Very often we consider our participation in the Eucharist as an obligation. From the time we studied Catechism, we have understood the third Commandment (Remember to sanctify the feasts) as to go to Mass only. God never likes to impose an obligation on anybody. He prefers that we discover by ourselves the necessity of our participation in the Eucharist, as He says: Without me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5). Therefore, why do we need the Eucharist?
Let us go back to the Old Testament. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt for centuries and their cry was finally heard by God: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in EgyptÖ therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land (Ex 3,7a.8a). From that moment God started to put into action many initiatives (let us remember the ten Plagues inflicted on the Egyptians) in order to liberate his people. Finally, the night before their departure from Egypt, God told them to have a meal together eating a lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (cfr. Ex 12:8), and to sprinkle the lintel and the two doorposts with its blood. Seeing that blood, the Lord will pass over that door and not let the destroyer come into their houses to kill their first born. The sign of the blood proves that the people of Israel belong now exclusively to God, even though physically they were still in Egypt. The last supper in Egypt is a prophetic sign announcing that Israel will be liberated the next day. In fact, the next day the people of Israel will cross the Red Sea and be saved.
But these people will not be faithful to God. After the crossing of the Red Sea, many times they would want to go back to Egypt, where, they believed, they had a better life. God had said: This day must be commemorated by you ((Ex 12,14). Therefore the annual celebration of the Passover (from the "pass over" of the angel who went to kill the first born of the Egyptians) takes them back, in a sacramental way (which means "really" even though not "physically"), to the last supper and the crossing of the Red Sea. They can say that when their ancestors crossed the Sea, they were also present there with them! Their belonging to God is renovated.
In the New Testament too we have a Last Supper and a crossing. The Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples and the crossing, not of the Red Sea but, of Jesus from this world to the Father: Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father (Jn 13:1a). The bread broken (for you) and the wine shed (a new covenant in my blood) will not recall the crossing of the Red Sea but the crossing of Jesus to the Father. Therefore, the Last Supper of Jesus announced what will take place the next day, his death followed by his resurrection. Jesus celebrated his last Passover exactly as the Jews used to do, but he changed the substance: the lamb is Jesus himself, the bread is his body, the blood of the lamb is his blood which is shed not for the protection of the house of Israel only, but of the whole world.
As ancient Israel saw in the verse, This day must be commemorated by you (Ex 12:14), the order to celebrate the Passover every year, in the same way the disciples of Jesus Christ see in the verse, Do this in remembrance of me ... do this as a memorial of me (1 Cor 11:24-25), the order to celebrate the Last Supper and the inauguration of the Eucharist.
Jesus knows our weakness and our betrayals. How do we cure them? Going back to His cross and to His resurrection, it is the Eucharist which takes us back to that event. We can say: when Jesus Christ was on the cross and when he rose again, we were also there!
The Eucharist is for sinners, as we are. We need to be brought back as often as possible to Calvary and to the Empty Tomb in order to renovate our fidelity to the discipleship of Jesus. Therefore, first of all, the Eucharist is not an obligation, it is our daily/weekly sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ without which we cannot live as Christians.
We were individuals, but through Baptism we became one body, whose head is Jesus Christ. Forming a community is a sign that we are One Body, and is essential for the disciples of Jesus Christ. St. Paul says: And as there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one loaf (1 Cor 10:17) and he writes to the Galatians: There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female Ė for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3,28).
The Eucharist is celebrated as a continuous dialogue between us and God the Father, through Jesus Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit.
The celebrant greets the assembly with: The Lord be with you (the Bishop says the greeting of Jesus Christ: Peace be with you, because he is His representative par excellence in the Church).
Then, the celebrant invites the assembly to ask forgiveness for their sins. In order to take part more worthily in the Sacred Mysteries, and in order to open our minds to the message of his Word, we need to be purified by humbly acknowledging our failures and by asking the Lord for pardon and strength (= prayer of the Church).
After the Glory to God in the highest, the priest says (or sings) the "Opening prayer". It is called The Collect because it gathers together all the requests of the assembly and presents them to the Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
The Readings follow. Their purpose is to remind us that what God has done in the past for the Jewish people he is now doing for us. We donít read the Old and New Testament just to know what happened but we see in the history of the chosen people, our own history.
The Homily has the role of proclaiming Godís wonders in the history of salvation, and to prepare the faithful for the Liturgy of the Eucharist and to apply the Word of God to concrete situations of life. The homily is followed by a time of "sacred silence". It is "sacred" because it is a real part of the sacred action. It is not meant to reduce the faithful to mute listeners and spectators; rather, it reaches its purpose when the faithful take to heart the Word and reflect upon it; enter in dialogue with the Father; express to him their gratitude and their desire to conform their life to his Word; and implore from him the gift of his Spirit in order to live in conformity to his message.
Through the Profession of Faith, also called the Creed, we give our assent to the Word of God which was heard in the readings and explained through the homily.
