by Ray Takacs
Part 6 (11/13/16): “Communion Rite and Closing”
The Lord’s Prayer opens the Communion Rite. This prayer was taught to us by Christ himself. It belongs to the people and is recited by all. As we stand facing the altar preparing to recite the Lord’s Prayer, we know that Jesus is present right in front of us. And where Jesus is, so also are God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Our God is right in front of us. He’s asking, “What do you want to say to me?” We respond, Our Father – Abba – Daddy. The God of the universe wants us to know him as Father. St. Theresa of Avila would spend hours in ecstasy contemplating this prayer. She couldn’t get past the word “Father.”
The Communion Rite continues with the Rite of Peace in which the Church asks God to grant peace and unity to all her members as well as all the people. This prayer is followed by a symbolic sign of peace with those around us. It is reminiscent of the command of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel 5:23-24. “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 and go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
This gesture of peace is symbolic in that those around us, with whom the sign of peace is exchanged, represent all those whose lives touch our own, and with whom we need to be at peace. They also represent the entire world community whom we pray may experience the peace which only Christ can give.
The breaking of the bread – Fracture – follows the Rite of peace. It gets its origins from the Lord at the Last Supper, “He took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to his disciples.” The breaking of bread was part of the Eucharistic celebration from the very beginning. That’s why in the early Church the Eucharistic celebration was called the “Breaking of the Bread.”
The Priest takes the bread, breaks it over the paten and places a small piece in the chalice, saying quietly: “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.” These actions have great symbolic value. We who are many are made one body by receiving the Eucharist. Our common sharing in the life of Christ also unites us to one another. Each time we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, our unity with him and with each other is strengthened.
The priest now lifts up the host and chalice inviting us to take part in the Eucharistic banquet, saying: “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.” We respond: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” This is a reference to the Roman centurion in Matthew’s Gospel, whose servant is healed by Jesus. In reciting this prayer, both the Priest and the people make their act of humility before the Body and Blood of the Lord that is raised before them.
After being invited, those who are to receive Holy Communion join a procession. The Communion procession is a religious action. It is not the same as standing in line or viewing a parade. It is more than just getting up out of your seat, walking to the minister, receiving Jesus Sacramentally and walking back to your seat again. Through the Eucharist, Christ unites us even more closely to himself and to each other.
The Communion Procession is joyous and its joyous nature is expressed in song. The song should encourage a sense of unity; a sense that we approach the Eucharistic Table not as isolated individuals, but as a united community. And since we are all part of the procession and the procession is not finished until all have returned to their seats, we continue singing the Communion song, until all have received.
When we receive Holy Communion, Heaven is opened to us and we are in the presence of God in all His magnificence. And because God is present, all of Heaven – Mary, the angels and all the saints – are present as well. I like to think that for a brief moment, a window has opened up to heaven and all present at Mass are united with each other and with everyone in heaven. St. Maximillian Kolbe said this about the Eucharist, ”What miracles of miracles! If the angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason – Holy Communion!”
The Communion Rite and the Liturgy of the Eucharist conclude with the Prayer after Communion. It’s the last of the three orations. The Concluding Rites then bring the liturgy to a close. The Priest says, “The Lord be with you.” And we respond again, “And with your spirit.” The Priest gives the blessing, “May Almighty God Bless You; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We respond, “AMEN.”
The mass closes with the dismissal by the priest or deacon. There are four different dismissals. The first may sound familiar to many of you in Latin – “Ite missa est” – This is where the word, Mass comes from, missa, which means, “Sent.” Ite missa est can be translated, “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” This sense of mission is made very explicit in another form of the dismissal, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
Our presence and participation at Mass, while vitally important, are not enough. We are called once we leave the Eucharistic assembly to be actively engaged in the Lord’s work on earth. For Catholics, the end of Mass is not really an ending at all. It is a beginning. We are called to take the Word of God we heard in the readings, that was explained in the homily, and go forth nourished by the Holy Eucharist to do God’s work in the world. So as we respond, “Thanks be to God,” we sing a hymn and take Jesus to the world. Amen! Alleluia!