The Eucharist

This week I want to consider the  Communion Rite of the Mass which begins with the Our Father. We then give each other the sign of peace. This reminds us that our Communion is not a private act between Jesus and myself but it is between Jesus in his union with the Father and the Spirit, and us in our union with each other. We are invited to share in the communion between God and the Church.

The priest breaks off a piece of the large host that he shows to the people and mixes it with the Precious Blood. Ideally at each Sunday Mass the people are able to receive the Host and drink from the chalice. In this way we are being faithful to the Lord’s command to his disciples to “Take and Eat” and Take and Drink”. “We complete the Eucharistic action by together eating and drinking the elements consecrated during the celebration. It is most desirable that the faithful share the chalice. Drinking at the Eucharist is a sharing in the sign of the new covenant (see Luke 22:20), a foretaste of the heavenly banquet (see Matthew 26:29), a sign of participation in the suffering Christ (see Mark 10:38- 39)” .

The Bishops of England and Wales say “The faithful are not ordinarily to be given Communion from the tabernacle.”  Yet in this parish we seem to do this as a matter of course.  How can we change this? We should receive communion from the bread and wine that is consecrated at that Mass. “The Communion procession expresses the humble patience of the poor moving forward to be fed, the alert expectancy of God’s people sharing the Paschal meal in readiness for their journey, the joyful confidence of God’s people on the march toward the promised land. In England and Wales it is through this action of walking solemnly in procession that the faithful make their sign of reverence in preparation for receiving Communion.” The normal sign of reverence is a bow before receiving Communion or a genuflection. There is no requirement to kneel. After the minister says, “The body of Christ,” we answer “Amen” and receive the consecrated host in the hand or on the tongue. This is repeated when receiving the blood of Christ from the cup. “Amen” means “so be it.” It testifies to our belief that the consecrated bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ. As we return to our place there will be time for some silence .

There are some who for one reason our another are unable to take Holy Communion. They are encouraged to make a spiritual communion. In their Document One Bread, One Body, in 1996 the Bishops of England and Wales wrote “Even though some may not receive sacramental communion, all are united in some way by the Holy Spirit. The traditional idea of spiritual communion is an important one to remember and reaffirm. The invitation often given at Mass to those who may not receive sacramental communion – for example, children before their First Communion and adults who are not Catholics – is to receive a ‘blessing’ at the moment of Communion which emphasises that a deep spiritual communion is possible even when we do not share together the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ.”

The laity as Eucharistic Ministers

Last Saturday at our Cathedral, Bishop Pat Lynch commissioned 64 people as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. These commissions take place three times a year. Some people  don’t like the idea of receiving the Precious Body and Blood from a lay person. Others are uncomfortable about receiving Our Lord in the hand. In the early church lay people not only received communion on Sunday but took communion home with them to receive it every day.  Fr Joseph Champlin writes “it is very evident from historical research that lay persons ordinarily received the Lord directly into their hands for the first nine centuries. Writings, pictures and documentation speak of or illustrate this practice”. After the early centuries this changed. The reason for the change was most probably the changing attitude to the Eucharist. More emphasis was put on the divine aspect of the Eucharist. Stress was put on the real, holy, tremendous, awesome presence of Christ in the sacrament. The host was to be adored more than to be eaten. The feeling of unworthiness in the face of this wonderful gift led to less frequent reception of Communion and a greater distance between the altar and the pew. Also at this time laity were more and more excluded from the liturgy. Singing was done by a choir, the general intercessions disappeared, the faithful could not see what was happening at the altar, the Canon of the Mass was said quietly, everything took place in silence and in a language less understood by the people. “Those medieval concepts obviously were handed down very carefully to us from our forefathers in the faith. They had value, respected one aspect of the mystery which is the Eucharist, and should not be casually disregarded.” The emphasis on great participation in the liturgy began at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In 1947 Pius XII wrote: “By the waters of Baptism, as common right, Christians are made members of the mystical body of Christ the Priest and by the character which is imprinted on their souls their are appointed to give worship to God, thus they participate according to their condition, in the priesthood of Christ.” In the Document on the Liturgy, at the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers reminded us of the key role of the laity, “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4–5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.”

