Allied to a previous discussion, I think it’s time to elaborate the both/and—the individual and the communal dimensions—of the communion rite by a close analysis of Articles 80 through 89 of the General Instruction. I’ll start this thread and I invite others to contribute reasoned and temperate reflections.

A relative novice at WordPress, I don’t think I have all the HTML coding at my disposal to clearly distinguish my remarks from the GIRM (e.g., I’d love to have color and underlining at my disposal). So I am going to put the GIRM Articles in block quotations. Any boldface you see in the block quotations is my addition: It signals a change in this edition of the GIRM from all previous editions. My comments precede and/or follow each extract.

It is critically important to appreciate these changes because they were made in the reign of Blessed Pope John Paul II and could have been withdrawn or changed by Pope Benedict XVI, but the latter has yet chosen to amend the General Instruction. The content—though perhaps not the intent—of a few remarks on the previous post libel Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Bugnini as if they were enemies of personal prayer during the liturgy. May we please avoid even the appearance of verbal injustice?

The Communion Rite
80. Since the celebration of the Eucharist is the Paschal Banquet, it is desirable that in accordance with the Lord’s command his Body and Blood should be received as spiritual food by those of the faithful who are properly disposed. This is the sense of the fraction and the other preparatory rites by which the faithful are led more immediately to Communion.

Nothing is new about this paragraph; it’s been there since 1969. But it may escape some readers that the emphasis on the proper dispositions of the faithful is an entirely new dimension of the Missal of Pope Paul VI. Pope Saint Pius X balanced the church’s previous stress on the fact of sacraments with a new awareness of the fruitfulness of sacraments—while the fact of the sacrament depends on the proper matter, form, and intention, the fruitfulness of the sacrament depends on the enlivened dispositions of the recipient. This is a theme taken up by Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. This emphasis on enlivened dispositions is found in the very first words of the General Instruction—and 120 more times!

GIRM is claiming that enhancing the interior dispositions of each member of the assembly is the deepest purpose of all stages of the rites that prepare us for communion.

The Lord’s Prayer
81. In the Lord’s Prayer a petition is made for daily bread, which for Christians means principally the Eucharistic Bread, and entreating also purification from sin, so that what is holy may in truth be given to the holy. The Priest pronounces the invitation to the prayer, and all the faithful say the prayer with him; then the Priest alone adds the embolism, which the people conclude by means of the doxology. The embolism, developing the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer itself, asks for deliverance from the power of evil for the whole community of the faithful.

(Nothing new here either.) Why do we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Although there are seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, the GIRM emphasizes three: To ask for our daily bread, to ask for purification from sin, and to ask for deliverance from the power of evil.

I believe it is a commonplace observation—but one worth repeating—that the prayer says OUR Father, and not MY Father.

The Rite of Peace
82. There follows the Rite of Peace, by which the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament.

As for the actual sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by the Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. However, it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest.

There is much new in this edition of the GIRM, not only by way of clarifying the purpose of the Rite of Peace, but the hoped-for effects.

The Fraction of the Bread
83. The Priest breaks the Eucharistic Bread, with the assistance, if the case requires, of the Deacon or a concelebrant. The gesture of breaking bread done by Christ at the Last Supper, which in apostolic times gave the entire Eucharistic Action its name, signifies that the many faithful are made one body (1 Cor 10:17) by receiving Communion from the one Bread of Life, which is Christ, who for the salvation of the world died and rose again. The fraction or breaking of bread is begun after the sign of peace and is carried out with proper reverence, and should not be unnecessarily prolonged or accorded exaggerated importance. This rite is reserved to the Priest and the Deacon.

The Priest breaks the Bread and puts a piece of the host into the chalice to signify the unity of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the work of salvation, namely, of the Body of Jesus Christ, living and glorious.

Again, there is much new, and more about motives and dispositions.

84. The Priest prepares himself by a prayer, said quietly, so that he may fruitfully receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The faithful do the same, praying silently.

Then the Priest shows the faithful the Eucharistic Bread, holding it over the paten or over the chalice, and invites them to the banquet of Christ; and along with the faithful, he then makes an act of humility, using the prescribed words from the Gospels.

There is nothing new about the first paragraph of Article 84. But the communion rite is often so hurried at this point, I wonder if anyone is asking God that she/he might receive the sacrament fruitfully.

85. It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the Priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and that, in the cases where this is foreseen, they partake of the chalice, so that even by means of the signs Communion may stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.

The newness in this article underscores how desirable it is for everyone to receive from the fruits of this sacrifice of the Mass, and not from some previous celebration.

86. While the Priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion Chant is begun, its purpose being to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the “communitarian” character of the procession to receive the Eucharist. The singing is prolonged for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful. . . .

I have already commented about this passage here.

88. When the distribution of Communion is over, if appropriate, the Priest and faithful pray quietly for some time.

This is NOT the time for announcements, and not the time for a second collection, and not the time for a motet by the choir or a song by a soloist or an instrumental. It is not even—in my opinion—the time for the purification of the vessels: GIRM 163. ” . . . Nevertheless, it is also permitted to leave vessels needing to be purified, especially if there are several, on a corporal, suitably covered, either on the altar or on the credence table, and to purify them immediately after Mass, after the Dismissal of the people.”

This silent praying should be the longest at the Mass. As I say in my English and Spanish scripts for “How to Pray the (Order of the) Mass”, “During this time of silent prayer the priest leads us into the third and last of the three ancient silences in the Mass, the silence when we reach out to be in communion with Jesus and with everyone to whom he leads us. You are now seated beside Jesus. What is he saying to you? What have you to say to him? Is our Lord calling you to serve him in a special way by reaching out in active, loving service of any particular person or group? Is he inviting you to enjoy the vocation he has already given you—to be single, a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a neighbor, a co-worker? Is he calling you to be single, to be married, to be a parent, a priest, a deacon, a religious sister or brother? Is he leading you to someone whom you have hurt or who has hurt you? You are now close to the saints and all your beloved dead; tell them of your love and receive theirs. Listen to Jesus comfort you in your suffering. See him reveal himself as the ultimate source of your joy. Let him give you strength for your work. Hear him answer your prayer” [“Mass In Slow Motion” © 2002–2011 Paul F. Ford. All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint and use is freely granted as long at the forgoing copyright notice is also printed.]

If the communion antiphon and psalm have been chosen correctly, that is, if the antiphon alludes to and even quotes the gospel of the Mass, or one of the other readings, then everyone can experience in the silence that God has delivered on the promises He made in the Liturgy of the Word to be present in the Body and Blood of His Son. For example, on the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, the gospel of the Canaanite woman, if we have sung the Psallite Song for the Table, “The Mercy of God Is for All,” with Psalm 130 and/or 103, we can receive our eucharistic Lord as the very Mercy of God for us.

89. To bring to completion the prayer of the People of God, and also to conclude the whole Communion Rite, the Priest pronounces the Prayer after Communion, in which he prays for the fruits of the mystery just celebrated.

The people make the prayer their own by means of the acclamation Amen.

Three things happen during this prayer, two of which are newly brought to our attention: (1) the prayer of the People of God is completed, (2) the whole Communion Rite is concluded, and (3) the fruits of the mystery just celebrated are prayed for. The Prayer after Communion is the last part of the Mass when we are in the future, at the Table of the Lamb.

So. There is my first attempt at articulating the balanced interiority and the exteriority of the Communion Rite. I have labored over this post for nearly three hours and have made twenty-seven revisions. I know I am omitting things and failing to be clear and not seeing mistakes. Gentle reader, help me improve this post.

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