Thursday, June 14, 2018

Liturgy of the Traditional Mass, Part 10: Communion

Previous parts in this series:
Part 6: The Offertory
Part 7: The Preface, Sanctus, and beginning of the Canon
Part 8: The rest of the Canon
Part 9: The Our Father, the breaking of the Host, and the Agnus Dei

Before consuming the Blessed Sacrament, the priest bows and whispers three beautiful and profound prayers that are at least a thousand years old. The first is the prayer for peace, which begins with a quote of John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”

Dómine Jesu Christe, qui dixísti Apóstolis tuis: Pacem relínquo vobis, pacem meam do vobis: ne respícias peccáta mea, sed fidem Ecclésiæ tuæ; eámque secúndum voluntátem tuam pacificáre et coadunáre dignéris: Qui vivis et regnas Deus per ómnia sæcula sæculórum. Amen.
O Lord, Jesus Christ, who didst say to thine apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you: look not upon my sins, but upon the faith of thy Church; and deign to give her that peace and unity which is agreeable to thy will: God who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.

This is not earthly peace, which is unstable and often sought after through violence and warfare, but rather the divine peace that we are repeatedly praying for throughout the Mass, which Christ left for us in the Church and her sacraments after achieving it for us through the Cross.

The prayer continues, “Look not upon my sins, but upon the faith of thy Church.” In the words of King David, “If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it?" (Psalm 129:3). Judged by our sins, we are unworthy to partake of any divine peace or favor. Only by God's great mercy can we do so. We pray that he may judge us by our faith, love, and devotion for him, so that we may have share in these good things (Romans 5:1). This does not, however, support the Protestant heresy that faith alone is sufficient for justification, because that would be a paradox. An important part of faith and devotion is sincere desire to do God's will and contrition for sin, as St. James wrote in his Epistle (2:24). Nevertheless, here in the Mass, we pray that, by the merits of our faith, we may obtain divine peace and unity. This prayer only has a short conclusion; the Trinity is not mentioned.

After this, in obedience of Christ's mandate to first make peace with our brothers (Matthew 5:23‑24), the priest, after kissing the altar, turns and embraces the deacon, offering him the Kiss of Peace. The practice of actually kissing each other ended in the Middle Ages, possibly because of the plague.

Pax tecum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
Peace be with thee.
And with thy spirit.

The deacon then gives the Kiss of Peace to the subdeacon, who gives it to the choir. When our Lord is crucified, however, we have little peace, so throughout Passiontide and also at Masses for the Dead, the prayer for peace is not said and the Kiss of Peace is not given. Particularly, during Passiontide, the Kiss of Peace is omitted to spite Judas, who gave a kiss, not to express peace and unity, but to betray our Lord (Luke 22:48).

After giving the deacon the Kiss of Peace, the priest resumes his earlier bowed position and proceeds with the next of the three prayers, the prayer for holiness.

Dómine Jesu Christe, Fili Dei vivi, qui ex voluntáte Patris, cooperánte Spíritu Sancto, per mortem tuam mundum vivificásti: líbera me per hoc sacrosánctum Corpus et Sánguinem tuum ab ómnibus iniquitátibus meis, et univérsis malis: et fac me tuis semper inhærére mandátis, et a te numquam separári permíttas: Qui cum eódem Deo Patre, et Spíritu Sancto vivis et regnas Deus in sæcula sæculórum. Amen.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the co-operation of the Holy Ghost, hast by thy death given life to the world: deliver me by this, thy most sacred Body and Blood, from all my iniquities and from every evil; make me cling always to thy commandments, and permit me never to be separated from thee. Who with the same God, the Father and the Holy Ghost, livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

“O Lord Jesus Christ,” it begins, acknowledging Jesus as Lord of Heaven and Earth (Matthew 28:18), “Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Ghost, has by thy death given life to the world.” We are dead to the sin that all of mankind has fallen into, but the Father, the living God, through his Holy Spirit, the giver of life, has sent Jesus to die that we may have everlasting life (Romans 6:3-11). In all the sacraments, we share in the death of Christ. In baptism, our sinful self died with Christ, and we resurrected with Christ. In the Mass, we partake of the direct fruits of his Passion: that is, his most holy Body and Blood, by which we pray to be delivered from evil. Thus, the priest, bowed down before the Victim, recalls this Sacrifice, created once more in the Mass every day, and prays yet again for deliverance from the evil that was overcome by the Cross.

