In the last installment we covered the first part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist also known as the Canon of the Mass. Today we cover from after the Lord's Prayer through the Communion.
The format of the Communion has remained intact. However, one of the complaints we hear most often is the socializing that has crept into the ritual around the Lord’s Prayer and the Sign or Kiss of Peace. In our many travels and in the parishes we've been in over the years, some hold hands, others hold their hands out, others fold theirs. That’s fine. There are some who feel a need to grasp their neighbor’s hand in a spirit of community; others who feel the Our Father is a personal prayer and want to pray in that manner. Again, the same principles apply as in the previous paragraph; we should always respect how the other person chooses to worship, trying not to force our own habits on others. This also comes into play during the Kiss of Peace. In a few parishes this is invoked at the beginning of the Mass which seems more appropriate when you consider that we are asking God to reconcile us with our neighbor and Jesus is not yet present in the bread and wine; though He is present in the Tabernacle. Yet the liturgy calls for the Kiss of Peace at this point in the ritual. So be it. One of the problems that arises is how some go overboard during this time, turning it into one big social “hi there” whereas the true intention is to “love one another as I have loved you.”
The Kiss of Peace or Pax was the first instituted, as chronicled in the Catholic Encyclopedia, “as a mark of honor and reverence…as a more formal salute and a mark of brotherly affection of Christians, the Pax or “kiss of peace” was given at solemn Mass after the Agnus Dei. After kissing the altar, the celebrant placed his arms over the arms of the deacon and, while they bowed to each other, the celebrant said Pax tecum (“Peace be to you”) to which the deacon responded with Et cum spiritu tuo (“And with your spirit”). The Pax was then passed on similarly to other clerics present.”
Today, the Sign of Peace is given after the Our Father and this, “while not a kiss in the usual acceptance of the term (though some have considered this proper) is a return to the biblical ‘holy kiss’ of greeting.”
As mentioned earlier, unfortunately this has, in some churches, become a circus with people marching all over the church to shake hands and talk with their neighbor, even to the priest leaving the altar to come down among the congregation. Normally, at the beginning of Mass this wouldn't’be so bad, but at this point in the Mass Our Lord is physically present on the altar, and it seems like a slap in the face, so to speak, to leave Him alone and forgotten while everyone else socializes neglecting Him. In referencing the shape of the cross, it is a case of being too “horizontal” in prayer life and caring more on the human level, than in praying “vertically” to God first. We need to do both but vertically primarily for that represents our prayers to the Divinity; horizontal represents our actions which are ultimately governed by our relationship with God.
There is speculation at the upcoming November conference the National Conference of Catholic Bishops will move this outward sign of greeting to either the beginning of the Mass or after the Gospel before the Offertory which would be much more appropriate. Recent indications are that the bishops are leaning this way and there shouldn't be too much argument over this since it really belongs in the Liturgy of the Word. The formal Kiss of Peace would remain at solemn Mass but only in the Sanctuary itself with the celebrant and deacons as originally intended.
The Agnus Dei is the same from the early times, as is the Domine, non sum dignus - “Lord, I am not worthy… - which basically are the words the centurion uttered to Jesus in Matthew 8:8 and Luke 7:6. The difference is that it used to be said three times in honor of the Trinity. This brings up another point. So often these days "Great Amen," when sung before the Our Father, is repeated six times. Why? The same for the "Alleluia" before the Gospel. What ever happened to three times for the Trinity. It would seem six has seaped in and we all know what that number means. That is why this editor and many others only sing the first three and remain silent for the following three. It is just one of the many indicators of how the Mass has been watered down by various alterations not authorized by Vatican II that have been grandfathered in over the past three decades because of ICEL and other liturgical commissions.
While the priest still says “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul for everlasting life. Amen”, the former (modified to “you” instead of “me”) was also what the priest said over each communicant, making the sign of the cross over each person with the host before placing it on their tongue from the time of Pope Saint Gregory the Great until the new directives of Vatican II. That was shortened to: “This is the Body of Christ” and “This is the Blood of Christ.” Condensing seems to be the norm in our fast paced society and only in the last few years has it been shortened even more to: “The Body of Christ”, “The Blood of Christ.” Let’s all pray they don’t make it any shorter! They've already tried to speed up this beautiful time of the Mass by littering the church with so many Eucharistic ministers so they can "get it over with" so they can spend more time on announcements and songs during and after Communion.
The Second Vatican Council’s directive of Eucharistic Ministers was actually a throwback to the early Church wherein people would gather up the loose crumbs from the sacred bread of flasks of the sacred wine and take them back home to distribute to family or friends who were not able to partake in the Holy Sacrifice. As the years passed this was abused and the proper reverence was not given to the Body and Blood of Christ. Over the past quarter of a century we can see the abuses mounting regarding this same thing as the distribution of the Holy Eucharist has become a “herd system”-“Speed ‘em up, get ‘em out!”
Holy Communion distributed in the hands has also been mishandled The proper reverence that this is truly the Body of Jesus has given way to a nonchalant manner that one accepts a cookie or a wafer, snapping it up and chewing it immediately. We have, for the most part, lost the devotion and reverence that Gregory established and handed down through the centuries and preserved even to the point that one did not eat or drink anything from midnight on, including water, so that one’s body would be “purified” to receive Our Lord and Savior in Holy Communion. There was so much reverence that we were taught not to let the Sacred Host touch our teeth but to let it dissolve on our tongue. There has been much controversy about receiving on the tongue and receiving in the hands and what God really desires. It goes without saying that to receive Our Lord worthily one has to be in the state of sanctifying grace. This has also been badly abused as Father Don Stefano Gobbi noted in one of his visits to the United States, “So many going to Communion, so few going to Confession!"” We need the Sacrament of Penanace to deter us from falling into sin and the more often we go (such as weekly, twice a month or monthly all of which Our Lady is asking us to do) the more we will build up a resistance to the temptations of sin. Likewise, the more often we attend Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion the more we are nourished with graces to sustain us and strengthen us.
In the next installment we shall cover part three of the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the Post Communion and dismissal or Ite Missa est.