Sunday Celebration of the Word (with Communion)


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how a parish might worship on a weekday in place of, or in addition to, celebrating Mass.

When a community is unable to celebrate eucharist on a Sunday, one option is to hold a service consisting of readings from scripture followed by the sharing of communion.

The structure of such a service is familiar because it is very much like the first part of the Mass - introductory rites followed by a Liturgy of the Word. Parts which are peculiar to Mass, such as the Preparation of Gifts, Eucharistic Prayer (or anything that resembles a Eucharistic Prayer), the ‘Lamb of God’ and communion from the cup, are omitted. The presider’s chair is left vacant.

As a rule, the readings of the day as set down in the Lectionary for Mass are used. If communion is to be distributed, it follows the Lord’s Prayer and sign of peace. A prayer and blessings conclude the celebration.

The name given to this form of liturgy is “Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion”. Calling it a “communion service” focuses on just one part of the celebration and downplays the importance of the Liturgy of the Word as a complete and authentic act of worship. Referring to it as a “eucharist service” is dangerous because it could suggest that sharing communion is the same as celebrating eucharist.

A Celebration of the Word with Communion can never be a substitute for Mass, only a replacement. Throughout the history of the Church, celebrating eucharist has involved doing what Christ did on the night before he was crucified- taking the bread and wine (Preparation of Gifts), blessing them (Eucharistic Prayer), breaking the bread and pouring the wine (Fraction Rite, and sharing them (Communion). Only the last of these four actions, communion, may be included in a lay led liturgy.

Many Catholics don’t recognise that worship that doesn’t include the Eucharistic Prayer isn’t Mass. There are anecdotal stories of people preferring “Sister’s Mass” on the priest’s day off or of Mr Smith “saying Mass” because the priest suddenly took ill.

Distributing communion outside of Mass on a regular basis contributes to an incomplete understanding of eucharist because it weakens the integral connection between celebrating eucharist and receiving communion. Only eucharist enacts the “holy exchange” of giving and receiving and our participation through the action of the Spirit in the ongoing sacrifice of Christ. We receive communion but we do not make eucharist.
If we readily accept communion as a substitute for Mass, there is a danger that we will cease to be a eucharistic community. A eucharistic community is one which gathers to give thanks, not just to receive communion. Eucharist is an activity we do, not just something we receive passively.
Because of the danger of confusing eucharist and communion, it is preferable to celebrate a Liturgy of the Word alone, without including the distribution of communion, on a weekday.


Elizabeth Harrington