Bulletin Series on the Mass 2023-2024

“This is my body…this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”
Matthew 26:26-28
Mark 14:22-24
Luke 22:14-20
Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25


In August 2023, as part of our current Eucharistic Revival, Fr. Jeff began a long series of bulletin articles on the Mass.  The goal is to help people understand and appreciate the depth of what we celebrate in the Mass.  The articles flow from his series, Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass.  As each new article is published in the bulletin, it will be added here.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass - Article #1
Why do you come to Mass?  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass…unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants)” (2180-2181).  We receive this obligation from God in the Third Commandment, “Keep the Sabbath Holy.”

We shouldn’t have to be told to go to Mass.  “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation” to living our faith (Catechism, 2181).  It is the rich soil of God’s Word and celebrate the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.  When we understand this, Mass begins to be something we want to come to.  Some people go only when they feel they need a “recharge” of grace.  Do you wait to charge your cell phone till it is completely dead?  Probably not.  Don’t wait until your spiritual batteries are dead to come to Mass.

Today we start a series of articles on the Mass.  We hope you will read the articles each week to help you understand the depths of what we celebrate.

For more on Sunday as the Lord’s Day you can read Fr. Jeff’s article, “Keeping the Lord’s Day:  What Does It Mean to Me"

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #2
The Origins of the Mass
Initially, Christians gathered with Jews on the Sabbath for the Jewish worship that included readings from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and a sermon.  Then the Christians gathered on Sunday for the Eucharist.

As hostility developed between Jews and Christians, Christians stopped going to Jewish services and made Sunday their Sabbath.  At Sunday Mass, they shared the Word of God from the Old Testament and celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday at one service.  They began to include what we know today as the gospels and New Testament letters.

St. Justin Martyr, in his First Apology (c. 155 AD), shows us the same structure to Mass as we have today (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1345). The Mass in the second century included Bible readings, a homily, prayers for the people, a kiss of peace, and Eucharistic Prayer.

In 313 A.D., in the Edict of Milan, the emperor legalized Christianity.  Since then, Mass has been celebrated openly in public.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #3
Can We Fully Understand It?

As we learn more about the Mass, an important piece to consider is that the Sacraments, including the Eucharist are rooted in mystery.  We are not going to understand everything. For example, how God changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus is beyond what human words can express.

We also need to think about why we come to Mass.  For many the answer is to feel good.  While our participation at Mass should “lift us up”, Mass is first meant to give praise and worship to God.  It helps us to grow in a deeper relationship with God.  When we open ourselves to the depths of the Mass, we are filled with God’s grace.  What do you do to prepare yourself for Mass?

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #4
Preparation for Mas
What do we mean by preparation? It should include taking a few minutes before Mass to quiet our thoughts and to center ourselves on the Lord. This is often best done by spending a couple of minutes just before Mass begins in silent prayer in church. If something keeps you from being in church a couple of minutes before Mass starts, perhaps you can make the car ride to church a time of quiet prayer.

Preparation begins even before you leave home. How are you dressed? We no longer see suits and formal dresses in church but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to dress like we are on a day off. Does the way you dress for church say that you know that church is something important?

Lastly, when was the last time you went to confession? Our sins can block us from encountering God in the Mass. Do you need to go to confession?

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #5

Before we enter our pew we genuflect.  When we come up for Communion we bow before we receive Communion.  Why?  Because our gestures mean something.  In this case, they signify our reverence for the presence of our Lord in the Tabernacle and in the Eucharist.

We genuflect to the presence of the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle and when the Blessed Sacrament is in the monstrance on the altar.  We genuflect because we believe Jesus our King is present in the Eucharist.

We offer a bow of the head when naming Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together and at the name of Jesus.  We do this in recognition of who they are, God!  We bow at the words, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”, and became man” because we know Jesus humbled himself to become human to save us.

