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Experiencing the Mass: Rite of Communion - Receiving Communion

Friday, February 3, 2023

by Fr. David M. Knight

View readings for today:

Dear Readers: Since the Church is presently engaged in a Eucharistic Revival, we thought it would be helpful to post excerpts from his booklet called Experiencing the Mass, for the next few weeks. (This is not a sales pitch. However, the booklet is available for order on this website for $5 per copy if you would like have a copy.)

The Communion chant is begun. Its purpose is to express

the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the “communitarian” nature of the procession to receive Communion.

Before the Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy we were taught to process up to receive Communion conscious only of Jesus and ourselves. Communion was a deep, personal and private moment between God and each one of us. To look around or to sing a hymn at this moment would have been a distraction.

Communion should still be deep and personal; but not private. The Instruction tells us to sing, to “show joy of heart,” to make visible the “communitarian nature” of the procession to receive Communion. Receiving Communion is about as private as Thanksgiving dinner. (In the United States, Thanksgiving is the day of the year that, more than any other, draws families together). The Church wants the receiving of Communion to look as much as possible like a family meal. Because, first and foremost, that is what it is.

The Instruction told us above that “Christ’s gesture of breaking bread at the Last Supper... gave the entire Eucharistic Action its name in apostolic times.” The words “breaking bread” were a common expression for eating together that the early Christians used when speaking of the Mass.[1]

In our day, with large numbers at Mass lining up to receive from a handful of Eucharistic ministers, the Communion procession has the appearance (distasteful to even think about) of people going up to a vending machine to get their sandwich, then going back to their places to eat it alone as isolated individuals. The Church tells us to do the best we can to counter this impression. One way is to sing while going up to receive Communion, because singing expresses “union of spirit.”

Another way is to make a point of looking around at others who are receiving. We should do this conscious that we are seeing each other precisely as people invited to eat at the “table of the Lord.” People whom Jesus himself is feeding, putting into each one’s hands the bread that he has blessed and broken and is now giving to each as the Bread of Life, his own body and blood. This should make us feel differently about one another. Communion is a preview of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” At this moment we should see everyone as perfect; all as we will be when Christ “presents the Church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes... holy and without blemish.” Communion is a time to see one another with new eyes. Eyes of faith, open to mystery.[2]

When the distribution of Communion is finished...

the [presider]and faithful spend some time praying privately.

There is a time to enclose ourselves privately with Christ. After all have received and the procession is over, the Instruction directs that the assembly “may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence afterCommunion is observed.”

After all have received, we stop singing. We “enclose ourselves” deeply with Jesus present within us. The experience of receiving him physically in Communion helps us enter into the ongoing mystery of his constant, spiritual presence in us by grace.

By the gift of grace, God unites himself to us and us to him “on the level of being.” We need to understand what this admittedly abstract, philosophical phrase is saying. It is saying that we are united with God in a way that is only possible with him. On a level deeper than the union we can have with any other person or creature.

With other people we can only be united on the level of operation. We can carry a box together; or carry on a conversation. We are united in the action of communicating with each other; of understanding the same truth with our intellects, or embracing the same goal or ideal with our wills. But we don’t share in each other’s being. What we call “sharing each other’s life” really means sharing in what we both do. And what we do together is always a blend, a combination of two separate actions, of two separate persons working together.

But with God, by grace, we are united precisely on the level of being, “prior to operation.” We become one with Jesus in such a way that from Jesus and ourselves, united on the level of being, can proceed one operation, one action, that comes from the two of us. We are not united by the operation, through the fact of acting together. Rather, we are united in the operation, in producing together one and the same action that comes from the two of us united already on the level of being.

When we love by grace, there is only one act of love. Because it is our act, it is human. Because it is God’s act, it is divine. Because we are united with God on the level of being, prior to operation, it is one divine-human act of love that is equally ours and God’s. We are loving divinely as well as humanly; God is loving humanly as well as divinely; we are both united in one action of loving in a way that is both human and divine. What has this got to do with Communion?

In Communion Jesus comes just to give us himself. Not to do anything.

In Baptism he comes to incorporate us into his body and share his divine life with us. In Reconciliation he comes to forgive and heal us. In Confirmation he comes to empower us for mission by the Gift of the Holy Spirit. In Matrimony and Holy Orders he comes to work with and within us to establish life-giving communities of love. In Anointing of the Sick he comes to heal and strengthen us for our final act of total abandonment to God. But in Communion he comes just to give us himself. As he does in heaven.

Communion is a preview, a foretaste of heaven.

This doesn’t mean that in Communion we experience ecstasy or feel the joy we will feel in heaven. But we do experience, should experience, are invited to experience the awareness of being united with Jesus, one with God, on the level of our deepest being. We know—and are invited to be consciously aware—that we have God himself within us. We are united to him on the level of our very being. We have as an element of our being (and not just as the effect of a momentary operation) everything we need to be perfectly happy for all eternity. We have Life eternal. God’s own Life. Within us. Ours.

It is not possible to directly experience this Life, or this presence of God within us, in any human way. We cannot perceive it with our senses. Or get in touch with it through our emotions. We cannot really know it with our intellects. (We can only know about it). And no matter what we do or choose with our wills, it does not give us the direct experience of union with God on the level of being.

So what experience does Communion give us? (to be continued tomorrow)

[1] The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968) says about the phrase “breaking of the bread” in Acts 2:42, “Eucharistic overtones in this community meal are hard to deny (cf. Luke 24:30, 35)... In fact, Luke seems not to distinguish the Eucharist and the common meal.... The ideal first community enjoyed table-fellowship with those who were privileged table-fellows of the Risen One (cf. 1:4; 10:41). Paul’s followers will later have the same fellowship with him as a successor to the Twelve (20:7).” In the New JBC (1990) the same author writes: “Originally the ritual opening of a festive Jewish meal, this was the gesture of the Risen One at Emmaus and recalls the earlier dominical instructions with bread-breaking as well (Luke 9:11-27; 22:14-38). We can consider the phrase a [technical term] for the Eucharist in Luke-Acts.” [2]Ephesians 5:27.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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