In the previous article in the series, we spoke about the Eucharistic prayer and noted that it was the prayer which accompanied and explained the meaning of the Communion in Christ that we receive in, and through, the consecrated bread and wine that we share at Mass. Early on, the order of Mass went directly to Communion after the Eucharistic Prayer, the only action intervening was the breaking of the bread so that all could share in it.
Now we know there are several prayers which precede Communion at Mass and each of them is tied into and expresses something of the meaning of Communion.
Firstly, we have the Lord’s Prayer which expresses our unity with the Father and with each other and our unity with Christ. We pray ‘Our Father’ and thereby we express our belonging together and our union with God in Christ as we claim his Father as our Father. The prayer which the priest prays after the Lord’s Prayer beginning “Deliver us…” takes up the last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer and expands it.
Then follows the Rite of Peace made up of the prayer for peace “Lord Jesus Christ you said to your apostles…”, the greeting of peace, the invitation to offer each other the sign of peace and the sign of peace itself. Again this whole rite emphasises the union with each other which Holy Communion seeks to bring about in us.
Finally, we have the breaking of the bread (or the Fraction). The priest now breaks one piece of bread into many parts so that all may receive of the same one loaf. In the past this was often thought of as something purely practical to make the host small enough to fit into the priest’s mouth! It is however one of the actions of Christ at the Last Supper. It is one of the things we do in memory of him. It’s meaning is expressed in the words of St Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians – the fact that there is one loaf means that though there are many of us we become the one body.
Then of course we have holy communion itself in which we enter into communion with Christ’s death and resurrection and with his risen presence.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin