The Liturgy of the Eucharist

July 31st, 2011  |  Published in New Roman Missal

Kristopher W. Seaman

Eucharist, as we know, means “thanksgiving.” To be thankful is to be grateful — to offer gratitude. “Thank you” is the response we make to someone who has either given something to us or has done something for us. God did not give us something, as much as he gave us someone: his very own Son. In the Eucharistic Prayer we pray to God the Father, through the Son, that the Holy Spirit will transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might enter deeper communion with God and one another. We also pray that we are transformed, so that we “may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.” This prayer, then, is our response to God’s immense gift of love given to us, especially in the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic Prayer, the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification, is the “center and high point” of the Mass (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 78). Because this prayer is the summit, everything that happens in the liturgy is leading us to this high point. The altar is prepared, gifts of bread and wine are brought up in a procession, given to the priest celebrant (or deacon) so that these gifts might be prepared. Then, the Eucharistic Prayer begins with the priest presider proclaiming, “The Lord be with you.” The great prayer concludes with the liturgical assembly singing, “Amen.”

Following the Eucharistic Prayer is the Communion Rite, which is a subsection of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This rite consists of the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father), the Sign of Peace, the fraction rite, the Communion Procession, the period of silence and/or the Song of Thanksgiving and finally the Prayer after Communion. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the document containing the majority of rubrics for the Mass) states, “In the Lord’s Prayer a petition is made for daily bread, which for Christians means principally the Eucharistic Bread, and entreating also purification from sin, so that what is holy may in truth be given to the holy” (81).

This is a beautiful statement: “. . . so that what is holy may in truth be given to the holy.” What makes us holy, the Body and Blood of Christ. After praying for our “daily bread” we are invited to offer a sign of peace. In scripture, Christ wished his disciples the greeting “Peace be with you!” on several occasions. As Christ offers us peace, we extend that peace to others. Christ’s peace calls us to holiness and prepares us for the reception of his body and blood. Then, the “Lamb of God” or Agnus Dei is sung while the priest celebrant or deacon breaks the host in preparation for the Communion procession. This is not a functional moment, but contains a beautiful theology: The one host is broken for the many so that the many may become one body (see GIRM, 83). This is a definition of Communion: Many become one in Christ Jesus.

In the Communion Procession, three actions occur. The first action is the processing forward itself; the second is singing the Communion Chant; and the third is the reception of the body and blood of Christ. The Communion song’s “purpose being to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the ‘communitarian’ character of the procession to receive the Eucharist” (GIRM, 86). The act of processing, the singing the song, and the receiving of Christ’s Body and Blood all manifest the liturgical assembly’s being brought closer into communion or unity with the Triune God.

Finally, the Liturgy of the Eucharist concludes with a period of silent prayer and the Prayer after Communion. This is the opportunity for the liturgical assembly to pray for Christ’s Body and Blood to bear fruit in their lives. Each part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist — as well as the Liturgy of the Word — is about the Triune God working in our midst and calling us to be holy as God is holy.

Preparing Your Parish for the Revised Roman Missal: Homilies and Reproducibles for Faith Formation © 2011 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 3949 South Racine Avenue, Chicago IL 60609; 1-800-933-1800; Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal and The General Instruction of the Roman Missal © 1973, 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved. Photo © John Zich. This image may be reproduced for personal or parish use. The copyright notice must appear with the text. Published with Ecclesiastical