Approaching the Throne of Grace: Before the Confession App Came Along (Part II)

Miriam Marston

Assistant Director of Theology Programs, Theological Institute for the New Evangelization

St. John’s Seminary, Boston, MA

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In my last post, I began with an appeal to open a new conversation on Confession, with a hope to rediscover the beauty of the sacrament so that we may learn what marvelous fruits it imparts to the human heart and society. But any proper rediscovery must start at the beginning, so I take some time this month to highlight some of the important history behind the sacramental rite.  The rite which emerged in the early Church looks quite different from what we know today, although it has always retained its essential elements (Rites of the Catholic Church, 523).  For a long time, the sacrament was celebrated only once during a lifetime, and completed only after an intense period of public penance.  Furthermore, this order of penitents was established primarily to deal with what the Church considered the three great sins:  murder, adultery, and apostasy.  The lengthy and public process was reformed only upon the arrival of the Irish monks in western Europe, who introduced private and repeatable penance.  By the 13th century, and the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, the Irish model had been widely accepted and the sacrament had become an entirely private affair.  This same Council asserted that Christians were expected to receive Holy Communion at least once a year; the reasonable pre-requisite being that the Christian also had to confess their grave sins at least once a year, in order to be in a proper state to receive Communion.  This has remained the norm ever since, although the last century or so has seen a shift toward more frequent confession.

The four parts of the sacrament each serve the ultimate purpose of penance, which is “that we should love God deeply and commit ourselves completely to him.” (Rites, 528)  The Rite defines the first part, contrition, as the “heart-felt sorrow and aversion for the sin committed along with the intention of sinning no more.” (Rites, 529)  It is a sorrow that is born out of a love for God, who is praised above all things, and who has made us for no other end than to walk with him. (Chris Aridas, Reconciliation: Celebrating God’s Healing Forgiveness, 49)  The confession “comes from the true knowledge of self before God”, and is always made “in the light of God’s mercy.” (Rites, 529)  The act of penance is oriented to the renewal of life and urges the penitent to forget the things that are behind. (Philippians 3:13)  And, finally, absolution marks the moment when Christ “places the lost sheep on his shoulders and brings them back into the sheepfold.” (Rites, 530)  Love, mercy, praise, thanksgiving, and renewal:  if the scene were to visibly reflect the operation of sanctifying grace occurring in this moment of history, then fireworks, feasting and confetti would be in order.  The sacrament of confession celebrates a return to our baptismal state.  It is this sense of celebration which has, unfortunately, been somewhat dampened over time.  The entire sacramental apparatus has been increasingly perceived as a means to bind the penitent to a written law, rather than a means to restore his or her relationship with God.

Today’s Catholics have inherited a tradition of confession which continues to be significantly affected by the shifts within the field of moral theology after St. Thomas Aquinas.  Where St. Thomas had given precedence to the virtues, some of his successors focused much more on the morality of obligation.  By the 17th century, the “manuals” of moral theology began to circulate, primarily in the seminaries, where young men were preparing to hear confessions.  The Jesuits, in particular, were enthusiastic about promoting a certain work called Institutiones morales, written by the Spanish Jesuit, Juan Azor (1536-1603).  The manual was intended to carry on Aquinas’ work, but, in its effort to be simpler and more accessible to both priests and lay people, it reduced moral theology to little more than following a specific and rigid set of precepts and laws.  It must be said that the manuals served an important function in providing a fundamental education of moral principles, but the:

primary reproach that one can make against the moralities of obligation…is that they have restricted considerably the domain of moral theology.  Because of its focus on obligations, moral theology has detached itself from everything that goes beyond legal imperatives: from the search for perfection, which is henceforth reserved to an elite; from the interior mystical movement of the heart so closely linked to love; and from spirituality in general.  The moral theology of the manuals lost sight of essential questions: the treatise on happiness and the destiny of the human person. (Servais Pinckaers, Morality: The Catholic View, 40)

In other words, this movement to a morality of obligation essentially deadened the sense of heavenly objectives in the general Catholic consciousness.  Consequently, the sacrament of confession ceased to be primarily a matter of striving for holiness, and became something of a sophisticated “checklist”, an attitude which has lasted well into our present century.  But one does not drop off sins like they would dirty laundry at the cleaners, and nor is it quite as simple as everything just coming clean in the wash.  That attitude hardly touches the edge of wonder, conversion and interior renewal.  To recover a genuine sense of the sacrament of reconciliation, one must go the way of recovering the true sense of all the sacraments.  Next time, we will see how one theologian by the name of Louis-Marie Chauvet travels this way, and begins the journey in the company of the disciples walking toward Emmaus.



