Part 3 Structure and Elements

Chapter e37 Commissioning / Easter Sunday

Preliminary Questions


EJWU #8 Commissioning

Ten Finger History

Structure and Elements

Theology of the Commissioning Rite

Eucharist and Easter Sunday

Tillard:  Flesh of the Church

Eucharist and Social Justice

Summary:  Sacrament

To Think About

 The Emmaus story reveals the meal "shape" of the Eucharist
1.  Gathering -- Chapter 21
2.  Story Telling -- Chapter 22
3.  Meal Sharing
3a.  Setting the Table -- Chapter 23
3b.  Saying Grace -- Chapter 24 & 25
3c.  Eating and Drinking -- Chapter 26
4.  Commissioning -- Chapter 27

Preliminary Questions

What happens when we leave the Eucharist?  How is the Eucharist connected to the Christian's life in the world?

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J.-M.-R. Tillard. Flesh of the Church, Flesh of Christ. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press (A Pueblo Book), 1992. ISBN 0-8146-6181-5. 135pp. $24.95. 

Baldovin, John F.  "The Liturgical Year:  Calendar for a Just Community," Between Memory and Hope (Maxwell E. Johnson, Editor), The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2000.  pp 429-444. 

Patrick T. McCormick.  A Banqueter's Guide to the All-Night Soup Kitchen of the Kingdom of God.   Collegeville:  Liturgical Press, 2004.  Paper, 160 pp.  $13.95.  ISBN:  0-8146-2955-5   

Franciscan Peacemakers was founded in June of 1995 by the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order for the purpose of working to lessen violence in the homes and on the streets of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our Mission is to women who are involved in prostitution either to support their own drug habits and/or to support their children. Ministry to the children of the women has developed as integral to her rehabilitation. A street ministry to neglected children and homeless men and women has developed from our street presence to women at risk

Principal texts of the magisterium on the Church's social doctrine, arranged systematically, are available for consultation on Internet.   It is the digital version of the "Social Agenda: A Collection of Magisterial Texts," published in April 2000 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  Shortly before his death, the president of the pontifical council, Cardinal François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, expressed the wish that this text be made more widely available throughout the world   The "Social Agenda" is now available and downloadable at and   The "Social Agenda" contains 75 documents of the magisterium, beginning with St. Clement and St. Augustine, and including recent popes such as Leo XIII and others from the 20th century. It addresses all dimensions of the Church's social teaching.

The Holy See has started a Web page dedicated to information about, and formation in, justice and peace.  The initiative,, was launched by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

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Source and Summary of Catholic Life

Eucharist Jesus With Us #8, October 2005. Q1005

The following is a draft of a published article ©2005 by St. Anthony Messenger Press, 28 w. Liberty St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.  1-800-488-0488.  The article may not be reproduced or sold without written permission from the publisher.

 Eucharist:  Source and Summit of Catholic Life

“Oasis and journey to another oasis and another journey—the Bible is a story of oases and journeys.”  Many years ago I heard a scripture scholar describe the Bible in this way.  During his lecture he recalled leading a group of student archaeologists through the Egyptian desert.  Everyone was hot and sweaty and tired.  Each time they would come upon an oasis everyone would run and take off their shoes and soak their feet in the water.  “And we wanted to stay there forever,” he said.  “But you can't stay at the oasis; you have to get up and continue the journey through the desert if you are going to arrive at the site of the next archeological dig.”

In this series of newsletters we have been examining the parts of the Mass—gathering, storytelling, meal sharing—and we come now to the fourth and final part of the Mass, commissioning.  If the first three movements have been something of an “oasis” in our Christian journey, the Commissioning Rites help us transition from the “oasis” of worship to the “journey” that is our life in the world. 

At Mass we have gathered with other like minded believers and seekers.  We have laid down our burdens at the door of the church so that we might be encouraged by the stories of God's constant love.  We have shared our sacred meal and experienced a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  And now refreshed, encouraged, and strengthened for the journey ahead, it is time to “dry off our feet and put on our shoes”—like the students on that Egyptian dig.  We take up the burdens we left at the church door and return to our daily lives.

Part Four:  Commissioning

The final prayer of the third movement of the Mass (the “meal sharing”) is the Prayer after Communion.  This prayer is not a prayer of thanksgiving—the Eucharistic Prayer itself is our thanksgiving prayer.  The Prayer after Communion is a prayer of transition.   While the words of the prayer vary according to the season and feast, the petition of the prayer always asks the Father to help us who have celebrated these Eucharistic Mysteries to turn toward the world and to live in such a way that we become worthy of the gifts we have just received.  The prayer expresses our transition from “oasis” to “journey.” 

The fourth and final movement of the Mass (the commissioning—or the Concluding Rite as it is called in the Roman Missal) is relatively short and simple:  the announcements, “The Lord be with you,” a blessing, the dismissal, and (usually) a concluding hymn.  This final part of the Mass is so brief that you might ask: “Why stay?  Why not just leave and go home after receiving Communion?”  I know that there are times when one has to leave early because of other commitments or obligations—this has happened to me on occasion and I presume that it can happen to others.  But the reason I want to stay to the end is because I didn't come to Mass merely to “receive Holy Communion.” I came to “share in a sacred meal” and at meals we don't eat and run.  After sharing a meal we need time to take our leave and say good-by to our companions.  And at the Eucharistic meal we need transition time—time to move from oasis to journey.

For many Catholics the time of intimate prayer after Holy Communion is like an oasis in the desert.  I know that often I would like to stay there forever and relish the closeness of the Lord!  Perhaps that is what Peter, James, and John experienced on the mountain of the transfiguration (see Mt 17:1-8):  “Lord, it's good to be here.  This is really great!  Let's build dwellings and stay here forever!”  But the gospels tell us that Jesus had a different idea.  Peter, James, and John had to go back down the mountain and continue their journey.  There were sick waiting to be healed; devils to be cast out; doubts and fears to be dispelled.  Like Peter, James, and John we have to leave the oasis of Communion and continue down the mountain on our Christian journey.  We too will find sick who need to be healed, evils to be eradicated, fearful people waiting for our encouragement and support. 

The Disciples of Emmaus

The four-movement description of the Eucharist (gathering, storytelling, meal sharing, and commissioning) that has been presented in these newsletters is taken from the Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-35).  The two disciples are returning home to Emmaus.  The stranger (1) gathers together with them.  They (2) tell their story and recall the scriptures.  They invite the stranger into their home and (3) in sharing their meal they “recognize him in the breaking of the bread.”  

This must have been an “oasis moment” for the two disciples!  They had thought that Jesus was dead and buried.  Now here he is at table with them, sharing word and bread and life!  How they must have wanted that moment to last forever!  But again, Jesus had a different idea; and what happens next in the story is very important for our understanding of the Eucharist.  Jesus doesn't permit them to just sit there, resting in the joy of his presence.  “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:31)   He vanished from their sight!  And the disciples immediately get up from the table and---even though the hour is late---they dash back to Jerusalem to tell the others: “He has risen!”

The fourth part of the Eucharist is the “commissioning.”   We, like the disciples of Emmaus, are sent forth from the Eucharist to announce to the world the good news that we have experienced in the gathered assembly, in the Word proclaimed, and in the “breaking of the Bread.”  We are commissioned – sent forth on mission – by our encounter with the risen Lord at the Eucharist.  In our daily lives we are to continue the biblical theme of oasis and journey.

Eucharistic Epiclesis (Invocation)

The “return to the world” is an essential element of the Mass.  When we examine the structure and function of the Eucharistic Prayer (the central prayer of the Mass) we see that the petition of the prayer—the epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit—asks for a two-fold transformation.  We pray that (1) the Holy Spirit change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and we pray that (2) the Holy Sprit change us, we who eat and drink, into the Body and Blood of Christ.  In Eucharistic Prayer II, for example; we ask God to make the bread and wine “holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ ... Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.”  The Eucharistic Prayer asks that the Holy Spirit change the not only the bread and wine.  We also petition the Holy Spirit to change us!

This second “change” was very “real” for the early Church.  It was impressed on St. Paul from the day he was knocked to the ground on the way to Damascus:  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4-5)  Paul realized from that moment on that the Risen Lord is so united with us that what we do to one another we do to Christ himself.  This is why Paul became so irritated when he observed how the Corinthians celebrated the Eucharist.  He scolded them because when they came together for the Eucharist they didn't come to eat the Lord's supper; they came to eat their own supper—they were concerned with their own needs and hungers and while the poor stayed hungry and the rich had so much to eat and drink, they got drunk!  (See 1 Cor 11:17-22) 

Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist we must be attentive to both parts of the epiclesis/invocation.  We recognize Christ not only in the Bread and Wine; we also recognize Christ in his Body the Church – particularly the poor, the emarginated, and those whom the world considers “worthless.”  “For,” as Paul writes, “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body [the Church], eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor. 11:29)  

Eucharist and Easter Sunday 

I like to refer to this two-fold, inclusive understanding of Christ's Presence as the “Easter Sunday” dimension of the Eucharist.  The early Church's Easter experience of the Risen Christ was that of the conversion insight of Saint Paul:  Christ identifies himself with the poor.  The Eucharistic Prayer, with its two-fold epiclesis/invocation continually reminds us of this reality.  When we ask the Holy Spirit to transform us into the Body of Christ we are asking that the Holy Spirit enable us to take our part in God's great and mysterious plan for creation.  We pray that we become the presence, the sacrament, of the Risen Lord in our world, in our time and place. 

