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Thanksgiving After Holy Communion

  • FR. EDWIN GORDON

The dismissal prayer at Mass, Ite missa est, which is often translated as Go, Mass is ended or Go to love and serve the Lord is interpreted by the majority of the faithful as a command to leave the church as soon as possible. Inestimabile Donum, the document published by the Sacred Congregation with the authority of the Pope, emphasizes the importance of adoration and prayer after Holy Communion.

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The dismissal prayer at Mass, Ite missa est, which is often translated as Go, Mass is ended or Go to love and serve the Lord is interpreted by the majority of the faithful as a command to leave the church as soon as possible. Inestimabile Donum, the document published by the Sacred Congregation with the authority of the Pope, emphasizes the importance of adoration and prayer after Holy Communion.

The faithful are to be recommended not to omit to make a proper thanksgiving after communion. They may do this during the celebration with a period of silence, with a hymn, psalm or other song of praise, or also after the celebration, if possible by staying behind to pray for a suitable time. (1)

The reason is that Our Blessed Lord, true God and true Man, is present under the form of the Eucharistic Species and for as long as the Eucharistic Species last. He is there Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in all the tabernacles of the world as the prayer taught to the children of Fatima emphasizes and especially in the living tabernacle of those who have received him in Holy Communion.

St. Philip Neri understood this when he sent two acolytes with candles to accompany a member of his congregation who had left the church without any adoration after Mass. If this practice were to be followed today, I doubt if there would be enough candles or acolytes in any church to do this.

Professor Anscombe, the eminent Cambridge philosopher and convert to the Faith, who died recently is quoted by the London Daily Telegraph as follows:


When one says transubstantiation, one is saying exactly what one teaches the child in teaching it that Christs words, by the divine power given to the priest who uses them in his place, have changed the bread so that it isnt there any more (nor the stuff of which it is made), but instead there is the body of Christ. I knew a child, she [Elizabeth Anscombe] continues, close upon three years old and only then beginning to talk, but taught as I have described, who was in the free space at the back of the church when the mother went to communion. Is He in you? the child asked when the mother came back. Yes, she said, and to her amazement the child prostrated itself before her. I can testify to this as I saw it happen. (2)

Forty years ago, the reality of that presence was seen by the large number of people who remained after Mass in adoration and prayer and also those who came before Mass to prepare themselves to celebrate this great mystery of Faith and indeed of love.

What is the reason for this decline in adoration and reverence to the Blessed Sacrament? I think that, fundamentally, the heresy of activism is one of the principal causes. This is the feeling that, unless we are doing something, we are not doing anything.

The story of Martha and Mary shows us how Our Blessed Lord values that silent adoration and contemplation more than all the other activities: Martha, thou art busy about many things but Mary has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her. The modern world would more than likely disagree with Our Blessed Lord, but the fact is that contemplation and adoration come first in any work of evangelization, Contemplata aliis tradere the disciples passed on to others that which they had heard from Our Lord, that which they had contemplated.

Another important reason is the decline in the sense of the Sacred, the blurring of the distinction between the Sacred and the profane. Of course we can adore Our Lord anywhere and no doubt as the psalmist tells us, the heavens proclaim his glory, but adoration of Jesus in his Sacred Humanity, as God made Man to save us, as the very same Jesus who walked this earth and talked to his disciples, is unique to the Holy Eucharist.

Moreover, the presence of Our Blessed Lord in his Sacred Humanity in the soul of the communicant is even more intimate than the presence of Our Lord when he was preaching to the multitudes or explaining in parables, his teaching to the disciples. He is present as food for the journey. In chapter 6 of St. Johns Gospel we are told that He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. His hearers understood exactly what he meant, that is why many of them ceased to follow him and Our Lord turned and said to them, Will you also leave me? To which Peter replied, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

It is true, that after receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion, the communicant can feel dry and arid. A help can be to ask Our Blessed Lady who first adored Jesus in her womb and then in the manger in Bethlehem, to adore Jesus in the manger of our hearts. We can adore him and love him through that Immaculate Heart of Mary, which knew no sin or the stain of sin.

A suitable prayer pronounced through the Immaculate Heart of Mary can be that taught by the angel in Fatima; O my God, I believe in you, I adore you, I hope in you, I love you. I ask pardon for all those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, do not love you. At the same time we realize that we do not adore him enough, that we do not believe in him sufficiently, that we do not love him as he ought to be loved, but at the same time, through the Immaculate heart of Our Lady, we know that we can give him sufficient adoration and honour and she can make up for our deficiency.

Prayers such as the Adore te devote recited slowly and meditatively can be a great help. Again the traditional prayer of the Church, recited slowly, can be of great value. As we kneel before Our Lord, true God and true Man truly present in the manger of our hearts, we can offer him, through Mary, true contrition for our sins, thanksgiving for his gifts and particularly for the gift of the Bread of Life; supplication, putting before him all our needs and asking Our Lady to show these needs to her Son as she did at the marriage feast of Cana when she said to Jesus, Son, they have no wine.