The Sacrifice of the Mass is a very intimate participation in the Sacrifice of Calvary, as is reflected especially in this prayer. In addition to sanctifying grace, many actual graces flow from being able to participate this closely. By assisting in the Mass, we are in the same position as our Blessed Mother, so named by our Lord himself as he suffered (John 19:27), weeping at the foot of Calvary. Here in this prayer, we ask for the graces of adherence to God's commandments and persistence in God's good favor. The usual conclusion is said here with mention of the Trinity, who all work together in the Mass and in the life-giving Sacrifice of Calvary.

One further prayer is said, this one for grace. The priest prays against the possibility of judgment against him for receiving the Eucharist, bearing in mind St. Paul's warning given in 1 Corinthians 11:29.

Percéptio Córporis tui, Dómine Jesu Christe, quod ego indígnus súmere præsúmo, non mihi provéniat in judícium et condemnatiónem: sed pro tua pietáte prosit mihi ad tutaméntum mentis et córporis, et ad medélam percipiéndam: Qui vivis et regnas cum Deo Patre in unitáte Spíritus Sancti Deus, per ómnia sæcula sæculórum. Amen.
Let not the partaking of thy Body, O Lord Jesus Christ, which I, though unworthy, presume to receive, turn to my judgment and condemnation; but through thy mercy may it be unto me a safeguard and a healing remedy both of soul and body. Who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

To receive Communion worthily, one must be a practicing Catholic in a state of sanctifying grace and have been fasting for at least one hour. The traditional rule, and a commendable devotion, is to fast from midnight. Of course, the priest knows that he meets these requirements and that the Mass is pleasing to God, but we must always be humble and contrite before God, never presumptuous. In addition, this is the only of these three prayers said on Good Friday. On this day, the Sacrifice of the Mass is not offered. The priest only receives the Host that was consecrated the previous day. He does not receive our Lord under the appearance (or “species”) of wine. Whereas the two preceding prayers mention both the Body and Blood of Christ, this prayer only mentions his Body.

The purpose of this prayer is to acknowledge yet again our unworthiness before God. By his mercy, we pray that the sacrament may be efficacious, not for judgment, but for healing, and for the increase of sanctifying grace in our soul. As always, the Church also petitions to God for actual graces. Here, we pray for our reception of Holy Communion to be a safeguard against all manner of evil and to heal both soul and body. Healing of the body here does not refer to the cure of diseases, but rather to the protection from temptation to sins of the flesh.

When Jesus was called upon to perform his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana, he told his mother, “My hour is not yet come,” (John 2:4), but when he was nearing his Crucifixion, he said, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” (John 12:23). Likewise, everything in the Mass has led up to this point. Now, the time has come for the priest to consume the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is what the Blessed Sacrament truly is, though it appears as mere bread and wine.

As with so many great parts of the Mass, the liturgy is in the words of a psalm. The Book of Psalms is the great book of poetry inspired by God for the liturgies of both testaments, and so many things in the psalms directly foreshadow the events of the New Testament. In this case, the Church avails of Psalm 115:4, adapting it to her own use.

Panem cæléstem accípiam, et nomen Dómini invocábo.
I will take the Bread of Heaven, and will call upon the name of the Lord.

The priest says this, taking the two halves of the Host and the paten into his hand. Through this whole liturgy, we have called upon the name of the Lord. He repeats three times the prayer of the centurion in Matthew 8:8, praying not for his servant, but for his soul.

Dómine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanábitur ánima mea. (three times)
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof: but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed. (three times)

“Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof:” not the roof of our mouth, but of our being, which will be made a living temple of the Blessed Sacrament. “But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed,” a testament to the omnipotence of God and the tremendous grace that reception of Communion confects. He says this three times, to ensure absolute sincerity, for the first time he may be simply speaking from memory with little attention. Each time, he says the first few words, “Domine, non sum dignus,” a little louder than others, which are said silently, so as to make a public act of contrition. The bells are rung here to alert the faithful to what is happening, that they may prepare to receive Communion themselves.

Making the Sign of the Cross with the Host and expressing one last time the unity between Calvary and the Mass, he consumes the Host. The deacon and subdeacon make a profound bow, because the reception of Holy Communion is indeed the climax of the whole Mass. The torchbearers are still kneeling and holding their candlesticks at the foot of the altar. As he receives the Host, the priest says a short prayer.

Corpus Dómini nostri Jesu Christi custódiat ánimam meam in vitam ætérnam. Amen.
May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul unto life everlasting. Amen.