The Drug of Immortality: Eucharistic Liturgy and Eschatological Hope (Part III)

Fr. Brian Daley, S.J., D. Phil.

Catherine F. Huisking Professor of Theology

University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Part I Part II

The little handbook of moral and spiritual instruction, organizational advice, and eschatological warning, that we know as the Didache (the full title is:  “The Teaching [Didache] of the Lord through the twelve Apostles for the Gentiles”) contains not only the instruction to “gather together, break bread, and give thanks” every week on the Lord’s day (14.1), but a well-developed model for praying at these gatherings.  The dating of this work has been estimated variously by scholars since its first publication in 1883; most, however, would agree it comes from the last few decades of the first century, perhaps forty years after Paul’s words to the Corinthians, and probably had its origin in Syria.  It represents, then, that same sense of living at the edge of a new creation, anticipated in Jesus’ death and resurrection, that we have already seen in Paul’s letters.   The final chapter of the work, in fact, calls on its readers to be prepared for the end, in terms borrowed from Jesus’ parable of the ten bridesmaids:

Watch over your life (the author writes):  do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming.  Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for all the time you have believed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time.[i]

The author then offers a small-scale vision of the coming end, sketched out in now-traditional Christian apocalyptic terms.  “In the last days, the false prophets and corrupters will abound;”[ii] hatred and conflict will dominate human society, and “the deceiver of the world” – the Antichrist – will pose as the Son of God and lead the broad population into deeper and deeper immorality.  And as the human race is caught up in “the fiery test,”[iii] “the signs of the truth” will finally also appear:  an opening in heaven, a trumpet, and then the resurrection of the faithful dead.[iv] “Then the world will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.”[v]

In the context of this expectation of the imminent end of history and the appearance of the risen Jesus, the Didache’s beautiful and familiar Eucharistic prayer, laid out in detail in the work, takes on a distinctive, clearly eschatological character.  The presider begins by giving thanks to God, as Father, for “the holy vine of David” – the Jewish heritage of promise represented in the cup – and for “life and knowledge” communicated through Jesus, represented in the broken bread: presumably since he had spoken of himself as the “bread of life.”  He prays then that like the bread, made of “grain once scattered on the hillsides,” the Church may be “gathered together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom”[vi]:  a vision of the reunification of scattered Israel in Jerusalem that many of the post-exilic prophets saw as the beginning of the final restoration of God’s people.   The texts gives no hint of a narrative recalling the institution of this characteristic Christian meal by Jesus – for reasons that remain debated by scholars – but, after alluding to the need for all to eat and drink these Eucharistic elements with reverence and care, the text resumes its solemn prayer of thanks, presumably with words that are meant to follow the sharing of the elements.  The community’s spokesperson praises the Father once again:  for allowing his holy name to dwell in their hearts; for “knowledge and faith and immortality” revealed through Jesus; for all the things of creation, including ordinary food and drink; but especially for the “spiritual food and drink” God has bestowed – presumably in the Eucharist – and for “eternal life through your servant.”[vii] This meal, formed of what began as ordinary bread and wine, nourishes its participants even now, in a spiritual rather than simply a material way, for life with the risen and glorified Jesus.  So the presider goes on to pray again for the Church, “which” – presumably because the congregation has just received the sacred gifts – we now hear “has been made holy”:  he prays that God may “deliver it from all evil,” protect it, and gather it “from the four winds… into your Kingdom.”[viii] The Eucharistic prayer then concludes:  “May grace come, and may this world pass away.  Hosanna to the God of David… Come, Lord – Maranatha – Amen!”[ix] The community mirrored in this rich, yet simple text is a community of faithful believers in the risen Jesus, living as part of faithful Israel, yet convinced that in Jesus it has received the beginnings of everlasting life.  So it prays in the Eucharistic liturgy that that life will come to fulfillment for all, when the risen Lord comes again.


