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The Communion Rite
THE COMMUNION RITE
The Rite of Communion is the culmination of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The elements that make up the rite are The Lord’s Prayer, Sign of Peace, Breaking of the Bread, Communion (Invitation, Procession, Song, Silence) and Prayer after Communion.
The Lord’s Prayer is one part of the Mass in which everyone can and must participate fully, consciously and actively. Musical settings, if used, must be so familiar and singable that everyone can join in.
It is a common practice in American parishes for people to hold hands during this prayer. I suggest that for many Australians such intimacy is a distraction; the orans stance, the ancient gesture of prayer with arms raised and palms turned upwards, is more appropriate.
In the Sign of Peace we symbolise that our eucharistic life is a ministry of reconciliation. This is not a time for shaking hands and saying Hello to as many people as possible in the available time: true hospitality must be practised as people arrive for Mass, not when it is almost over! The Sign of Peace is a symbolic gesture, so we need to do it deliberately and sincerely with just those around us. We are imparting to others the blessing of Christ’s peace; hence it should take the form of an embrace or clasping of hands, rather than a handshake.
The Breaking of the Bread, by which name the Eucharist was first known, ‘signifies that the many faithful are made one body by receiving communion from the one Bread of Life which is Christ’ (General Instruction of the Roman Missal # 83). As the bread is broken and wine poured out (Fraction Rite), the Lamb of God is sung. This litany, base on the words of John 1:29 and dating from the 7th century, was designed to be repeated as often as necessary to accompany the action of breaking and pouring; so why is it almost always three invocations and responses, no matter how long or short the action?
Our Communion is a participation in the fruits of Christ’s life-giving sacrifice. Receiving communion is both a communal and personal action of the body of Christ. In the communion procession we walk and sing together to the Lord’s table where we share a communal meal, a paschal meal, with Christ and with one another. This is totally different from queuing up at a smorgasbord!
‘It is most desirable that the faithful receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and partake of the chalice, so that even by means of the signs, Communion will stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrate.’ (GIRM 85) This directive is quite unequivocal, as is Christ’s command to ‘take and eat’ and ‘take and drink’. Why then is it so often ignored without letters of complaint being shot off to Rome?
The communion song begins ‘while the priest is receiving the Sacrament’ and continues for ‘as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful’. Delaying the song encourages people to adopt an attitude of individual quiet reflection at this point rather than the ‘union of spirit’ and ‘joy of heart’ appropriate to this rite. (GIRM 86)
The silence comes after all have received communion (‘after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts’, GIRM 45). This is the time to say Thank You and to ask for the strength to be bread for our world of family, work, and community in the days ahead.