Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

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Together at Mass

Together at Mass 11

When we eat this bread and drink this cup

It was in the context of a sacred meal that Jesus left us the memorial of his saving sacrifice. Once more it helps to remember all that Jesus did and so commanded us to do. He took, blessed, broke and gave, inviting his disciples to take and eat/drink. In the Preparation of the Gifts we followed his action of taking. In the Eucharistic Prayer we joined with him in blessing, praising and thanking the Father. Now in the Rite of Communion we do as he did in the breaking of bread and sharing the cup, and in taking and eating and drinking.

So, let us see what the Missal says about this part of the Mass: Since the eucharistic celebration is the paschal meal, in accord with his command, the body and blood of the Lord should be received as spiritual food by the faithful who are properly disposed. This is the purpose of the breaking of the bread and the other preparatory rites which lead directly to the communion of the faithful.

The different prayers and actions of the Rite of Communion can sometimes appear to follow each other without any real sense of unity. Yet the aim of all the prayers and actions of this part of the Mass is to prepare us for communion. This overall unity of purpose is more clearly seen if we focus our attention on the four most important elements – the Our Father, the sign of peace, the breaking of bread and the reception of communion. On the next two pages we will examine these four elements one at a time, once more following the instruction of the Missal. Each of them ‘speaks’ to us about the communion we are preparing to share.

Finally, on the last page, we have a reflection on the symbolic value of food and drink as we experience it in everyday life. It can help us to enter into a fuller understanding of the sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood.

 

 

The Lord’s Prayer: This is a petition both for daily food, which for Christians means also the eucharistic bread, and for forgiveness from sin, so that what is holy may be given to those who are holy….

The very words “Our Father” immediately speak of communion. In these two words we express our union as children of God, brothers and sisters of one family. We pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, where all shall be one in Christ. We express our need both for the eucharist and for forgiveness of sin, and our own commitment to be forgiving to others.

This theme is continued in the prayer “Deliver us Lord …” and in the doxology “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever”. (On the origin of this doxology, see the note at the bottom of the next page.)

The Prayer for Peace and the Sign of Peace: Before they share in the same bread, the people express their love for one another and beg for peace and unity in the Church and with all mankind.
Yet again, this time by symbolic action, we express something of the deep reality of eucharist. Since we are all together members of the body of Christ, we cannot properly receive the body of Christ without receiving each other. The sign of peace we extend to each other is an expression of our commitment to live and to work for that unity in faith and love which belong to God’s kingdom and for which Christ prayed during the Last Supper.

The Breaking of Bread: this gesture of Christ at the Last Supper gave the entire eucharistic action its name in apostolic times. In addition to its practical aspect, it signifies that in communion we who are many are made one body in the one bread of life which is Christ.
The intended symbolism of this action is deep. From the beginning the breaking of bread has been the most important action in preparation for the distribution of communion. It is an invitation to table fellowship: we are called to come together as one in sharing the body of Christ broken for us. This is clearly indicated later in the Missal in the following words: The gesture of the breaking of the bread, as the eucharist was called in apostolic times, will more clearly show the eucharist as a sign of unity and charity, since the one bread is being distributed among the members of one family. Sadly the symbolism of sharing one bread broken for all is lost on account of our current practice of using small individual pre-packaged altar breads.

The prayer “Lamb of God …” is intended to accompany the action of the breaking of bread. It echoes the confident trust of the Gospel story: despite our personal unworthiness we confidently accept that we are invited to the Lord’s table.

The Reception of Communion: It is most desirable that the faithful should receive the body of the Lord in hosts consecrated at the same Mass and should share the cup when it is permitted. Communion is thus a clearer sign of sharing in the sacrifice that is actually being celebrated.// Once again our attention is drawn to the symbol value of what we are doing. We have been invited to the table of the Lord, to share in this specific sacrificial meal. What the Missal is saying here, and what several Popes have said in the past, is that the sign of our sharing in this particular celebration is more clearly expressed if we do not rely too readily on using hosts from the tabernacle which have been consecrated previously.