[i]  Didache 16.1-2 (trans. Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers ; Grand Rapids:  Baker, 2007; 367).


[ii]  Ibid.  16.3 (Holmes 369).


[iii]  Ibid. 16.5


[iv]  The Didache here appears to accept the opinion of a number of Jewish apocalyptic authors, that the coming general resurrection will only include the just; those who have persisted in their sins will simply remain dead, or (in some texts) will be raised only to be finally annihilated.


[v]  Ibid. 16.7 (Holmes 369).


[vi]  Ibid. 9.1-4 (Holmes 359).


[vii]  Ibid. 10.3 (Holmes 359).


[viii]  Ibid. 10.5 (Holmes 361).


[ix]  Ibid. 10.6 (Holmes 361).


The Mass Broken Open: Part IV

A four-week reflection (Part I, Part II, Part III)

By Michael Morison, Jonathan Lewis, Fr. Patrick Michaels

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish

3 Oakdale Avenue

Mill Valley, CA 94941

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“The Mass Broken Open,” Week 4

Using Eucharistic Prayer II

After the Prayer Over the Gifts, read the following:

The Mass is made up of two parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with an introduction and a conclusion. Today we will be reflecting first on a part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Eucharistic Prayer, which begins with the Preface and the Holy, Holy and ends with the Great Amen. This section represents the “bless” portion of Jesus’ action “take, bless, break and give.” The Preface begins the prayer with thanksgiving, while the Holy, Holy is our acclamation or song of praise in union with heaven. After these, we kneel for the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer.

The Preface and Holy are prayed.

Before the Prayer continues, read the following:

At this point we kneel out of reverence for what is about to take place.

The Epiclesis:

The epiclesis is a word that means “invocation” or “calling down upon.” The priest extends his hands and asks the Holy Spirit to come down and transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. We are wasting no time in what is absolutely necessary: recognizing our dependence on God’s Spirit to accomplish what we cannot on our own.

Lord, you are holy indeed,

the fountain of all holiness.

Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy,

so that they may become for us

the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Read the following:

The Words of Institution:

…recall the actions and words of Jesus with his disciples at the Last Supper. We respond to his command to “do this in memory of me.” When the priest prays the words from the Last Supper, Jesus speaks to each of us through him. In this moment we sit at table with Jesus as he offers us the fullness of his life and love.

Before he was given up to death,

a death he freely accepted,

he took bread and gave you thanks.

He broke the bread,

gave it to his disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you, and eat it:

this is my body which will be given up for you.

When supper was ended, he took the cup.

Again he gave you thanks and praise,

gave the cup to his disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it:

this is the cup of my blood,

the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.

It will be shed for you and for all

so that sins may be forgiven.

Do this in memory of me.

Read the following:

The Memorial Acclamation:

…is our response to what we have witnessed. We acclaim with joy God’s work among us throughout history, in hope and expectation of the eternal union his love promises.

Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.


Read the following:

The Anamnesis:

The anamnesis is a word meaning “to remember.” As we remember Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, present to us on the altar, we offer our lives to God, purified by Christ’s sacrifice, and we join our lives to his. As Jesus is taken, blessed, broken and shared, so are we. In the context of the anamnesis a second epiclesis occurs: we call upon the Holy Spirit to unite us with the saints of heaven, the Church on earth, the living and the dead, all of whom have been called to share in the redemption of Christ. This is our union in the Body of Christ.

In memory of his death and resurrection,

we offer you, Father, this life-giving bread, this saving cup.

We thank you for counting us worthy

to stand in your presence and serve you.

May all of us who share in the body and

blood of Christ be brought together in

unity by the Holy Spirit.

