When someone wants to show you their affection and friendship, they invite you to their home. There are two important things which occur next: conversation and a meal. In the celebration of the Mass, it is Jesus who invites us to participate in his friendship, during which we also encounter these two important moments: conversation, which is when Jesus speaks to us through his Word and we respond with our prayers; and a meal, when Jesus offers us the Eucharistic banquet giving us his Body and Blood.
In the previous article (The Mass Explained Simply) we discussed the Mass and the Liturgy of the Word. Today we are going to explain the second part, the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the most important moment of the Mass. There are three parts to the Liturgy of the Eucharist: the Offertory Rite, the Eucharistic Prayer (which is the nucleus of the whole celebration), and the Rite of Communion. We hope that this explanation will be useful in your apostolate!
Presentation of the Gifts
This is the moment in which the bread and wine are brought to the altar, two very simple foods that the priest will offer to God in order that Christ makes Himself present in the Eucharist. The simplicity of these foods reminds us of the child who brought Jesus his offerings, five loaves and two fish. It was everything he had, but this smallness, placed in the hands of Jesus, was converted into abundance and sufficed to feed an immense multitude, there were even leftovers.
In this way, our simple offerings of bread and wine, placed in the hands of the Lord, will also be converted into the greatest abundance, into the Body and Blood of Christ to feed a great multitude who are hungry for God. In every Mass, we are this multitude. Together with this bread and wine, we also present ourselves to God. We offer him our efforts, sacrifices, joys, and sufferings. We offer him our frailty so that he may do great things with us. When God converts the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, he also converts us, making us better, more like him.
Prayer over the Offerings
After the presentation of the gifts, the priest bows toward the altar and says an inaudible prayer. There are various moments when the priest says inaudible prayers during the Mass. On this occasion he says, “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” It is an important moment because it manifests that when the priest celebrates the Mass, he is praying, not just repeating mechanical gestures, but rather he is speaking with God.
This word comes from two Latin words “pre” “factum”, which literally means “before the act”. It is called this because it is immediately before the most important act of the whole Mass: the Eucharistic Prayer, all the prayers which surround the moment of consecration. In the preface, there is a dialogue with the priest, “Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them up to the Lord.” In the preface, we give thanks to God, we recognize His acts of love and we praise him. All of this truly elevates our hearts. That is the interior attitude to which the liturgy guides us, elevating the heart to be ready for the most important moment: when Christ makes Himself present with His Body and Blood. This is why Pope Benedict said: “We ought to lift our hearts up to the Lord not just as a ritual response, but rather as an expression of that which succeeds in a heart which lifts itself and draws others with it.”
The Preface ends with this song of praise to God. The lyrics are taken entirely from the Sacred Scriptures. The first part is a song which we heard from the choir of angels that the prophet Isaiah heard singing to God besides His throne. Repeating “Holy” three times reminds us of the three divine persons in the Holy Trinity. The second part is the acclamation of the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey on Palm Sunday: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” They happily greeted Jesus, the long-awaited king entering His city. In the Mass, we also greet Christ who is about to make Himself present before us. Because of this, we can say that the Sanctus is a song of men and angels, which unites us in praise of God.
This is the moment in which the Holy Spirit is invoked to sanctify the offerings of bread and wine which we have presented. At this moment, the priest extends his hands over the offerings. Just as the Holy Spirit descended over the Virgin Mary so that she would conceive and Jesus would be made present in her womb, now the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to descend over these gifts and make Christ present in our midst.
The Institution Narrative and Consecration:
We have reached the heart of the Eucharistic Prayers, the most important moment of the Mass. Following the mandate which Jesus gave to his apostles: “Do this in memory of me.”; the priest, acting in the person of Christ, says the words of the institution of the Eucharist, the same which Jesus spoke the day of the Last Supper. These words have the power to transform reality. Just as when God said, “Let there be earth”, and the earth was made. When Jesus told the paralytic, “Take your mat, rise up, and walk” the paralytic who had never been able to walk, rose to his feet and began to walk. Or when he said to his friend Lazarus after four days in the tomb, “Lazarus come out!” and Lazarus returned to life and left the tomb. As God, when He speaks His Word, creation obeys. In the Mass, God speaks His Word through the priest: “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT OF IT, FOR THIS IS MY BODY…”, “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT, FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD…” His word, which is efficacious, transforms reality and the offerings of bread and wine cease to be such and are truly converted into the Body and Blood of Christ; truly his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Before receiving communion, the Church invites us to recite the prayer which Christ taught us. Saint Cyprian said, “What prayer would the Father hear more gladly than that in which he hears the voice of his only Son, Jesus Christ?” When we pray the Our Father, the Father recognizes the voice of his Only Begotten Son in us. When we pray the Our Father, we are not praying with our words, but rather with the words of God, with the same words with which Jesus taught us to pray. The prayer is not my Father, but OUR Father. It is an invitation to love between us, to brotherhood, to sisterhood, to reconciliation. Pope Francis has said it very clearly: “This is a prayer which cannot be recited with enemies in one’s heart, with hatred for another.” It is a prayer that prepares our hearts because it invites us to communion.
How many times have we said, “I am dying of hunger!” Our body rejects the experience of having an empty stomach so strongly that we express ourselves this way. But we have an even more profound hunger: the hunger for God. Christ makes Himself food because He does not want to leave us empty. He has come that we might have life and have it abundantly. It is the moment of Communion. It is when the priest comes forward to distribute the Eucharistic food. It is also called communion because upon receiving the Body of Christ, we enter into an intimate and profound communion with Him. When someone eats something, that which is eaten becomes part of the body and becomes one with the person and no one can separate the two. When we receive the Body of Christ, something different occurs, not only does the Eucharist become part of us, but above all, we become what we eat, we become Christ-like, we become more like Jesus. This is true food, the food of eternal life, he who receives it will live forever.
Final Blessing and Dismissal
The Mass ends as we begin it, with the Sign of the Cross. We are able to go in peace because we have seen God, we have encountered Him and we are renewed to continue with the mission which God has given us. At the end of Mass, the priest gives us the Final Blessing, the Benediction. The word “Benediction” comes from two Latin words “bene” and “dicere” which mean “to speak well” of someone. Generally, when someone speaks well of us, it neither makes us better nor worse persons. But when God speaks well of us, His Word does change us distinctly. It gives us the grace to fight the good fight. Thus ends the Mass, and we are ready to continue forward in our Christian lives.
Looking for the first part of the series? Click here.