When Jesus was preparing to celebrate His last meal with the apostles before the Passion, he simply took bread and wine, gave thanks to God the Father, blessed and shared the meal. We take part in that same meal at every Mass we celebrate, following in the Jewish traditional understanding of the Passover. As the Jews understood their celebration of Passover, the acknowledged that it had once happened, was happening at that very time, and would happen again in the future. So too with our Eucharistic meal, we believe we are made present at our Lord’s last supper.
We begin by preparing our altar and gifts. In the early days of the Church, much more than just bread and wine was brought forward; farm goods, oils, extra clothing, and anything the community might have a use for was brought forward and offered. Today, that has been replaced with a collection which is used to support both the local parish and the worldwide church.
The preface is basically the start of the prayer of thanksgiving that encircles the entire rite. It begins the recalling of the salvation God has promised us through the Passion of His Son, and concludes with the Sanctus, or Holy, Holy.
The Eucharistic Prayer is perhaps the greatest of the prayers in the Mass. Traditionally referred to as the Canon, there are four main versions, with several other specific ones for special intentions. Because of the reverence of this prayer, it is most common that the congregation kneels, although some communities find a posture of attentive standing more proper. Regardless of the communal position, the climax occurs at the words, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” It is at this point when the elements of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
The second part of the Canon includes prayers for the unity of the Church, the members living here on earth, and those who have gone before us from this life. The Eucharistic Prayer ends with the Great Amen, a testimony to the assent and approval by the community of the great mystery that has transpired before them.
At the conclusion of the Great Amen, we offer the prayer specifically given to the apostles by Jesus Christ as a method for all prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is publicly prayed by the Church three times a day, a Morning & Evening Prayer and at daily Mass. Much of the prayer can be summed up in the statement, “Lord, accept us unconditionally, as we will try to do for others.” Following in that thought, the community exchanges a sign of peace, leaving their grievances with each other behind so they can better come forward to receive the Lord.
The third fundamental part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is the Breaking of the Bread. The presider breaks the bread into pieces that are shared by both him and the community, while those in attendance offer the litany for the Lamb of God. As with all litanies, the cantor offers the invocation, while the community responds.
The fourth and final part of the rite is the distribution of the Eucharist. As we come forward, we approach the Eucharistic ministers with a small bow, followed by a vocal Amen, to offer our assent to our faith. It was in reference to this that St. Leo first coined the phrase that would later become popular with dieters and vegetarians: “You are what you eat.” Here we really become the Body of Christ and unify ourselves with our creator.
Following our personal reception of communion, it is important to remember the act of communion that we are expressing. Understanding this, it is inappropriate to return to the seat and pray quietly, for there will be time for that later. Rather, we are at the very peak of our time as a community, and as such, the song offered during communion is as important as any other some during the Mass.
Following the conclusion of the Communion hymn and a period of silence, the Liturgy of the Eucharist concludes with the Prayer after Communion. This prayer joins together our silent prayers as one of the community, a reflection of our communal offering, that we are one with each other, in our Lord Jesus Christ.
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