Through the Prayer of the faithful we speak to the Father with confidence and trust and we present to Him our necessities and problems. Our intercession should always have at least these four intentions: for the needs of the Church, for the public authorities, for those oppressed by any need, for the local community. As I wrote last year, I would like to stress the point that all the intentions should be addressed always and only to God the Father and be formulated in accordance with the readings we heard, not something sentimental or general.
The prayer of the faithful concludes the first part of the Eucharist, which is called: Liturgy of the Word. Now we go to the second part, which is the subject of my letter of this year and which is called: The Liturgy of the Eucharist.
B. THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST
I) The presentation of the gifts
Regarding the presentation of the gifts, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis says: "This is not to be viewed simply as a kind of interval between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This humble and simple gesture is actually very significant: in the bread and wine that we bring to the altar, all creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father. In this way we also bring to the altar all the pain and suffering of the world, in the certainty that everything has value in Godís eyes (SC. 47).
While bread and wine are brought to the altar, we sing a fitting Offertory song.
In the Latin rite, the bread is unleavened; it is made with flour and water without yeast. At the Last Supper, Christ used this kind of bread, as a memorial of the "bread of affliction" eaten by the Israelites at the Passover Supper in Egypt. In the past, the bread used for the celebration was "one loaf", to remind what Jesus did at his supper when "He broke the bread". The "one loaf" became a symbol of the "one Church".
The wine was for the Jews the symbol of the joy of the messianic times.
Jews used to drink wine mixed with water and Jesus did the same at the Last Supper. The Church introduced this rite into the Liturgy, and enriched it with several symbolisms: e.g. the blood and the water that flowed from the side of Christ; our sharing in the divinity of Christ (the wine) who assumed our human nature (water); the union of the sacrifice of the Church (water) and the sacrifice of Christ (wine). Perhaps this is the best symbolism: Christ and the Church are deeply united in the same sacrifice that works for the salvation of the world.
"It is fitting that the faithful express their participation by offering other gifts that meet the needs of the Church and of the poor" (Missal). In the past the faithful used to bring various kinds of goods, which were then distributed to the needy at the end of the celebration, as St. Justin witnessed. This custom tends to disappear, but it is now replaced by the money collection.
The presentation of the gifts is concluded with the Prayer over the Gifts in which we usually ask God to accept the gifts we bring and to help us grow in Christian love (cfr Prayer over the Gifts of the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time).
II) The Eucharistic prayer
The Greek word "Eucharistia" means "thanks" and it is the most appropriate word to express the purpose and nature of the Mass which is mainly a "thanksgiving"; so, our life should be the continuation of it. We have reasons to thank the Father for what he gave us in the past, above all the grace of Baptism, our faith in the Lord, our belonging to the Church.
But we have reasons to thank him for his daily gifts: the people that he has put near us as brothers and sisters; the food that he provides for us as a fruit of his providence; the trials, the difficulties, the diseases and sufferings by which he purifies us: "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:16-18).
At the Last Supper Christ: took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples. Accordingly, the Church renews in the celebration what Christ did at the Last Supper:
∑ She takes the bread and the wine in the presentation of the gifts
∑ She gives thanks to the Father through the Eucharistic prayer
∑ She breaks the bread that has become the body of Christ
∑ She gives the body of Christ to the faithful, as Jesus gave to the Apostles.
"The Eucharistic prayer is the center and summit of the entire celebration" (Missal, 78). The chief elements, in all the Liturgical Rites, are:
1. The Preface
3. Epiclesis on the offerings (bread and wine)
4. Institution narrative and consecration
6. Epiclesis on the faithful
8. Final doxology
1. The Preface
The preface is the beginning of the thanksgiving which is the essential note of the entire Eucharistic prayer. The celebrant begins the preface by inviting us to lift up our hearts to the Lord and to give Him thanks; in this way he invites us to be united with him in the prayer he addresses to the Father for the whole Church, through Jesus Christ. In the Latin Rite there are, until now, 147 prefaces (the 46 prefaces of "Masses of the blessed Virgin Mary" included); and every one of them presents its reasons to thank God. Some examples:
When he humbled himself to come among us as a man, he fulfilled the plan you formed long ago and opened for us the way to salvation (Advent 1).
In him we see our God made visible and so we are caught up in love of the God we cannot see (Christmas 1).
Today you revealed in Christ your eternal plan of salvation and showed him as the light of all peoples (Epiphany).
Through our observance of Lent, you correct our faults and raise our mind to you (Lent 4).
He is the true Lamb who took away the sins of the world. By dying he destroyed our death, by rising he restored our life (Easter 1).
With that, we thank God also for the personal teaching, advise, inspiration, that we receive through the readings/homily of the Mass. The readings and the homily are for me, for you, for all of us, to help us in our daily life. After the Liturgy of the Word, we now know why the Church invites us to thank God by saying:
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!
While we thank the Father, we feel the need to be united with the countless hosts of saints, angels and archangels who stand before him to do his will and praise him night and day. United with them and in the name of every creature under heaven, we too praise his glory by singing: Holy, holy, holy, heaven and earth are full of your glory!
The Post-Sanctus is a continuation of the praise. After the assembly proclaims Godís majesty, the celebrant continues the praise mentioning motivations which differ from one Eucharistic prayer to another.
