Ecclesiastical Year for Catholic Schools - Andreas Petz

Third Part—Communion

Communion.—Christ as King.—Intimate Union with Christ.

In Holy Communion the kingdom of Christ is extended and confirmed. In receiving Holy Communion Christ becomes the King of our hearts; therefore, the Communion is the central point of the third part of the Mass, which begins with the Pater Noster and continues to the end of Mass.

Pater Noster

1. The "Per omnia saecula saeculorum"  (world without end), which the priest says or sings in a loud voice, forms the transition from the second to the third part of the Mass. For as all honor and glory redounds through Jesus Christ, to the honor and glory of His heavenly Father, so from the Father all graces flow to us.

2. The following short preface precedes the Pater Noster: "Being admonished by salutary precepts, and taught by divine institution, we presume to say: Our Father," etc. This preface refers not only to the Pater Noster but also to the subsequent part of the Mass.

3. The Pater Noster was, from the beginning, connected with the celebration of the Mass. It recalls to our minds the special moment of the work of our redemption, when after the Ascension the Apostles and Disciples continued in prayer, to prepare for the coming of the Holy Ghost.

This prayer which our Lord Himself taught us contains all the needs of mankind. In the Western Church it is the priest alone who says the "Pater Noster," but in the Eastern Church it is said by the people and priest together. It is said before Communion because this prayer is the best preparation for Communion.

4. In the Mass, the Pater Noster must be said with special reference to the Holy Sacrifice; therefore the priest directs his eyes to the sacred Host while saying it. And in solemn high Masses the subdeacon brings the paten to the altar so that the "daily bread" for the faithful may be placed upon it, the paten being a symbol of the heart.

5. The prayer following is a prayer for peace. It is a continuation of the last petition of the "Pater Noster,"—"Deliver us from evil." When all evil is removed then peace will enter. The priest prays for this freedom from evil while holding the paten in his hand, which he had previously wiped with the purificator. When the priest prays for peace he blesses himself with the paten, then kisses it, and lays the Sacred Host upon it. A compact of peace was made upon the Cross, and Christ, reposing in the form of bread upon the paten, imparts peace to all who are willing to carry the cross. Here priest and people unite to obtain peace.

6. Then the priest breaks the Sacred Host over the chalice in three parts and drops one part into the chalice. The breaking of the Sacred Host was instituted by Christ Himself at His last supper, when He broke the bread and gave it to His Apostles. This denotes that Christ wishes to impart Himself to the faithful. Even in early times the Host was divided into three parts; one part was mingled with the wine; another part was consumed by the priest, and the third part was given to the faithful. By this we are to understand the Communion of the entire Church,—a communion of the priest and a communion of the faithful. The mingling of a part with the Sacred Blood, denotes the indissoluble espousals of Christ with His Church—a perpetual Pentecost, as it were, in which the union between Christ and His Church is consummated. The faithful are those guests that were invited to the wedding feast; but only those who actually or spiritually receive Holy Communion, accept the invitation.

The Agnus Dei

1. The Agnus Dei was introduced into the Mass by Pope Sergius (1701). At first it was sung by the choir while the priest divided the Sacred Host. It is the repetition of those words with which St. John the Baptist called the attention of his disciples to Jesus. It is repeated three times to denote the ardor with which this call of prayer is offered, and also refers to the three parts into which the Sacred Host is divided.

2. Having recited the Agnus Dei, the priest bows a little and resting his hands upon the altar, recites three prayers, without changing his posture. The first is a petition to Almighty God for that peace which the world cannot give; the second asks for deliverance from all iniquity by virtue of the body and blood of our Divine Redeemer; and the third, that the reception of the same body and blood may prove a remedy for all infirmities of soul and body. On solemn occasions, after the first prayer, the kiss of peace is given. This symbol of reconciliation, friendship and peace is of Apostolic origin, and in early times was also given to the laity. Later an embrace was substituted for the kiss, but this now is limited to the clergy. It reminds us of the admonition of the Lord: "Therefore, if thou offerest thy gift at the altar, and there shalt remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and first go to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gifts." The two prayers which follow prepare the heart for Holy Communion.

Holy Communion

1. Annihilation is necessary for the completion of a sacrifice; this takes place in the Unbloody Sacrifice, through Holy Communion. Christ is annihilated in giving Himself as food for the faithful. And as it is the priest through whom Christ the Lord offers Himself, so by the Communion of the priest the Sacrifice is completed. It is also the wish of the Church that the faithful should communicate, so that the fruits of the Holy Sacrifice may flow to them in richer abundance.

2. In former times Holy Communion was administered to the faithful only at Mass after the Communion of the priest; out of the Mass only to the sick or to captives.

3. The priest communicates under both forms, but the faithful only under the form of bread. Until the twelfth century the faithful also communicated under both forms, but only at the Mass, out of the Mass, only under the form of bread. Even at the Mass it was permitted to those of the faithful with whom wine did not agree to refrain from partaking of the chalice. Both kinds are necessary for the Sacrifice of the Mass; therefore priests must communicate under both forms.

