Jesus was a genius! He not only taught us that love of God and neighbor are equally important, he gave us a revolutionary way to combine the two. He made the universal sign of human friendship and love – a meal together – the sign as well of our love for God. Just as a Thanksgiving Day dinner is our American way of giving thanks to God and one another for all the good we share, so too our Eucharist is our universal Catholic way of giving thanks to God for the love we share and bring to our world.
From the moment of our baptism, we are members of the People of God. Therefore we do not come to give thanks to God as isolated individuals practicing personal devotions. We come as a People who worship God in ritual words and actions that “sacramentalize,” give external expression to, our deepest beliefs and desires. It is most appropriate, then, to join actively in all of the prayers, songs and gestures that compose our communal worship of God. The liturgy calls us to participation rather than to a privatized silence.
We are accustomed to arriving some minutes before important theatrical performances because we know we will not be allowed to disturb others by being seated during the performance and we don’t want to “miss anything.” Our worship of God is surely more important than a play or opera. Our fellow worshipers deserve our respect as well. Arrive some minutes before our worship begins. Give yourself a chance to reflect on what it is we are about to do. Similarly, we dress in different ways for different occasions. Our dressing for worship should reflect the respect we have for God and one another. Food or drink, chewing gum, cell phones and beepers going off – these show disrespect for the importance of the occasion.
Although infants and young children are seldom brought to the theater, it is quite appropriate for families to worship God together. When an infant or toddler creates a disturbance, however, please respect your fellow worshipers by taking your child into the vestibule until he or she calms down. Young children learn proper decorum in classrooms; so too they can be encouraged to enter into the ritual prayers and actions at Mass and especially the songs. Remember to teach by example!
Our prayer together is divided into two equally important parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We begin with a song that gathers our thoughts into focus and we pause to open our hearts to being reconciled with God and one another. On Sundays and feast days we sing praise to God, Father, Son and Spirit. Our priest presider gives voice to our communal prayer of worship and petition. Our resounding “Amen” says, “Yes, this is indeed our worship and our petition.”
Next we have the opportunity to listen attentively to God speaking to us through the Scriptures and to respond to God’s word through the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel Acclamation. The homily applies God’s word to our daily lives. The creed is our communal voicing of those beliefs that bind us together. Our Prayer of the Faithful places our needs and those of our world before our loving God. All of these moments are significant. Active participation is vital.
Members of our community bring forward our gifts of bread and wine for which we give thanks to God and give God praise: “Blessed be God forever!” Now our sacred banquet is ready to begin.
Our meal is set in the context of prayers and acclamations that recall God’s loving deeds on our behalf, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the course of this great Eucharistic Prayer, we invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to transform these gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. We then ask the Spirit to enable us, God’s People, who are nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, truly to become “one body, one spirit, in Christ.” Together we respond with the Great Amen.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer and then give expression to our true feelings toward one another, family, friends and strangers alike: “Peace be with you!” In this spirit of love and friendship, we approach the Table of the Lord to eat and drink together.
The Church encourages us to show a sign of reverence as we receive both the body and the blood of Christ. This is best done by a slight bow of the head and shoulders while the person in front of you is receiving. Please do not genuflect, since this can be a danger to the person behind you and also draws unnecessary attention to yourself rather than to the Eucharist.
If you choose to receive the host in your hand, please do not grab at it with your fingers. Place your open hands, chest high, one on top of the other. The minister will raise the host and say, “The body of Christ.” You respond, “Amen.” The minister will then place the host in your palm. With your other hand, place the host in your mouth and consume it. Then proceed to receive from the cup.
If you choose to receive on your tongue, keep your hands folded as the minister says, “The body of Christ.” Respond, “Amen.” Then open your mouth and extend your tongue so that the minister can easily place the host. Consume the host and proceed to receive from the cup.
The minister of the cup will raise the cup slightly and say, “The blood of Christ.” Respond, “Amen.” Then take the cup with both hands, sip from it, and return it to the minister.
Once you have received communion, please do not leave the church! We’re not done yet!
Oftentimes, this is when parish announcements are made. These are important because they inform all of us of how our community is gathering at other times and places in order to grow in our faith and be of service to our world.
We then offer a final prayer of thanks to God and receive God’s blessing as we are sent forth into our world to “love and serve the Lord and one another.” We end our celebration with a final song together as our priest and ministers process out of the church. When we finish singing, we too leave, nourished now to be living sacraments, clear visible signs of the presence of the Lord in our world. “Thanks be to God!”
Language is important. If we say we’re “going to Mass,” we’re very likely implying that we’ll sit and kneel and stand in church while the priest “says Mass” up at the altar. If we say we’re “celebrating the Eucharist,” we’re declaring that we are joining with the community in giving praise and thanks to God by actively participating as we hear God’s word, receive the body and blood of God’s Son, and are missioned as God’s People.
Ritual, by its very nature, is repetitive. Repetition can enable us very often to readily participate in praying and singing. Repetition can, however, turn ritual into mere routine. Praying the same words, using the same gestures, singing the same songs can slowly drain them of real meaning for us and no longer allow them to be an authentic expression of our deepest beliefs. Good liturgy is hard work – on the part of the presider, the ministers, and all of us who participate. But it is truly worth the effort. Good liturgy transforms and enlivens all of us and sends us with genuinely renewed vigor into the opportunities and challenges of our daily lives.