Praying the Mass - Session 5 of 5
Liturgy of the Eucharist, Part 2 & Concluding Rites
Welcome back to the fifth and final session of Praying the Mass! If you have not yet read parts 1 - 4 of this series, I highly recommend starting there!
The Fourth Cup
I want to pick up from last week’s conversation on the Liturgy of the Eucharist with a discussion of the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, particularly the Passover.
On the night before He was to suffer, our Lord Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His Apostles. He chose this time and meal to establish the New and everlasting Covenant in His Blood. At the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are not re-enacting the Last Supper. One of the major differences between the Mass and the Last Supper is that the Last Supper anticipated the Sacrifice of Jesus and the Mass makes this saving reality present once again.
In fact, we cannot understand the Mass as the Last Supper only. The Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ spans His entire saving Action, from the entrance into Jerusalem until His glorious Ascension into Heaven forty days after His Resurrection. It is impossible to separate the suffering of Christ from the Last Supper. The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross was once and for all. God is outside of time. Therefore, the Holy Eucharist was established, along with Holy Orders, in the Upper Room before Jesus suffered and died. However, this is precisely because Jesus was making the Cross present in His Body and Blood offered in the first Eucharist.
The key to understanding the unity of the Last Supper and the Cross is understanding the Jewish Passover meal. In the Passover, the father of the family would use the first-person perspective when recounting the narrative of the Exodus. The blessings are read by the father of the house and the first cup of wine is consumed: the cup of blessing.
At the Passover meal, each adult at the dinner drinks four cups of wine. The four cups mark the journey of the Hebrew people. The four cups mark that 1) God will save His People from harsh labor, which He accomplished by the plagues 2) God will save His People from servitude to the Egyptians, 3) God will redeem His People, which the Jews saw in the crossing of the Red Sea, and finally 4) that God will take His People as a Nation, which happened at Sinai.
In Jesus Christ, these four cups reveal their fulfillment.
The first cup is fulfilled in various ways by Christ, and in the Book of Revelation, as the full manifestation of God to man. The ten plagues inflicted on Egypt were directed against the various false Egyptian gods. Jesus reveals to us everything that God wished to reveal about Himself and frees us from harsh labor or toiling without purpose in matters of Faith.
The second cup is fulfilled by the Incarnation. By the God-man entering into our humanity, we are freed from the slavery of sin, in order to share in His divinity.
The third cup is clearly fulfilled in Baptism, which is the definitive escape from the power of evil through the Red Sea.
The fourth cup of the Passover meal marks the establishment of the People of God as a nation at Mount Sinai. As a nation, the Exodus from Egypt out of slavery was brought to completion. The New Exodus is the deliverance of men and women from the slavery of sin. The New Moses is our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him is the fullness of redemption. His Perfect Sacrifice on the Cross is begun at the Last Supper.
Dr. Scott Hahn goes into exquisite detail about the relationship of the fourth cup, the Last Supper, and the Cross in his 2018 book “The Fourth Cup: Unveiling the Mystery of the Last Supper and the Cross.” I would highly recommend purchasing this book for a deeper dive. The main theological point that is drawn is incredibly important: the fourth cup is absent from the Last Supper!
The absence of the fourth cup from the Passover Meal would have been noticed by the Apostles. Certainly, they would have been wondering why Jesus left the Passover meal incomplete when He went out to the Garden of Olives to pray. Where then is the fourth cup consumed? It is on the Cross! The fourth cup in Passover marks the establishment of the People of God as a nation at Mount Sinai. In the New Passover, the fourth cup is consumed on the Cross when Jesus drinks wine mixed with gall and gives up His spirit saying, “It is finished (cf. Jn 19:30, Mk 15:37).” In Latin, the phrase is “consummatum est.” The fourth cup is called the cup of consummation.
On the Cross, Jesus establishes the new and everlasting Covenant in His Blood. The Church is borne from the Cross. The People of God become such by entering into the death of Christ and thereby sharing in His Resurrection. All of this is possible because of the outpouring of Jesus to the Father. What we need to remember is that Mass is not a reenactment of the Last Supper. It is a coming present once again of the saving Mysteries of Jesus’ Last Supper, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.
After Supper Was Ended
Let us resume our walk through the Mass. The bread has been consecrated. Now, in a similar way, our Lord took the chalice in His holy and venerable hands. He gave thanks to the Father, blessed it, and shared the cup with His disciples. Why did our Lord do this? He could have consecrated the bread and wine together and given that model to the Apostles.
As we have explored earlier, the Last Supper is not merely a symbolic meal, it is a real participation in the events to come of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord. God is the master of space and time, so this is not outside of the possibilities for Him. When Jesus says, “This is my body which will be given up for you,” we can hear that it is anticipating a future action. The mystery comes when we realize that even though He is talking about an action in the future, He is saying that the bread in His hands is His actual body. The Church has never believed these words to be metaphorical. That heresy did not appear until the second millennium.
