Communion in Eucharistic Prayer

jesus-precious-bloodToday, in this month of the Precious Blood, let us pause to consider the theme of ecclesial communion in the Eucharist. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St. John Paul II said: “The heart of the mystery of the Church” is that the Church comes from the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic Prayers are emphatic about this. We can pray them better if learn to hear this repetition. Again, we will focus on Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon, both lest we think there is anything un-traditional about this theology and because it is longer.

We will see that the more common Prayers II and III say the same thing, but less emphatically. In fact, we find that Vatican II’s insistence on the Church as communion – which, John Paul II never tired of repeating, was the central teaching of the Council – is no innovation, but a re-emphasis on a central teaching of the tradition.


The Roman Canon opens by saying of the sacrifice, “which we offer you firstly for your holy catholic Church.” It then emphasizes union within the Chuch: “to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her.” This is the context in which we pray “together with your servant Francis our Pope and N. our Bishop”: we pray for the Pope and Bishop precisely because they mark the unity of the Church.

Next we pray for the rest of us, “Remember, Lord, your servants . . . and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them.” The prayer emphasizes the communion gathered around the altar. Strength flows out, and draws us in.

The farthest the prayer reaches from the Eucharistic community is, “and all who are dear to them”: those who come to the altar only in our hearts.

But the prayer repeatedly emphasizes that we are precisely the community of those who offer the sacrifice: “we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty.” “Graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family.” This is the Church: the family of the oblation.

Later we pray for those who have died. But here, too, we do not just pray at random, but precisely for those who are part of the Eucharistic fellowship: “Remember also, Lord, your servants, who have gone before us with the sign of faith.” The Eucharist spills over even to its members who are gone.

And it draws us into the communion of heaven: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary” – in the Roman Canon, a long list of saints follows. The other list, after the consecration, is introduced by “graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs.” At the end of the list it says, “Admit us, we beseech you, into their company.”

The Church is the fellowship of the altar. We become the Church through our participation in the altar, and that altar truly builds up a fellowship. The Roman Canon is insistent on this image.

Or, as the tradition says, “The Body [on the altar] builds the Body [which is the Church].”


The newer, shorter prayers say it too. In Eucharistic Prayer II, we are defined as those “worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” “Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ” we pray that “we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.”

Here too we pray for the Church. In this world: “Remember, Lord, your Chuch, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our Pope and N. our Bishop.” Those who have died: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection.” And in heaven: “that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God . . . and all the saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be coheirs.”

In Eucharistic Prayer III, “you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered.” We offer “the oblation of your Church,” “that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.”


From the wounded side of Christ is born the Church. All who receive the blood and join in its offering are joined in one body.

Can you think of ways people make a false tension between worship and community? How could you and your parish more boldly discover their unity?

On The Precious Blood of Jesus

On Our Offering of the Precious Blood

“Accept These Sacrifices”: Our Offering of the Precious Blood

jesus-precious-bloodIn this month of meditation on the Precious Blood, we pause to consider the sacrificial aspect of the Mass.

In the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I, the longer, traditional one), the priest says:

“Be pleased to look upon these offerings

with a serene and kindly countenance,

and to accept them,

as once you were pleased to accept

the gifts of your servant Abel the just,

the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith,

and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek,

a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.”

Now, this is an interesting way to approach the Eucharist. Because notice, we are asking the Lord to accept the Body and Blood of Christ the same way he accepted Abel’s plain old lamb, Abraham’s sacrifice (of Isaac? he made other sacrifices as well – but not of the Body and Blood of Christ), and Melchizedek’s just plain bread and wine. If we look at the thing being offered, it’s as if we’re asking God to treat what we have on the altar as if it were something less. Our offering is better than theirs.

It is odd, too, that we ask him to “accept” what is obviously acceptable. Why do we need to say this kind of thing?

The reason is because we’re not talking about what’s on the altar, the victim. We’re talking about what’s in our hearts, as we make our priestly offering.

See, what is on the altar is important precisely because of the way it relates to our hearts as we offer it. We want to offer not the things Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek offered – we have something better. We want to offer the way they offered.