When I was a high school student at our Franciscan seminary in Cincinnati, there was a fire across town at the diocesan seminary.  We invited the diocesan seminarians to come and live with us while their building was being repaired.  They brought with them the crucifix that had hung in their now ruined chapel.  The arms of the corpus had been destroyed by the fire and the charred, armless image was displayed with the inscription:  “I have no arms but yours!”  That crucifix made a lasting impression on me and my understanding of the Eucharist.  At each Eucharist we invoke the Holy Spirit to make our arms be Christ's arms reaching out to heal and to comfort, that our words be Christ's words of love and forgiveness, and that our hands be Christ's hands lifting up the fallen, the discouraged, and the outcast.

This reaching out to the poor is at the heart of our Christian journey.  “The Eucharist commits us to the poor.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1397)  And when I think of those archaeology students with their feet in the cooling waters of the oasis, I know that they don't really want to stay at the oasis forever.  As peaceful and refreshing as the oasis may be, the real thrill of being an archaeologist is in doing archaeology and for that, one must leave the oasis and journey on to the site of the next dig.  It is the same it true with our Christian life.  As enjoyable and refreshing as it may be to bask in the presence of the Eucharist, the real thrill and excitement of Christian life is found in the journey, the mission:  “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

Thursday, Friday, Sunday

In his letter On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church (Holy Thursday, 2003), Pope John Paul II spoke of the Eucharist as the “source and summit of Catholic life.”  He reminded us that just as we cannot understand the historical Jesus without reference to the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, so we cannot understand the Eucharist without seeing it in relation to these same three mysteries. In this series of newsletters we have examined the Eucharist in relation to the mystery of Holy Thursday (Eucharist as sacred meal) and the mystery of Easter Sunday (unity of the risen Christ and his Body, the Church).  The Eucharist in relation to the mystery of Good Friday (the Eucharist as sacrifice) will be the subject of our next newsletter.

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Ten Finger History

1. Apostolic [0-399] After receiving the eucharist, the people left. (Many Catholics have returned to this apostolic practice.)

2. Patristic [400-799]

3. Early Medieval [800-1199]
  The bishop's blessing on the way home (e.g. bishop leaving after Confirmation in the parish, he goes down the aisle making the sign of the cross) was adopted by
adopted by mere presbyters.

4. Medieval [1200-1299]

5. Late Medieval [1300-1499]
Multiplication of final blessings and final orations.

6. Reformation [1500-1699]

7. After Trent [1700-1899]

8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959]
  Addition of the Leonine Prayers for the conversion of Russia.

9.  Vatican II [1960-1975] GIRM (1969) removed Last Gospel and the Leonine Prayers.  Restored the Prayer over the People, and Solemn Blessing.  Presider begins to exit through the congregation and wait at the doors to speak with the people. Announcements moved from after the gospel [and the homily] to the Commissioning Rite. (Some moved them [falsely?] to the end of the Communion Rite.)

10. Today and Tomorrow [1975-2050]

For an explanation of the "Ten Finger History Grid see Chapter d21  Overview of the History of the Liturgy

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Structure and Elements

Overview  Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Liturgy called for the rites to be restored so that the structure of the rite is evident (Sacrosanctum Concilium 21, 34, 50). consequently the ending of the Mass was simplified and clarified. The Communion rite ends with the Prayer after Communion. There is a pause and a new movement is begun.   If there are any announcements, they are made at this time. The one presiding then says: "The Lord be with you..." and gives the blessing. The deacon (or priest) then dismisses the assembly.

1.  Greeting   (Primary Element)  "The priest again says "The Lord be with you" ( the ritual phrase serves now as a farewell)." Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "A Walk Through the Mass: A Step-by Step Explanation." Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, August, 1989.)

2.  Announcements:  "Finally we prepare to go back to that world in which we will live for the coming week. The burdens we have laid down at the door of the church for this Eucharist, we know we must now bear again. but now strengthened by this Eucharist and this community. There may be announcements at this time which remind us of important activities of the parish during the coming week."