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The Procession

As each person arrives for Mass, they find a seat in the pews.  It is a good time to pray in silence as you wait for the Mass to begin.  When it is time for Mass to begin, the altar servers, lectors, and clergy process in.  Their procession is symbolic of the entire congregation gathering together in church to praise God.  The congregation stands as the procession enters, seeing the priest’s entry as symbolic of God entering.  When an important person arrives, do we not stand in reverence for them?  Who is more important than God?

During the procession, we are all called to join in song praising God.  Recall how the crowds cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David” as Jesus entered Jerusalem.

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The Importance of Music

Music has long been part of how people give thanks and praise to God.  We hear of how the people sang in thankful response to God’s action in their lives in Exodus 15, Numbers 21:17, Judges 5, and in 2 Samuel 6:5.

The chief document for the way we celebrate Mass is The General Instruction of the Roman Missal.  It speaks of the importance of singing at Mass in paragraph 39:

The Christian faithful who come together as one in expectation of the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together Psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles (cf. Col 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. Acts 2:46).

Singing at Mass is not just for musicians.  It is for the musicians and the people in the pews to join in the singing (paragraph 40) as we all give thanks and praise to God.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #8
The Sign of the Cross

The two main parts of the Mass are the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Before we begin the Liturgy of the Word, we have the Introductory Rites.  They begin with the procession and music that we have already reflected on.  As part of the procession, the clergy kiss the altar as a sign of love and devotion in their service to God and the people.

Next, the priest begins speaking with the Sign of the Cross.  We make the Sign of the Cross every time we begin and end our prayers.  Who could even begin to count how many times a person makes the Sign of the Cross in a lifetime?  Don’t let it become routine without any thought!  The Cross is the place where Jesus gave his life so that our sins might be forgiven.  We call upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God who loves us with an unending love.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #9
The Greeting

After the Sign of the Cross, the priest offers the greeting. There are three options for the greeting by the priest. The first one is “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.” This greeting is not arbitrarily made up. It comes from 2 Corinthians 13:13.

The second option for the greeting is “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This one follows a pattern found in Galatians 6:18.

The third option for the greeting is “The Lord be with you.” This is found in Ruth 2:4.

We are a Bible-based church. The Bible is foundational to our Catholic Mass.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #10
The Penitential Act

After the greeting, the priest may offer a few words on the readings or recalling why we come to Mass.  Following that, he says, “Let us acknowledge our sins so as to prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries.  This begins the Penitential Act.  This does not take the place of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for mortal sins.  Here, we are called to admit our sinfulness in humility, recognizing our need for God and his mercy.  We need the grace God offers us in the Mass.

Then comes the Gloria.  Just as we humble ourselves admitting our sinfulness, we give glory and thanks to God for all that He offers us.  We thank Jesus for being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  We acknowledge God as the Holy One, the Most High.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #11
The Collect (Opening Prayer)

After the Gloria comes the Collect, often called the opening prayer.  The priest begins, “Let us pray” and then there is silence.  The silence is intentional as a moment to collect our thoughts to bring together our hearts in prayer.  It is “usually addressed to God the Father through Christ, in the Holy Spirit” (G.I.R.M., 54).

While short, the prayer is structured in four parts:

1. Invocation - calls upon God, generally with the simple words “Almighty God”
2. Amplification - and then comes words announcing the good things God has done for us.
3. Petition - Then the prayer asks God to help us in some way
4. Conclusion - invokes the Trinity, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

​The Hidden Depths of the Mass #12
The Liturgy of the Word

After the Collect (opening prayer), we begin the Liturgy of the Word.  This includes all the readings, the homily the Creed, and the Prayers of the Faithful (aka General Intercessions).  The readings we share are the inspired Word of God.  They were written down by human hands and thus are influenced by the humans but ultimately they deliver God’s message.  The Bible tells us the story of Salvation History.  It includes human sin.  Sin is the rejection of what God has taught us.  The Word of God tells us how over and over humans have turned away from God.  The good news is that every time we sin, God forgives us when we repent.  The gospels tell us that Jesus dies for our sins.  This starts at the heart of our faith.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #13
The Liturgy of the Word – How the Readings Are Selected

Last week, we read about the importance of the Word of God.  Today we take a look at how the Sunday readings are chosen.  Every Latin Rite Catholic Church in the world uses the same readings each Sunday.

During the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter the readings are selected to correspond to the themes of the season.  In Ordinary Time, selected passages from one of the gospels is read in order.  Then, the first reading is picked to correspond to an idea presented in the gospel passage.  In turn, the psalm is selected to correspond with the first reading.  This helps us see the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

In Ordinary Time, the second reading is selected independent of the other readings.  Letters from the New Testament are selected and read in semi-continuous sequence.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #14

The Liturgy of the Word – Daily Mass Readings
Just as on Sunday, during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter the readings for daily Mass are selected to correspond to the themes of the season.

At daily Mass there is not a second reading unless it is a special feast or solemnity.  With six weekdays, there is much more opportunity to cover the readings.  Thus, the gospel readings for daily Mass are on a one-year cycle.  We begin Ordinary Time with the Gospel of Mark, followed by Matthew, and then Luke.  (As on Sunday, the Gospel of John is used during Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter).

The first reading can be from the Old Testament or New Testament.  Unlike Sunday Mass, the first reading at daily Mass is not chosen to correspond to the gospel reading of the day.  The first reading is a semi-continuous reading of a book of the Bible.

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The Liturgy of the Word – The Homily & Creed

After the readings are finished, the congregation sits while an ordained person offers the homily.  The homily is to help break open the readings and help people apply them to life in today’s world.  The homily should help us form our consciences and daily lives in accord with God’s Word.  While the homily is generally based on the readings, it may also make use of any prayers and texts for the Mass, the liturgical season, or the Eucharist itself.

At Sunday Mass, the homily is followed by the Creed.  The Creed is a basic summary of many but not all aspects of our faith.  It centers on who the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are to us and how they relate to one another.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #16
The Liturgy of the Word – The Prayers of the Faithful

Following the Creed, we conclude the Liturgy of the Word with the Prayers of the Faithful.  They are also commonly called the General Intercessions or Universal Prayer.  The priest introduces the prayers.  The lector then reads the individual petitions followed by a concluding prayer.  To each individual petition, we generally respond, “Lord, hear our prayer.”  We collectively respond “amen” to the priest’s concluding prayer.

The petitions offered are not prayers for any one person.  The intentions are those of any one person but rather those representing the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ here and across the world.  Thus, we pray for the needs of the church, for public officials, for the sick, for the dying, and for needs representing what is going on in the world, and for our own local community.  For all these needs, we pray to the Lord.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #17
The Liturgy of the Eucharist

Last week we ended our discussion of the Liturgy of the Word with the Prayers of the Faithful.  Now, we turn to the second half of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

After Jesus’ Resurrection, in Luke 24:13-35, we hear of two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  There they encounter Jesus but do not recognize him.  He first spoke of what the scriptures foretold about the Messiah.  This parallels the Liturgy of the Word at Mass today.  Then Jesus broke bread with them.  This symbolizes the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

It is in the Liturgy of the Eucharist that God makes present the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for us as the bread and wine are turned into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Jesus gives us his very self on the Cross and in the Eucharist.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #18
The Liturgy of the Eucharist – The Offertory

The first part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is the Offertory.  At a Sunday Mass, two things happen concurrently while the offertory hymn is song.  The altar is set and a collection is taken.  The collection is not simply the church wanting money to pay its bills.  Yes, we need the money but it is not about money.  It is about doing the work of Christ.  In today’s world, that requires money.

The offertory collection is a way of each family participating in the work of the church.  It is part of your contribution to our mission.  It is part of your sacrifice.  The priest will say, “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”  What sacrifices do you offer to God?