4. Immediately before Communion the priest takes the Sacred Host in his left hand, strikes his breast three times with his right hand, and repeats the words of the Centurion: "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof; say only the word and my soul shall be healed." The Centurion spoke these words in humility, faith and confidence, so should priest and people repeat them with the same sentiments.

5. The priest raises the Host to about the height of his eyes, and tracing with it the form of a cross in front of him, says: "May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul to life everlasting. Amen." He then stoops down, and resting nis elbows reverently upon the altar, receives the Sacred Host. After this he stands erect and pauses awhile in solemn meditation, with his hands joined before his face.

Next follows the Communion of the Chalice. To this end the priest removes the pall from the mouth of the chalice, and having made a genuflection as before, recites the words, "What shall I render to the Lord for all the good things that He has rendered unto me?" (Psalm cxv). He then takes the paten in his hand and gathers up with it from the corporal, any loose particles that may have remained upon the latter from contact with the Sacred Host, all of which he allows to drop into the chalice by the aid of the thumb and index finger of his right hand. After this he places his hand on the chalice, saying: "I will receive the Chalice of Salvation and call upon the name of the Lord; praising I will invoke the Lord and will be safe from my enemies." Then placing the paten under his chin with his left hand, and taking the chalice in his right, he makes the sign of the Cross and communicates with the words: "May the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul to life everlasting. Amen."

6. The server rings the bell at the words: "Domine non sum dignus,"  just before the priest communicates; then those desirous of communicating advance to the sanctuary rails, where they kneel and placing the communion cloth under their chin await the approach of the priest. The server in the meantime recites the Confiteor on their behalf, while the priest is getting the Sacred Particles ready for distribution. Opening the tabernacle he takes the ciborium, in which the Sacred Particles are kept, and places it upon the corporal in front of him; uncovering it he makes another genuflection, turns a little towards the communicants, and pronounces over them the following prayers: "May the Almighty and Merciful God grant you pardon, absolution and remission of your sins." While pronouncing this form of absolution, he makes the sign of the Cross over all at the communion railing, and having made a third genuflection takes the ciborium in his left hand, and holding a particle over it with his right, says in an audible tone: "Behold the lamb of God, behold Him Who taketh away the sins of the world." "Lord I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed." The latter protestation he repeats three times, then descends to the railing and gives Communion to the communicants, always beginning at the Epistle side.

In administering the Sacrament to each person the priest says: "May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting. Amen."

7. After Communion the priest holds out the chalice to the server, who pours wine into it; this the celebrant drinks, then washes his fingers over the chalice, first with wine and then with water. This threefold purification is to signify that Holy Communion animates, penetrates, and purifies the Church, the clergy, and the faithful.

8. After he covers the chalice, the priest reads the Communion, which is a short antiphon bearing upon the feast of the day, and generally taken from the psalms. In former times it was customary to sing it with some portions of a psalm, or, if necessary, the entire psalm.

It is called Communion because it was sung while the priest administered Communion. It corresponds with the Introit and Offertory; and expresses the special grace which flows from this Holy Sacrifice, in addition to the general graces which emanate therefrom.

The Post Communion

1. After receiving Holy Communion priest and people offer prayers of thanksgiving for the graces received. This is the substance of the prayers which follow. As the graces of the day vary, so must also our thanksgiving. This special thanksgiving is contained in the Post-Communion; it forms the third class of the Collects. The priest offers all the prayers of the congregation in thanksgiving to God.

2. The repeated greeting, "Dominus Vobiscum,"  is an admonition to the faithful that they should remain the whole day united with the priest in thanksgiving. The Church continues this thanksgiving in the prayers of the Breviary, in which this greeting often occurs.

3. The Ite missa est  (Go, the Mass is ended) is a solemn dismissal of the faithful, and was customary in the earliest times. When the Gloria in excelsis is not said, "Benedicamus Domino"  (Let us bless the Lord) is said, instead of Ite missa est. During Advent and Lent, the early Christians not only assisted at Mass, but also at the Canonical Hours which followed. In those days of longer and more fervent prayers, instead of dismissing the congregation they were invited to bless the Lord. These words have been preserved in the Church to remind us that it is necessary to sanctify the holy time of penance by prayer. In Masses for the dead there is no blessing or dismissal, because the people are supposed to remain for the absolution of the body and its interment. The priest on such occasions turns to the altar, and simply says: "Requiescat in pace."  (May he rest in peace.) The Ite missa est is to remind us of the second Advent of Christ at the Last Judgment. As the Sacrifice of the Mass begins with the Introit and closes with the Ite missa est, so the great work of redemption begins with the Incarnation of Christ and ends with the day of judgment; from thence on, it will be continued in heaven as a sacrifice of praise.

4. Thereupon the priest says a short prayer, imploring mercy for himself and the faithful, then kisses the altar and turning to the people blesses them, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. In Masses for the dead this blessing is omitted. He then reads the Gospel of St. John. The priest prays for the people and blesses them, that they may be enabled to walk in the path of virtue and obtain strength to overcome the enemy in the battle of life.