Not only his soul, but his whole body will be resurrected and saved by the sanctifying grace received by Holy Communion. Receiving Communion only once could lead the soul into paradise, as evinced by the experience of St. Mary of Egypt, who lived for decades as a hermit in the desert, and then died in AD 421 the night after she received Holy Communion on Holy Thursday. Her body was found incorrupt. Thus, one reception of Holy Communion gives ineffable grace, but as Catholics, we ought to receive Communion frequently to increase sanctifying grace in our souls, receive the actual grace necessary to do God's will, and repair the damage done by sin.

The priest then gathers up any crumbs of the Host and puts them in the Chalice (which the deacon has uncovered), as every particle of the Host is the whole Body of the Christ. It is for this reason that the priest has kept his thumbs and forefingers joined since the consecration of the Host. Here, the priest prays Psalm 115:3-4.

Quid retríbuam Dómino pro ómnibus quæ retríbuit mihi? Cálicem salutáris accípiam, et nomen Dómini invocábo. Laudans invocábo Dóminum, et ab inimícis meis salvus ero.
What return shall I make to the Lord for all the things that he hath given unto me? I will take the chalice of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will call upon the Lord and give praise: and I shall be saved from mine enemies.

Indeed, Christ has given himself completely for us in a way that we can never repay, so what return can we make to him? King David provides the only possible response: to take the gift he has given us and call upon his name in adoration. The Church even elaborates a little on the psalm: “I will call upon the Lord and give praise: and I shall be saved from my enemies.” The enemies, of course, are the demons who desire only to lead souls away from God, who they, however, can never defeat, and whose grace and power helps us to fight them ourselves. Yet again, the priest is praying for deliverance from evil: clearly a very important grace to have, so that our souls may be saved from the fires of hell and enjoy perpetual happiness.

The priest echoes the words he said when he received the Host and then drinks the Precious Blood.

Sanguis Dómini nostri Jesu Christi custódiat ánimam meam in vitam ætérnam. Amen.
May the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul unto life everlasting. Amen.

The priest and the congregation are in very different positions with regards to the Sacrifice, so it is fitting that they receive Communion separately. Just as the priest said the three prayers before Communion, the congregation has their own Communion prayer: the deacon sings the Confiteor on behalf of the people.

Confíteor Deo omnipoténti, beátæ Maríæ semper Vírgini, beáto Michaéli Archángelo, beáto Joanni Baptístæ, sanctis Apóstolis Petro et Paulo, ómnibus Sanctis, et tibi, Pater: quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo et ópere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa. Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem, beátum Michaélem Archángelum, beátum Joánnem Baptístam, sanctos Apóstolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes Sanctos, et te, Pater, oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.

Misereátur vestri omnípotens Deus, et dimíssis peccátis vestris, perdúcat vos ad vitam ætérnam.
Amen.
Indulgéntiam, + absolutiónem et remissiónem peccatórum vestrórum tríbuat vobis omnípotens, et miséricors Dóminus.
Amen.
I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the Saints, and to you, Father, that I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, all the Saints, and you, Father, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
May almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting.
Amen.
May the almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, + absolution, and remission of your sins.
Amen.

This is the “second Confiteor,” as it was already said in the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. Turning toward the people, off to the side so as to not turn his back to the Blessed Sacrament, the priest says aloud but does not sing the prayers “Misereatur” and “Indulgentiam” as before.

The deacon then uncovers the ciborium, and both he and the priest genuflect. The priest takes one of the small Hosts from the ciborium, shows it to the congregation, and, again speaking aloud and not singing, repeats the words of St. John the Baptist hailing the coming of the Messiah (John 1:29). The priest also says the centurion's prayer three times on behalf of the faithful, or the faithful may say it with the priest.

Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccáta mundi.
Dómine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanábitur ánima mea. (three times)
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; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed. (three times)

The people who intend to receive Communion come forward and kneel at the altar rail. The priest places a Host on the tongue of each person, first blessing them making the Sign of the Cross with the Host, echoing the words he said when he himself received Communion.

Corpus Dómini nostri Jesu Christi custódiat ánimam tuam in vitam æternam. Amen.
May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto life everlasting. Amen.