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #19
The Liturgy of the Eucharist – The Offertory Part 2

After the gifts of bread and wine have been brought to the altar, the priest holds up first the bread and then the wine and says (silently if music is being played), “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread (wine) we offer you:  fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life (our spiritual drink).”

We recognize that we have these gifts to offer only because of what God has given us.  We receive not in selfish greed but with the love God intends.  The seed God has given us must be planted and nourished until harvest.  This requires human work.  Then, we offer to God our best from what He has given us.​

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #20
The Liturgy of the Eucharist – The Offertory Part 3

When the gifts of bread and wine have been placed on the altar, water is used twice.  The first is as the priest or deacon pours wine into the chalice followed by a drop of water while silently saying “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  The wine symbolizes Jesus’ Divinity while the water symbolizes humanity.  The two brought together symbolizes the divine Jesus becoming human in the Incarnation.  In the Incarnation we are brought to union with God.

The second use of water is when the priest washes his hands.  This has its origins in Exodus 30:20 where the priest would wash before the sacrifices.  The priest needs to be cleansed before offering the sacrifice.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #21
The Liturgy of the Eucharist – “My Sacrifice and Yours”

As we transition from the offertory to the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says, “Pray my brothers and sisters,, that my sacrifice and yours, may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”  Of course, there is no greater sacrifice than that of Jesus willingly sacrificing his life for us on the Cross.  This is the sacrifice we celebrate in the Mass.

We are called to unite the sacrifices we may in our own lives with Jesus’ sacrifice.  What sacrifices do you make?  For example, what have you given up to care for a loved one?  What have you missed out on to be there for something important to a loved one?

What sufferings do you have to offer up?  Are you suffering an illness that you could offer up to the Lord?  A difficult relationship?

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #22
The Eucharistic Prayers

Following the offertory at Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer follows.  There are a total of ten Eucharistic Prayers found in the Roman Missal that contains all the prayers for Mass.  The Eucharistic Prayers are trinitarian in their nature.  They are addressed to God our Father.  The prayers invoke the Holy Spirit to make our sacrifice acceptable and for the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  We also ask the Holy Spirit to transform us into the Body of Christ.

The Eucharistic Prayers vary in age.  The oldest is Eucharistic Prayer II, which dates back to third century.  The newest are the four Eucharistic Prayers for Various Needs written in the 1970’s.  Eucharistic Prayer I, sometimes called the Canon, is the one Eucharistic Prayer used in the centuries leading up to the Second Vatican Council.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #23
The Eucharistic Prayer - Preface

The Eucharistic Prayer starts with a preface.  The preface begins with the priest saying, “The Lord be with you” and the people responding, “and with your Spirit.”  The preface ends with the “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

The GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) divides the Eucharistic Prayers into eight parts.  The first part is “thanksgiving.”  Our thanksgiving is explicit when the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”

There are 10 Eucharistic Prayers.  There are over 50 separate prefaces.  The preface changes with the seasons or for special feasts.  Like other parts of the Mass, some of the words of the prefaces come from the Bible, most evident is Isaiah 6:3 in the “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  Also evident is “blessed is he who comes…” from Psalm 118:26 along with Matthew 21:9; 23:39, Mark 11:9, Luke 13:35; 19:38, and John 12:13.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #24
The Eucharistic Prayer – The Epiclesis

Within the Eucharistic Prayer, the Epiclesis is the portion where we ask the Holy Spirit to transubstantiate the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  In Eucharistic Prayer II, the explicit words are “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In the Eucharistic Prayer we also ask the Holy Spirit to transform us into one body.  This is most evident in Eucharistic Prayer III – “grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.”

Do you allow the Holy Spirit to transform you into what God calls you to be?