Lord, remember your church throughout the world;

make us grow in love, with Benedict XVI, our pope,

«Bishop» our bishop, and all the

men and women who serve your church.

Remember our brothers and sisters

who have gone to their rest

in the hope of rising again;

bring them and all the departed

into the light of your presence.

Have mercy on us all;

make us worthy to share eternal life

with Mary, the virgin mother of God,

with the apostles, and with all the saints

who have done your will

throughout the ages.

May we praise you in union with them,

and give you glory through your Son, Jesus Christ.

Read the following:

The Doxology

…is a prayer proclaiming the honor and glory due God’s name through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus. The priest elevates the Body and Blood of Jesus as we respond with a resounding “Amen!” We are responding to all that has taken place and has been said in the Eucharistic Prayer, affirming in one united voice “Yes! So be it!”

Through him, with him, in him,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

all glory and honor is yours,

Almighty Father, for ever and ever.

R. Amen.


The Mass continues uninterrupted until the conclusion of the Prayer After Communion.

Then read the following:

The Concluding Rite

…represents a swift movement from the reception of Eucharist to being sent out into the world to bring the “Good News.” The announcements are made, as necessary, to inform people of the broader life of the community. Finally, the priest greets us one final time with “the Lord be with you,” which marks the last movement of our liturgy: The commissioning of all present to go forth to be the “Good News.” We are sealed with the final blessing of God in three persons, as we go forth, not on our own but with God.

The sending forth is so important that we call the whole prayer “the Mass,” derived from the phrase “Ite missa est,” meaning “Go! It is the dismissal” or “Go! You are sent forth.”

Intellectual property and written text 2011: Michael Morison, Jonathan Lewis, Fr. Patrick Michaels, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Mill Valley, CA.

The Drug of Immortality: Eucharistic Liturgy and Eschatological Hope (Part II)

Fr. Brian Daley, S.J., D. Phil.

Catherine F. Huisking Professor of Theology

University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Part I

The first hint that the Church’s gathering to break bread in Jesus’ memory bore with it the sense that it pointed to the future – to God’s plans for the future – as well as to the past,

comes in Paul’s description of the Eucharist, during the early 50s of our era, as a central dimension of the Christian community’s regular assembly.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapters 10 and 11, Paul is engaged in an impassioned, if sometimes rather circuitous exhortation to the Christians there to develop unity among themselves, by adhering conscientiously and steadily to what holds them together in faith.  This unity of faith and practice is expressed and realized in the Eucharistic meals they share together, which bind the members of the community into a single body, centered on the crucified and risen Christ.

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.[i]

This unity among the members of the Church is founded, Paul emphasizes, in their identification with Christ, whose death for our sakes they commemorate in this ritual meal.  So in the following chapter, he criticizes them for not celebrating the Lord’s supper together when they gather for a common meal, but simply eating the food each one has brought for his or her own family group.[ii] The Lord’s supper, as he calls it, is clearly something different from just a Church picnic:  it is a meal focused on him, on what he said and did “on the night when he was betrayed.”  So in verses 23-25 of chapter 11, Paul repeats for the Corinthians, in apparently formulaic terms close to those related in Luke’s Gospel, the already familiar story of Jesus’ giving of his body and blood, at that Last Supper with his followers, in the bread and the cup they share.  He concludes:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Whoever, therefore, eats this bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let everyone examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.[iii]