The faithful never touch the Host with their fingers, for only the annointed hands of the priest can touch the Host, and even his fingers are purified afterwards to avoid profaning any small particle that may adhere to the hands. The deacon, subdeacon, or some other server holds a paten under each person's chin to catch the Host should it fall. The congregation does not receive under the species of wine to prevent abuses. The priest has been offering the Mass on behalf of the congregation and of the entire Church Militant, and likewise when he receives Communion, always under both species, he does so on behalf of the people. Communion of the priest, not the people, is the central act of the Mass, because that is when the person who offered the sacrifice receives the sacrament. Since Christ is sacramentally present equally in both the Host and the Chalice, the congregation need not receive both, and it would be practically very difficult to give the Chalice to all the faithful without profaning the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. Whenever the priest passes before the altar while distributing Communion, he makes no bow, as all reverence is to be directed toward the Blessed Sacrament that he is carrying.

When all have received Communion, the priest returns to the altar and begins the ablutions: the purifying of the sacred vessels and the priest's fingers. The torchbearers go away. The subdeacon first pours wine into the chalice, the cruets having been presented to him by the acolyte. Whereas pouring wine into the chalice at the Offertory, when it was to be consecrated, was a greater task done by the deacon; here, it is a lesser task performed by the subdeacon. The priest collects with the wine any particles of the Host or drops of the Precious Blood that may have adhered to the chalice, pours it into the ciborium, similarly purifies the ciborium, and then pours it back into the Chalice and drinks it. Notice how special care is taken to account for every possible particle and drop of the Blessed Sacrament. While doing this, the priest prays a very ancient prayer that the Holy Communion, received temporally and physically, may transcend to our spiritual being.

Quod ore súmpsimus, Dómine, pura mente capiámus: et de múnere temporáli fiat nobis remédium sempitérnum.
Grant, O Lord, that what we have taken with our mouth, we may receive with a pure mind; and that from a temporal gift it may become for us an everlasting remedy.

He prays that what our flesh has received may also be received by our soul and that it may become “an everlasting remedy,” a remedy from sin and evil. Essentially, he is praying that we may receive God, who is naturally spiritual and eternal, unlike the accidental qualities of the Blessed Sacrament.

The subdeacon then pours the remaining wine and water into the chalice over the priest's fingers to purify them. Since the consecrations, they have remained joined to account for any particles of the Host adhering to them. The ciborium and chalice are purified once more. This time, the priest says a prayer, also ancient, that the Sacrament may cleave to his inmost parts—his soul, which he wishes to be filled with divine grace. Continuing, he prays that, by the Blessed Sacrament, which is here described as having refreshed him, no stain of sin may remain in him.

Corpus tuum, Dómine, quod sumpsi, et Sanguis, quem potávi, adhæreat viscéribus meis: et præsta; ut in me non remáneat scélerum mácula, quem pura et sancta refecérunt sacraménta: Qui vivis et regnas in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.
May thy Body, O Lord, which I have received and thy Blood which I have drunk, cleave to my inmost parts, and grant that no stain of sin remain in me; whom these pure and holy sacraments have refreshed. Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.

Certainly, reception of the Communion conveys sanctifying grace, which takes away sin: refreshing him, as the prayer says. He says these two prayers during the ablutions for both himself and the congregation. With this twofold ablution, he has guarded against the possibility of the most insignificant particle of the Host to be profaned. In the first, wine only is used, in order to better preserve the dignity of the Precious Blood that may still be present. In the second, both wine and water are used. The priest wipes the ciborium and chalice with the purificator, a small linen cloth. Finally, the subdeacon covers the chalice with the purificator, paten, pall, and veil, as it was at the beginning of Mass. He folds up the corporal, places it in the burse, and takes the whole stack away. At the beginning of Mass, things were opened and uncovered as we entered into the sacred liturgy. Now, as we begin to bring the liturgy to a close, these things are closed and covered, just as they were at the beginning.

While the subdeacon is doing this, the deacon takes the missal and moves it back to the epistle side, where it was at the beginning of the Mass. At a most basic level, this seems to fit in with the theme of closing and covering things, returning them to the way they were when we entered. More deeply, this symbolizes the great apostasy prophesized to take place in the end times and the truth being taken away from the Gentiles (Matthew 24:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). The priest goes over to the missal, with the ministers in a semicircle behind him, and reads for himself the Communion verse, which the choir sang during the distribution of Communion. This consists of a few verses from a psalm that relate to the Introit, Gradual, and Offertory verse. Its reading by the priest marks the end of the Communion rite. Whereas so much in the Mass at the beginning was preparation, what remains in the Mass is a closing rite.

New terms

  • Kiss of Peace – The embrace and wish of peace that the ministers offer to each other.
  • Communion – The consumption of the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • ablutions – Purifying the paten, chalice, cimborium, and priest's fingers with wine and water after Communion.
  • Communion verse – A few verses from a psalm sung by the choir during Communion.

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