Inside the Mass: The Liturgy of the Eucharist (Part IV)

The grace and peace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus be with you!

This weekend we continue our series Inside the Mass with the fourth part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The Lord’s Prayer

The communion rite begins with the Our Father, which is the principal prayer of the Church. Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples when they asked how to pray (Mt 6:9-13, Lk 11:2-4). Matthew’s version is most commonly used. It is a sign of our unity with Christ and one another, and helps prepare us to receive Holy Communion. In this prayer, the assembly joins their voices to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, and to ask God to provide for our needs, forgive our sins, and bring us to the joy of heaven. While there are no directions as to the posture of the faithful, the rubrics clearly direct the priest and any other concelebrants to pray the Our Father with hands extended. The Our Father is the prayer of the entire assembly and not a priestly or presidential prayer. In fact, it is perhaps the only case when the rubrics direct the priest to pray with arms extended in a prayer that he does not say alone or only with other priests. Therefore, in the case of the Our Father, the orantes posture (arms extended) expresses the prayer directed to God by his children. This posture was, after all, the normal way Christians prayed for a millennium.

The Lord’s Prayer is concluded with the doxology (For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever.) The doxology is not found in the original texts of the Bible. It is first found in the Didache (circa 70 A.D.), which is The Teaching of the Apostles. Catholics do not end the Our Father with the doxology, but separate it in the Mass, recognizing that the two prayers are distinct. The Lord’s Prayer is “truly the summary of the whole gospel.”

Sign of Peace

The priest prays that the peace of Christ will fill our hearts, our families, our Church, our communities, and our world. As a sign of peace, hope and love, we show our unity in Christ and our reconciliation with one another by extending to those around us a sign of peace. Although we only greet those around us, the rite is intended to extend our wish of peace to all peoples throughout the world. Fr. Hurley will give us an ampler explanation on the sign of peace in a subsequent reflection.

The Fraction of the Bread

The fraction or breaking of the bread is begun after the sign of peace and is carried out with proper reverence. In the Fraction Rite, the priest breaks the large consecrated bread. The gesture of breaking the bread done by Christ at the Last Supper, which in apostolic times gave the entire Eucharistic Action its name, signifies that the many faithful are made one body (1 Cor 10:17) by receiving Communion from the one Bread of Life, which is Christ. The priest breaks the Bread and puts a piece of the host into the chalice to signify the unity of the Body and Blood of the Lord.

Lamb of God

Jesus is the lamb who sacrificed himself for us and saved us. In this invocation we pray for God’s mercy and peace. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). The supplication Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) is usually sung and accompanies the fraction of the bread. The third time it concludes with the words “grant us peace.”

Invitation to the Eucharist

The priest invites the assembly to join in a preparation prayer to receive communion. We respond as did the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his son: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The faithful are now ready and truly prepared to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

Of all seven sacraments, the Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is the most central and important to Catholicism. Holy Communion is offered at every Mass, and in fact, the ritual of the Mass is largely taken up with preparing the hosts and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ and the congregation to receive the Body of Christ. Transubstantiation is the act of changing the substances of bread and wine into the substances of the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Holy Eucharist refers to Christ’s body and blood present in the consecrated host on the altar, and Catholics believe that the consecrated bread and wine are actually the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ. For Catholics, the presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist isn't just symbolic, it’s real.

When you receive Holy Communion, you’re intimately united with Jesus Christ—he literally becomes part of you. Also, by taking Holy Communion, you express your union with all Catholics who believe the same doctrines, obey the same laws, and follow the same leaders. This sense of participation in a larger community is why Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox Christians) have a strict law that only people who are in communion with the Church can receive Holy Communion. In other words, only those who are united in the same beliefs are allowed to receive Holy Communion. The belief of the relationship between the sacramental body of Christ and the mystical body is the key to understanding of the Eucharist. Here lies the heart of the mystery of this sacrament: the body of Christ receives the Body of Christ to become more fully united as the body of Christ.

Sacred Silence

When the distribution of Communion is over, the priest and the assembly pray quietly for some time. This is the time of personal, quiet prayer and meditation on the sacred mystery which has been received. We are closely united with God at this time. This is the time to share your cares, concerns and prayers with God. You can ask God to strengthen you through the Eucharist and help you to be a better disciple in living the Gospel daily.

Prayer after Communion

After the silence following Communion, the priest invites the assembly to pray, which closes the Communion Rite. This is the final prayer of the liturgy and is based on the theme of the liturgy, the saint of the day, or the appropriate liturgical season. The Prayer ends with one of the shorter conclusions:

  • If the prayer is directed to the Father: "Through Christ our Lord”
  • If it is directed to the Father, but the Son is mentioned at the end: “Who lives and reigns forever and ever”
  • If it is directed to the Son: “Who live and reign forever and ever”
  • The assembly makes the prayer their own by means of the acclamation “Amen”.

Next weekend we shall end our Inside the Mass series with the concluding rite

Peace be with you,
Fr. Augustin