but more than historical, it is evocative.  It is a command performance and our Lord tells his apostles, the first priests, to do this in remembrance of him.  That which is remembered is made present.  One might reckon the Mass as a sacramental time machine. We are transported both to the Last Supper and to the hill of Calvary.  That is the meaning of Anamnesis. It is more than a nostalgic remembrance. The priest says, “This is my Body” and “This is the chalice of my Blood.” At the Last Supper cultic or ritualistic language is used. At the Mass, Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God. We are told that a new and everlasting covenant is established. After the Protestant reformation, there grew a resistance to the reality of this sacramental mystery. However, it is no late Roman innovention. Many of the Jews walk away from Jesus because they find this teaching too hard to accept.  They know that one could not establish a covenant with fake blood.  Jesus means what he says.  The transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is later philosophically defined under the concept of “transubstantiation.”  The appearance or the accidentals of bread and wine remain; but, the substantial reality is changed into the risen Lord, whole and complete in each particle and drop— his body, blood, soul and divinity.  Bells may be rung at the epiclesis and at the two-fold consecration.  Doubting Thomas becomes believing Thomas in confronting the risen Christ in the upper room.  At the consecration my father like many others would echo Thomas by whispering his words, “My Lord and my God.”  It is an act of faith in the Eucharistic presence. We encounter the risen Lord in the sacrament.

There are three options for the Memorial Acclamation, added to the words of the priest retained from the older form of the liturgy, “The mystery of faith.” The second acclamation makes a clear connection to the Eucharist: “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.” The Anamnesis for the Third Eucharistic Prayer is as follows: “Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, and as we look forward to his second coming, we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.” In other words, what happened in time is now the focus of an eternal NOW.  Connected to this oration is the Prayer of Oblation.  Continuing with the third anaphora, we read: “Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and, recognizing the sacrificial Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself, grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.” We offer Christ and ourselves along with him to the Father.  We enter into the Paschal Mystery of Christ and make it our own.

The Intercessions or Mementos are literally for those whom we are praying— we remember them.  The priest quickly brings to mind those whom he is obliged to pray at the sacrifice of the Mass. Pastors are required to pray each Sunday for their parishioners.  While there is insufficient time to recall many names with specificity, he likely has a general  intention to pray for all those on his personal list remembered daily in the recitation of his breviary or the Liturgy of the Hours.  There is no limit to such intentions; however Church law specifies that he can only take one paid stipend a day for an announced Mass intention.  This is to avoid the abuse of trafficking in Mass stipends for remuneration.     

The priest prays that the saints will intercede for us.  We are asking that they pray for and with us.  We want to be where they are.  While we pray to and with the saints; the priest would also have us pray for the Church, for the living and for the dead in purgatory.  The saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory are still attached to us as members of the Church.  The Mass is an earthly and visible expression of the great heavenly banquet and the communion of the saints.  We commend the souls of the dead and look forward to the resurrection of the dead intimated or prefigured in the glorified and risen body of Christ and in the uncorrupted body of Mary that is assumed intact with her soul into heaven.  

While the dead in purgatory are helpless, we can assist them by our prayers, fanning the flames of divine love so that they might be perfected and sped on their way to heaven.  It is by the fire of divine love that souls are purged of impurity and perfected for heaven and the beatific vision.  We should not underestimate the value of the graces and fruits available to them from the Mass. If our loved ones should already be in heaven then these helps would be applied to some other poor soul who needs them and who has no one left in the world to remember him by name and to pray for him. 

The Eucharistic Prayer ends with a doxology or hymn of praise:  “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father,  in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.” The priest raises the Eucharistic Lord in the paten and chalice.  The congregation responds, “Amen.”  That “Amen” makes the entire action of the Eucharistic prayer, their own.  The word “Amen” means many things— so be it— it is true— I believe. 

We come to the Father through the mediation of Jesus Christ.  He alone is the way.  There is no other. 

INTRODUCTORY DIALOGUE, PREFACE & SANCTUS

Everyone stands at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The celebrant invites the people to pray with him.  There is a dialogue. The priest says, “The Lord be with you.” The congregation responds, “And with your spirit.” There is a profound unity and mutuality.  The priest greets the people at various stages in the liturgy.  He does so at the start of Mass. Again, he greets us with the Word prior to the Gospel.  Now he greets the people at the beginning of the Eucharistic action.  He will do so again at the end of Mass with the dismissal or sending forth. Next the priest says, “Lift up your hearts” and the people respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.”