The deeper point is that they used what was on the altar to honor God, to acknowledge him, to give him thanks. That’s the true meaning of sacrifice.


That’s why, even before the gifts are consecrated, the Roman Canon says, “accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.” Even before what is on the altar becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, we are already talking about what we are doing with our hearts.

Now, the greatly abbreviated Eucharistic Prayers given to us after the Council (most priests use Prayers II and III almost exclusively) don’t talk about this as clearly. But it’s still there – in fact, it’s still the heart of what’s going on in the Eucharist.

In the offertory, the priest says, “we have this bread to offer.” Not “to eat,” not just “to receive.” We are going to do something – to give thanks by offering. We then pray, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands.” What is in the hands of the priest is our prayer of thanksgiving.

In Eucharistic Prayer II, the priest begins, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts.” Well, the translation doesn’t make clear who is giving gifts to whom. Certainly God gives the Eucharist to us. But we also give it to him: “gifts” is sacrificial language.

This comes out in the acclamation, when we say, “we proclaim your death.” That’s what we’re doing with the Body and Blood on the altar. Not just receiving, but proclaiming, offering, giving thanks.

And thus in the “anamnesis,” the priest’s prayer right after the consecration, he says, “as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks.” We offer the Eucharist to him! And we give thanks “that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you” – again, in Latin, this is explicitly sacrificial language. We are doing something!


Eucharistic Prayer III, the slightly longer one, has more of this. “All you have created rightly gives you praise.” “You never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.” “As we celebrate the memorial . . . we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.”

“Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church, and recognizing the sacrificial Victim.” The Latin verb for “offer” is irregular: oblation and offering are the exact same word in Latin. Both of them are about sacrifice: we life up a sacrifice to God.


Christ pours out his Blood as an act of praise. We drink that Blood, commune with that sacrificial Victim, so that we can life up our hearts to the Lord. So that “through him, and with him, and in him,” united to him “in the unity of the Holy Spirit,” as he is united to the Father, we may acknowledge that “all glory and honor is” to “God, the almighty Father . . . forever and ever.”

How could you remind yourself to lift up the Sacred Victim as your sacrifice of praise? How could you be like Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek?

A Prayer at Communion

massacio trinity with virginLord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof . . .

Father, I am not worthy. I am not worthy to be a called a son of God. I am not grateful to you. I do not entrust myself to you, and I do not receive the gift of life you offer to me.

But Father, you are mercy. Mercy itself. Eternally giving alms, giving to the poor, making life, and goodness, where there was nothing at all. You are the overflowing spring from which all creation pours forth, the spring from which even the Son and the Holy Spirit flow forth.

And Mary is daughter of mercy. She is your creature, your daughter. Her very being is to receive life from you. She lives perfect daughterhood, precisely because you have made her your daughter; the spirit of daughterhood is itself your gift to her. This is the Gospel. This is the promise – that we too may receive Mary’s spirit of daughterhood.

Jesus, Son of God, I am not worthy. I am not worthy to be called your brother. I do not love as you love. I do not pour myself out as you pour yourself. I am not poor as you were poor, I do not care for those who are poor as you care for them.

But Jesus, you are mercy. Your very being is to be the overflowing spring of mercy, the almsgiver. You came not to condemn but to seek out and save. You are the Good Samaritan. Your well of mercy never runs dry. Your purse is never empty.

And Mary is mother of mercy. I cannot fathom what this means. You who are such perfect mercy have become so little that she could hold you in her arms, wrap you in swaddling clothes, lay you in a manger, and see you die on a cross. You have come so close that she could hold you at her breast, hold you at her cheek, stand and suffer the wound of love at your cross. This is the Gospel. This is the promise: that you become so little, so close to us, that we can receive you as she did.

Holy Spirit, I am not worthy. I am not worthy to be called your temple. Not worthy to hold God within me. I do not live by your power, do not live by your goodness. I turn always to myself, to my own strength, to contemplation of my own face. I am not yet your true temple.