The first Eucharistic prayer (Roman Canon) is the most ancient, the most beautiful one and the most related to the oriental Eucharistic prayer, especially with the one of the Church of Alexandria. The fidelity of the Church of Rome to her Roman Canon, even though for centuries she did not understand well what she was repeating, preserved her from heresies and kept her strictly faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther changed, manipulated, cut parts of this wonderful Eucharistic prayer and fell out of the Church. The "Rule of prayer" (Lex orandi) saved the "Rule of belief" (Lex credendi). The Roman Canon has the most complete Post-Sanctus.
The Eucharistic prayer no. 2 says only:
Lord, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness.
The Eucharistic prayer no. 3 is a little longer:
Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit. From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.
Much more extended is the Post-Sanctus of the Eucharistic prayer no. 4.
We thank him because he created us in his own image and he did not abandon us after the disobedience of Adam. We admire his infinite love, because he rescued us from sin and death; he promised the salvation and kept alive our hope through the voice of the prophets.
Our thanksgiving reaches its climax because of the wonderful way in which the Father worked our salvation. In his infinite love for us he sent his beloved Son to be our Savior. In obedience to the Father, the Son took flesh in the womb of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit; he became man like us; he announced his gospel to the poor; he proclaimed freedom from slavery; he shared in our sufferings; he cured us from our diseases. In order to show the greatness of his love, he chose to die; by dying he rescued us from sin and death; by rising from the dead he made us alive with a new life; by sending his Spirit he gave us a sharing in his divine nature, and made us children of the Father.
Particularly interesting is the Post-Sanctus of the three Eucharistic prayers for Masses with children and the two Eucharistic prayers for Masses of Reconciliation.
3. Epiclesis on the offerings (bread and wine)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the meaning of the Epiclesis: "The Epiclesis is the intercession in which the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, so that the offerings may become the body and blood of Christ" (CCC, 1105).
The Eucharistic prayer no.1 (Roman Canon) is all a continuous epiclesis, since the very first words: We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving (Te igitur, clementissime Pater).
The Eucharistic prayer no. 2 specifies that the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ is for us (nobis): "Let your spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ".
The Eucharistic prayer no. 3 adds the commandment of Jesus Christ to celebrate the Eucharist: "And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist.
The Eucharistic prayer no. 4 says: "Father, may the Holy Spirit sanctify these offerings. Let them become the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord as we celebrate the great mystery which he left us as an everlasting covenant.
Very well adapted to the children is the Epiclesis of the second Eucharistic prayer for Masses with children: "God our Father, we now ask you to send your Holy Spirit to change these gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord".
4. Institution narrative and consecration
The consecration is the heart of the Eucharistic prayer and it is strictly linked with the Epiclesis, said just now. In our human body the heart is the center of our organism but it is not separate from the other members. It is the same in the consecration. It is the heart of the Eucharistic prayer but it is related to all that has preceded, especially the Epiclesis on the offerings, and to all which will follow. In almost all the Eucharistic prayers the words before the consecration are the same: took bread, gave thanks and praise, broke the bread, gave it, said, and all of them say clearly that the body is given for us and the blood is shed for us (This is my body which will be given up for you. This is the cup of my blood Ö it will be shed for you). This for you should not be understood only as in your favor, but instead of you, in substitution of you. Jesus offered his life at the Last Supper (as a prophetic sign) and on Calvary (where he concretely died) in substitution of us. We had to offer our life in order to be readmitted to the family of God, but Jesus did it for us, and in place of us.
There is an abyssal difference between the bread and wine used for the Jewish Passover and the bread and wine after the words said by Jesus, i.e., in our Eucharist, after the consecration. In the Jewish Passover those elements receive a blessing but they remain bread and wine as they were before the blessing. As for Jesus, and, in our Eucharist, after the consecration, the same elements are no more bread and wine as they were; they became the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the bread that Jesus breaks is no more the remembrance of the ancient Passover from Egypt to the Promised Land, but it is the celebration of the Passover of Jesus from this world to the Father through his death and resurrection; it is the body of Jesus which is going to be broken and distributed. It is as if Jesus said: This is my living body which is going to be given to death for you; this is my life which is going to be broken into pieces so that you may have a new life, forming one body with me; this is my body that I give in substitution of your sin.
So, the purpose of the Eucharist is not only to adore Jesus Christ under the signs of the bread and wine, or to receive our friend Jesus Christ in our heart, but to announce the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. The Eucharist is given us as the necessary medicine for us who still live under the regime of sin and of our weaknesses (St. Ambrosias). As I said in the beginning, first of all the Eucharist is not an external compulsory commandment but a necessity for us all who experience every day that we are sinners, and secondly, the need for us to go back to Calvary and the Empty Tomb to receive, once again, a new life, a new resurrection.
Jesus said at the end: Do this in memory of me. With these words he instituted the Eucharist. As I said in my pastoral letter of last year: if Jesus had not instituted the Eucharist, the event of his death and resurrection would have remained only for that moment when it happened on Calvary and the Church of the future generations, i.e. ourselves, would not have been able to obtain salvation from that far off event. The celebration of the Eucharist therefore brings us back to Calvary and to the Resurrection. The Last Supper, the death-resurrection of Jesus Christ and our Masses, in spite of the fact that they are related to different moments in history and to different geographical places, they are only one celebration and they take place in the same moment. Therefore, there is no the first Mass celebrated by Jesus Christ, and we then celebrate our Masses to renew or (worse) to repeat the first Mass of Jesus. There is only one Mass for all of human history, the one celebrated by Jesus to which we are brought to our Masses. There is only one sacrifice, once for all and forever (cfr. Hebrews 10:10-14). In other words, the command Do this in memory of me doesnít intend to say: repeat the first celebration I made! No! The celebration of the Eucharist brings us back really, even though not physically, to Calvary and to the Empty Tomb. We can say: when Jesus Christ was on the cross and when he was resurrected we were also there!
"Anamnesis" means offering of the sacrifice of Christ. At this point of the Eucharist, the assembly intervenes with an acclamation addressed to Christ which is an anticipation of what the celebrant will say immediately after that. This acclamation is introduced by the priest with these words: Let us proclaim the mystery of faith! The people mention the fundamental moments of the history of salvation that will be proclaimed by the celebrant. For example, the first form says:
Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.
This is the climax moment of the offering of himself that Jesus Christ did on the cross and to which we are brought and associated with. First, the community, through the priest, recalls to God the Father that they are celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation,
His glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven,
And ready to greet him when he comes again (Eucharistic prayer no. 3).
Then, with the words
We offer you, Father, this life-giving bread,
this saving cup (Eucharistic prayer no. 2)
We offer you in thanksgiving
this holy and living sacrifice (Eucharistic prayer no. 3),
the community offers to the Father the bread and the wine changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, i.e. the celebration of the New Alliance. Celebration and offering are the essential elements of this part of the Eucharistic prayer.
St. Paul says: For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). This means that the Church till the end of history will be brought sacramentally ("sacramentally" means: really, truly, even though not visible to our eyes, perceptible to our senses) to participate in the offering of Jesus Christ. At the end of history the Lord Jesus will come in glory and we donít need to be brought any more to the Last Supper and the Empty Tomb because we will be with Him forever, without any temptation to leave Him and to follow the Devil, the Lamb will be our light: Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:5). But, till the end of time has not come, the Eucharist will proclaim that Jesus truly died, that after three days he truly rose from the dead and that one day he will come again.
This sacramental offering is, for the community, the pledge of its prayer and it is this pledge that allows it to present the most import request of all the Eucharistic celebration, the epiclesis for the transformation of the faithful.
6. Epiclesis on the faithful
The celebrant says:
Ö as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son,
Let us be filled with every grace and blessing (Eucharistic prayer no. 1)
May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ
be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit (Eucharistic prayer no. 2)
Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood,
May be filled with his Holy Spirit,
And become one body, one spirit in Christ (Eucharistic prayer no. 3).
Look upon this sacrifice which you have given to your Church;
And by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share
This one bread and one cup
Into the one body of Christ,
A living sacrifice of praise (Eucharistic prayer no. 4).
With this prayer we ask God to change us from a dispersed people to a gathered people; we ask to become one body, i.e. the Church. This transformation has already started with our Baptism but it is not yet perfectly completed: already, but not yet!
We may notice that the Institution narrative and consecration and the anamnesis are between two epiclesis. Meanwhile the epiclesis on the offerings (bread and wine) asks God the Father to send the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the epiclesis on the faithful asks for those who are going to receive the Communion that they be transformed into one body. Both the requests are not independent; they are one petition. The entire Eucharist is aimed at the Church, the body which is formed through the celebration of the Eucharist. We can say that the first and last purpose of the Eucharist is the edification of the Church. Therefore we cannot separate the two Epiclesis, but we have to recognize that the most important one, at which the other aims, is the request of our transformation into one body, the Church.
After the request of the transformation of the faithful into one body (epiclesis on the faithful), we have the "Intercessions". It is the same prayer but enlarged to those who are not physically present at the Eucharist: we ask God the Father to transform them also into one body. We read in the Eucharistic prayer no. 2:
Lord, remember your Church throughout the world;
Make us grow in love,
Together with (Benedict XVI) our Pope,
(Camillo) our Bishop, and all the clergy.
Remember our brothers and sisters
Who have gone to their rest
In the hope of rising again;
Bring them and all the departed
Into the light of your presence.
The reason of the expansion of the request is that the whole Church is involved in every Eucharistic celebration. Therefore, every part of the Church Ė from the Hierarchy to the pilgrim Church on earth, to the Church in the state of purification and to the glorious Church in heaven Ė should be mentioned so that every group and every individual person has its own role in our daily transformation into one body. What is the difference between these intercessions and the "Prayer of the faithful" that we have after the "Profession of faith" (I believe) and before the "Presentation of the gifts" where we also pray for the Pope, the Bishop, the civil authorities, the community, etc.? The latter can have various intentions which can be formulated according to the Readings, as is noticed. Instead, these intercessions for the universal Church, i.e. for the Pope, the Bishop, the priests, the deacons and all the people of God, ask God the Father that all these people who form the Church be all transformed into one body. Even for all the inhabitants of the earth, we pray that they be transformed into one body, with the ethic, social, familiar and professional implications that this fundamental request presents. So, the intention of these intercessions for all the individuals and groups of the world is one: that they all form one body! For example, we say:
In mercy and love unite all your children
wherever they may be (Eucharistic prayer no. 2).
The Eucharistic prayer no. 3 for children summarizes the content of every intercession with these clear words:
To be one.
Then, we have the mention of the saints: we ask God that the gathered community be always more "in communion with" the Virgin Mary, who is always mentioned first, the Apostles and all the Saints:
Have mercy on us all;
Make us worthy to share eternal life
With Mary, the virgin mother of God,
With the Apostles, and with all the saints
Who have done your will throughout the ages.
May we praise you in union with them, and give you glory
Through your Son, Jesus Christ. (Eucharistic prayer no. 2)
Father, in your mercy grant also to us, your children,
To enter into our heavenly inheritance
In the company of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God,
And your Apostles and Saints.
Then, in your kingdom, freed from the corruption of sin and death,
We shall sing your glory with every creature
Through Christ our Lord,
Through whom you give us everything that is good (Eucharistic prayer no. 4).
8. Final Doxology
"Doxa" in Greek means "glory", and "logos" means "word". The word doxology is used in the Liturgy when we want to stress that we glorify the Trinity by means of our words. The Liturgy is full of doxologies and I list here the main ones: the hymn Glory to God in the highest, sung before the "Opening Prayer"; Through our LordÖ that concludes the "Opening Prayer"; Glory be to the FatherÖ, etc. The most solemn doxology is the one that concludes the Eucharistic prayer. The priest solemnizes it by raising the host and the chalice towards heaven acclaiming or singing:
In him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
All glory and honor is yours,
For ever and ever!
And the people enthusiastically acclaim:
Our praise is always addressed to God, the Father almighty, and in any Eucharist celebration we gather together in order to worship him, to give him thanks, and to give glory to his name.
Jesus Christ, the beloved Son, is the greatest blessing of the Father, because through him we have become his children. But we are aware of our incapacity to give a convenient thanksgiving; thus, we turn to Jesus, the beloved Son who has become our true brother, and we glorify and praise the Father, through him, with him and in him.
We praise the Father through him. In hearing the name "Jesus", the heart of the Father is filled with joy; he does not mind that we are sinners; he simply rejoices in hearing the name of his Son; and through the power of his name he grants our requests.
We praise the Father with him. The risen Jesus is alive, and as we meet together he is also present; he likes to stay with us since he is our brother. When we praise the Father, he unites his voice to ours, and in recognizing his voice, the Father welcomes our praise.
We praise the Father in him. Jesus affirms that he lives in us, because he communicates to us his Spirit; and in the unity of the Spirit we do not possess any more an existence separated from him: Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20). Thus, we form one person with him, and we praise the Father not as individuals but as members unified in the same Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (let us now show that the Epiclesis on the faithful aims at transforming them into one body).
AMEN! Means: "Yes!", "It is like that", "It is true what the celebrant has said", "He has been our voice!". In responding AMEN! the assembly makes the speech of the celebrant as its own speech and joins him without any reservation. Thus, to pronounce AMEN! is as engaging as to pronounce the prayer that AMEN! wants to confirm. Therefore, the role of the assembly in responding AMEN! is not less than the one of the celebrant. St. Augustine wrote that to say AMEN! is like putting a signature on a document, which has no value till it is signed. St. Jerome says that in Rome the AMEN! of the assembly was resounding like a thunder in the sky! If the Romans of that time were like as St. Jerome says, this means that their pastors knew how to keep the faithful sensitive, through adequate catechesis, to the importance of the awareness of all the assembly to the representative voice of the celebrant.
III. The Holy Communion
This part of the Mass is made up of the following:
1. Lordís prayer
2. Sign of Peace
3. Breaking of the bread
4. Reception of the Holy Communion
5. Prayer after Communion
1. The Lordís prayer (Our Father ...)
Jesus taught us to call God our Father and taught us also what we should ask from God: the glory of Fatherís name, his kingdom and will, our daily food, the forgiveness of our sins, the strength against temptation, the deliverance from evil.
But, it is not enough to say the Lordís prayer simply with our lips: the word Abba which Jesus used when he taught this prayer to his disciples, must come out from the heart, and be pronounced with those feelings of filial tenderness and of confidence that we admire in the heart of the Lord; it must be the prayer of children.
When we pray the Our Father this means that we belong to the same family, because we have a common Father, as we have a common Brother, Christ. A good father is not pleased with one child only; he prefers to be called "father" by several children. The same happens to our heavenly Father; he was living in the perfect and eternal joy of the possession of his only begotten son; but that joy was not enough for him; he planned to build up a family, in order to enjoy the pleasure of being called Father by a multitude of children.
In a family there are always problems, contrasts and divisions; a son who abandons the fatherís house; a brother who offends a brother Ö there is need of continuous reconciliation, with the Father and among us. Thus, the Our Father becomes the prayer of reconciliation of Godís family; reconciliation with the Father, and reconciliation amongst us, as it is expressed in these words: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Mt 6:12).
The joy of the Father reaches its climax when we join together our voice and hands, and, as a reconciled family, with our hearts full of joy and enthusiasm, we acclaim or sing:
2. The sign of peace
We all desire peace because of its fruits: we are happier and work with greater enthusiasm; we smile and enjoy the company of people; even our physical health gets its advantages. We desire peace but we are aware of the difficulties in building it. We see the horrible disasters of wars among nations, the fights among families, the contrast existing even within our family walls. Often our incapacity to forgive an offence breaks friendships and brings enmities. Often our selfishness makes us indifferent to the othersí problems and sufferings.
We experience also our incapacity to build it, because we find that the true obstacles of peace are within ourselves: our pride, our arrogance, our ambitions. Thus, we realize that only Jesus can be our peace, because he is the only one who can change our stony heart, full of violence and hatred, and give us a new heart. Indeed, when he said: I give you my peace (Jn 20:21), he wanted to underline that true peace is a gift coming from him.
After the prayer for peace we are invited by the celebrant to offer one another the sign of peace. It is a sign: so, it expresses our good will to be at peace with everybody; and if we have offended any brother of the community, we are given the opportunity to restore peace. But it is also a sign that we commit ourselves to become instruments of peace in the family and in the Church.
Paul affirms that Christ built peace between Jews and Gentiles by dying on the cross, and destroying the wall of hatred by means of his blood. By this he showed us the way to become peace-makers: Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink, Ö do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good (Rom 12:20-21).
All the Oriental Liturgical Rites and even the Ambrosian Rite (Diocese of Milan, Italy) have the sign of peace not at this moment of the celebration but before the Presentation of the gifts, i.e. after the homily and the Prayer of the faithful. This tradition is based on the teaching of Jesus who said: If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Mt 5:23-24).
The neo-catechumenal communities also have been allowed from the Holy See to follow this tradition, already present in the Church for more than thousand years, and have the sign of peace before the Presentation of the gifts.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments could study if it is possible to transfer the sign of peace, in the Latin Rite, to where it takes place in the Oriental and Ambrosian Rites. Just a proposal.
In our Vicariate the sign of peace is done through a reverence given to the neighbors. Even the priest, from the altar, gives the sign of peace to the assembly making a reverence to the faithful who are at his right, then in front of him and finally at his left. How far we are from the way used by St. Paul who wrote to his faithful:
Greet one another with a holy kiss (1st Cor.16:20; 2nd Cor.13:12).
Greet all brothers with a holy kiss (1st Thess.5:26).
3. The breaking of the bread
The Gospels report that Jesus broke the bread on several occasions.
At the miracle of the multiplication of the bread: The, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples Ö (Mk 6:41).
At the Last Supper: Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them saying, Ö (Lk.22:19).
In the episode of Emmaus: Jesus sat down to eat with the two disciples: Ö he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them (Lk.24:30). And they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.
From the very beginning the disciples had been faithful to the Lordís command, and were meeting together in their homes (Acts 2:46) to celebrate the Supper of the Lord. They started calling that celebration the breaking of the bread. Surely, they were using one loaf, and "in breaking it" they were recalling what Jesus did at the last supper, and what happened to the two disciples of Emmaus. This expression was the name given to the Eucharist by the early Church, and this is also the reason why the rite of the breaking is still present in our celebration. The meaning of the rite is very rich; but the way in which it is now performed, has almost lost its significance.
The priest breaks the bread that has become the body of Christ, to underline that the body given to us as our food, is a body "broken" by the sufferings of his passion and death. He breaks it to underline that this same body is to be broken in order to be eaten by many, and thus becoming the bread of our unity: Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (1 Cor.10:17).
In the Eucharist the Lord offers a body broken by the sufferings of his passion. And we receive his body not simply to rejoice our communion with him, but mainly to become saints, i.e. to be able to share in his sacrifice and to consume our life for the brothers, and to spend our energies in order to contribute to the building of the communion of his mystical body.
4. Reception of the Holy Communion
In all the Oriental Liturgies there is at this moment the famous invitation: The Saintly Things to the Saints (in Latin: Sancta Sanctis; in Arabic: al-muqaddasat li-l-qiddisin). What is the meaning? We can find two meanings. First: the Saintly Things are for the Saints, they have been done for them. Second: The Saintly Things have been done to make us Saints, to make us to become Saints. The two meanings are inseparable, but it is the second one which clarifies the content and the intention of the first one: we receive Holy Communion in order to become Saints.
