So the deacon invites the people to come to receive Holy Communion as he raises the holy chalice containing the consecrated bread and wine, the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, and shows it to the people.
The choir responds: "Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord. The Lord is God and has revealed Himself to us."
The people say the prayer "I believe, O Lord, and confess that You are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first" and then approach the priest who now bears the chalice. The ritual instructs them to "go one by one and bow with all humility and reverence, keeping their hands crossed upon their breast. And in this manner they receive the Holy Mysteries."
The priest spoons the comingled species into the open mouth of the communicant, saying as he does so: "The servant of God, N., participates of the precious, most holy and most pure Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of his/her sins and life everlasting. Amen." The communicant does not respond. (He/she couldn't as his/her mouth now contains both sacred species.)
The traditional Roman Rite has the priest make the sign of the Cross with the Sacred Host over the communicant saying as he does so: "Corpus Domini nostri Iesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen." (May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep your soul unto life everlasting. Amen.) after which the priest places the Host on the tongue of the communicant. Again, no response from the communicant.
I was struck by the atmosphere of reverence and humility as this morning's Divine Liturgy, at which I concelebrated, progressed, and particularly by the silence at Communion. The insistence on unworthiness and humility in approaching the Mysteries is a most beautiful characteristic of the Eastern Litrurgy. I daresay that in a large church or a bigger monastic community, the choir might well sing some beautiful chant during Communion, but it would no doubt be conducive to recollection and contemplation, rather than the noisy songs that generally intrude upon the peace of the Communion liturgy of the modern Roman Rite as most commonly celebrated.
I think our Eastern brethren look with pity and sorrow upon what the Roman Church (as they call us) has done to itself in the revised Roman Liturgy as it is commonly celebrated.
We have much to recapture. There was nothing wrong with the Roman Rite prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Of course, it was capable of organic development then as it has been throughout the two millennia of the Church's existence and some of the changes have been beneficial. But there is much that has been lost in the transition from the liturgy as celebrated prior to and at the time of Vatican Council II to that which we have today. Yet the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite can be celebrated with reverence and is so celebrated in many places. But I think the following is necessary to bring about a truly universal experience of reverence in the Ordinary Form:
- Communion given exclusively on the tongue (i.e. the abolition of Communion in the hand).
- Communion to be received, in so far as is possible, kneeling, in accordance with the long-standing tradition in the Roman Rite in many/most places.
- The abolition of the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion during the Sacred Liturgy. (So Communion takes a little longer? More time for prayer and thanksgiving aided by a choir singing beautiful chant, with ample time for silence.)
- Where Communion is given under both kinds (and why should this not be provided for where possible?), it should be given either separately under each kind or by intinction, but always administered by a Sacred Minister.
- The use of music which is clearly and obviously of a sacred nature, using the words only of sacred texts (i.e. the ancient antiphons which are contained in the Missal or Graduale) or hymns which are clearly devotional in nature and directed to God and His Holy Mother or to the praise of the saints.
- The more prevalent celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite to reconnect all the faithful, but perhaps more especially the bishops, priests and deacons, with the tradition from which the Ordinary Form is supposed to have developed organically rather than to have turned away from.
- A return to the Eastward (ad orientem) orientation of the Mass, at least for the Liturgy of the Eucharist (i.e. from the Offertory onwards), although it would also be better if all the texts/prayers directed directly to God were recited ad orientem.
In the Eastern Liturgy, after the distribution of Holy Communion the priest blesses the people with the holy chalice containing what is left of the co-mingled species saying: "Save Your people, O God, and bless Your inheritance." After placing the chalice upon the altar he incenses it three times saying in a low voice: "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; above all the earth be Your glory." I found this act of adoration of the Lord in the Eucharist after Communion very touching.
The Easterns have a tender devotion to Our Lady (as I reflected yesterday) and all the saints. They are repeatedly invoked during the Liturgy. Here is the prayer of thanksgiving said by the priest after Communion:
We thank you, O Master, lover of mankind and benefactor of our souls, that even today You have made us worthy of Your heavenly and immortal Mysteries. Make straight our path. Make us all firm in fear of You. Protect our lives and secure our steps, through the prayers and supplications of the glorious Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary and of all Your saints.