Week 4 - The Communion and Concluding Rite

Presented at all Masses the weekend of February 7-8

We come to the end of our four part explanation of the Mass with the Communion and Concluding Rites, and we begin with the Lord’s Prayer. We have heard this prayer and said it so often, that maybe we don’t focus on the words.  But this is the only prayer that Jesus himself told us to say to God, our Father, who doesn’t need a lot of words. So as Jesus taught us, we ask God to give us “our daily bread.” What does that mean?  It calls up the image of manna in the desert and the routine needs of living.  But for us as Christians, this means preeminently the Eucharistic bread, the Bread of Life. 

We also ask God to forgive us and to help us to forgive others.  Forgiveness transforms us, so we may be people who are holy when we receive the Bread of Life.  

Here at American Martyrs we stand together joining hands across the aisle.  This is a sign of our unity.  When you travel around you may notice that not every church has this practice, and there is no rule that requires it. Some may use the ancient “Orans” positions with hands open as a sign of our need and dependence on God’s providence. Either way, we stand together in prayer. 

The Sign of Peace follows. This is not a secular greeting, not a “Hi, how are you?”, not a chance to talk to those whom we missed greeting as we entered the church. It is a time to extend to one another a sign of Christ’s peace, not our own.  How can we extend Christ’s peace to someone else?  We can do this because we are messengers for Christ, reminding each other of the peace Christ offers to each of us, to our families, to our community, to our world. What we do is a visible sign of our commitment to seek this peace for all people.

At the beginning of Communion the priest will raise the Eucharist and remind us how blessed we are to be called to supper with the “Lamb of God”. We respond in humility and in faith with the words the centurion spoke to Jesus: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof (to spend your time with me), but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

The procession to receive the Eucharist seems unremarkable, just an obvious way to distribute Communion efficiently.  But there is actually more to it than that.  Standing and walking to receive the Lord is a public sign of faith. 

Moreover, we do not walk as isolated people.  The Communion procession is one of the times in the Mass when we walk together.  We walk as one Body of Christ, the pilgrim Church.  And try to see yourself as walking not only with those here now but in the company of all the baptized who have gone before us, our loved ones, saints throughout the ages, pilgrims and believers all, seeking to encounter our Savior. 

One more observation about the procession: this is not a quiet, solemn, walk.  It’s a reverent, joyous, jubilant, journey, a celebration of God’s love for us. This is why the choir leader will invite everyone to join in song -- even if you think you can’t sing a note.  The voice God gave you is the voice God loves to hear.

After receiving Communion, we return to our seats.  Generally, we will remain standing out of respect for those still on the procession to receive the Eucharist. But whether you stand or choose to kneel in the traditional way many of us learned as children, what matters is that we stay here with the whole community.  We can all be seated after the last person has received Communion.

When everyone who wishes has received Communion, all of us and the Presider take a few moments for silent reflection. Now we speak to our Lord who resides not only in the whole assembly but also particularly in each person who just received Holy Communion. We become what we receive. 

It is important to understand, that Communion is not the end of the Mass.  For all of us to experience the Mass fully, we all need to stay together, just as we do at family dinners.  The part of the Mass after Communion – what is called the Concluding Rite – conveys a message that is central to our responsibilities as disciples. 

Why isn’t the Mass over after you receive Communion? What else is there that matters?  Is there any reason to stick around?  Well, for one thing, we want a few moments of silent reflection to speak openly to Jesus, and that’s harder to do if I’m walking out the door, down the steps, heading for my car. 

Ok, well I’ve spent a few minutes in prayer after Communion, is it over now? 

Not quite.  The priest, praying in the name of us all, will conclude our silent reflection with the Prayer after Communion, and we respond just as we did when we received the Body of Christ, with a resounding “Amen”, meaning “Yes”.  Then the Deacon will read a few announcements about events in our parish community that may be of interest to you. 

Got it, but I can read those in the bulletin or on the AM website – that’s what you keep saying.  Is there more to the Mass after this?  Am I really missing anything if I leave before the final procession?

The easy answer is that it’s just not polite to leave before the celebration is actually over.  And that’s true. 

The deeper answer is that the actual dismissal itself is central to what the Mass should mean in our lives.  The word “Mass” comes from the Latin “missa” which means “dismissal.” In other words when we “go to Mass,” we really go to be in the presence of our God who then sends us forth to be Christ in the world.  That sending out, that commissioning by God, is the crucial conclusion of the Mass.  It’s not an afterthought.

The priest calls on God to bless us, making the Sign of the Cross with which we began the Mass. The Deacon, typically, will announce that the Mass is ended and send us forth to go in peace. Our response here, “Thanks be to God,” is not an expression of relief that Mass is over, but that we are empowered with the charge to serve God, and the peace of the Lord will be with us and help us as we go.

OK, I understand. God commissions each of us to be Christ’s light in this world, but God does not send us out alone.  When we leave this house of worship, we do not leave one at a time. We leave in the final procession of the Mass, walking out together, the Body of Christ ready to be Christ for the world.