I notice that in our Churches in Kuwait people have different ways to receive the Holy Communion: many receive it on their tongue, many others in their hands, but it is sometimes strange to see how many people present their hands. Some open their hands, others receive the Communion forming a kind of clip with their thumb and their index-finger. I would like that in our Vicariate everyone follows what the father of the Church, saint Cyril of Jerusalem, advises to do: When you approach (to receive the Holy Communion) do with your left hand as a throne to your right hand, since this one (the right hand) is about to receive the King, and making the palm concave, receive the body of Christ answering: AMEN!
Another father of the Church, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, says: Christ doesnít say that he comes to us (in Holy Communion) only for a kind of affective relation, but also for a sharing in his nature. As when somebody smelts together in the fire two pieces of wax and from the two he forms only one piece, the same, receiving the body of Christ and his precious blood, we become one thing, he in us and we in him.
The priest says: Happy are those who are called to his supper. We understand the reason of this happiness if we reflect on the wonderful effects that it produces:
The first effect regards the Person of Christ. In eating his body we do not assimilate Christ to ourselves (as it happens in the common process of digestion of any material food), but Christ assimilates us to him: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him (Jn 6,56). He communicates to us his Spirit, and, through the power of this Spirit, we live a new life that changes us into new creatures; it gives new capacities to do things that we, left alone, would be unable to do; we are ready to forgive, to renounce material riches, to accept sufferings and even martyrdom; we are progressively transformed into the image of Christ; we become like him!
The second effect regards the Church. Saint Augustine calls the Eucharist: Sacrament of piety; sign of unity; link of charity. The Lord has instituted the Eucharist in order to create unity among the faithful, and when they answer AMEN! at the reception of the Holy Communion, they profess their faith in the Body of Christ present in the Eucharist, but, at the same time, they commit themselves to the building up of his Mystical Body.
The unity among the disciples is the aim of the institution, but it is also its main effect. The Acts link together the breaking of the bread and the brotherhood existing among the disciples. By sharing in the same faith and in the same body of the Lord, the Christians were inspired by the Spirit to share also in the same material goods and were putting all things in common (Acts 2:44).
The third effect regards our future destiny. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day (Jn 6:54). Christ wants to save the whole human person, soul and body, in order to re-create man in his full integrity; and he fulfils this plan by communicating to the believer the glory of his bodily resurrection. Holy Communion is the medicine of immortality, the seed of our bodily resurrection.
The distribution of Holy Communion is followed by a period of sacred silence. By giving time to silence we do not interrupt the celebration but we reserve space for the Holy Spirit. Silence means adoration of the Lord, capacity to perceive the voice of the Spirit, availability to Godís will. The greater is the mystery we celebrate, and the deeper should be the silence that accompanies and follows it!
5. Prayer after Communion
This prayer concludes the Eucharistic celebration and usually we ask God that what we have celebrated may bear fruit. For example:
You give us strength of new life
By the gift of the Eucharist.
Protect us with your love
And prepare us for eternal redemption (Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time).
IV. The Liturgical Dismissal
We can consider three particular moments:
6. The announcements
7. The Liturgical blessing
8. The dismissal: from Mass to Mission
1. The announcements
The time before the dismissal is considered fit for the various announcements to be given to the people in a brief way. The announcements become a means to give information about the life of the Parish and to foster the active participation of the faithful in the various activities. They are also published on the website of the Vicariate: www.vicariatekuwait.org
2. The Liturgical blessing
The Liturgical blessing which the priest gives at the end of the celebration of the Eucharist, and at the end of any celebration, is meant to obtain for the participants the help needed to live a true Christian life; it is given by invoking the Trinity; and while invoking the Trinity, the priest traces the Sign of the Cross on the faithful, to remind them that all Godís favors are merited by the passion and death of the Lord.
The Bishop, after a special introduction
(Bishop) Blessed be the name of the Lord
(Assembly) Now and forever
(Bishop) Our help is in the name of the Lord
(Assembly) Who made heaven and earth
traces the Sign of the Cross three times, while he mentions every one of the Persons of the Trinity.
3. The dismissal: from Mass to Mission
The official dismissal in Latin is: Ite Missa est, which is now translated into:
+ Go in the peace of Christ.
+ The Mass is ended, go in peace.
+ Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
The three translations reveal that the Latin text has a very deep content that we cannot express it easily. However, the sure and essential meaning is a binding invitation to the people to go and realize the mission to which they are sent. John the Evangelist with the narration of the washing of the disciplesí feet (Jn 6:1-15) invites us to prolong in our daily life the engagements deriving from our Eucharistic faith. Saint Justin (c. 150 AD) witnesses that in the early Church the Eucharistic celebration had an attentive care of the orphans, the widows, the prisoners, those who are neglected, the residents who are foreigners, of all those who are in need. Therefore there is a narrow relation between Liturgy and ethic engagement, i.e. between prayer and action. Without Liturgy it is difficult to have an ethic engagement; without an ethic engagement it is impossible that there be a true Liturgy. The transformation into "one body" that the epiclesis asked and the intercessions expanded, is vertical and horizontal at the same time. When we go out from the church, if we donít take with us precise engagements of personal, familiar, professional, civil and ecclesiastical engagements our Eucharist will have been very little fruitful. Of course, the essential relation between Liturgy and ethic engagement will be understood and put into practice in proportion as we discover the beginning and the richness of our Christian life, and that it is a true, good, beautiful and right life! This can be gradually realized if we celebrate the Liturgy regularly and inside a living community.