But Holy Spirit, you are mercy. You are nothing but the poured-out love of Father and Son. There is no end to your goodness, no end to the alms you give us. You are truly Father of the poor, giver of life to us who are dead, light to us who dwell in darkness.

And Mary is the bride of mercy. You come to make life in her womb, to bring her to life, to let her pour life out for others. You have united her eternally to your work of mercy. She walks where you walk, and gives your perfect gift. And this is the Gospel. This is the promise. That you come to make us your partners, come to give us life, come to make us your bride, ever crying out “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Father, I am not worthy
But Father, you are mercy
And Mary is daughter of Mercy

Son of God, Jesus, I am not worthy
But Jesus, you are mercy
And Mary is mother of Mercy

Holy Spirit, I am not worthy
But Spirit, you are mercy
And Mary is bride of Mercy

This is the Gospel.
For this I give you thanks.
This is the mercy I receive from your altar.

 My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . .

Thanksgiving and the Mass

van eyck adorationI was recently speaking to a student of mine, an Augustinian Recollect friar from Mexico, about the American feast of Thanksgiving. He remarked what a truly healthy part of our culture it is. For all that is wrong with our world, a feast of family and thanks is pretty nice.

In fact, we can learn a lot about the Mass by reflecting on this feast.


First, the Mass is Thanksgiving. That, of course, is precisely what Eucharist means in Greek, and it is one of the earliest names of the Mass. In the second century, for example, here is how St. Justin Martyr described the Mass: the priest “gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things [i.e., our own good works, salvation, and the bread and wine] at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying, Amen.” And then again, the presider “offers prayers and thanksgiving, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given.”

To receive the Eucharist is to receive the thanksgiving, the “thanksgiving-ed” bread and wine. This is all the more true because, “the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

The Eucharist is a meal of Thanksgiving.


In fact, this is what “sacrifice” means in Catholic theology, and in the Bible. We get so focused on child sacrifice that we miss the way it works in the Bible. In the Old Testament, there are “holocausts,” which are completely burned. But most kind of sacrifices are not burned up, they are eaten. The point of sacrifice is not the destruction, but the ritual action.

Our American Thanksgiving, in fact, is remarkably parallel to the most important sacrifice of the Old Testament, the Passover lamb. “They shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. . . . And you shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remains of it until the morning you shall burn with fire” (Exodus 12:7-10).

The Passover Lamb is a sacrifice, the truest sacrifice – the one, in fact, that Jesus connects with his own death on the Cross – not because it is destroyed, but because it is received from God, and offered in thanksgiving to God. The thanksgiving turkey, in fact, is a sacrifice in the truest sense, if we are practicing Thanksgiving as a feast of thanks to God.

“A sacrifice,” says Augustine, “is the visible sacrament or sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice. . . . He does not desire the sacrifice of a slaughtered beast, but he desires the sacrifice of a contrite heart. Thus, that sacrifice which he says God does not wish, is the symbol of the sacrifice which God does wish. God does not wish sacrifices in the sense in which foolish people think He wishes them, namely, to gratify His own pleasure. . . . But he goes on to mention what these signify: ‘Offer unto God the sacrifice of praise.’ . . . God does not requires these sacrifices for their own sakes; He does require the sacrifices which they symbolize.”

What makes the Lamb, the turkey, or even Jesus himself a true sacrifice is that it is a sign, a physical manifestation, of our hearts turned to God in thanksgiving.


Finally, thanksgiving makes family. We come together around a common table. We share a common meal. And the more heartfelt is our entrance into that meal, the more heartfelt is our entrance into the family gathered there.

After the goofiness of the 1970s and ‘80s, Catholics are loath to say that the Mass is a community meal. But it is! It is just that it is a community meal rooted in the presence of Christ, and Christ’s perfect act of thanksgiving to the Father. Christ makes us true family. In fact, Christ’s body makes us into his body: from the Eucharistic communion is born the communion of the Church.


Do you experience Thanksgiving as a sacrifice of praise? Do you experience the Eucharist that way?