It was in 1973 that Pope Paul VI issued the instruction “Immensae Caritatis” in which he wrote:“First of all, provision must be made, less reception of Communion becomes impossible or difficult because of insufficient ministers” Thus there are a number of occasions when the priest will need assistance of the laity in helping with Holy Communion. During Mass when there is Holy Communion under both kinds and when the size of the congregation is such that without their assistance the Communion Rite would be unduly long. Outside Mass help is needed to bring communion to the sick and housebound and a lay minister can expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament.

I would like to thank all those who are Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in our parish. This is a tremendous service you are undertaking. Please note that our reflection Day for Eucharistic ministers is on Saturday 2nd March from 10am till 1pm in St Thomas Hall.

Ministry of Reader

Over twenty years ago I was involved in helping a friend of mine, Margaret Rizza, write a small book entitled “Proclaiming God’s Word”. After being published by our Diocesan Liturgy Commission, it was expanded and published commercially. This was a guide for readers and we realised that the service of the Ministry of Reader was vital in the celebration of Mass.

In the document on the Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council, the bishops wanted to promote a warm and living love for Scripture. God’s Word is the source of all life. When we refer to the use of Scripture in Mass we don’t say that the Word of God is “read” but we use the word “Proclaim”. The Word of God is proclaimed. Through the proclamation of the living Word of God in the midst of the assembly we are enabling those assembled to consciously and deliberately take on the role of listener. As Margaret writes, “ the community is called to listen. Without listeners there is no living Word. Through genuine listening – listening with the ear of the heart- we open ourselves to the life-giving Word. When we do not listen, we close ourselves to the power of the Spirit who heals us, enabling us to grow and transform our lives.”

As we hear in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Peter and the Sons of Zebedee left everything and followed Jesus to spread the Good News. Through our baptism this is what we are all called to do, to proclaim the Good News to all creation. The lay ministry of Reader enables us to do this in a special way. Pope Paul VI says: “Let the reader be aware of the office he has undertaken and make every effort and employ suitable means to acquire that increasingly warm and living love and knowledge of scripture.” We realise that the Ministry of Reader is not just about getting up on Sunday or during the week and reading out aloud the scripture passages but it becomes a God-given ministry, a response to God’s call which brings about our daily conversion – we come to realise that as readers we are God’s instruments- God is speaking his Word through us. We can say the true task of the reader is to enable the Word to become alive and active in those who listen. This is why it is essential for anyone involved in the Ministry of Reader to prepare for their task. First by prayer. A good practise is to look at the reading that we are going to proclaim during the week before Sunday and prayerfully read it, and reflect on it. We also need to remember “the human voice is one of the most remarkable and beautiful instruments that we have.” We need to know how to manage our voice in relation to the style of the text, the size of the church, the number of people and the microphone which we will be using.” (Margaret Rizza.)

I would like to thank all those involved in this important Ministry of Reader and ask all Readers  to put in your diary our Reader’s Day on 20th March 2019 in St Thomas Hall. 10am till 1pm.

Participating in the Mass

This week I wish to talk about a word that is often used in liturgical context, Ministry.  We often hear talk about Liturgical ministries. The Priest at Mass presides over the whole assembly. He orchestrates the whole liturgy and speaks the many prayers in your name.  As a priest at Mass, I don’t speak for myself, but in the name of all of you. The priest leads the prayers.

Let’s look at some of the other ministries that are parts of our Sunday Assembly There are those who are involved in music and I have written in a previous newsletter about the significance of music and what should our singing priorities should be. Music should help the whole assembly celebrate Mass actively. We don’t say that we “heard” Mass or “attended” Mass. No. All together we celebrate Mass. Music helps us do this. 