We know that the Holy Mass is a sacrificial meal. So too was the Last Supper a sacrificial meal, inseparable from the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is the logic to the double consecration: the consecration of bread and wine separately. Jesus was making the Cross present at the Last Supper in a real, sacramental way, and, in so doing, made the Mass a memorial of the whole of the Paschal Mystery. When He took the chalice and said the words of consecration: “For this is the chalice of my blood...” He was essentially separating His Body and His Blood. The result of the catastrophic separation of Body from Blood is death.
At every single Mass, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ are separately made present under what looks like bread and what looks like wine. The Cross becomes present. The Death of our Lord Jesus Christ comes present. At the Last Supper, this was in an anticipatory sense because the events of the Passion and Death of Jesus had not yet happened. And at the Holy Mass, these events become present once more.
Of course, we know that the Death of Jesus Christ is not the end. Our God knows the way out of death’s decay. On the third day, He rose from the dead. His glorious Resurrection becomes present at each and every single Mass in a sacramental way during the Fraction Rite. Later on in the Mass, we sing the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). However, just before this, the Priest breaks a piece of the Host over the paten and places it in the Chalice saying, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”
After the bread and wine have been consecrated, the priest says the “mystery of faith” or mysterium fidei (in Latin), which is new to the 1970 Missal. Previously, the phrase mysterium fidei did not exist as an acclamation; rather, it was part of the formula of consecration spoken inaudibly by the priest. It was included just after “the new and everlasting covenant (novi et aeterni testamenti)” and just before “which will be poured out for you and for many... (qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur...).” However, it was only those two Latin words: mysterium fidei.
Originally, the use of the term mysterium fidei referred to the mysterious goodness of the material of Christ’s Blood being poured out. An early heretical sect, the Manicheans, held that the material order was bad and only the spiritual was good. So, adding the “mystery of faith” into the Canon further showed how important the Flesh and Blood of Christ was and is, His material humanity joined to His divinity.
The 1970 addition to the Missal of “we proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again” seems to be more akin to the traditions of the Eastern liturgies. The Liturgy of St. James, a Byzantine form of liturgy, says,
“This do in remembrance of me; for as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord’s death, and confess His resurrection, till He comes.”
This shows that the memorial acclamation may be new to the Roman Rite of the Church but it has been used for ages in the Eastern Catholic Churches.
We are recognizing that the Mass is an anamnetic reality. By way of a quick review from last week, anamnesis in Greek literally means “bring to mind.” We could also translate it as a deliberate recollection. Anamnesis in the context of liturgy is more than just a memory or a calling to the mind in some abstract way. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the mediation of Jesus Christ, our High Priest, the One Sacrifice becomes present once again in an unbloody manner. The word anamnesis is what Jesus says in the words of consecration when He says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
So, the Mass is not a representation, it is a RE-presentation. It is the presenting once more the one and only Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His suffering, death, and resurrection. Anamnetically, we become present in these sacred events, outside of space and time. Through our prayers and intention, we take part in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We enter into the saving Action of Jesus Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Borne By the Hands of Your Holy Angel
The priest is not only offering the Sacrifice of the Holy Victim, he is presenting an oblation or an offering. In the First Eucharistic Prayer, the ancient Roman Canon, the part which makes this explicit goes this way:
“In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.”
As we mentioned last week, we recognize the Sacrifice of the Mass as the re-presentation of Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. We acknowledge that He Himself is the Sacred Victim offered on our behalf. And now, we recognize the link between Heaven and Earth in the Holy Mass.
What is offered here is not a request that the Body of Christ be locally transferred from the altar to Heaven. Jesus Christ is in Heaven already. Therefore, the meaning of this oblation is mystical. It is not a prayer invoking the power of God, like the epiclesis which calls down the power of the Holy Spirit on the gifts. Interestingly, the word used in the official Latin text for “these gifts” is more literally translated as “these Things.” God sees the gifts, He has commanded the Mass be offered in this way, and they are priceless and pleasing to Him.
The word Angel that is used comes from the Greek word “angelos” which means “messenger.” Certainly all of the angels and saints are worshiping at the throne of God and are taking part in the Sacred and Divine Liturgy of the Mass. So, who is this Angel?
St. Ambrose taught that an angel assists at Mass when Christ is sacrificed on the altar. From the text of the Roman Canon, there is little information as to the identity of this Angel. Is it the guardian angel of the Church? Is it St. Michael the Archangel, the guardian angel of the Eucharist? Is it Jesus Christ Himself, used in a metaphorical sense? Does the word Angel stand in for each and every angel and saint who takes part in the Mystical Supper of the Lamb?