How often it is that we lack that spiritual wine of consolation and the strength we need to persevere in following him. Our Ladys words to us are the same as the words to the steward, Do whatever he shall tell you.

Another reason for the decline in adoration and prayer after Holy Communion is the fact that there is often very little preparation before Mass. Prayers such as the one of St. Thomas Aquinas: We come to you Father as poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth as sick, to the physician of life, as blind to the light of eternal truth . . . or the prayer of St. Ambrose, Lord Jesus Christ, I approach your banquet table in fear and trembling, for I am a sinner, and dare not rely on my own worth but only on your goodness and mercy.

I am defiled by many sins in body and soul, and by my unguarded thoughts and words. Gracious God of majesty and awe, I seek your protection, I look for your healing. Poor troubled sinner that I am, I appeal to you, the fountain of all mercy . . . or other prayers can help us to realize the tremendous mystery of faith and love that has taken place before us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Very often today, the hymns and other activities within Mass can detract from the real meaning of the Mass as a sacrifice and as the victory of Our Lord on Easter morning.

These hymns and activities often provide a parallel liturgy that in fact do not help us to realize what has taken place. The words of Pope St. Pius X show this very clearly when he wrote:

Characteristic of modern theatrical church singing is the constant repetition of a theme, which goes on and on ad nauseam with regular beats which cause the toes to tap on the floor and the heart to thirst for distracting novelty rather than for the love of God. Otherwise there is some soothing melody which lulls to sleep or wafts the mind on its gentle breezes over a garden of delightful reminiscences or sensuous desires.

In place of the solemn chants of the Church, ballroom ditties are taken and twisted rather than adapted to the sacred words by some makeshift dabbler in the science of harmony, without art and in most cases without even intelligence. By this means the liturgical functions, rich in meaning and significance, are lowered to the level of worldly shows, and the mysteries of faith are so profaned as to deserve the reproach of Christ: My house shall be called the house of prayer to all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves (Mark 11: l7) (3)

Imagine that you are watching a beautiful sunset. Words could distract the mind and one would feel like saying, Dont speak, because this is something that is too beautiful for words. Perhaps silence and inner reverence would be more precious than words, as we meditate on that which has taken place before us.

The Holy Father in the Eucharistic Congress in Seville spoke about the importance of silent adoration of Our Blessed Lord and the value to the Church. He quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: . . . to deepen faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church is aware of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic Species; he went on to insist, saying, If only this form of adoration would continue, so that in all the parishes and Christian communities the same form of adoration of the Eucharist might take root! (4)

How much more is this not the case when the soul is intimately united to our Eucharistic Lord after Holy Communion? Adoration and prayer after Holy Communion give us the strength and the grace we need to make Christ present in our daily lives in what we say and do. A suitable meditation after Holy Communion could well be the words of Simeon when he held the infant in his arms:

Now O Lord thou dost dismiss thy servant, according to thy words, in peace because my eyes have seen the salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all nations, a light to the revelation of the gentiles, the glory of his people, Israel. (5)

The words of Simeon to Mary remind us that the cross is not far away from our daily lives a sword shall pierce thy soul. We also have to face a cross as Our Lady had to face the cross; but she is at the foot of our cross as she was at the foot of Our Lords cross.

In the dismissal prayer, Ite missa est, the word missa is part of the Latin word to send (mitto, mittere, misi, misum), perhaps a suitable translation, could be Go, this is the sending forth of the faithful to bring the gospel to the world.

ENDNOTES

  1. Para. 17, Inestimabile Donum, 17 April 1980.
  2. Christopher Howse, Sacred mysteries, London Daily Telegraph 31 January 2001, following to the death of Elizabeth Anscombe.
  3. H. Del-Gal St Pius X; Trans. T.F. Murray; Gill & Son, Dublin, 1954.
  4. Pope John Paul II, Address in Seville, June 1993.
  5. Luke 2:29-32.
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Acknowledgement

Rev. Edwin Gordon. "Thanksgiving After Communion." The Homiletic & Pastoral Review CI, no. 3 (December 2001): 18-21.

This article is reprinted with permission from The Homiletic & Pastoral Review. All rights reserved. To subscribe phone: (800) 651-1531 or write: Homiletic & Pastoral Review PO Box 591120 San Francisco, CA 94159-1120

The Author

Reverend Edwin Gordon graduated in law at the University of Bristol in 1956 before he began his studies for the priesthood. He has spent many years in pastoral work in England and is now a parish priest at St. Joseph's, Nympsfield. He is the author of Upon This Rock(1985), which presents an outline of the creed, sacraments and beatitudes. His last article in HPR appeared in March 2000.

Copyright © 2002 Homiletic & Pastoral Review
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