Saturday, May 10, 2008

In Commemorationem

In a story getting a bit of kick-up out there, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre released a pastoral letter late in the week ending the Long Island diocese's relatively common practice of distributing Communion outside Mass:
The one sacrifice of Christ’s death on the cross cannot be isolated from what went before it and after it. Christ’s whole life was a gift to the Father. Jesus’ whole life was totally given over to God in every way at every moment. His death on the cross was the culmination of that life; it was also the beginning of his exaltation. Insofar as death leads to new life, the resurrection is the “mirror image” of the cross. Thus, it’s all one basic movement, most powerfully manifest in the cross. This is what we mean by “the Paschal Mystery”. This mystery is the very life of God, since Jesus is the Son of God. The eternal life of God contains the sacrifice of Christ....

When the Church remembers (anamnesis) the Paschal Mystery of Christ, we are allowing what is at the heart of the very life of God to reveal itself here and now and become a part of our space and time. The Eucharist “effects” the saving mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection and renders it effectively present for us in our lives, in our space and time.

In the celebration of this remembrance, the Church surrenders herself and is taken over by what is a part of God’s eternal life. Thus, the bread and wine symbolize the sacrifices of ourselves. Our giving thanks in the Eucharistic Prayer is the action of surrendering ourselves....

Within this vision of the centrality of celebrating the Eucharist, “doing this in memory of me”, we can have a deeper and more satisfying understanding of what it means to receive Holy Communion. The celebration of the Eucharist should find its consummation in receiving Holy Communion.

The reception of Holy Communion is never just passively “getting” or “receiving” Holy Communion. Instead, the reception of Holy Communion is the culmination of participating in the celebration (offering of the sacrifice). There is an inherent interconnection between sacrifice, Real Presence, and Communion. We should never sever the connection between receiving the Sacrament and celebrating the sacrifice; the two go hand-in-hand. Receiving the Sacrament is the culmination of participating in the sacrifice. In this sense, “receiving it” is a reciprocal reality: we receive Christ and in so doing, Christ receives us and presents us to the Father in the Spirit.

There is an inner dynamic of active participation in the Mass from the opening greeting and prayer to the Liturgy of the Word, through the Eucharistic Prayer to the rite of receiving Holy Communion which leads us all from the celebration out into the world to be witnesses of the one who has gifted us with His divine life. We leave the celebration of Mass to become missionaries to the world, announcing the Good News by the way we live and manifest his life in ours.

Thus the fruit of our active participation in the whole offering of the Mass will be found in an ethic of life that is not cultic or esoteric or sectarian. It is catholic and apostolic. It reveals itself in the unity that is ours as a community of communion with a life that is holy and striving for holiness, a life that is sent into the world from the celebration “that the world might believe”....

It is offering that differentiates Mass from a Communion service, and it is offering that provides the context for full, conscious and active participation. The internal participation of offering, expressed and deepened by external participation (vocal responses, singing, postures, etc.), is the heart of what it means to “celebrate the Eucharist.” Both internal and external participation are necessary, since each one deepens and reinforces the other.

In the popular mind, all too often the purpose of Mass is still seen as an action simply to consecrate hosts; some people think their participation in the Eucharistic Prayer is all about watching the priest and then receiving Holy Communion. They do not understand the need to offer themselves with Christ to the Father in the Spirit during the Prayer, nor do they understand that their parts in the Prayer (Introductory Dialogue, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen) are the outward signs of their participation in the entire Prayer....

This new policy must not be seen as “taking something away” from the laity. All of us are called to offer our proper roles in the Liturgy and none of us is other than servant of the Church when we fulfill any role in the Liturgy. Those persons, lay and religious, who have led such celebrations in their parishes, are to be thanked for the reverent way they have conducted these services. As leaders of prayer they have brought many graces to the people whom they served by the generous and reverent commitment they manifested in these celebrations. They will continue to have this opportunity whenever the pastor invites them to lead celebrations of the Word such as at morning and evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

The centrality of the Liturgy of the Hours in the life of the Church should inspire parishioners eagerly and willingly to gather daily to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the official prayer of the Church. The Liturgy of the Hours is the preferred liturgy to be prayed when Mass is not available during the week May I encourage pastors and parishes to develop the wider and more frequent celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer as an integral part of parish life and devotion.