By Deacon Frank Agnoli
(Editor’s note: The publication of the third edition of the Roman Missal provides a great opportunity for each diocese, parish and individual Catholic to grow in their love for — and knowledge of — the liturgy. In this series Deacon Frank Agnoli, the Davenport Diocese’s director of liturgy, reflects on the parts of the Mass.)
The Communion Rite (Part 3)
The Communion Procession
Because the priest is part of the community, the procession and the music to accompany it begin as the priest communes. We go to Communion together, and so the music accompanies the entire action and concludes when all (including musicians) have communed. As a body, we journey to the table together (which is why standing as the common posture is preferred, as mentioned in our previous article). Liturgical processions remind us that, as Christians, we are a pilgrim people, journeying to God. Just as we travel up the aisle towards the altar, we spend our whole lives journeying to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
When we approach the minister for Communion, we make a simple bow of the head, and then the minister says: The body/blood of Christ. Not, “this is….” The body/blood of Christ is so much more than the eucharistic bread and wine held before us. So, then, what does our “Amen” mean? Yes, it means that we believe that Christ is truly, substantially present under the forms of bread and wine in the Eucharist.
But it also means that we are willing to become what we receive; we are giving our consent to being transformed. In a sense, when we look at the host and the chalice, we are looking in a mirror. Yes, I am part of the body of Christ. Yes, I want to be changed more and more into the body of Christ. In the words of St. Augustine (Sermon 272):
If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond “Amen” (“yes, it is true!”) and by responding to it you assent to it. For you hear the words, “the body of Christ” and respond, “Amen.” Be then a member of the body of Christ that your Amen may be true.
The Communion procession has a purpose: to bring those who are to receive Communion to the table. While it has become common for those not receiving Communion to join in the procession and receive a “blessing” instead, perhaps this is a good time to rethink this practice. While some argue that including everyone in the procession is an act of hospitality, it also says something that is not true: that everyone can and may receive the Eucharist. It also changes the meaning of the rite, making the reception of Communion and the reception of a blessing somehow equivalent.
Prayer after Communion
The Communion Rite ends with the Prayer after Communion. We close this part of the Mass by asking that the sacrament which we have just received would have an effect in our lives here and now, as well as help bring us to the fullness of life with God at the end of time. Next time that we are at Mass, we may want to listen carefully to the words: In what way are we asking to be renewed? In what ways do I need the Eucharist’s effects?
Entering the Mystery
Do I approach the sacrament with the proper disposition? For example, if I am conscious of having committed any serious sins have I celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation? And if Church law requires that I not receive the Eucharist, do I abstain as a sign of my communion with the Church?
Have I fasted for an hour before Communion? Have I thrown out any gum I was chewing (before Mass even began, but certainly before receiving Communion)?
Do I receive Communion in the forms of both bread and wine?
When I approach the minister, do I wait for the person in front of me to step aside, make a simple bow in reverence of the Eucharist, and then wait for the minister’s words before responding, “Amen?”
The Ars Celebrandi
As a cleric or lay minister of Communion, do my words and actions foster an encounter with Christ for the communicant? Do I wait for the communicant to bow and step forward, before speaking? Do I make eye contact? Do I take my time, or am I so rushed that I treat the Communion procession like a conveyor belt?
Does the music that we use at this point in the Mass foster the unity (the communion) of those present—so that common action (procession, singing) and posture (standing) work together to express and bring about our unity as the body of Christ?
If we have a hymn of thanksgiving after Communion, is it sung by the entire assembly while standing (rather than as a “meditation” by the choir or cantor alone)—as directed by the liturgical books?