It seems clear to me that what is asked here is not possible to any angel or creature. Truly, what created being can accomplish what God has asked and what the Church presents once again here? Besides being a messenger, the Angel is the “One Sent” by the Father. So, it seems that the Angel is the Son of God, Jesus Christ: the One Sent by the Father. In fact, Jesus is the “Angel of Great Counsel” referenced in Isaiah 9:6. We also see the Word of God (albeit before the incarnation) active in creation in Genesis 1-2. We see the Word of the Lord coming to Noah (Genesis 5-6). There is also the mysterious passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus says that Abraham had seen Him (cf. Jn. 8:56).
The point of this mystical prayer is to show that the Sacrifice of Heaven is the Sacrifice of Earth. The altar on high in the sight of the His divine majesty is the altar on which the Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered once more. Heaven and Earth meet by the power of the Holy Spirit and the mediation of the Angel of Great Counsel, our Lord Jesus Christ. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus... (1 Tim. 2:5).” So, the Holy Angel of the Mass’s words is Jesus.
The End of the Eucharistic Prayer
The priest ends the Eucharistic Prayer with a Final Doxology, a liturgical formula of praise to God, saying:
“Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”
This entire Action, and truly the whole of the Holy Mass, is the action of God. The chief mover in the Liturgy is our High Priest, Jesus Christ. This final phrase given to us by the Church to close the Eucharistic Prayer might seem like a simple declaration of praise, but it is the key to understanding Catholic worship. “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”
Do we go to Mass to receive the gifts that God wants to bestow upon us? This is the view that many within the Church hold. We go to Mass to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Of course, if we are in a state of grace, we have the honor and profound privilege of receiving our Lord in the Eucharist. But why do we go to Mass? Is it to receive or to give?
The key is this: “all glory and honor is yours.” We recognize that we have come to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass with our full, conscious, and actual participation for one primary purpose: to give glory and honor to the Father. And through this cooperation with grace, God makes us holy. Almighty God does not need our worship, but He delights in it. We have freedom and the free self-gift of His son or daughter is His delight. If we come to Mass primarily to receive, we are not coming for the right reasons. If we say, “I did not get anything out of Mass today,” then we have a wrong understanding of the Sacred Liturgy. We should not say, “I did not get...” We should instead say, “Did I give my all to my Heavenly Father?”
The Communion Rite
Following the Eucharistic Prayer, we stand and pray the prayer that our Lord Jesus taught us: the “Our Father.” This perfect prayer, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, contains all five excellent qualities required for prayer. It is confident, ordered, suitable, devout, and humble. It is also clear here the priest is leading this prayer in the Person of Christ, Head of His Body, because his hands are in the orans posture of offering.
Next, the priest offers the peace of Christ to us, just as Christ offered His peace to the Apostles on the day of the Resurrection.
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld (Jn. 20:19-20).”
Then, it is optional for the deacon or priest to invite the gathered faithful to turn to those in their immediate vicinity and offer the peace of Christ. This is the action of one Member of the Body of Christ to another Member of the Body of Christ. So, we do not say the other person’s name, give them a secret handshake, or anything like that. We remember that Christ is now present on the altar and we offer the peace of Christ, which the world cannot give, to those around us.
We are also reminded here of the words of our Lord:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Mt. 5:23-24).”
The Fraction Rite
As I mentioned last week, the priest then takes a piece of the Sacred Host and breaks it. Then, he puts that piece into the Chalice, which makes the Resurrection of Jesus present in a powerful way. Body and Blood are reunited, never to be parted again! We, and the priest, do not receive dead flesh; we receive the whole Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity into our own bodies. Interesting to note here, as well, that our posture changed after the Final Doxology. Instead of kneeling in penitence and adoration at the foot of the Cross, we are standing in the joy and power of the Resurrection! Meanwhile, the priest is saying quietly:
“May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”
Then, quietly, he prays directly to Jesus in one of two ways:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your Death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.”
Or: “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.”
Next, while facing the people, the priest raises the host and chalice echoing the words of St. John the Baptist,
“Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
The people and the priest then respond with the words of the centurion to Jesus who believed that He could save the centurion’s daughter, despite being a Gentile pagan:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
At this point, the priest then receives Holy Communion and then distributes our Blessed Lord, under the veil of a Sacrament, to the faithful gathered who are in a state of grace.
Who Do We Say Amen?
I think it is worth investigating: Why do we say Amen after receiving Holy Communion?
In the Second Century, St. Justin Martyr writes in his Apologia that after the prayers of thanksgiving and consecration were finished by the priest, all responded by saying “Amen.” This is not simply a word found at the end of a conversation. It is not like saying, “Ok. Goodbye, God,” after a prayer is finished. St. Paul writes, “Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?” So, it would seem that the word Amen packs a punch. But what does it mean?