Another ministry is that of Reader. The Reader proclaims God’s word in the assembly and enables us the hear God’s word.  We have a ministry of Hospitality that communicates God’s care for us. They do this by making the environment comfortable. They greet us at the beginning of Mass to help us feel welcome and make sure we have the hymn books and Mass leaflets to help us to actively participate.

Alter servers, who may seem to be serving the priest who presides, are actually serving the assembly. They help things run smoothly by making sure the items needed are ready for the priest when he needs them. By assisting the priest at the altar they help all of us have a smoother more prayerful experience.  Finally there are those who are ministers of Holy Communion. They facilitate the sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ. Where there is not sufficient ordinary ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion in a timely and appropriate manner, extraordinary ministers can be called to assist.

We are all called to be part of the assembly As an assembly we are all gathered in response to God’s call to give thanks and praise through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis has said: “The Mass is not ‘heard’, it is participated in, and it is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us”. He went on further to say: “All of you here, we are gathered here to enter into the mystery: this is the liturgy. It is God’s time, it is God’s space, it is the cloud of God that surrounds all of us”

The Bishops of England and Wales, in their document Celebrating the Mass, wrote “The faithful should not refuse to serve the people of God gladly whenever asked to perform some particular ministry or role in the celebration.  Women and men, the young and old, people of every race and way of life should avail of these opportunities so that the liturgy may be seen to be the work of the whole body of Christ. 

Preparation of Gifts

Continuing our reflections on the celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life, I thought that as we will be having members of the Parish Finance committee speaking at all Masses this weekend about our finances, it would be appropriate to reflect on the Preparation of Gifts and the collection.  This part of Mass used to be known as the Offertory and is now knows as the Preparation of Gifts. The rubric in the missal at this point of the Mass says: “It is desirable that the faithful express their participation by making an offering, bringing forward bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist and perhaps other gifts to relieve the needs of the Church and of of the poor.”  The Catechism says that from the very beginning Christians have brought, along with the bread and wine for the Eucharist, gifts to share with those in need” St Paul in his second letter to the people of Corinth writes: “But remember: anyone who sows sparsely will reap sparsely as well—and anyone who sows generously will reap generously as well.  Each one should give as much as he has decided on his own initiative, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”. Our giving expresses  not only our desire to help those in need but also our generosity to God.  St. Cyprian, martyred in Africa in 258, chided those who came to Mass and received the Eucharist but made no offering of their own: “You are wealthy and rich and do you think that you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, not at all considering the offering? Who comes to the Lord’s Supper without a sacrifice and yet take part of the sacrifice which the poor man has offered? Consider in the Gospel the widow… ” The money we give at the offertory or which we give by direct debit is a symbol of the gift of the work of our hands. In the prayer the priest says as he raises the bread and wine slightly above the altar he uses the words “work of human hands”. So both the gifts of bread and wine and the collection are symbols of the offering of ourselves. The Procession with the Gifts is a powerful expression of the assembly’s participation in the Eucharist and in the social mission of the Church. It is an expression of the humble and contrite heart, the dispossession of self that is a necessary prerequisite for making the true offering which the Lord Jesus gave his people to make with him. The Procession with the Gifts expresses also our eager willingness to enter into the “holy exchange” with God: “accept the offerings you have given us, that we in turn may receive the gift of yourself.”  The Bishops of England and Wales in their document and the celebration of Mass says: “The collection of money takes place first. As an integral part of the Eucharistic liturgy since apostolic times, its purpose and value will be better appreciated if, after the Prayer of the faithful, the priest celebrant, ministers, and people all sit and wait while the collection is taken and then made ready with the other gifts for the procession”.  This is something we don’t do here at St Thomas’s. The money is brought up separately from the bread and wine before the Preface begins and sometimes it is sneaked up by the side aisle and placed on the sanctuary while the Eucharistic prayer is being said.  Perhaps we need more collectors and more bags for this to happen in our parish. 

A Golden Silence

Last week I gave some thoughts on music in the Mass but there was one BIG printing error. 