The exhortation “Lift up your hearts!” constitutes the movement into the third “offering” or part of the Mass along with the penitential rite and the preparation of the gifts.  We must love as the Lord loves. We need to avoid divided hearts, enmity and grudges.  We must be the people we claim to be.  We need to acknowledge Jesus as our great treasure. We are mindful of the warning in the Gospel of John that if we say we love God whom we cannot see while we hate our brother whom we can see, then, we are liars.  The Eucharist is Jesus. The Eucharistic prayer is the center of the Mass. We put aside all the worries of the day.  Everything pales in comparison to this offering or sacrifice.  As we remember the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we align our hearts with the Immaculate Heart of Mary and seek to have hearts that beat in harmony with the Lord.         

The priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” and the people answer, “It is right and just.”  Giving thanks is what the liturgy is about.  We are forever mindful of our reliance upon the Lord. We respond to the generosity and mercy of God with unbounded and enthusiastic gratitude.  If people really want to be at Mass and are disposed for Holy Communion, then this is where such faith is demonstrated or professed. 

The priest-celebrant will pray the Preface alone. It is one of the longest prayers in the Mass and the wording varies with the celebration.  It is selected according to the week of ordinary time or other season or type of celebration or saint in the sanctoral calendar. At the end of the Preface comes the Sanctus or “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

It is the dominate acclamation by the people in the liturgy.  Our hearts are full and we cannot contain ourselves.  We join the song of angels in exultation of the Lord God.  The Preface has given some of the reasons for our joy.  The text is divided between the three announcements of “Holy” and the Blessing (in this context, a form of high praise). Each part concludes with “Hosanna in the highest.”  The benediction is taken from psalm 118:26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.” Jesus uses this benediction in reference to himself as the stone rejected by the builders having become the cornerstone. We are entering into the mystery of salvation. Each utterance of “Holy” points to Almighty God as Trinity:  God the Father is Holy; God the Son is Holy; and God the Holy Spirit is Holy.  God comes to extend something of himself upon us, making us holy or saints.  

Ours is the Lord “God of Hosts” or the king over the army of heaven. Just as Israel of old is urged to trust in divine power even as they are outnumbered and facing fantastic odds; the Church is urged to trust that this power can overcome all difficulties and even force the hand of Satan and death.  There is an eschatological element.  The same Lord that lays down his life will take it up again.  When he comes again, he will do so with throngs of angels in the sky; the Lord Jesus will come to judge the living and dead.  All will be consummated.  God’s glory fills heaven and earth! 

OFFERTORY or PREPARATION OF THE GIFTS

The most radical change between the old and the current missal is in the Offertory Prayers.  Many notable liturgists thought that the old prayers overly anticipated the Eucharist.  Indeed, commenters once spoke of it as a natural offering prefiguring the supernatural oblation.  Notable was the removal of a clear invocation of the Holy Spirit that was only implied in the Roman Canon:  “Come, Thou, the Sanctifier, God, almighty and everlasting: bless (+) this sacrifice which is prepared for the glory of Thy holy name.”  The new Eucharistic prayers would each have a clear epiclesis making this prayer redundant. Also subtracted was a prayer addressed to the Trinity:  “Receive, O holy Trinity, this oblation offered up by us to You in memory of the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in honor of blessed Mary, ever a virgin, of blessed John the Baptist, of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, of these, and of all the saints, that it may be available to their honor and to our salvation; and may they whose memory we celebrate on earth vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven.”

The offertory is much simplified.  Indeed, it has been relabeled the Preparation of the Gifts.  The altar table is set with corporal, purificator, chalice, pall and the Roman Missal.  There are already candles on either side of the altar and a visible crucifix.  While the gravity is given to the Mass as a sacrifice, it is also regarded as a meal or a share in the banquet table of heaven.   

A collection is taken on Sunday for the support of the parish, the priest and the works of the Church. The sacrifice of treasure signifies our self-offering.  Along with the gifts of bread and wine, gift bearers and ushers bring the offertory to the altar.  We enter into a special rhythm:  God gives us grain and grapes— we take these gifts and transform them into bread and wine— we give or dedicate the bread and wine to God.  This is the offertory.  The Eucharistic prayer that follows has God giving us the gifts transformed into the body and blood of his Son— united to Christ we offer ourselves with Jesus back to the Father, that we might be sanctified and transformed.  The gifts represent us and just as the bread and wine will be destroyed and consecrated into the body and blood of Christ; we want to be transformed as well into the likeness of our Lord. We must die to our old selves so as to be made brand new.   

Water will also sometimes be brought forward but is not technically considered a gift.  Of course, this view might be challenged in a world where many lack clean drinking water.  Water is a powerful symbol of life and death. 

The priest offers the bread and the wine to God, so that it might be made holy.  The revised prayers are literally Jewish table blessings.  Our Lord would have employed similar prayers at the Seder of the Last Supper:  “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. / Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.” The congregation responds each time, “Blessed be God forever.”

Prior to the blessing of the cup, a drop of water is mixed with the wine and the minister quietly prays, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  The water signifies both the humanity of Christ and our incorporation into him.  The gift of the Eucharist will raise up, even divinize our humanity by grace. 

I suspect that the offertory is a particular section of the Mass that needs to be revisited by liturgists and upon which better catechesis should be given.  Do the people in the pews really understand their role in this?  Are they offering themselves with all their hopes and dreams, with all their joys and sorrows?  If the Eucharist celebrates the surrender of Christ into the hands of sinful men all so that we might be redeemed; do we see this stage of the Mass as an opportunity to prayerfully surrender ourselves with him?  We need to join or graft ourselves to Christ.  This way the heavenly Father will receive us with his Son and give us a share in his Son’s reward. 

While not a personal prayer, the priest quietly or inaudibly prays for all assembled, “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” The prayer is said quietly so as not to detract from the two-fold offerings and the Prayer Over the Gifts. Aware of his sinfulness and shortcomings, the priest washes his fingers at the Lavabo.  He prays, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”  This is a brief but important gesture and prayer.  The priest is intensely aware that he is just a man; and yet, at the altar he is another Christ, a sharer in Christ’s one High Priesthood. He is only a creature and yet he has been configured to Christ for this great sacrament.  He has the authority to forgive sins. He has the power to call God down from heaven and to make him substantially present in the consecrated host and chalice.  He is Christ arriving at Calvary so that we might all be present at our Lord’s redemptive sacrifice.

The “Orate Fratres” has the priest turning to the people and saying, “Brethren, pray that my sacrifice and yours may be well pleasing to God the Father almighty.” Everyone is invited to pray. The people respond, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” This is where we usually speak of the fruits of the Mass.  The priest has his which can be offered for special intentions gathered from others.  Each congregant also has his own fruits.  Together, the celebration is rendered as efficacious.

Just as Jesus offers his sacrifice in love; we return this love with our own. The whole meaning behind the Lord’s command to take up the cross and follow him is not that misery loves company but that divine love in this world is inherently sacrificial.  I wonder if people actually contemplate, that when they come to Mass they are to lay down their lives spiritually with Christ for others?  Indeed, we are to view the Mass as a confirmation and empowerment of our discipleship outside the church doors— lives of loving service— lives of sacrifice.

During the pandemic I suggested that those attending services remember the many who were missing out of caution, sickness and fear.  We are privileged to have the opportunity to come to Mass and to receive the sacraments. (Remember, the Virgin Mary, the apostle John and Mary Magdalene were our emissaries at the cross.  The other apostles were in hiding.) We can come, mentally and spiritually bringing others with us, letting them know that they are not forgotten. Indeed, we can do this for those around the world, especially where Christians are persecuted and where going to Mass is either impossible or against the law.  

Along with the Collect and the Prayer after Communion, the Prayer Over the Gifts is variable from week to week or even changes daily during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, as well as during the sanctoral days.  There is no invitation to pray because it has already been given with the “Orate Fratres.” The priest prays over the gifts and the people respond, “Amen.” As he will do throughout the liturgy, he prays with his hands extended.  This is his primary sacerdotal gesture. He prays not just for himself but for the entire gathered community.