In today’s post on Dies Domini (here in its entirety) Pope John Paul II continues an interesting look at Sunday Mass. Let’s have a consideration for the communal character of the Mass:
44. The communal character of the Eucharist emerges in a special way when it is seen as the Easter banquet, in which Christ himself becomes our nourishment. In fact, “for this purpose Christ entrusted to the Church this sacrifice: so that the faithful might share in it, both spiritually, in faith and charity, and sacramentally, in the banquet of Holy Communion. Sharing in the Lord’s Supper is always communion with Christ, who offers himself for us in sacrifice to the Father”.(Eucharisticum Mysterium 3b; cf. Mediator Dei)
John Paul II has drawn back to 1967 and 1947 respectively for this reference. The notion of Eucharist as a banquet of nourishment is not a novel idea. Pope Pius XII promoted it in his mid-20th century encyclical.
This is why the Church recommends that the faithful receive communion when they take part in the Eucharist, provided that they are properly disposed and, if aware of grave sin, have received God’s pardon in the Sacrament of Reconciliation,(Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1385; cf. also Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the Reception of Eucharistic Communion by Divorced and Remarried Faithful (14 September 1994): AAS 86 (1994), 974-979) in the spirit of what Saint Paul writes to the community at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-32). Obviously, the invitation to Eucharistic communion is more insistent in the case of Mass on Sundays and holy days.
It’s not referenced here, but Pope Pius X’s encouragement of frequent reception of the Sacrament is likely the single biggest element of Catholic liturgical reform of the past eleven to twelve decades. Often overlooked is the accompanying insistence, reinforced by our recently sainted pope, that people strive for holiness in doing so.
It is also important to be ever mindful that communion with Christ is deeply tied to communion with our brothers and sisters. The Sunday Eucharistic gathering is an experience of brotherhood, which the celebration should demonstrate clearly, while ever respecting the nature of the liturgical action.
This is prescient:
All this will be helped by gestures of welcome and by the tone of prayer, alert to the needs of all in the community.
The more recent emphasis on an evangelical Catholicism aligns with this. To be sure, Vatican II already laid the groundwork, and Pope Paul VI certainly didn’t shy away from the topic. But the renewed emphasis on welcome and on an improved tone shows people are finally catching up with the bishops of Rome.
The sign of peace — in the Roman Rite significantly placed before Eucharistic communion — is a particularly expressive gesture which the faithful are invited to make as a manifestation of the People of God’s acceptance of all that has been accomplished in the celebration(Cf. Innocent I, Epist. 25, 1 to Decentius of Gubbio: PL 20, 553) and of the commitment to mutual love which is made in sharing the one bread, with the demanding words of Christ in mind: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24).
These are demanding words–a teaching which will likely scare people away. But we need to listen. And more, we need to enact this. Only then when the local Church is fully reconstituted will we have reason to celebrate a truly Easter banquet.