One of my young fiddle students told me how to navigate crossover episodes. It is pretty fun, you watch a TV episode of The Flash, it then continues on Arrow and finishes on Legends of Tomorrow. So this is my lame attempt at a crossover blog from Dane’s post on A Case for Eucharist Piety. Of course I am doing this months later, instead of coordinating and syncing up the following week. Also, the transition from his blog is rather weak and nowhere close to seamless. So the good news is, you can start reading this now, you won’t be at all lost. Well, scratch that. You may already be lost after reading this lousy introduction. I promise it gets better though!
I came across a very interesting article on the US Bishops website after reading Dane’s post. The first half is on the Communion Procession (in green) and the second half is on private prayer vs. singing the Communion Chant (in purple). Go ahead and take a few minutes to read it and see what your thoughts are.
The Reception Of Holy Communion At Mass
The Church understands the Communion Procession, in fact every procession in liturgy, as a sign of the pilgrim Church, the body of those who believe in Christ, on their way to the Heavenly Jerusalem. All our lives we who believe in Christ are moving in time toward that moment when we will be taken by death from this world and enter into the joy of the Lord in the eternal Kingdom he has prepared for us. The liturgical assembly of the baptized that comes together for the celebration of the Eucharist is a witness to, a manifestation of, the pilgrim Church. When we move in procession, particularly the procession to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion, we are a sign, a symbol of that pilgrim Church “on the way.”
For some, however, the experience of the Communion Procession is far more prosaic, analogous perhaps to standing in line in the supermarket or at the motor vehicle bureau. A perception such as this is a dreadfully inaccurate and impoverished understanding of what is a significant religious action.
The Communion Procession is an action of the Body of Christ. At Christ’s invitation, extended by the priest acting in Christ’s person: “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” the members of the community move forward to share in the sacred meal, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ which is the sign and the source of their unity. In fact, each time we move forward together to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, we join the countless ranks of all the baptized who have gone before us, our loved ones, the canonized and uncanonized saints down through the ages, who at their time in history formed a part of this mighty stream of believers.
This action by Christ’s body, the Church assembled for the Eucharist, is manifested and supported by the Communion Chant, a hymn in praise of Christ sung by the united voices of those who believe in him and share his life. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal takes this hymn very seriously, mandating that it should begin at the Communion of the priest and extend until the last person has received Communion.
For some, however, the singing of this hymn is perceived as an intrusion on their own prayer, their private thanksgiving after Communion. In fact, however, this hymn is prayer, the corporate thanksgiving prayer of the members of Christ’s Body, united with one another. Over and over again the prayers of the liturgy and the norms of the General Instruction emphasize this fundamental concept of the unity of the baptized, stressing that when we come together to participate in the Eucharistic celebration we come, not as individuals, but as united members of Christ’s Body.
In each of the Eucharistic Prayers, though the petition is worded in slightly different ways, God is asked to send his Holy Spirit to make us one body, one spirit in Christ; the General Instruction admonishes the faithful that “they are to form one body, whether in hearing the Word of God, or in taking part in the prayers and in the singing…” (no. 96). It describes one of the purposes of the opening song of the Mass as to “foster the unity of those who have been gathered” (no. 47), and says of the Communion Chant that “its purpose [is] to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the ‘communitarian’ character of the procession to receive the Eucharist” (no. 86).
It is difficult for some of us to embrace this emphasis on Mass as the action of a community rather than an individual act of my own faith and piety, but it is important that we make every effort to do so. Christ himself at the Last Supper pleaded with his Father: “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are… as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us…” (John 17:11, 21). Baptism has joined us to Christ and to one another as the vine and its branches. The life of Christ, the Holy Spirit, animates each of us individually, and all of us corporately and guides us together in our efforts to become one in Christ.
After reading this I put it into practice. I wanted to test it out for a month or so before writing about it. Not because I need to personally validate it but because I wanted to share the experience with you. So for instance, when I received Communion recently I really felt like I was one of many waiting for my turn to meet Jesus. At some point my life on earth will end and what anticipation that can bring! I felt the inside of me become filled with greater joy and expectancy as I moved closer and closer to receiving Communion today. And even though I am still alive and well writing this blog, I along with almost one billion others have been fed heavenly food to strengthen us for the journey to heaven.
The other thing I have been doing is singing the Communion song. I thought the holier thing to do before and after Communion was to try for some intense and intimate prayer time. However, that is not really in the spirit of Catholicism. Catholicism is both/and not either/or. It’s not either me and Jesus or sing with everyone and lose the intense and intimate prayer. Its both the intense intimate prayer and the community thanking Jesus with one voice.
I teach music at a Catholic School. Our theme this year comes from another article by the USCCB titled “Why We Sing.” What I am teaching the students this year is simple.
Teacher: “Why do we sing?”
Class: “To grow our faith.”
Class: “By singing with gratitude in our hearts to God.”
Of course you may very well be thinking that you can’t carry a tune. And you singing during Communion is not going to help create one voice. Instead its going to create discord with the sour notes you are throwing out! That may be true. But look at the teacher’s questions and the responses by the class again. Now focus on the second answer…. Got it? I hope you do because that is how we should sing. And there is no limit to what you can do in this area, it isn’t musical. Your heart can overflow with gratitude even if you can’t figure out when to make your voice go up higher or go down lower. And if you truly don’t sing well, sing quietly, or sing under your breath. But sing with great gratitude in your heart to God. The words of the Communion song will help guide your prayer. You will feel the action of the community instead of an individual act of piety. And that might bring about a needed change in many of our hearts.
I’ve been doing this for a month now. I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything, rather that I have gained. And I found that when Mass is over that my heart can still be overflowing. One can then kneel and spend that time in quiet prayer and repose.