When a feast falls on a Sunday, or other day which has a proper Gospel of its own, the Gospel of the day is read instead of the Gospel of St. John.

Mass for the Dead

1. In early Christian times the body of the deceased was brought to the church, psalms were sung and many prayers were said, with readings from the Scriptures, which were often continued even during the night. From this originated our Office of the Dead. In some convents it is still customary to pray psalms night and day over the body of the departed, and the so-called wakes are relics of the early night-watches.

2. On the third day the faithful assembled again at the grave to pray, and offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, imploring God to open heaven for this soul as He Himself arose from the dead on the third day.

3. The same was done on the seventh day; the Creator rested on the seventh day, so the faithful implore God to grant eternal rest to the departed.

4. Also on the thirtieth, and in many places on the fortieth day, the people assembled again to offer prayers and Mass for the dead. This custom dates from the Old Testament.

5. In order that the memory of the departed might not be forgotten, the anniversary was commemorated in a similar manner.

6. These memorial days of the first Christian centuries are still retained; and on the third, seventh and thirtieth day, Mass for the dead may, generally, be said irrespective of the feast of the day.

7. Masses for the dead are, otherwise, restricted to days on which either no feast occurs, or on a feast of low rank. It must not necessarily be a Mass of the Dead; any other Mass may also be offered for the departed. In order to gain for the departed the indulgence of the so-called Privileged Altar it is required to say the Mass. in black, on those days permitted by the rubrics.

8. Both the living and the dead partake of the graces bestowed in the Mass, but if the Mass is for the dead, the departed receive the more special fruit, no matter whether it be said in black or the color of the day. A Requiem, however, should more forcibly remind priest and people of the Poor Souls, and incite them to pray ardently for their repose.

9. In Masses for the Dead everything pertaining to joy is omitted; also any allusion to the general fruit of the Mass which those present receive, so that the attention may be directed entirely to the souls departed. It is true that the Faithful receive the general fruits of these Masses, as well as from any other Mass, but by the sad mourning ritual they are incited to think more of the departed than of themselves.

The psalm "Judica me" is omitted, because of the words: "Judge me O Lord and why art thou sad, O my soul?" The soul for which we pray has already been judged at the secret tribunal of God, and why should we ask the cause of its sadness, when perhaps it is exiled from Him Whom it loves?

The Gloria Patri, the Gloria in excelsis, the Alleluia, and the Ite missa est, are not heard in Masses for the Dead, because the souls in Purgatory are not yet allowed to join in the canticles of the angels.

The sign of the Cross at the Introit is made by the priest with his hand toward the Missal, not over himself. Does he bless the altar or the book? No. Why then this blessing? The souls who have been recommended to him are in the mind and heart of the priest. His one desire is to comfort them, and to show this desire as soon as he goes up to the altar he applies to them the blessed fruits of the Cross; he knows how to despoil himself generously in their favor. At the end of the Gospel the book is not kissed, to signify that the souls of the dead have not yet received the ineffable kiss of God; or, again, because having died in the sign of faith there is no need for them to profess their belief in the Gospel. The Creed is omitted for the same reason. At the Offertory the priest again does not bless the water poured into the chalice; water is a symbol of the Faithful in the Mass, but in Masses for the Dead it represents more particularly the souls in Purgatory, and the Church in not blessing the water wishes to show that she has no jurisdiction over those souls.

The omission of the blessing at the close of Mass is also an act of charity on the part of the priest and people, who seem to forget themselves and to think only of those who suffer—the poor exiles from heaven, for whom are all the merits, all the blessings, all the fruits of the sacrifice. At the Agnus Dei the "Miserere nobis"  (Have mercy on us) is replaced by the words: Dona eis requiem  (Give them rest). In Masses for the Dead it is always them and never us. At solemn High Mass of Requiem incense is used at the Offertory, and then only to incense the Sacrifice, the altar and the priest, then again at the Elevation. The grand awe-inspiring Sequence—"Dies irae,"  which follows the Gradual (after the Epistle), is also prayed in solemn Masses for the Dead; in private Masses, however, the recitation of this hymn is optional with the priest. The essential parts of the Mass are not changed in Masses for the Dead. The three principal parts and the entire Canon remain the same, excepting the non-essential parts above mentioned. It is one and the same stream of love which flows continually in the Holy Sacrifice, for the dead as well as for the living.

NOTE: The Dies irae, conceded to be one of the grandest hymns ever written, has been claimed by many authors; but the one who seems to have the strongest claim is Latino Orsini, commonly called Frangipani, raised to the Cardinalate by his maternal uncle, Pope Nicholas III., in 1278. He was known as Cardinal Malabranca, and was at first a member of the Dominican Order. After Cardinal Orsini, the claims to it, on the part of Thomas de Celano, of the Order of Franciscans Minor, are the greatest. According to Schaff, this marvelous hymn is the masterpiece of Latin poetry, and the most sublime of all inspired hymns.