Amen is a Hebrew word which means “so be it.” St. Augustine translated it as “it is true (Latin: verum est).” In a tract explaining the Mass from the Middle Ages, we read, “Amen is a ratification by the people of what has been spoken, and it may be interpreted in our language as if they all said: May it so be done as the priest has prayed (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907).”
It is custom in most of the Rites of the Catholic Church, both East and West, to say “Amen” after receiving Holy Communion. In the 1962 Missale Romanum, the priest says, “Corpus Domini Nostri Iesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam, Amen (May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto life everlasting. Amen).” So, even though the communicant does not say “Amen” like in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the priest has said “Amen” for them.
The language of “Amen” seems to be like a contract. When two people enter into an agreement with one another, they may mark it with a handshake and say, “so be it” or “I agree.” Is that what is happening at Mass? Certainly, what we are entering into at Mass is far more important, meaningful, lasting, and beautiful. Perhaps more than a contract, the “Amen” shows us that the language of the Mass is that of a covenant. A contract can be broken. A covenant cannot be broken.
When we approach our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we are approaching the Bridegroom as the Bride. We are uttering our wedding vows to the King of Heaven each time we receive Holy Communion. We are saying, “I do” when we say “Amen.” The meaning of the word is very close to this understanding. We are using the language of marriage to show that we are accepting the Bridegroom into our body and soul to remain with us always. As husband and wife become one flesh in marriage, the communicant and our Lord become one in the Eucharist. “Communion” means “one with.” We are becoming more closely joined to the Lord in reception of Holy Communion.
Every time we say “Amen” we should call to mind clearly what we are doing. We are giving our assent of Faith. We are not saying “Okay” or “Sure”, we are saying “so be it.” Do we know what we are saying “yes” to? Do we know what we entering into? Our “yes” to God cannot be half-hearted or wishy-washy. It must be sure and resolute, by His grace. Our Lord Jesus is a strong proponent of authenticity and resolution. We hear in the Book of Revelation: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth (Rev. 3:16).” And in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil (Mt. 5:37).” Let our Amen mean Amen.
Then, after Holy Communion, the priest or deacon purifies the Sacred Vessels, which is something only they can do. They quietly say:
“What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”
Next, the priest invites the people to pray and says the Prayer after Communion. This is a special prayer given for each liturgical day, like the Collect, which ends the Communion Rite and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, more broadly.
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Greeting, Blessing, and Dismissal
We have just taken part in the Liturgy of the Eucharist in which Jesus Christ became substantially, truly, and really present. Having just received Him in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, the faithful are living tabernacles. The word Eucharist actually means thanksgiving in Greek, and this is what we are doing during the Concluding Rites.
Out of deep gratitude for what our good God has done, we spend some time in silence following the Communion Rite, reflecting on the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist. Then, the priest blesses the people assembled. There is great power in this blessing. The priest, acting in the Person of Christ the Head, is blessing the people. In other words, it is Christ Himself who blesses us at the end of Mass. During Mass, where the priest is, there is Christ.
The priest, acting in the Person of Christ, blesses those gathered with the power and might of the Most Holy Trinity: “May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” By making the sign of the Cross and invoking the Trinity, the priest is sealing us with God’s presence. We have been shown mercy in the Introductory Rites and we glorified God. We were fed with His adorable Word in the Liturgy of the Word. And we received Jesus Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This one, single act of worship began with the sign of the Cross and it ends with the sign of the Cross.
Following the final blessing, the dismissal is given by the priest or deacon. This is, in fact, where the word Mass comes from. The words in Latin “Ite, missa est” literally means “Go, she (meaning, the Church) – has been sent”. This word is related to our English word “mission.” Fed by the Word and the Eucharist, Jesus fills us with Himself and we are strengthened to go out and share Him with the world. The Church exists to evangelize, and we are the hands and feet of Christ.
At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, in the Great Commission, Jesus says to the Apostles:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mt. 28:18-20).”
Likewise, the deacon or priest is acting in the Person of Christ, telling us to “Go” as well! The dismissal makes the Ascension anamnetically present to us, because that is exactly what happened after the Great Commission.
Then, the priest, still acting in the Person of Christ the Head, then processes down the center aisle towards the narthex as a recessional hymn is sung. Technically speaking, the one, single act of worship – the Mass – ends with the dismissal. Practically speaking, our celebration of the Sacred Mysteries ends when the priest reaches the narthex of the Church. This practice of waiting until the priest reaches the narthex highlights the reality that Christ is the presider at Mass, acting through the priest.
I hope that this series has been a blessing to you. I hope that we all will continue in our pursuit of the glory of God and the sanctification of man. I hope that the Mass comes alive to your senses in a powerful way. Thanks be to God for such a great gift!