No one was there when Jesus rose from the dead. But he appeared on the evening of His Resurrection to two disciples walking on the Road to Emmaus. They do not recognize Him until He breaks bread with them. In the Mass, no one sees the Resurrection, even in symbol, for no symbol could ever do it justice. But the priest breaks the consecrated bread so that we may recognize the presence of the Crucified and Risen Christ in the Eucharist as surely as the disciples knew Him in the breaking of the bread. Just as the angel, removes the stone from the tomb, the deacon removes the pall from the chalice. The priest breaks the host into three parts, signifying that Christ was in three parts: His body was in the tomb, His Blood poured out upon the earth, and His soul was freeing the just from hell. The priest places one section of the three into the chalice. Jesus’ Body and Blood are reunited in the Resurrection and this commingling of Body and Blood is the eloquent and simple sign of that Resurrection.
All the while, the choir and people sing, Agnus Dei, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. The priest raises the Host, the sacrificed Lamb, and exclaims in the words of John the Baptist when he sees Jesus: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! The people respond with some of the same words as the Centurion said to Jesus when asking Him to heal his sick child: LORD, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
The priest consummates the sacrifice by reverently consuming the Host and the Precious Blood, couching that moment of union with his God by preparation and thanksgiving. The sacrifice has been made and consummated. Now the fruits of that sacrifice can be shared with those who have participated in that sacrifice, who have been witnesses to it in faith. The fruits of the sacrifice of redemption are shared in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Baptized faithful who have been taught the faith and are in communion with the Church can approach the altar to commune, become one, with God, through this great sacrament.
The faithful who have mystically participated in the teaching and ministry of Christ in the Liturgy of the Word, in his Passion and Death in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in his Resurrection through their prayerful and reverent preparation for Communion, now come forward to consummate their union with Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion. While all of the rites and ceremonies of the Church are now open to all, while all may gaze upon them and participate in them, Holy Communion is not for every one. The Church has always had a strict discipline for who is to be admitted to Holy Communion. Saint Paul admonishes believers, Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the LORD in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning he body and blood of the LORD. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.
Sacramental communion with God presupposes two things: union with Christ through grace and union with Christ’s Body through the Church. Only baptized and practicing Catholics who are not in the state of mortal sin may approach Communion, and then only if they have been fasting for at least one hour. It is not something to be taken lightly, for it is like passing through fire – a fire which purifies some and makes them shine and which destroys others and compounds their misery.
Just as the priest is consecrated from among men to offer the sacrifice, he is also deputed to administer the sacrament. At ordination his hands are anointed with sacred chrism to set them apart for blessing, consecrating, and administering the mysteries of God. He is the ordinary minister of the Eucharist, and others administer Holy Communion only when licensed by the Bishop to do so in cases where priests are lacking for Communion to be distributed in a timely and reverent manner.
The preferred method for receiving the Host is directly on the tongue. Just as birds open wide their mouths to receive from their mothers all they need to sustain life, the faithful reverently open their mouths and receive the Bread of Life from Christ. For much of history, Christians in the West have received Communion kneeling, that profound symbol of humility and adoration. Where Communion is received standing or in the hand, by the Church’s permission but not by her preference or tradition, care must be taken that no one approaching the sacrament does so out of a sense of right or that it is due to them. We should always approach the altar not like the Pharisee, proudly standing, assured of our own righteousness, but meekly kneeling, beating our breast like the publican, LORD, have mercy on me, a sinner.
When the distribution of Holy Communion is finished, the priest consolidates what is left of the consecrated bread and places it in the tabernacle of the church, that receptacle which recalls the Ark of the Covenant where God’s presence dwelt with the Israelites and in which the Bread of Heaven is kept so that we may visit and adore the LORD’s wondrous presence. The vessels are carefully purified so that not even the slightest particle or drop may remain. The altar is despoiled of the Missal and the sacred vessels, prepared for another celebration of the Divine Sacrifice.
We have seen the true light! We have received the heavenly Spirit! We have found the true Faith! Worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us. The Eastern rites sing this hymn after Holy Communion. Our true faith and worship have brought us to celebrate the mysteries of Christ in the worship of the Trinity. The priest sings a final prayer and then calls down God’s blessing upon us once again through the sign of the life-giving Cross. Recalling the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Mary at Pentecost, the priest in the person of Christ blesses the faithful disciples in the church gathered at the sacred assembly. They have had the Holy Spirit poured out upon them at Holy Mass so that they can go forth from the church into the world, united to Christ by grace to share what they have witnessed and experienced. The deacon sings, The Mass is ended, go in peace, sending forth the baptized faithful into their mission territory, the world. All sing back to him, Thanks be to God, in one simple phrase summing up the nature of the Eucharistic celebration itself: giving thanks to God for His Sacrifice and for giving us the fruits of His Sacrifice in Holy Mass.
The priest gives a final kiss of gratitude to the altar and genuflects before the Holy Presence before he and his ministers return to the sacristy. Going out of the people’s sight, he enters the place where he vested, just as then Christ ascended into heaven, the clouds took him from the sight of those who gazed upon Him. And tomorrow, the whole drama of the LORD’s sacrifice will be repeated once more and God will be glorified as he has been adored through the Mass at every moment every day until the last priest says the last Mass and the LORD comes to proclaim a new heaven and a new earth.
at 12:46 PM
Labels: Fr. Christopher Smith