In the past few months, we have discussed the parts of the Mass leading up to receiving the Eucharist. Now we are prepared to receive our Lord in Holy Communion! The priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God…,” (Jn 1:29/Rev 19:9) and we reply in a phrase that might seem awkward to us: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” (Mt 8:8). What does this really mean? These words reflect the humility and trust of the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant who is at his house, paralyzed and in distress. Being a Gentile, and a Roman soldier on top of that, he is acknowledging he is not worthy for Jesus to come into his home. Yet, with great faith, he trusts Jesus to heal his servant from a distance, simply by speaking His word: “But only say the word, and my servant shall be healed” (Mt 8:8). When we come to Jesus in true humility, we too, must trust Him to enter under the “roof” of our souls and heal us, for we are paralyzed in sin and our souls are in distress. When the Holy Spirit makes the wine and bread into Jesus’ Body and Blood during the Eucharistic prayer, this food and drink has the ability to transform us, to renew our bodies that, on the other side of death, our bodies will live forever, ageless, healthy and full of life. We trust He will heal us as He becomes the most intimate guest of our soul in the Eucharist. We should be praying that prayer in solemn earnest!
How should we approach the altar to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Savior? With consciousness of what we are about to do, aware we are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we should approach with reverent anticipation! We should be humbly excited that Jesus, Our Lord, is willing to come into our body, wanting to join with us. We approach the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister who says “The Body of Christ.” We may receive either on the tongue or in the hands. Whichever we choose, we offer it clearly and confidently reply “Amen,” which means “I believe!” Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to receive Holy Communion. Those individuals are welcome to come forward to receive a blessing. Priests and deacons are allowed to move their hands in a sign of the cross as they say the blessing, while extraordinary ministers simply say “God bless you.” We process to the altar on a journey together as part of a community, “in common-union” with each other.
We are the Body of Christ. What does that mean and what does it have to do with receiving Communion? We know all parts of the body are connected. If one part hurts, the others are affected. When we do something good, our whole being feels good! The same goes for the Body of Christ – Jesus is the head, and we, as the Church, are the Body. If a fellow parishioner is hurting, we all hurt in some way. When one experiences joy, we all should celebrate! We all make up His Body in the community of St. Mary of Nazareth, and are called to carry that out to our families, workplaces, and the whole world.
When we receive the Eucharist, we are all intimately connected to Christ. After receiving, we often joyously sing and/or meditate on the words, praying together, uniting us with our fellow Christians. A period of silence for private prayer then follows, so we can thank the Lord for coming into our bodies as spiritual food, and more closely uniting us to His Body. What a beautiful sacrament we have!
OK, you’ve received Communion. Now it’s time to beat the traffic out of the parking lot! Don’t go quite yet. Mass is not yet ended! You wouldn’t leave the theater without seeing the end of the movie, would you? Your body has become a temple; a vessel by which Jesus may be taken out into the world. The closing rites of the Mass begin the same as when it started, with “The Lord be with you”, “And with your Spirit”. The priest blesses us and we make the sign of the cross across our bodies. Then the priest sends us forth to praise and glorify the Lord. As Jesus told His apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” John 20:21
Throughout the entire Mass, from beginning to end, we have seen the paschal mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. The closing line of the liturgy is NOT an aimless dismissal. It is not a “Goodbye, hope to see you again next Sunday!” It is a dismissal with a MISSION! It is a sending forth of God’s people to bring the living word of Jesus Christ into the world. You are His living temple.
“Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hand with which Christ blesses the world.” (St Teresa of Avila)
- A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy by Edward Sri
- Jn 1:29, Mt 8:8 and Rev 19:9
- General Instruction of the Roman Missal: www.usccb.org