Understanding the Liturgy of the Mass: Part IV - The Communion Rite to the Concluding Rite

by Deacon Dennis Webster

For this season of Advent, Father Chester and your deacons would like to help you make the Mass come to life for you in a new and personal way. Our homilies in the next four weeks will be based on the book by Mark Hart, entitled Behold the Mystery: A Deeper Understanding of the Catholic Mass. We highly recommend that you order a copy for yourself and read it. Mark Hart is a layperson, who is an executive vice president for Life Teen International, and hosts a SiriusXM Catholic radio show called "Fired Up!"

Mark Hart states that the Mass is a cataclysmic event because it brings Heaven and Earth together. It requires that we put our gifts and talents in the hands of God, allowing him to take something simple and transform it into something majestic. Christ is present in the liturgy, not like you and I are present, but deeper than that. We encounter Christ in four places at every Mass. At the community gathering through our Baptism, in our priest, in Sacred Scriptures, and finally most importantly in his Eucharistic Body and Blood. The Mass is made up of movements and content and the better we know what the movements and flow of the Mass mean, the more we will understand the why the Catholic Mass is, first and foremost, a sacrifice.

The Communion Rite is regarded as a very special and uniquely sacred part of the Mass (not to minimize any of the other parts of the Mass) but it is regarded as such because our Lord is present on the altar from the time of the Consecration until the reception of the Body and/or Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ by all communicants.

There are several subsections that fall within the Communion Rite, the first being the "Our Father." It is important to note that the Lord's Prayer could have been placed at any point in the Mass, but it is inserted at this particular point in the Mass because of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist on the altar. Additionally, it should not go unnoticed that this prayer, as we often hear it introduced as, "In the words Jesus taught us..." is a prayer directed not only to His (that is, Jesus') Father, but to Our Father -- each and every one of us present today, from the youngest to the oldest.

Lastly on this subject of the Lord's Prayer, I would like to offer a caution. Anytime we do something repetitively we have an inclination to do it by rote, that is, say something mechanically or unthinkingly without pondering each and every word we utter. In this particular case it is very important we not do that. And I confess to you I, too, am guilty of this on occasion. What good is it to say, "OurFatherwhoartinheavenhallowedbethynamethykindgdomcome...?" Or even to say "Our Father, who art in heaven..." but having our mind be off on the golf course or wondering what we are going to prepare for dinner -- or the argument we engaged in with our children just prior to coming to church? I know you all understand this and recognize it, but it takes some special effort not to just mouth words, but to believe in what we speak.

The next subsection in the Mass is the Rite of Peace. We often refer to it as "The Sign of Peace," but at one time it was called "The Kiss of Peace." Now, for some this is a very uncomfortable time. Some people are not "touchy-feely" and a mere nod or a smile will suffice for them. Then there are others who are high-fivers or more demonstrative. But it is important to recognize the Sign of Peace is not a break or intermission in the Mass or the opportunity to forget Who is still present in the sanctuary on the altar -- Jesus -- but it is a time where we are invited to genuinely make peace with, if necessary, our spouse (if s/he is present with us) or that child we scolded just prior to coming to Mass because they were dilly-dallying around; or, just as importantly, those unrelated-by-blood brothers and sisters in our parish community that we may have "had words with" in the past; or neighbors on the streets where we reside who we haven't spoken to in years because their dog... well, I don't have to get graphic.

Recall, the Sign of Peace follows the words we have just prayed to Our Father ... "forgive us our trespasses (sins) AS WE FORGIVE THOSE who trespass against us."

Following this exchange of peace, the priest begins the Fraction (as in to fracture or break) Rite, which includes the "Lamb of God," in Latin "Agnus Dei" or the Breaking of the Bread and the Commingling where the priest takes a piece of the now consecrated bread, breaks it off and drops it into the chalice of wine transubstantiated into Christ's sacred Blood. The Breaking of the Bread calls to mind the great account of the on the Road to Emmaus story in which the disciples recognized our Lord. You will remember elsewhere in Sacred Scripture where St. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as "The Lamb of God." And so, we, too, proclaim Him as "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those..." etc. Here we continue our petitions to the Lord to have mercy on us and forgive us our sins. We ask for His grace and pray for peace of heart, mind and soul.