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #25
The Eucharistic Prayer – The Institution Narrative

After the Epiclesis comes the Institution Narrative.  The Institution Narratives are Jesus’ own words at the Last Supper. The Catholic Church did not make up its teaching on the Eucharist.  Our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus is biblical (see Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:14-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Jesus said, ‘this is my body…which will be given up for you…this is my blood which will be shed for you.”  Our Catholic belief that the bread is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ and that the wine is transubstantiated into the Blood of Christ comes to us directly from Jesus.

Our Catholic belief that we are celebrating the sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the Cross comes from Jesus’ words of his body being given up and his blood that is shed for us.  We repent it each time why celebrate Mass because Jesus said “Do this in memory of me.

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The Eucharistic Prayer – The Institution Narrative cont’d

Last week we discussed the Institution Narrative where Jesus instituted the Eucharist as he said, ‘this is my Body…this is my Blood.”  We believe in the Real Presence because Jesus says so.

When Jesus was in the boat on the stormy sea (Mark 4:35-41), He said to the sea, “Quiet, be still!” and it was still.  We believe this is true.  Likewise, we believe what we read in John 11:43-44.  Lazarus had been dead in the tomb for four days but when Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!,” what Jesus commanded was fulfilled.  In the same way, we trust Jesus’ words when He says the bread and wine become his Body and Blood.

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The Eucharistic Prayer – Memorial Acclamation & Anamnesis

Following the words of Jesus that transubstantiate bread and wine into his Body and Blood, comes the Memorial Acclamation and Anamnesis.   At this point in the Mass, we recall the paschal mystery that includes the death, Resurrection, and ascension of Jesus into Heaven.

It is here that we need to realize that in celebrating the Eucharist at Mass, it is about much more than “just” Jesus feeding us with his Body and Blood.  The food that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist is nothing short of incredible.  Yet, there is more.  When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are celebrating everything Jesus suffers for us in his Passion and Crucifixion.  We are also celebrating his Resurrection to eternal life that we are offered.  As we include his Ascension, we know that He intercedes for us at his place at the right of the Father.

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The Eucharistic Prayer – The Oblation

The greatest sacrifice ever offered is the sacrifice of Jesus freely giving his life for us on the Cross.  As Jesus says in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

The Eucharistic Prayers use both the terms “sacrifice” and “oblation.”  The sacrifice is the sacrifice of Jesus’ life.  We offer his sacrifice back to God our Father as an oblation.

What does Jesus’ Crucifixion have to do with the Eucharist?  Everything!  When Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, He said, this is my Body which will be given up for you…this is my Blood which will be poured out for you.  By these words, Jesus makes our celebration of the Eucharist and his Crucifixion one.  Never forget that.

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The Eucharistic Prayer – Intercessions

As we conclude the Liturgy of the Word, we offer the Prayers of the Faithful.  Here, we offer explicit intercessions in prayer.

In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Eucharistic Prayers also include intercessory prayer such as when we pray for unity with our pope and bishop.  All the Eucharistic Prayers also include praying for the dead.  Another example is Eucharistic Prayer III when we that the Lord “advance the peace and salvation of all the world.”

Our intercessions are for all people, rich or poor, white, black, or red.  It doesn’t matter where they were born or the language one speaks.  We pray as one body, united in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #30
The Eucharistic Prayer – The Concluding Doxology

The Eucharistic Prayer ends with the priest saying, “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”

Everything that happens in the Mass happens through the Lord.  The bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  “We celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, and as we look forward to his second coming, we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice” (Eucharistic Prayer III).

What we celebrate in the Eucharist is beyond “amazing.”  How do we respond?  With one word, “Amen.”  Amen means we believe what has been said and done.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #31
The Lord’s Prayer

Every time Mass is celebrated we all join together in saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Why include it at Mass?  The whole of Mass comes from the Lord and is rooted in the Bible.  In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus teaches how to pray.  Then, in verses 9-13, He explicitly gives us the Lord’s Prayer.  What prayer could be better than the one Lord teaches us?