Paul reveals here, as has often been observed by commentators, his powerful sense of living, as a Christian disciple, in the end-time of history: the dramatic period in which God has already begun to fulfill his age-old promises to Abraham to restore and unify all the nations in the faith of Israel.  That end-time, understood in apocalyptic literature in a wide range of dramatic images and prophetic narratives, was for Paul and the first Christians a time of crisis:  of testing and final judgment for all people, of hope for the disciples of Jesus, who recognized the beginning of that crisis in Jesus’ passion and death, and the beginning of restoration – the fulfillment of creation and salvation – in his resurrection.  To be unified as his disciples by gathering together, eating bread and drinking wine, as he had done on the eve of his death, and by explicitly narrating the story of Jesus’ last supper and his death that followed, was to enter into that sacred, irreversible climax of history, to peer over the brink of a new age of life.  To eat and drink this food unworthily was to expose oneself to the harshest possibility of final judgment:  the desecration that begins in our forgetting what Jesus’ death has begun in the world.  Even the instructions for upright, unobtrusive, doggedly faithful moral living Paul gives here and elsewhere (see, for instance, I Thes 4.1-5.11; II Thes 1.5-2.12) seem to have been intended as urgent exhortations for Christian disciples living in the end-time – an age that began with Jesus’ death and would soon end in the resurrection of all, and in Jesus’ coming as judge.  So to eat and drink the Lord’s supper now, to see the heart of their own unity in what Jesus did the night before he died, was to make oneself conscious of this end-time:  to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”


[i]  I Cor 10.16-17.


[ii]  I Cor 11.20-21.

[iii]  I Cor 11.26-29.


Editorial Notes: 7/25-29

It’s fairly remarkable that the last week of July is upon us.  Although we had previously announced that we would cease publishing in August, we have decided to continue offering new material throughout the month, with just a week off for vacation (August 3-10).

This week, we’re beginning a series by Fr. Brian Daley (we meant to launch it last week but the server was down on Friday) on eschatology and the Eucharist.  We also will publish the second of a multi-part series on the sacrament of confession by Miriam Marston.  And finally, I will provide (by the end of the week), an article on St. Peter Damian’s The Book of the Lord Be With You.  This little reflection, last publishing in English in 1959, is a forgotten classic in mystagogical catechesis.

The Drug of Immortality: Eucharistic Liturgy and Eschatological Hope

Fr. Brian Daley, S.J., D. Phil.

Catherine F. Huisking Professor of Theology

University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

The following nine part series was a keynote address at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Conference, Formed for the Liturgy, Reformed by the Liturgy from June 20-22, 2011.  We are grateful to Fr. Daley for allowing us to publish it in Oblation.

When I was studying theology for ordination in Frankfurt, Germany, more years ago than I like to admit, we had a fine course on the Eucharist from a professor named Otto Semmelroth.  Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a liturgy course – and for that reason would probably have never passed muster in our department here at Notre Dame.  Fr. Semmelroth was a dogmatic (or what people today might call a “systematic”) theologian, and really specialized in ecclesiology; so he approached the traditional Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, as the Church’s defining act and as the source of Christ’s sacramental presence at the Church’s heart, in the larger perspective of how this ancient practice shows us what the Church itself is.  One detail from that course that has always stayed in my memory came from near the end of the semester, when Fr. Semmelroth was trying to tie all the themes together.  He was arguing that no single category from the long tradition of theological reflection can, by itself, identify the heart of the Eucharistic Mystery:  meal, celebration, sacrifice, sign, real presence, transubstantiation – all of them are part of what “happens” when we gather for Mass, but none is the whole explanation.  In fact, he confided, he couldn’t really think of a better thumbnail summary of what the Church understands the Eucharist to be than the famous, admiringly contemplative Magnificat antiphon that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, back in the 1260s, for vespers of his office of the feast we celebrate this week, Corpus Christi – the antiphon known in Latin as O sacrum convivium, and set to music by so many great composers since then:  “O sacred banquet, where Christ is consumed, where the memory of his Passion is brought to mind, where the mind is filled with grace, and where a sign is given us of the glory that is to come!”


As the defining, shaping revelation of what the Church is, the Eucharist needs all of these images, and more, to let us even begin to glimpse its meaning.

Yet I couldn’t help thinking, then and since, that of all these terse, pregnant phrases Aquinas so brilliantly marshals for us, it’s the final one, about the Eucharist as “a sign of future glory,” that I and most other modern Catholics tend to forget.  The Second Vatican Council, it is true, speaks in Sacrosanctum Concilium of the liturgy as pointing us, by the very reality of what it is, beyond the day-to-day preoccupations and issues of life in the world to “the future city which we seek;”[i] a few paragraphs later, it reminds us, with echoes of the Roman liturgy itself and the Pauline epistles:

In the liturgy on earth, we are sharing by foretaste in the heavenly one, which is celebrated in the holy city, Jerusalem:  the goal towards which we strive as pilgrims; the place where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand – the minister of the holy ones and of the true tabernacle.  With the whole host of the heavenly army we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope to have some share in their company.  We await as our savior our Lord Jesus Christ, until he who is our life appears, and we appear with him in glory.[ii]

The liturgy we celebrate day to day, in other words, is not just the distribution point for our daily bread, not just a prayer meeting or a Bible study or a chance to promote parish committees set up to change the world.  In its familiar phrases, liturgy by its very nature calls our attention to the direction of time, and to time’s goal beyond itself:  it reorients us towards eternity, to the life without end to which this life introduces us, to God who simply is.  And it reminds us that Christ, who stands at the heart of the Church and of each Eucharistic celebration, is not only invisibly present here in his Body, but is the one who will “come again in glory” and so himself bring time to its fulfillment.  We pray his prayer to the Father, we prepare to eat his flesh and drink his blood in sacramental celebration, expectantes beatam spem, et adventum Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi.[iii] By his very incarnation, and by inviting us to encounter him here in the Eucharist, he calls us to hope for a new mode of his presence, of parousia, that will never end.

This eschatological, even apocalyptic dimension of the Eucharistic liturgy is probably something most of have thought about, on and off – nodded to in recognition, as another “cool idea”.  I wonder, though – and I speak here of myself, first of all – how central a role it plays in the way we actually approach the Eucharist, experience it when we participate in the liturgical celebration, present it to others when we try to explain all the things that Catholics believe the Eucharist is.  Does it play a part in our liturgical “formation”?  Much of our energy and thought over the last 50 years, since Sacrosanctum Concilium was in the planning stages, has been concerned with making our form of worship more intelligible, more inclusive and moving, in the world of today: with making liturgy relevant to our age.  When I was in college in the late 50s, Catholics liked to draw a clear distinction between an “eschatological” spirituality – one focused on the life to come, on getting to heaven and even on fleeing the snares of this world – and an “incarnational” spirituality, which begins in our conviction that it is precisely in this world that God the Son has come to live with us, and that it is this world that needs to be redeemed.  Vatican II, in many ways, shifted the spiritual focus of Catholics from the eschaton to the incarnation, from the next world to this one.  That probably needed doing.  But the problem, I suspect, is that many of us have lost our sense of eschatology altogether:  of the limits and resistances, the transience, of the things that now concern us; of God’s promise of a different kind of life altogether in and through the risen Lord.  And one main reason, I suspect, why so many college-age Catholics today don’t find the present liturgy very engaging or spiritually nourishing is that in most places it has lost that dimension of eschatological hope:  of offering us something valuable beyond everyday blessings; of focusing our attention, together, on a gift of life and unity and joy that goes endlessly beyond the pressing issues, the tentative arrangements and signs we can construct in this present world, and that is the beginning of what we call the Kingdom of God.  If liturgy is meant to be formation (as our conference this week is stressing), perhaps we all need to be formed again in that hope.

I have no easy answer to the questions these thoughts raise, much less a way to reclaim some of this sense of the “blessed hope” that Aquinas and the Second Vatican Council thought so essential to a right understanding of what we are doing at Mass.  Instead – since I call myself a “historical theologian,” or more popularly a “patristic dude” – I wanted simply to present you with a scattered, almost impressionistic collection of voices from the great early tradition of the Church’s theology, who seem to have had that sense, perhaps more strongly than we do today, that the Eucharist is really preparing us now for eternal life, teaching us now how to journey and labor with eternal life and a transformed world in mind.  In other words, teaching us to hope.

[i] Sacrosanctum Concilium 2.

[ii]  Ibid. 8

[iii]  This phrase, from Titus 2.13, comes at the conclusion of the “embolism” prayer, spoken by the presider, that follows the congregation’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.