GIRM (1969) removed Last Gospel and The Leonine Prayers (for the conversion of Russia). Restored the Prayer over the People, and Solemn Blessing. Presider begins to exit through the congregation and wait at the doors to speak with the people. Announcements moved from after the gospel [and the homily] to the Commissioning Rite. (Some moved them [falsely?] to the end of the Communion Rite.)

Announcements:  Masses with Children  "The comments that precede the final blessing are important in Masses with children. Before they are dismissed the children need some repetition and application of what they have heard, but his should be done in a very few words. In particular, this is the appropriate time to express the connection between the liturgy and life.  At least sometimes, depending on the liturgical seasons and different occasions in the children's life, the priest should use more expanded forms of blessing, but at the end should always retain the Trinitarian formulary with the sign of the cross" (Directory for Masses with Children, #54 [DOC 2187]).

3.  Prayer over the People  Often described as a prayer of inclination (from the invitation "Bow your heads for God's blessing"), the prayer is a parallel to the prayers that were said at the end of the Liturgy of the Word to bless the catechumens or penitents who were to leave at that point. The Prayer over the People was a prayer of blessing for those who are now leaving the assembly and returning to their work. The theme of the prayers was often temporal wants and material needs. In the Roman rite prior to the Missal of Paul VI, the Prayer survived only during Lent, introduced by Humilitate capita vestra Deo after the Post-Communion. (Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Solemn Blessing and Prayer over the People," New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 17, 1978. p 620.)

4.  Blessing / Solemn Blessing   (Primary Element) We bow our heads to receive a blessing. As the priest names the trinity, we make the sign of the cross as at the beginning of the Mass.

 "After the formal dismissal, as the papal or episcopal procession left the church, the bishop blessed the people as he passed by. In the 11th century priests, also, began to give this blessing; and the custom spread, apparently from France, but not very quickly, during the Middle Ages (see Dix 522). Other prayers were added to this blessing so that the Mass no longer ended with the dismissal.

This simple blessing can be enriched and enlarged at the discretion of the one presiding by formulas which find their roots in the former Prayer over the People and the Solemn Blessings of the Gallican rite. The new Roman Missal offers 20 texts for the Solemn Blessings and 26 examples of the Prayer over the People. "They are printed together to allow complete freedom of choice. Either the solemn blessing or the prayer over the people may be chosen. During Lent the prayer over the people is principally used. Some of the texts of the blessings and prayers are very general; others are specified for particular seasons or occasions" (Sacramentary, "Foreword" 14*).

In addition to the texts given in the Latin edition, the English Language Sacramentary suggests formulas for the Solemn Blessing or the Prayer over the People for the Sundays in the principal seasons and for other special occasions. While the use of these prayers must not foster a new "clericalism" by emphasizing a priestly blessing immediately after the reception of Communion, the tasteful selection and use of these texts will give a joyful variety to the dismissal Rite. Furthermore, they are to serve as the model for ending any liturgical celebration, as we see from the rubric which introduces the blessings: "These blessings and prayers may be used at the end of Mass, or after the Liturgy of the word, after the Liturgy of the Hours, or the celebration of the Sacraments."  (Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Solemn Blessing and Prayer over the People,"
New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 17, 1978. p 620.)

5.  Dismissal of Ministers taking Eucharist to the Sick and Homebound  The priest then calls forward those taking communion to the sick and commissions and, together with the community, blesses them and those to whom they will minister.

6.  Dismissal  The priest or deacon then dismisses the assembly: "Go in peace. . ." And we give our liturgical "yes" and we say "Thanks be to God." 

The dismissal is an announcement, and as such belongs to the deacon.

"If the primitive Eucharist ended with the reception of Communion, it was not long before the rite included a period of prayer and meditation followed by a prayer by the one presiding. The congregation was then dismissed. The formula for this dismissal, Ite missa est, in the Roman rite gave rise to the name "Mass" in the West. (See Jungmann 1:173. Missa-missio-dimissio-dismissal-Mass). However this simple dismissal has undergone many variations in the history of the Roman rite. 

7.  Veneration of the altar  [In the Syro-Maronite Church, the priests says the following "Farewell to the Altar" prayer as he kisses the altar.] "Remain in peace, O holy altar of God, we hope to return to you in peace. May the offering we have received from you forgive our sins and prepare us to stand blameless before the throne of Christ. We do not know whether we will be able to return to you again to offer sacrifice. Guard us, O Lord, and protect your holy Church, that she may be the way to salvation and the light of the world. Amen."]