We say the Lord’s Prayer at Mass.  Do you actually pray the words or do you just say them?  Do you think about what they mean?  Do you live what the words mean?  It is not always easy to do the Lord’s Will?  That’s why the priest says, “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say.”  Please take some time to think about what the words mean.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #32
The Sign of Peace

Having celebrated the Sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist, after praying the Lord’s Prayer, we offer a Sign of Peace.  On several occasions Jesus offered peace to his disciples.  The words said by the priest here come from John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

Jesus continued, “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”  The Sign of Peace we offer to each other is not a worldly “hello, how are you doing.”  It is not a worldly peace we offer.  We are expressing our “ecclesial communion” (GIRM, 82).  We do not move around the church like at a social hour.  Rather, we let the Peace of Christ spread out from one to another after the priest first says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #33
I am Not Worthy to Receive You

Following the Sign of Peace, we come to the Lamb of God.  The words said by the priest, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world,” come directly from John 1:29.  John the Baptist proclaims Jesus to be “The Lamb of God.”  He is the new Passover lamb.  In sacrificing his life for us, He becomes the lamb by which our sins are forgiven.

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.”  The Catholic Church does not make these words up.  In this case, the words we say come from Matthew 8:8 and Luke 7:6-7.  Here we stand risen, made worthy by the sacrifice of Jesus.  We know Jesus can heal us of our sins.

Hidden Depths of the Mass #34
Do You Realize What You Are Eating?

Now, we come to the point in Mass where we receive Communion.  Every time we receive Communion, we need to be thinking about what we are consuming.  It is not just bread and wine.  It is the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Jesus tells us, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53).  He would not tell us this without giving us a way to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Jesus offers himself to us in the Eucharist.  In upcoming articles, we will discuss mortal sins with regards to receiving Communion and non-Catholics receiving Communion.

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Mortal Sin and Receiving Communion

Why does the Catholic Church say that those who are in a state of mortal sin are not to receive Communion?  This is rooted in the Bible.  In 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, Paul speaks of unworthy reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus.   Indeed, the Eucharist does offer us God’s mercy for healing.  However, in John 5:17 we read, ‘All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.”  Venial (lesser) sins are healed at Mass if we come repentant for those sins.  As the “medicine of mercy,” the Eucharist then strengthens us to resist mortal sin and to so better.  Mortal sin is also called deadly, meaning it breaks our relationship with God.  We need to confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to allow God to restore what we have broken.

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Why Can’t Non-Catholics Receive Communion?

To understand this practice, we must understand what it means to receive Communion.  It is not just bread.  It is truly Jesus we receive.  We call it “Communion” because we believe that receiving it means that we are in Communion with what our Catholic faith teaches.  If we are not, why would we want to receive it?

We find the biblical basis for this practice in Exodus 12 as God prescribes the instructions for the Passover.  In Exodus 12:43 we read, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is the Passover statute. No foreigner may eat of it.”  Here “foreigner” does not refer to people from other countries but to non-Jews.  It is the Lord himself who said this.  He did not say they could never eat it.  If they wanted to participate in the Passover, they needed to become Jews first.  We merely ask the same as the Lord.

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There’s No Cup

For several centuries, the Precious Blood was not offered to the laity.  This was not meant to be an act of exclusion.  It was out of reverence for the physical handling of the Precious Blood.  In 1984, the Vatican granted permission for the Precious Blood to be distributed to the faithful (see https://www.catholic.com/qa/when-should-communion-be-distributed-under-both-forms).

In paragraph 10 of the USCCB’s “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States” (https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/norms-for-holy-communion-under-both-kinds) we read, “The same body, however, is under the form of wine and the blood under the form of bread, and the soul under either form, by virtue of the natural link and concomitance by which the parts of Christ the Lord, who has now risen from the dead and will die no more, are mutually united."

