This part of the Mass begins with the preparation of the gifts. First the bread and wine are presented to the priest by members of the faithful. This practice dates back to the earliest days of the Church. Now, as then, it represents our sacrificing from the fruits of our labor. We add to this our monetary sacrifices, which express the giving of our lives to God.
The priest will then pray over these gifts, using words which have roots in Jewish tradition. Holy water is added to the wine, which points to the incarnation with the wine pointing to Christ’s divinity and the water to humanity.
The priest will then wash his hands, which signifies the ritual washing the Levites had to undergo before they could perform the sacrificial rites. He says quietly, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins.”
We are then asked to pray that the sacrifice will be acceptable to God, and that both Christ’s sacrifice and our own may be united and offered to the Father.
The Eucharistic Prayer, while offered in four different versions, follows a pattern of six parts: The Preface; The Sanctus; The Epiclesis; The Words of Institution; The Mystery of Faith; and the Anamnesis.
In the Preface, we’re invited to focus totally on the Lord, “Lift up your hearts…” putting aside worldly concerns. The priest then offers a prayer of thanksgiving on our behalf to the Father most Holy.
The Sanctus is where we sing with the angels “Holy, Holy, Holy” from Revelation.
The Epiclesis, meaning “invocation upon” is where the priest asks the Father to send the Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.
During the Words of Institution, we hear again the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, where the Lord’s sacrifice is made present for us today.
In the Mystery of Faith, we sum up the story of salvation in a few simple words.
Anamnesis means “memorial”, where we are reminded once again what is happening. This leads to the offering of ourselves in unity with Christ’s sacrifice, and then to the Doxology and Great Amen.
Now the bread and wine have been changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus, and it’s time for the final preparations. This next part of the Mass, the Lord’s Prayer, the Rite of Peace and other preparatory rites, is meant to lead us to the sacred point of Holy Communion, and help dispose us to properly receive the body and blood.
The Lord’s Prayer, taught to us by Jesus himself, can become such a routine prayer that we can take it for granted, and not really listen to what we’re saying. Every word of this prayer is profoundly significant. The very first word, “Our” speaks to us of the unity we have by virtue of our common Father. Each and every word of this prayer has this depth of meaning. Please take some time and think of what we pray for.
Next comes the sign of peace. This is described as part of the Mass as early as the year 155. By offering each other a sign of peace, we anticipate the profound unity we will share with each other when we receive Holy Communion.
The final rituals lead us to the Communion Rite, beginning with the “Fraction” or breaking of the host. This ritual commemorates the breaking of the bread which Jesus performed at the Last Supper. It also points us to the feeding of the five thousand where Jesus broke the loaves, and also to the disciples in Emmaus, where they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
Next comes the “commingling”. After breaking the host, the priest places a small piece in the chalice while quietly saying, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.” Christ’s body and blood were separated at His death and this ritual expresses the reunion of them in His resurrection.
While the priest is performing these two rituals, we sing or say the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), where we join the joyful song of the crowds of angels in heaven described in Revelation. With this reminder that Jesus is the true Passover Lamb of God sacrificed for us, we enter into the Communion Rite.