8.  Song

9.  Procession

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Theology of the Commissioning Rite

1.  Four Treasures in the Attic:  The recovery of "The World" corresponds to the theological understanding of the Commissioning Rite.  Review Chapter d28  Four Treasures in the Attic

2.  Naming the rite:  Concluding rite; dismissal; exit; commissioning.

2.  Primary and Secondary elements:  The primary elements are the good-by of the priest and the blessing.  The other elements are secondary.

3.  Each of the Gospels has a "commissioning".  Mark:  to preach the Gospel.  Matthew:  go, baptize, teach.  Luke:  preach forgiveness of sins. [Dr. Timothy Carmody:  "In the context of the whole Gospel, 'to preach forgiveness of sins' is like saying, 'make disciples and teach what I taught.' The same power (the Spirit) that supported Jesus' ministry will inspire the ministry of his disciples."]

5.  The Role of the Presider:  Formerly I was trying to bring God's presence to the people; now I want to bring the people into God's presence so that they are warmed and strengthened by that love and encouraged to be Christ's Body.  I want them to make a difference. This is the function of the eucharist: "See how they love one another; there is no one poor among them."

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Eucharist / Easter Sunday

"In Sermon 227, on the subject of the Pauline saying: 'We the many are one bread, one body' (1 Cor 10:17), Augustine states: ' You become the bread, tat is the body of Christ.'  The consequence of this for the eucharistic sacrament is expressed in Sermon 272: 'Therefore if you your-selves are the body of Christ and his members, then you own mystery lies on the altar .. Be what you see, and receive what you are."... In the Eucharist we do not so much receive Christ; rather, he receives us and grafts us more deeply into his body." (Kilmartin, 25)

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Tillard:  Flesh of the Church

J.-M.-R. Tillard. Flesh of the Church, Flesh of Christ. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press (A Pueblo Book), 1992. ISBN 0-8146-6181-5. 135pp. $24.95.  

I have asked you to study this book for several reasons:

1.  Primary Sources  Tillard quotes at length many early Church writers and gives the student contact with primary sources.  All too often in a course, we only read what modern authors say about these early, foundational authors.  Tillard gives us the opportunity to read Augustine (as representative of Roman theology), John Chrysostom (as representative of Byzantine and Syrian theology) and Cyril of Alexandria (as representative of Coptic and Ethiopian theology).

2.  Ecumenical Vocabulary   By reading the works of these early theologians we can gain a vocabulary which can prove very useful in contemporary ecumenical dialogue because these works are the common inheritance of all the Christian Churches.

3.  Before Transubstantiation  Contemporary Catholics often under our belief in the real presence in terms of transubstantiation.  This use of philosophy and physics by the scholastic theologians has become, for many catechists in the Western Church, the standard way to explain the Eucharist.  Tillard enables us to see how the undivided Church firmly believed in the doctrine of real presence without the use of "transubstantiation." 

a.  While transubstantiation is a very useful theological concept, blessed by history and by the magisterium, it cannot explain fully the "Sacrament of Sacraments".  It is important for the catechists to know precisely what are the strengths and weaknesses of this explanation. 

b.  Transubstantiation is very helpful in explaining how something that looks and tastes and smells like bread is not bread any longer. 

c.  However, in using this explanation we must be careful not to focus too exclusively on the change in the bread (and wine).  It is important to integrate into our catechetical explanations (and homilies) an understanding of Body of Christ which includes the Church.  One must be careful that, when explaining transubstantiation, one does not focus too narrowly on the first half of the epiclesis without the completion of the prayer; to focus too narrowly on the words of Christ without the role of the Holy Spirit, or to focus too narrowly on the glorified Christ in heaven without considering his Body, the Church, here on earth, or to focus too narrowly on the bread without the meal for which the bread is intended.

4.  Subtle below the water shifts in the theological iceberg   Through familiarity with the metaphors and vocabulary of the early Church writers regarding the Eucharist, contemporary believers are enabled to rethink some of their basic attitudes, definitions, understandings, and categories regarding the Eucharist.  These changes are subtle and can pass unnoticed, but they are very important.  These subtle shifts will be highly personal and individual, however, the following list may resonate with some.

a.  The western moment of consecration at the words of the Lord and the eastern moment of consecration at the epiclesis of the Holy Spirit to a broader view of the change brought about by the words of the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

b.  A vision of heaven as primarily individual salvation and happiness to a vision of societas sanctorum (company of the saints) [p 48]

c.  Viewing the consecrated bread as the body of Jesus to viewing the consecrated bread as the body of Christ head and members.   This involves seeing oneself incorporated into that body.   "There you are on the altar.  There you are in the Cup.  Be what you see.  Receive what you are."  [Augustine, Sermon 272]

d.  Seeing ministry to those on the margins and the outcasts of society as devotion to the Eucharist.

e.  Viewing "holiness" as coming from membership in the Body of Christ (Church) rather than primarily from individual contact with the Transcendent  [all the while recognizing the value of mystical experience].

f.  "Catholic" is not just "reaching the ends of the earth" but catholic as Jesus is catholic, embracing within himself all that it means to be human -- and the Church is catholic by being integrated by the Spirit into communion with the Lord. [p 61]

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Eucharist and Social Justice

There should be an intimate and essential connection between the eucharist and social justice.