Concern for the spread of COVID deemed it necessary to not distribute the Precious Blood in the Cup.  Bishop Matano has reserved the decision to himself to when we might distribute the Precious Blood again.  Until then, know that when you receive the consecrated host, you are receiving both the Body and the Blood of Jesus.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #38
On the Hand or the Tongue?

Many of us grew up when the only acceptable way to receive the Body of Christ was on the tongue.  Now, we are allowed to receive on the hand.  Receiving on the hand was not a new practice introduced by the Second Vatican Council.  Rather, it was a return to the practice of the early church.

In his 23rd catechetical lecture, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, a 4th century bishop, said, “In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended, or your fingers spread; but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen” (21.  https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310123.htm).  This shows the practice of the time was to receive Communion in the hand.  It also recognizes Jesus as our king.

Over the centuries, receiving Communion on the tongue became the common practice as a sign of piety.  There are some who point to 1 Chronicles 13:1-14 to support the idea of not touching the consecrated host with our hands.  Yet, if we should not touch it with our hands, how is it that we touch it with our tongues?

In either case, the point is reverence.  Do you realize what you are receiving and do you act accordingly?

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #39
Standing or Kneeling

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the normal practice was to receive Communion kneeling at the Communion rail.  Now the official practice in the United States is to receive standing.  Timothy P. O’Malley writes, “We stand and receive on the hand.  This is an ancient posture, one in which we welcome the Eucharistic Lord as one who stands upright, as a creature made for Eucharistic Praise” (“Hand or tongue?  Kneeling or standing?  Either way, receiving the Eucharist should be an act of communion.”  Our Sunday Visitor.  June 20, 2022.  https://www.oursundayvisitor.com/hand-or-tongue-kneeling-or-standing-either-way-receiving-the-eucharist-should-be-an-act-of-communion/).  There is some positive in kneeling.  The rubrics do not prohibit kneeling but we are encouraged to consider the importance of unity in posture.  We all stand as Mass begins.  We all sit as the readings are proclaimed.  We all stand for the Gospel, Creed, and Prayers of the Faithful.

We all kneel in humility during the Eucharistic Prayer as the sacrifice of Jesus is offered.  We stand to receive Communion as having been raised up by Christ’s sacrifice.  Our unity in posture can be a sign of unity in what we believe.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #40
The “Last” Prayer

After Communion, we stand as the priest offers the Prayer After CommunionThere was a period of time when this prayer was mistakenly called the Closing Prayer.  This is understandable since it is the last prayer said before Mass is concluded.  However, the prayer is not offered to end the Mass.  Its purpose is to pray that we are indeed transformed by what we receive in Communion.

So what does conclude the Mass?  The final blessing is offered.  We have received grace in sharing God’s Word and in celebrating the Eucharist.  This particular blessing is offered as we are sent out into the world to live the gospel.

The Hidden Depths of the Mass #41
Recessional, Hymn, and Other Prayers

Then the altar servers, lector, and clergy recess out as we sing a hymn.  We began with a procession that symbolized all of us entering in.  We end with the recessional symbolizing all of us going out into the world to glorify the Lord by our lives.

The rubrics for Mass specify nothing more.  It is our local tradition that we silently say three Hail Mary’s for the next to be called home among us.  The silence as everyone prays the same prayer can be powerful to witness.  The silence shows reverence.  The fact that we are all saying the same prayer speaks of our unity and care for the next to be called home among us.  This local tradition is also seen in other parishes and has roots in prayers that used to be said at the end of Mass.

Another prayer that used to be said at the end of Mass is the St. Michael Prayer.  This prayer was composed by Pope Leo XIII.  He directed it to be said at the end of Mass.  This continued until the 1950’s.  Then, such additional communal prayers were eliminated to focus on the Mass as the prayer we say together.  There is nothing restricting anyone saying additional prayers privately after the Mass is over.

This concludes our series on the Mass.  I hope it has deepened your understanding and appreciation of the Mass.

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