While the liturgy of the word focused upon the table of the Lord’s word-the lectern, the Eucharistic liturgy centers upon the altar-both a place of sacrifice as well as the table from which as Christians we are fed. The themes of sacrifice, thanksgiving and meal dominate.
A). The Preparation of the Altar and the Gifts – The gifts of bread and wine are placed at the back of the church before the service. The people then join in the giving their monetary offerings in support of their community and it’s various ministries. This collection is a real expression of support for your local community church.
After this in procession, people bring the bread and wine forward with the people’s offerings. The priest receives then in the community’s name. “The rite of carrying up the gifts connects us with the traditions of the early Church where people brought up bread and wine which they worked to make for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Taking is the first of the Eucharistic actions. While the Western Church in the past emphasized the bread and wine which are transformed, originally the Hebrew context stressed the actions themselves. Thus the Eucharist is often referred to in Scripture not in terms of the bread and wine but as actions of taking, blessing, breaking and sharing. The early Church commonly referred to the Eucharist as the “breaking of bread.”
When he has received the gifts the priest prepares them, reciting prayers patterned on the ancient Jewish Kiddish of the Passover meal: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, Creator of the fruit of the earth. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” The priest then adds a drop of water to the wine – a tradition from the 1st Church who considered it symbolic of the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity, or of Christ with his Church.
The priest then washes his hands as did the Jewish leaders before the ritual meal. This action has also taken on symbolic significance. The priest prays, “Lord wash away my iniquity, cleanse me from my sins.” The presider invites the people to prayer: they respond. The rite concludes with a short prayer over the gifts.
B). Eucharistic Prayer: Now at the very heart of the Eucharist, this prayer in some aspect antedates Christianity itself. Its model is derived from the Jewish Berakah or blessing prayer. Berakah prayer generally praises and blesses God for all the wonderful gifts of creation. The celebrant gives thanks to God in imagery appropriate to the day or season and the “Holy, Holy, Holy” is sung or recited by the community.
Now in a longer prayer of thanksgiving, the priest on behalf of all gives thanks to God for Christ. He asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine transforming them into Christ’s body and blood. This invocation is known as the epiclesis.
The institution narrative recalls the Last Supper which in essence, go back to Jesus himself. Even Paul quotes these words as tradition. The institution narrative leads the people to acclaim their faith in one of four different acclamations. The people are not simple observers but active participants in the mystery being celebrated.
Remembrance of the saving acts of Jesus follows. This section is known as the anamnesis. Remembrance is a much stronger action in Jesus’ day then in our culture. To remember something meant to enter into it and bring its power into the present. Thus in remembering, Jesus’ sacrifice becomes present and can be entered into just as the first disciples did. The Church in celebrating the Eucharist is fulfilling Jesus’ command to keep His memorial. It does this by recalling especially his passion, resurrection and ascension.
In this memorial, the Church joins in Christ’s self-offering to the Father in the Holy Spirit. It calls the faithful not only to offer the spotless victim but also to learn to offer themselves. In doing so they are drawn into ever more perfect union, through Christ the Mediator, with the Father and with each other, so that at last God may be all in all. The priest then again invokes the Holy Spirit to bless the Church and to unite all Christians and again to bless the gifts.
The intercessions make it clear that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the entire Church in heaven and on earth. The offering is made for the Church in all its members, living and dead, who are called to share in salvation. We remember the saints as well as our brothers and sisters who have died and our friends in need.
The great prayer concludes with a doxology. The people confirm this entire prayer with a final “Amen.”
C). Communion Rite: Communion expresses unity in the body of Christ. Through communion Christians are united with God in Christ and through Christ with one another in unity.
The Lords Prayer opens this rite in the words and according to the model of Jesus. After the prayer the priest’s short prayer continues its spirit and followed up with another doxology.
The Sign of Peace goes back to the earliest Christians and is a result of God’s reconciliation which begins among Christians and then flows into the world at large.
The Breaking of the Bread is the third great action of the Eucharist. To the early Christians, sharing in one loaf was a symbol of unity, solidarity and family; sliced bread, crackers or individual hosts (special wafers) lose this significance. During this action the people sing a litany acknowledging Jesus as the Lamb of God pointed to by John the Baptist and that the bread we share is indeed that same Christ.
Now the priest holds up the host and cup, inviting the community to come forward and receive. The community responds with the words of the Roman centurion to Jesus (Matthew 8:8). Then the journey toward the altar to receive Communion; this procession reflects the journey we all have towards God. And made with friends in the community it is one more sign of unity flowing from the Eucharist. A Psalm is also generally sung by the choir and community as this journey forward continues.
After receiving Communion all return to their seats and spend the time in prayer. The priest then draws the prayers together in the Prayer after Communion.
D). Concluding Rites: These rites now focus upon the sending forth of the community. No sacrament exists as an end in itself. Christians are transformed and nourished in the sacraments to in turn become sacraments to the world.
The priest gives a final blessing. As at the beginning all trace the sign of the cross. The dismissal sends us forth to in turn become the bread of the world. The word “Mass” comes from the ancient Latin dismissal, “Ite, missa est.” (Go, it is sent).