Of the four parts of the Mass the "commissioning rite" is the most under developed part of the ritual.  In most parishes it consists merely of the prayer after communion, greeting, blessing, dismissal. Text: "Go in the peace of Christ." "The Mass is ended, go in peace." "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." The parish announcements could well serve this function of relating the eucharist to social justice however the announcements are usually information items that are repeated in the bulletin. Many parishes do their announcements before Mass starts because so many people leave after receiving Communion. There are many practical reasons why one would leave after communion and avoid the rush. However there are also theological issues involved.

"No one can claim the name Christian who is comfortable in the face of the hunger, the homelessness, the injustice and oppression in this country and around the world."  (USCCB Economic Pastoral quoted in The Awakening Church, Collegeville: Liturgical Press.)

"In walking the streets of Calcutta, the poverty so enraged me that I wanted to scream at God. Then I came to a painful realization.  In the suffering of the poor, God was screaming at me." (Jack Nelson in  Hunger for Justice)

"Recently I heard a pastor complain because too many Hispanic folks 'who should be going to his church' were going to the Mennonite church down the road in the same Indiana burg. 'They don't proselytize or anything,' said the disgruntled pastor. 'The Mennonites just do good works and projects and they invite everyone to participate. The next thing you know people get involved and join the Mennonite community.' The pastor's observation reminds me that the way we say or preach is not as important as how we live as witnesses of love. Francis of Assisi got it right in the thirteenth century. So too did the young German priest Menno Simons in the sixteenth century. Because they lived the Gospel, they attracted followers in the same way that magnets attract iron."   Dan Kroger, "Religious Ethics and Public Policy," In Depth, Autumn 1992.)

"One of the specifically American contributions to the liturgical movement has been -- and will continue to be -- insight into the relationship between the Eucharistic and the call to social justice.  How can we continually experience the radical equality we have at the Eucharistic table (i.e., no matter what our needs, problems and hungers, we receive enough in Christ Jesus) and the radical inequality we have when we step outside the liturgical assembly to the world's table? How many times can we 'who share this bread and wine be gathered by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise' (Eucharistic Prayer IV) and then, only moments later, turn from that table of unity to pursue our wars and divisions?"

"And the end of Mass we leave the assembly and the church building, but we carry something with us.  A newly married couple leave their wedding ceremony but carry their marriage with them. And what happens in the days and years after the wedding gives deeper meaning to the symbols they have exchanged (for example, their wedding rings) at the wedding. And what happens in our lives during the week gives deeper meaning to the ritual actions we have celebrated at Mass. As we daily carry our brokenness for love of the Crucified, we find ever deeper meaning in the broken Bread. As we pour out our lives in love for the homeless, the alienated, Christ's little ones, we find meaning in the cup poured out.  It is only in relation to our daily lives that the full meaning of the ritual actions of the Mass become clear to us." 

"I have seen the simplest of wedding rings worn with pride and love and fidelity by couples in poverty working to grow in their love for one another. I have seen loveless marriages symbolized in rings with diamonds the size of blue berries but the ring was 'just another piece of jewelry', all meaning had left it.   I have celebrated Mass with Popes and with prisoners.  I have seen the Mass celebrated in great cathedrals and rural churches. It is not the splendor of the ceremonies but the faith of the participants which will most eloquently tell you what the Mass is. I have experienced Mass in the simplest of settings with Catholics whose faith and love were so evident that even a visitor could sense that, like the disciples of Emmaus, these Christians truly 'recognized Him in the Breaking of the Bread.'" 

The necessary relation between the Eucharist and Social Justice is being made more explicit in the newer Eucharistic Prayers in the petitions following the epiclesis for unity, for example the French Prayer for the Swiss Synod, translated by ICEL as Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions and approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, August 6, 1991, and May 9, 1995.)

perfect your Church in faith and love ...
Open our eyes to the needs of all;
inspire us with words and deeds to comfort those who labor
and are burdened;
keep our service of others
faithful to the example and command of Christ.
Let your Church be a living witness
to truth and freedom, to justice and peace,
that all people may be lifted up
by the hope of a world made new.

