The Communion Rite
Our survey of the Mass brings us now the Communion Rite, which extends from the Our Father until the Prayer after Communion. Prepared by listening attentively to the Word of God and by taking part in the Eucharistic Prayer, we now make immediate preparation so as to be properly disposed to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord as spiritual food and drink.
We begin by praying together the Our Father. Notice how the priest introduces it: "At the Savior's command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say..." Jesus' very example commands us to pray. The Gospels show us Jesus absorbed in prayer, spending long periods in prayerful communion with His Heavenly Father (see, for example, Luke 6:12). Then, we recall that Jesus instructed His followers to pray without ceasing (see, for example, Luke 18:1). And more than that, Jesus taught His disciples how to pray. He warned them against praying merely to impress others (Mt. 6:6). He also warned them against honoring God only with their lips but not with their lives (Mt. 15:8). And He instructed them not to imagine that their prayers would be heard by the sheer multiplication of words (Mt. 6:7). On the contrary, Jesus taught them a prayer that succinctly and brilliantly reflects His relationship to His Father and ours, a prayer that sums up the Gospel and asks for all that we need truly to live the Gospel and be shaped by it.
Even though the Our Father is familiar, it remains an audacious prayer. We don't address God as Father on our own. We do so because we have been made sons and daughters of the heavenly Father through Christ and the Spirit in Baptism and because we have been redeemed by the Blood of Jesus' Cross. Thus, we dare to pray this prayer by which we enter into the relationship of Christ and His Father.
We can pray the Our Father daily, but in the Communion Rite of the Mass we are privileged to pray the Lord's Prayer in His presence. Indeed, as His one sacrifice for the world's redemption is renewed, Jesus is truly present upon the altar, interceding for us as we pray the prayer He taught us. We offer it either by lifting our voices in song or by reciting the words of this most basic of Christian prayers. We should not lightly skip over its familiar words but rather reflect on what we are saying. During Mass, we should especially ask the Lord to prepare our hearts to receive that "daily bread" which is, above all, the Eucharist. We should also sincerely ask for the grace to forgive and to be forgiven, so that our reception of the Most Holy Eucharist will bring about in us a deeper communion with the Lord and with all those in our lives, especially those with whom we have experienced discord.
The Our Father is followed by a prayer known as the "embolism." This prayer, offered by the priest, is like a commentary placed between the Our Father and the act of praise or doxology which concludes it. It expands the final petition of the Our Father: "Deliver us, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days..." It also repeats and intensifies the longing we expressed in the Our Father for the coming of God's Kingdom; we pray that "we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress as we await the blessed home and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." Then, having prayed the Lord's Prayer together in His Presence, we unite in praising Christ who, in Himself, personifies the Kingdom: "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever."
The Rite of Peace follows. This, too, is referenced in the Our Father: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Indeed, we dare to say those words in the living Presence of the Lord who has made peace for us by the blood of His Cross (cf. Col. 1:2). On behalf of the people, the priest humbly asks the Lord not to look upon our sins, which are the source of discord, but rather to look upon the Church's faith by which we come into living contact with Christ who is our peace and our reconciliation (see Eph. 2:14). It is in that spirit that we are invited to offer one another the sign of peace. It is not a moment just for friendly saygreeting or to make a joke but rather a solemn moment, right before receiving Holy Communion, when we offer those about us the peace of Christ, that "peace the world cannot give" (John 14:27). It is also a moment when we need to examine our consciences to see if we are at peace with our God, our family, our colleagues, friends, and acquaintances (see Mt. 5:23).
This leads to the "Fraction," or Breaking of the Eucharistic Bread, which is reserved to the priest who may also be assisted by a deacon. Here, the priest repeats what Jesus did at the Last Supper, when He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Early on in Christian history, the Eucharist itself was known as "the breaking of the bread." The disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus "in the breaking of bread" (see Luke 24:25). Describing the life of earliest followers of Christ in Jerusalem, St. Luke writes: "They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, to the communal life, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers" (Acts 2:42). St. Paul asks: "The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:17). By sharing in the Eucharistic Bread, the Body of Christ that is broken and distributed, we are made one body in Christ. The Eucharist is to be the sign and the means of our reconciliation and unity as the Body of Christ.
As the Host or Hosts are being broken, the Lamb of God or Agnus Dei is sung or recited. It is optimal that it be sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation replying. The Agnus Dei helps us see what we behold in faith upon the altar: Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world; Jesus the source of mercy; Jesus the source of our peace. He is, indeed, is the Paschal Lamb who has been sacrificed for our redemption and sanctification (see 1 Cor. 5:7). Breaking a large Host, the priest takes a small particle and intermingles it with the Lord's Precious Blood in 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." He thereby signifies "… the unity of the Body and the Blood of the Lord in the work of our redemption..." (General Instruction, no. 83).
The reception of Holy Communion then begins. The priest inaudibly offers a prayer in preparation for his own reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. Then he shows the Host to the faithful, holding it over either the paten or the chalice, and invites them to share in the banquet of Christ's sacrifice, in words taken from the Book of Revelation (19:9) and reminiscent of John the Baptist's announcement of Christ: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb." The congregation responds, using words made famous by the centurion in the Gospel of St. Matthew: "Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed" (Mt. 8:8).
The priest then reverently consumes the Body and the Blood of Christ. If a deacon is present, he next receives Holy Communion. As the distribution of Holy Communion for the faithful begins, the Communion Antiphon in the Missal is chanted or recited; this is a short scriptural passage often drawn from the Gospel reading of the day. Otherwise, appropriate Eucharistic hymns are sung. These are ways of expressing Eucharistic joy, gratitude, and amazement for so sublime a mystery.
It is imperative we be interiorly prepared to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. We must be free of mortal sin. Our faith in the Eucharistic mystery should be intact and our sense of devotion lively. Indeed, we should be at one with all that the Church believes and teaches regarding faith and morals. We should try to be free of all distraction.
In receiving Holy Communion our oneness with the Lord is brought about and our communion with the Church in heaven and on earth is deepened. Just before receiving Holy Communion we are to make a profound bow as an act of reverence and then receive the Host either on the tongue or in the hand. When appropriate, not only the Host but also the chalice containing the Lord's Precious Blood is offered. When the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister of the Eucharist says: "The Body of Christ," "The Blood of Christ," we answer, "Amen" as our faithfilled affirmation that we are, indeed, receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.
As the Communion Rite proceeds, the vessels which held the Eucharistic species—the chalice and ciborium—are purified and the remaining Hosts are reverently placed in the Tabernacle. A period of quiet prayer follows before the priest sings or recites the Prayer after Communion in which he prays that our reception of Holy Communion may prove fruitful in our lives.
Next month, we will take a look at the Concluding Rites of the Mass and cover a few other miscellaneous topics. That will conclude this year-long series on the Eucharist, the installments of which are available on the diocesan website.
May the Lord, through His Spirit, continue to deepen our love and appreciation for the Mass, "the source and summit" of the Christian life.