Explanation of the Mass - Liturgy of the Eucharist (Part 5)

Through a series of informational articles, we will try to explain terms, prayers, and actions that happen at Mass and why they happen. You will learn about the prayers the priest prays silently during Mass, as well as the people’s parts.  References to GIRM in italics refer to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the book from which rites related to the Mass are codified.  We hope this information will help to make your participation in Mass more meaningful and understandable.


The Communion Rite

GIRM 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.

The priest prays, “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say:”

The Lord’s Prayer

GIRM 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. The invitation, the Prayer itself, the embolism, and the doxology by which the people conclude these things are sung or are said aloud.

The people pray the Our Father together. This is the prayer that Jesus taught his followers in Matthew 6:9-13.  The priest extends his hands; however, GIRM does not indicate that the people should do the same.  It became very popular in the 1970s and beyond to have the people either extend their hands or hold hands.  Our bishop has explained that since GIRM does not call for that physical expression, we should reverently fold our hands in prayer.

When the priest extends his hands in prayer, which is known as the “orans” position, and should resemble Christ’s arms extended on the cross.

The Embolism, meaning “expansion” occurs when the priest continues the prayer alone saying, “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.” He is praying for the joyful second coming of Christ. 

He then joins his hands in prayer while the people respond, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever.” This prayer is not found in the Gospels but found in the Didache (pronounced did’ a kay), known as the “Teaching of the 12 Apostles,” a document used when they were spreading the word about Jesus after the resurrection.  

The Rite of Peace

GIRM 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.

The words the priest says to introduce the sign of peace are based upon Jesus’ words found in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” It is also related to the message in Matthew 5:23-24 when people were instructed to “leave their gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother.”  

The Fraction of the Bread

GIRM 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. The supplication Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is usually sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation replying; or at least recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction of the bread and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has been completed. The final time it concludes with the words grant us peace.

At the Last Supper, Jesus gave thanks, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples. Just as Jesus’ body was broken upon the cross and his blood poured out, the priest breaks the host over the paten and places a small piece in the chalice, and he says quietly, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”  In earlier times, a piece of the Pope’s host was taken to all churches in Rome, which showed their unity with the Holy Father.  It also symbolically reunites Jesus’ body and blood.  Now that Jesus has been resurrected, His body and blood can never be separated again.  The priest then genuflects to reverence the body and blood.

The Lamb of God comes from John 1:29 from the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” At the conclusion of the Lamb of God (prayed or sung by the people), the priest prays quietly, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your Death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.” Or, alternatively, “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.”

After the priest genuflects, he takes the host and, holding it slightly raised, says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him to takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  The people respond, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  These words come from Luke 7:6-7, the story of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant.  This is an act of faith before we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood.