We receive Communion at Mass to unite us to Jesus as he makes a Pleasing Gift of himself to the Father.

Friday, 10/11/13

Let me just say something about the proper way for us to hear Mass. At the Last Supper Jesus led the disciples through the customary Jewish table blessing. It was not just something they said before eating; rather, it directed their feeling toward God through the whole meal. It had three parts: beginning with their calling to mind God’s favors, going on to asking him to send down his power or spirit on them; then concluding with their submitting themselves to God as a pleasing gift.

Now, when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me,” he meant that instruction to apply to the total table blessing, not just to what we call the words of Consecration. The Mass grew out of Our Lord’s table blessing at the Last Supper. We have copies of the wordings of the Mass from the Second and Third Centuries, and in them we see that the formula they followed still followed that pattern of calling to mind God’s favors, asking for his spirit, than joining Jesus as part of his pleasing gift. (The Greek for pleasing gift is Eu-charist.)

A special feature of that table blessing, and of the wording of the Mass that grew out of it, was that rather than following a set word-for-word formula, the one presiding, while going through the same three-part blessing, was obliged to use his own wording, so that the prayer would be sincere. 

When educated men became a rarity after Europe’s barbarian invasions, in 600 Pope Gregory changed the rule. He set up a single formula for the Mass prayer. It too followed the three parts of Our Lord’s table prayer. His Roman Canon in Latin was what I was using when I learned to say Mass sixty-one years ago.  

Let me draw your attention to the third part of that table prayer, the Pleasing Gift, or the Eucharist. In our Masses Jesus is with us, submitting himself entirely to the Father as a Pleasing Gift. Now, hearing Mass will be of benefit to us only if we join Jesus in the Eucharist by submitting ourselves to God as part of Christ’s Pleasing Gift, or Eucharist. The principal reason for our receiving Communion at that time is to intimately unite us with Jesus in submitting ourselves as part of his Eucharist.

Vatican II asked us not to have Benediction following Mass. They reasoned that our receiving Communion had us joining Jesus as part of the Pleasing Gift. But when we followed that with the more theatrical Benediction ceremony, we were led to see the Consecration at Mass as just a way of manufacturing the Eucharist for Benediction or Adoration.

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