When we receive Christ's body and blood by offering it, in the eucharistic prayer, we dispossess ourselves and beg instead to become Christ's body in the world.  To do this, of course, is to embrace not only the bounty of God's table, but the ethics of that table.  What we "take" by giving, we must ourselves "give away, give to, give for, give over."  What we offer in the eucharistic prayer and receive in holy communion draws us to the open hand and the open heart, to the indiscriminate practice of justice and mercy --- not for those who deserve it but for those who need it.  Sharing one holy food and drink, we know that bread is always about bodies --- and that bodies are always about justice.  (Nathan D. Mitchell.  The Amen Corner "Communion:  The Power of Emptiness"  Worship 2004  November 78:6,  p 550.)

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Summary:  Sacrament

Eucharist:  The First and Greatest Sacrament

Fasten your seatbelts for a really quick trip through history, scripture, and theology because in these four short pages I want to explain the meaning of life!  But before we begin this overly ambitious adventure, please complete the following sentence:  “The Eucharist is ...”   

Typical of the responses I receive are:  “The Eucharist is Sunday Mass.” “The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Calvary.”  “The Eucharist is Holy Communion.”  These are all accurate statements.  But the issue we want to treat here is this:  Can you fit all the various correct responses together so that when you think about the Eucharist the multiple meanings of this mystery all come together into one unified, consistent vision?  That's what I want to help you accomplish in this article. 

God's Plan for Creation

Let's start at the beginning – the very beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.  Now, as we know, God didn't have to create anything.  God created freely out of love.  God who is the very essence of love (I John 4:16) planned from day one to share the love, harmony, communication, and unity of God's own inner Trinitarian life with the persons and things that God would create.  (After all, isn't that what love does?  It wants to propagate itself.) 

Just as an artist is always “embodied” in his or her work of art -- we can look at a painting and say “that's a Picasso” or “that's a Monet;” we hear a piece of music and say “that's Mozart” -- the Divine Artist is “embodied” in the beautiful universe we see around us.  And of all God's “works of art,” God's masterpiece is Jesus!  If God's inner Trinitarian life and love “spill over” into creation, nowhere is this more evident than in Jesus who is “the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Usually when we make something, we have some “plan” in mind.  For example, if you want to build a house and start to measure the land, dig the foundation, and pour the footings, and someone asks you, “What are you doing?” you wouldn't say, “Well, I don't know yet; I'm just pouring concrete and we'll see what happens.”  No, from the very beginning your mind's eye is on the finished project. “I'm building a house.”

Similarly, God had a plan for all of creation.  Little by little that plan was revealed in the history of God's people.  As we read in the Letter to the Hebrews:  “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son ... the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being.”  (Heb 1:1-3)  When the time was ripe, God's plan was revealed all its wonderful mystery in the birth, life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  The plan God had in mind from the very beginning was Jesus Christ!

Jesus Sacrament of God's Plan

When the inspired authors of the New Testament describe this amazing “plan” of God for the world, the word they use for “plan” (they were writing in Greek) is “mysterion” (“mystery” in English).  They tell how this mystery (this wondrous plan of God for the world) is “summed up” in Christ.  “I want [your] hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that [you] may have ... the knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ himself.  (Col. 2:2) 

When the Greek New Testament is translated into Latin, the Greek word “mysterion” was often translated by the Latin word “sacramentum” (“sacrament” in English).   Saint Augustin taught that a sacrament is a “visible sign of invisible Grace.”  Today, when we Catholics think of “sacraments” we usually think of “the seven sacraments” – but in Augustine's broader understanding of “sacrament” we see that of all the visible signs we have of “who God is” the best, the most complete, “visible sign” (sacrament) is Jesus himself.  For Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Col. 1:15)  In Jesus “we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.” (Mass of Christmas, Preface I)  It is in this sense that we can speak of Jesus himself as a “sacrament.”

At Mass we pray:  “You sent Jesus Christ your Son among us / as redeemer and Lord. / He was moved with compassion / for the poor and the powerless, / for the sick and the sinner; / he made himself neighbor to the oppressed. / By his words and actions he proclaimed to the world / that you care for us / as a father cares for his children.” (Mass for Various Needs, IV)  The love that is the inner Trinitarian life of God is revealed in everything that Jesus said and did, but nowhere is this love so clearly expressed as in his passion, death and resurrection. On the cross Jesus Christ empties himself to be in perfect union with the will of his Father through the Holy Spirit.