After looking at what needs to sung at Mass I ended the paragraph by saying: ”So we should see the music in the Mass as four hymns.”  It should have read, “So we should NOT see the music in the Mass as four hymns.”

This week I want to say something about silence in the celebration of Mass. Silence is a precious part of our life.  Silence can speak powerfully. It is an important part of any communication. Silence is essential if we are to live fully relaxed and fulfilled lives. We often find ourselves saying “I can’t hear myself think” We fill our day with sounds and noise from the moment we awake till our head hits the pillow. Thus we deny ourselves the experience of times of silence. The Bishops of England and Wales in their 2005 document on “Celebrating the Mass” wrote: “It is particularly important to allow for silence as a part of the dialogue between God and the community of faith. It allows for the voice of the Holy Spirit to be heard in the hearts of the people of God and to enable them to unite personal prayer more closely with the word of God and the public voice of the Church” Within the Liturgy silence is not merely the absence of words, a pause or an interlude. We can see silence as a stillness, a quieting of spirits; it enables us to hear, assimilate, and respond.

For example  we should have silence within the Penitential rite, and again after the priest says, “Let us pray” at the Collect. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says of the Liturgy of the Word that it should be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation and so any sort of haste should be avoided. It then suggests “ it is appropriate to include brief periods of silence, accommodated to the gathered assembly, in which, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared.”

Ideally there could be short periods of silence after the First and Second readings and after the Homily given by the priest. After communion a few moments of silence helps us to praise and pray to God in our hearts.

For us at St Thomas I think there is a challenging paragraph in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. It reads,  “Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.”  Is there any way we could respond to this recommendation? I would be interested to hear you reactions and suggestions.

Music and the Mass

Last week, in my thoughts about the Sunday Mass, I wrote about “the assembly”. This week I want to reflect on music at Mass. I know from experience the subject is very emotive. I often hear; “Why don’t Catholics sing?” or “Why do we have hymns that that we don’t know?” or “Why do all the hymns seem to from the Victorian era?” or “I prefer a quiet Mass with no music” or “What happened to Gregorian chant?” We will never please everyone all the time!

It is important to be clear about certain principles as to why we have music in the Mass. Pope John Paul, in his Letter “Dies Domini”, wrote: “Given the nature of Sunday Mass and its importance in the lives of the faithful, it must be prepared with special care. In ways dictated by pastoral experience and local custom, in keeping with liturgical norms, efforts must be made to ensure that the celebration has the festive character appropriate to the day commemorating the Lord’s Resurrection. To this end, it is important to devote attention to the songs used by the assembly, since singing is a particularly apt way to express a joyful heart, accentuating the solemnity of the celebration and fostering the sense of a common faith and a shared love.”

Our model for music in the liturgy is Jesus himself, who sang psalms with the apostles at the Last Supper (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). Music is an integral part of our participation in liturgy – an integral part of our participation in the work of God. For “when song and music are signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action, they encourage, in a certain way, communion with the Trinity” (John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, 3; Chirograph on Sacred Music, 3).

If we sing anything at Mass then we must sing the Gospel acclamation and the Sanctus (or the Holy, Holy), then we can add some more pieces to this basic core. We can have an opening song or hymn which is intended to unite us and open our hearts to hear God’s voice. The Gloria should be sung as it allows us to express our praise as a community. The Psalm and response puts on our lips words that sum up the day’s scripture. The Communion song expresses our unity in the Christ we receive. To be a little more adventurous, the Penitential Rite is particularly appropriate to sing in Lent and Advent when there is no Gloria. At the Preparation of the Gifts (no longer called ‘Offertory’) there may be a song, instrumental music or silence. The Final Song can send us out inspired but it isn’t essential – it’s not in the Missal! So we should see the music in the Mass as four hymns.

In this parish we are blessed with having music at all the Sunday Masses except 8am. Even there we try to sing the Acclamation before the Gospel and the Holy Holy. It is important that we learn new music that helps us “express a joyful heart accentuating the solemnity of the celebration and fostering the sense of a common faith and a shared love.” I welcome any comments you may have on the music we could share at our Sunday Masses.

newletters: Newsletter week starting 13 January 2019


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Reflections on the Mass

At the beginning of this New Year I would like to write some reflections on the Mass, the Eucharist, which, as you know, is the source and summit of the Christian life.