C. TWO NOTES
I. The Eucharist and the prayer for the Dead
In the celebration of the Eucharist we mention the dead twice.
First is the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, HolyÖ). Our assembly joins the assembly which is in heaven (heaven and earth are full of your glory..) to sing together the praises of God. The Virgin Mary, the angels, the saints and the dead, are all there to praise God with us. Even those who are in a situation of purification, in the so called "Purgatory", join us in praising God. Our dead cannot pray for themselves, the judgment on their life having been done, but they can pray for us and they accompany us in our daily life. Being always with God, the intercession made by our dead for us is very strong, much stronger than our prayer for ourselves, since we are always linked with our weakness and sins.
The second moment is in the Intercessions during the Eucharistic prayer, when we mention the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. In the Sanctus our dead come to our help, now we help them and we ask God to transform them into one body with him. Through our prayer for the dead we extend the epiclesis on the faithful, who are present in the Eucharistic celebration, to all those who have left this world. Our intercession for them is stronger than theirs (as I said they cannot pray for themselves) and we ask God to form all the people, living and dead, into one body.
To mention the name of a dead at Mass is possible, but it should not be understood in a magic way, as if the Mass was not useful for that dead person if we donít mention his/her name during the celebration. Besides that, let us not forget that the Mass is never restricted to one person or one intention; the offering made by Christ of himself on the cross and his resurrection are not for one person only but for everyone and for the whole world.
II. The Eucharist and the Cult of the Holy Sacrament outside the Mass
In the second millennium we inherited many expressions of cult to the Eucharist: processions, Eucharistic blessings, private adoration of the Holy Sacrament, etc.
The hosts which are in the Tabernacle are there especially for two reasons: to be taken to the sick, and to be given to the people, outside the Mass, who could not come for the Eucharistic celebration.
A third reason is adoration. It is important to stay with Jesus, to speak with him personally and to ask him to understand better his precious gift of the Eucharist. But, we have to know that that Divine Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle or in the Monstrance comes from the Eucharist and it should lead us to the Eucharist. Therefore, a private adoration can never replace our presence at the Eucharistic celebration. This is the climax of the offering that Jesus made of himself for us and it is "the Source and the Summit" of our Christian life.
NB. I wanted to intentionally explain the Mass, as much as I can, in my pastoral letters of last year and of this year, and also of next year, in order to avoid a magic or pagan understanding of the Eucharist.
May God enlighten our heart and our mind.
Pray for me.
+ Camillo Ballin, mccj
Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait
02 September 2008, third anniversary of my Episcopal Ordination
OBLIGATIONS AND REGULATIONS
ON FAST AND ABSTINENCE
1. Fast and Abstinence are prescribed for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, limited to the ages between 21 to 60.
2. Abstinence is prescribed as a general rule for every Friday in Lent, applicable to the age of 14 onwards. But for particular circumstances in the Vicariate of Kuwait, Abstinence is to be observed on the Wednesdays of Lent. Out of devotion Abstinence may be observed every Wednesday during the year.
3. Eucharistic Fast: The faithful must abstain from solids and liquids for one hour before receiving Holy Communion. This regulation is applicable to Masses celebrated in the morning, afternoon, evening or at midnight. Water does not break the fast. Those who are sick, even though not confined to bed, may take any liquid or food as medicines at any time before Holy Communion without asking permission.
4. Feasts of obligation:
a. Sundays or Fridays or Saturday evenings
b. Christmas (25th December)
c. Solemnity of Mary Mother of God (January 1st)
d. St. Thomas: 3rd July (obligation is only for the Syro-Malabar Rite)
e. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15th August)
f. Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: 8th September (obligation is only for the Syro-Malankara Rite)
5. Feasts of devotion:
a. St. Joseph (19th March)
b. St. Mark the Evangelist: 25th April (for the Coptic Rite)
c. SS Peter and Paul (29th June)
d. All Saints (1st November)
e. All Souls: Commemoration of all the faithful departed (2nd November)
f. Immaculate Conception (8th December)
6. Feasts transferred to the following Friday / Sunday:
b. Corpus Christi
d. St. Maroun (9th February)
Dear brothers and sisters,
I would like to add some indications on how to use this letter.
1. I invite every one of you to read it personally and attentively. Every one of you (husband, wife, every child) should have his personal copy.
2. I ask the person in charge of every group and association to suspend the normal meeting during the last week of the month and to spend time to read together every time one point of the letter. If the group is too big, it can be divided into small groups.
3. I kindly ask the parish priests to encourage the monthly reading of this letter and to help those responsible in the groups in this.
4. I thank you in advance for your remarks and comments which can be sent to me either personally or through a Priest or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org that is on our website: www.vicariatekuwait.org
Thank you for your patience.
God bless you.
+ Camillo Ballin, mccj