Perfect union of mind and heart! This is the goal, the purpose of sacrifice:  joyful union with God.  Nothing could separate Jesus from the Love of God, not even Death.    Victorious over death itself, Jesus “rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures.”  This is Christ's Paschal Victory! 

The events of these days we have come to call Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday are at the very heart of God's mysterious plan to embody his own Trinitarian love and harmony in creation.  This plan is perfectly accomplished in the self-offering of Jesus by which he reconciled all things to himself.

And while Jesus accomplished this reconciliation once and for all on the cross, his sacrifice is not something that only happened in the past – as is the case with ordinary past events that happened once and now are over and done with.  By means of the sacred meal which Jesus celebrated with his disciples before he died, we are enabled to participate in, and indeed to be mysteriously present to Christ's offering.  The Eucharist is the sacramental “door” though which we can personally enter into Christ's reconciling sacrifice.

Eucharist Makes Church

Each time we gather for the Lord's Supper we ask God to send the Holy Spirit to transform our bread and wine into that sacrament of reconciliation, communion, and love, which is Christ himself.  And that same Holy Spirit comes upon us who eat and drink and takes us up into the sacrifice of Christ.  “Lord, look upon this sacrifice which you have given your church; and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise.” (Eucharistic Prayer IV)

This Holy Spirit – the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of right judgment and courage, of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of wonder and awe which the prophet Isaiah said would be the hallmark of the Messiah (the Christ) – permeated and sealed the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is this same Spirit which Christ gives to us.  After his resurrection Jesus breathed on the disciples and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  (John 20:22, 21) 

We receive that Spirit in Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  Through these sacraments Christ commissions us to continue his work.  Christ, through the Holy Spirit has “given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18).  We are to free creation from slavery by working to improve the quality of life for all, to alleviate hunger and disease, injustice and conflict. We are to be ambassadors of reconciliation until that perfect union of Creator and creation which was planned by God from the beginning of the world and achieved by Christ on the cross extends to the ends of the earth.

We cannot accomplish this alone; we cannot accomplish this divine plan together with the help of other people, even thousands of other people. We only carry on the mission of Christ together with Christ.  When we celebrate the Eucharist we become Christ's Body, we become Church.  The Eucharist “makes the Church.”  (CCC 1396)  That is why the Church is so much more that merely the sum total of its members.  The Church itself is a sacrament, “a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.”  (Constitution on the Church, 1)  And that sacrament which is the Church is never more visible than when we are celebrating the Eucharist.  The Eucharist “is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” (Constitution on the Liturgy, 2)

One Unified Vision

I have friends who returned from a visit to Russia with one of those Russian nesting dolls (matryoshka).  I always enjoy watching the amazement on the faces of their grandchildren as they open the doll to find another slightly smaller doll inside, and another inside that, and so on until all ten are displayed on the table.  Perhaps this can serve as an image for an integrated vision of the Eucharist. 

Picture the dolls as being transparent so that you can see through the outer one to the next and the next and the next.  Look at the Eucharist and see not only the consecrated host but see your own mystery and the mystery of the Church, the Body of Christ.  See Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost.  See the mystery of Christ, the Sacrament of God, God's plan for the world, and the Trinitarian love of God's very self.  All of this is really present in the Eucharist.

When we view the Eucharist as the embodiment of the whole mysterious plan of God for the universe, then we can understand why the Eucharist is the first and greatest Sacrament, indeed, the “Sacrament of sacraments.”  (CCC, 1211). 

The Meaning of Life

Many years ago when I was a high school religion teacher, I used to tell the sophomores that in order to find the meaning of life you have to answer three questions: 1) Who is God? 2) Who am I? 3) What am I going to do about it [that is, questions 1 and 2]?  These are the three questions that will be on the final examination (I mean the very final examination when we stand before the throne of God in judgment).

The Eucharist is the key to the answers to these questions.  (1) In the Eucharist we experience the presence of Christ, who reveals to us who God is.  (2) In the Eucharist we are incorporated more and more into the Body of Christ, and in that Body we find our true identity. (3) And through the Eucharist the Holy Spirit empowers us, as Church, to continue the mission of Christ.  We become ambassadors of reconciliation, ministers of healing, sacraments of God's Love. 

In the Eucharist we find the meaning of life.  In the Eucharist we come into contact with the mysterious plan of God.  In the Eucharist we become Church.  This is why the Eucharist (as Pope John Paul II has proclaimed) is the “source and summit of Catholic life and mission.”

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To Think About

When is the best time for announcements? Are announcements at the end of eucharist an interruption?

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/20/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at