When it comes to the Catholic Mass we need to get it right. The Mass should unite us, not only with our brothers and sisters in the Faith who are living today, but with the Church through all time.
Why the Liturgy Matters
Here is what Pope Benedict has to say on the subject:
I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy, which at times is actually being conceived etsi Deus non daretur: as though in the liturgy it did not matter anymore whether God exists and whether He speaks to us and listens to us. But if in the liturgy the communion of faith no longer appears, nor the universal unity of the Church and of her history, nor the mystery of the living Christ, where is it that the Church still appears in her spiritual strength?… (The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI: Let God’s Light Shine Forth, Robert Moynihan, ed. 117-118)
We enhance our appreciation of the Mass by making a close investigation and seeing how the parts of the Mass are related.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist has four components: the Preparation of the Gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Communion Rite, and the Concluding Rite. But in this article we will confine ourselves to considering the Preparation of the Gifts and the Eucharistic Prayer.
Conscious and Active Participation
“At the beginning of the Preparation of the Gifts, the gifts of bread and wine which will become Christ’s Body and Blood are brought to the altar” (General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 38). This part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist has a special significance because the act of bringing up the gifts is one of the important manifestations of active participation that the Vatican II document on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, envisioned:
Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Pt 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism. (14)
The very act of the lay faithful bringing up the offertory gifts of bread and wine is an act that proceeds from the priesthood of the faithful. Thus with these offertory gifts we bring the combined sweat and blood, sorrows and joys of the assembly gathered together for Sunday worship.
In the early days of the Church the offertory processions were more elaborate and the gifts themselves were of an immediate practical nature. Everything that the bishop and the priests of the community needed for their weekly sustenance was brought up at this time. Bread and live animals were brought up in the procession that the clergy of the community might eat that week. Thus, the parish community had a real sense of supporting not only a church building, but equally important, the clergy that shepherded them. This is why, given today’s circumstances, it is good that the collection as the visible sign of this support be put into one basket to be brought up with the gifts. The collection must be seen as the tithe, and pastors need to encourage all of their parishioners to practice the biblical principle of tithing. When the entire parish community practices tithing, their sense of active participation in the liturgy really comes alive.
The celebrant washes his fingers at the end of the Offertory precisely because in the early Church the nature of the offerings brought up by the lay faithful actually demanded that the celebrant cleanse his hands before entering into the Eucharistic Prayer.
The Center and Summit
After the Preparation of the Gifts, we then proceed to the Eucharistic Prayer. The Eucharistic Prayer is really the central moment of the Catholic liturgy. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls it “the center and summit of the entire celebration…the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification” (40).
The Eucharistic Prayer is always preceded by the Preface. The reform of the Second Vatican Council not only gave us the use of more Eucharistic Prayers or Canons besides the use of the Roman Canon or the First Eucharistic Prayer, but it also gave us the use of a large number of Prefaces. Personally, I believe that this was another very good reform. Today, for pastoral reasons, it is very common that parish priests have to say a large number of Masses on weekends. Being able to choose from among a number of very beautiful texts should be very enriching for the priest’s spiritual life.
For many centuries, the Mass had only one Eucharistic Prayer, which we now call Eucharistic Prayer I. Immediately after the Second Vatican Council, the Church added three more Eucharistic Prayers to the collection. Eucharistic Prayer V, Eucharistic Prayers I and II for Reconciliation, and Eucharistic Prayers of Children have followed since. Eucharistic Prayer II is an adaptation of the Eucharistic Prayer found in the third century. Scholars believe that Saint Hipolitus composed this prayer. Eucharistic Prayer III is a new composition that while similar in some respects to the First Eucharistic Prayer, does incorporate some elements from other sources. Eucharistic Prayer IV is related to an ancient prayer used in Egypt and later adapted into what came to be known as the Anaphora of St. Basil.
The high point of the Eucharistic Prayer is the consecration. This is when the miracle of the Eucharist takes place.
By means of words and actions of Christ, the Sacrifice is carried out which Christ Himself instituted at the Last Supper, when He offered His Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine, gave them to His Apostles to eat and drink, and left them the command to perpetuate this same mystery. (GIRM, p. 41)
The lay faithful have a right to the Catholic Mass celebrated with delicate fidelity to all of the norms and principles of the Catholic Church. Such fidelity will bring about the so-called “reform of the reform” that Pope Benedict desires and that all of us should desire in order that we may participate in it with greater awareness of the awesome mystery that we celebrate.
© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange
Father James Farfaglia is Pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Originally from Ridgefield, CT, Father has founded and developed apostolates for the Catholic Church in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada and throughout the United States. He may be reached by email at Icthus@GoCcN.org.