Today I want to start at the very beginning before we make the sign of the cross. The moment when we gather together we become the Sunday assembly. Coming to Mass is not merely an individual duty. When we gather together, Christ is really and truly present. Jesus promised he would be with us – where two or three are gathered in my name I am there. We need to remember that Christianity is not a matter between the individual and God, but between the individual and the church and God. As one writer put it “Here there is one of the most pressing pastoral problems of today in relation to the Sunday Eucharist: to liberate people from their individualism; to help them see themselves not as so many individuals, journeying through life in splendid isolation from one another, but as a people bonded together in the Lord.”  (Sean Swayne)  One of the great changes that took place after 1964 and as a result of the Second Vatican Council was the change from the congregation being merely a passive presence, where only the voice of the priest and server was heard, to a full active and conscious participation by all present. In the introduction to the Roman Missal we read:  “For the celebration of the Eucharist is an action of the whole Church, and in it each one should carry out solely but completely that which pertains to him or her, in virtue of the rank of each within the People of God.” I would like to thank all those who take on responsibilities as Readers, Eucharistic Ministers, Musicians, Singers, Welcomers, Offertory Helpers and Servers in this parish. Even if you are not involved in one of these particular ministries you participate through your singing, and articulating the responses of the Mass. “The acclamations and the responses of the faithful to the priest’s greetings and prayers constitute that level of active participation that the gathered faithful are to contribute in every form of the Mass, so that the action of the entire community may be clearly expressed and fostered.”  This year we plan to make significant changes to the entrance to our church. The idea is to make it more welcoming and inviting. The plans have already been approved by the Art and Architecture committee of the archdiocese and, once one of three tenders for the work has been chosen, with the agreement of the Archdiocesan Finance committee, work will begin. Our coming into church is important. We need to cultivate within ourselves a welcoming heart, a heart which even when weighed with sadness radiates the peace and joy of the Lord. We rejoice that we have a wonderful opportunity every Sunday to share in the death and resurrection of Christ. Let us not be outsiders or mere onlookers.

Thoughts for a new year

Don’t let the cynics put you off thinking about new year resolutions. 

I think it is only natural for you and I to have some wishes and thoughts about our lives today and how we would like them to unfold.  We are all encouraged to know our purpose in life.  What do you want from your life?  In what are you going to put you time and effort and money? What gives meaning to your life? What enables you to get up in the morning and face another day?  For those who are young they have years to consider,  if it pleases God.  For others of us we have lived a long life and our plans are measured in days rather than years.  For the twelve year old Jesus, travelling to Jerusalem, perhaps for the first time, his purpose became clear.  The family were travelling to Jerusalem and to the Temple.  It was here that he remained after the festival, while Joseph and Mary returned home to Nazareth.  “The temple is understood as the place for the manifestation of the presence of the Father – as a sign of God’s sovereignty, a sign of the one Lord, a sign of the one and only God. “ (Cardinal Carlo Martini S.J.) It is significant that the parents of Jesus were looking for him for three days.  In answer to Mary’s question, “Why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously’ Jesus said: “Did you not know I must be in my fathers house”? The translation we hear this weekend in Mass is “I must be busy with my Father’s affairs” Jesus was saying: I am with the Father: I am in the Father, I must be in my Father’s House.”  Jesus was clear who he was. Jesus was also saying it was necessary. “ I must be busy with my Father’s affairs”  At the end of Luke, when Jesus was walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he said: “Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory”  Jesus had a clarity about what his heavenly Father has asked of him. As we begin our new year let us all be open to what God is asking of each of us. Let us listen in prayer. Let us ask for wisdom and discernment. Let us be like Mary and although we might not fully understand we can humble listen and ponder.

Have a very blessed and grace filled New Year.