And now all that we've been preparing for: Communion (common union with Christ, communion with each other). We proclaim first that we are not worthy -- for who is? But we pray that our souls will be healed by the Great One and Only Healer. We have been told elsewhere in God's Word through St. Paul that our bodies are temples, so when we receive Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist he is literally coming under the roof of our temples to transform us -- if we are open to that transformation.

And now we approach quietly, reverently, humbly, respectfully (as we bow before Our Lord -- not bowing to the priest or the deacon -- but to Our Lord and God) and are fed, nourished with the Body and/or Blood of Jesus Christ. As has been done for over 2,000 years all over the world.

We now enter into the time for Communion Meditation. Just as an aside, when I sit where I usually do these days, in the pews along with you, when I return to my seat and kneel to continue my personal prayers, I lean over to kiss him, our seven-year-old who has yet to receive his First Holy Communion. I kiss him on the lips, for I have just received a wonderful gift and I want to share it with him. What greater expression of love can I render? I would ask you to consider that for yourselves when bringing your little ones to church. (Parenthetically, you might choose to do the same with someone other than a young child, perhaps an adult who, for one reason or another, has not Received Holy Communion.)

So, as we're kneeling -- if we're physically able -- as our brothers and sisters approach one-by-one to be spiritually nourished with the Eucharist, we might call to mind the words of St. Alphonse Liguori who commented: "there is no moment within the course of our week that we are more closely united to the sacred heart of Jesus and to our loved ones who have gone before us to heaven than in the moments immediately before and after reception of the Eucharist."

We are still kneeling while everyone who has chosen to come forward to "Receive" has and have gone back to their seats. We all remain prayerfully kneeling as all the ciboria with the remaining Eucharist is brought back from the Communion stations to the altar to be consolidated into one vessel and placed into the tabernacle by either the deacon or the priest. The appropriate time to resume your seat is once the Eucharistic Jesus has been returned to the tabernacle. Now, no one is saying you can't kneel and pray for as long as you want, but it is fitting to stop kneeling when Jesus is placed back into the tabernacle.

The Concluding Rite: Finally, the Final Blessing. Briefly, God has just filled us with His Word, His Body, with His love. He is sending us out armed to do good works in His name. He has given us the encouragement, the tools, His Holy Spirit - to guide us. We are sent forth and in response we say: "Thanks be to God." For certainly we are thankful.

The Recessional: We are blessed with a music ministry. In addition to our musicians and choir we have many parishioners that are gifted with good voices. There are some who are not. I would urge you if you fall into the latter category that I do that you at least follow along in the hymnal and read the words -- for it is a final prayer in praise to God.

One last thing, I would like to emphasize the importance of our Church's teaching in the real presence of Jesus at the altar. This belief on our part is essential to our understanding of Jesus in our lives. Real Presence is central to our faith. This does not make us any better than our brothers and sisters in other denominations within the Christian faith, but we as Roman Catholics do not deal with symbolism when it comes to the Eucharist.

Every once in a while someone will come up to me and say, "Deacon Dennis, I remember years ago when you said in a homily..." this or that. And I will usually respond: "I did?" But I do remember one thing I said at the last homily I gave prior to my going into "retirement status" as a deacon on the last weekend of July in 2010. It was in my closing statement at those Masses. When I had the opportunity to "do the dishes" during the Communion Meditation I would cleanse all the vessels with water and take the paten (the gold dish-like vessel) and swish the minute morsels of remaining Eucharist as if I were panning gold. Now, mind you, I didn't say "panning for gold," for that's what the California gold rushers did many years ago. This Gold we have been gifted with has already been refined and is of the highest quality. It is the most precious gift the world has ever been given.

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