The Missal also urges that: The nature of the sign demands that the material for the eucharistic celebration appear as actual food. The small round, thin hosts that we are accustomed to for communion neither look like nor taste like bread. In this, too, the nature of the sign is weakened.

 

 

 

A brief reflection on the Rite of Communion

It is difficult to change attitudes and practices that have built up over hundreds of years. There has been a long tradition of looking upon holy communion as the most private moment in the entire celebration of Mass, when each one can be alone with our Lord. This mentality was fortified by two changes which came about gradually in the past: the withdrawal of the cup from the laity, and the abandonment of the practice of breaking bread in favour of using small pre-cut hosts. These changes contributed to the loss of the community character of the eucharist and fostered the growth of a spirituality which was entirely individualist and private.

In seeking to restore the symbolism of the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, the Missal is aiming to restore the rich community dimension of the eucharist. Our participation in the liturgy should be truly personal, but never in isolation from others. We come together as members of a family, a communion of people, belonging to one another as members of the one Body of Christ.

 

A Note on the doxology.

People sometimes ask about the doxology that follows the Lord’s Prayer. It is not a part of the prayer as given to us in the Gospel. The custom arose, as early as the second century, of adding “For the kingdom the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen” at the end of the Our Father, and became common when this was recited in public worship, an ancient practice which has been restored.

 

 

 

Take and eat; take and drink; all of you

Together at Mass we continue to do what our Lord did at the Last Supper. Indeed, the Mass we celebrate is a continuation of the Last Supper; it is a sacred meal. To some, it could seem rather strange that our Lord should have given us a meal as our most central act of worship. But it is not so strange if you stop to reflect on the significance of food and drink. Quite simply, food however plain it may be, is life. If you don’t eat, you won’t live.

Just think of the most valuable thing you can give to someone you love. You save up to buy the most expensive present you can possibly afford. You give it and hope the person will like it, keep it, and use it, for a lot of thought and work and love is represented by it. It may be very precious, but it is not a bit as valuable as the food you give the person to eat. The difference: we use things but we are made of food. With the gift I offer you something to use, to wear, to play with. With the food I offer you life itself.

Now that lies behind our Lord’s use of food in our life with him. In baptism he has brought us into new life, his own risen, glorious life as Son of God. But that life has to be nourished. So Jesus offers us not just food, but himself to be our food. He offers us not just life, but his own divine, eternal life. “Take this and eat it, this is my body”; “Take this and drink it; this is my blood”; I give myself to you so that I may live in you and you in me, so that you and I may be one.

But there is another level of the symbolism of food and drink that we ought to explore. When you invite someone to your home to share a meal with you, it is not usually because the person has nothing to eat. The invitation to come and share at your family table is really an invitation to come and share in your family life. We realise quite instinctively that there is much more to sharing someone’s table than just eating. Has it ever struck you, that whenever two or three people are gathered together in friendship, there is usually food and drink in their midst?

This is what is so important about a family meal. It can be difficult to get everyone together, especially in the face of shift-work, overtime, teenagers wanting to go out, little ones to get to bed, and so on. Yet, despite all the difficulties, families will try at least sometimes to eat together, for sharing a meal is a most powerful source and symbol of life shared. Food and drink are a sort of cement of human relationships. Sharing food and drink together signifies a life that we share and want to go on sharing; it nourishes and strengthens our very togetherness.

This also is right at the heart of what Jesus intended when he commanded us to continue the sacred meal we know as the Mass. You who share my life, you who are one in my Spirit, come together to eat this one bread which is broken for you, and drink from this one cup which is poured out for you. It is my body and blood; this is Me, and I give myself to you to build and strengthen your togetherness; to nourish and deepen the unity among you; to be as it were the cement that binds you together in the special relationship you have as my brothers and sisters, as sharers of my life, as children of my Father. You are members of my Body and when you receive me you receive each other, you are brought into communion with one another in me.