The Mass Broken Open: Part III

A four-week reflection

By Michael Morison, Jonathan Lewis, Fr. Patrick Michaels

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish

3 Oakdale Avenue

Mill Valley, CA 94941

“The Mass Broken Open,” Week 3

As people are seated after the Prayers of the Faithful, read the following:

The Mass is made up of two parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with an introduction and a conclusion. Today we will be reflecting on the Liturgy of the Eucharist which begins with the Preparation of the Gifts and continues through the Prayer After Communion. It is helpful to look at the Liturgy of the Eucharist as having four parts based on Jesus’ action at the Last Supper: Take, Bless, Break, Give. He took bread and wine, he blessed them, he broke the bread, and gave the bread and wine to his disciples. In the same way we take bread and wine, we bless them, we break the bread and it is given back to us transformed.

As the ushers begin to take up the collection, read the following:

The Preparation of the Gifts:

…comes from Jesus taking the bread and wine at the Last Supper, receiving them as gifts. We call the offering of bread and wine at Mass the Preparation of the Gifts because we are preparing to give ourselves to God as gifts. We offer ourselves along with the bread and wine, taken from among the community which are received by the priest, and offered to God on our behalf. As the bread and wine are taken, received and transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, so also are we.

Let us reflect:

– Am I ready to offer my life to God, no matter how imperfect, joined together with these gifts as they are brought forward?

After the priest has washed his hands read the following:

The Prayer Over the Gifts

…completes the preparation of the gifts, where the priest offers them to God on our behalf. He invites us to pray that our gifts will be received; we stand and respond by affirming our desire for that to be true. He then prays the prayer over the gifts of our lives and bread and wine that they might be transformed. We respond “Amen,” which means “yes, so be it.”

After the completion of the prayer read the following:

The Eucharistic Prayer

… echoes Jesus’ blessing of the bread and wine at the Last Supper, is also the moment of transformation for us. The prayer includes the Preface, the Holy, Holy, and the Eucharistic Prayer itself (which we will look at next week in greater detail).


The Preface

…and does not refer to an introduction but to a prayer proclaimed in the presence of the assembly. The priest, as the leader of the Church’s prayer, in order to continue, needs our voiced response. This invitation and dialogue ensures that we are all on the same page and continue together. He then proclaims our intent to give praise and thanks to God, with our whole hearts.

Let us reflect:

-Am I grateful for God’s work in my life?

-Am I ready to put that gratitude into words and actions?

The Preface is prayed.

Then read the following:

The Holy, Holy


We are not alone in our praise of God. Singing the Holy, Holy, Holy unites our voices with all who celebrate Mass throughout the world today and all who have gone before us and give praise to God in heaven. This song of praise reminds us that at Mass heaven touches earth and that we are entering into God’s time and God’s space. We kneel after the song in reverence of God’s presence among us and in awe for what is about to take place on the altar.

Let the Eucharistic Prayer continue, and after the Great Amen, read the following:

The Communion Rite

…begins at this point and continues through the Prayer After Communion. This part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist demonstrates how we must be joined to one another if we wish to be joined with Christ, and that joining only takes place as we allow ourselves to be broken open.

The Our Father


… is a prayer that echoes our relationship with God, our dependence on and confidence in the power of his love in our lives. It also expresses our recognition that we are broken (‘forgive us our trespasses’), and need to allow our hearts to be broken open (‘as we forgive those who trespass against us’) so that this relationship with God and the community can continue and grow.

Let us reflect:

-Have I listened to these words to consider what they mean for me?

The Our Father is prayed. Then read the following:

The Sign of Peace


…gives concrete evidence that we have allowed our hearts to be broken open, because we are able to take the peace that God’s love brings us and share it with those in the community around us.

Let us reflect:

-Can the peace, that God’s love for me creates, make me more open to the people around me?

Before the Lamb of God begins read the following:

The Fraction Rite, during the Lamb of God,

…is where the priests takes the large host and breaks it, representing that all the hosts are broken from one bread to be shared. Jesus allowed his own life to be broken open and given to us by dying on the cross. We can die to our pride and self-centeredness by breaking open our own lives so they can be shared with God and one another. Here we recognize that it is not our worthiness that allows us to receive Jesus, it is his desire to “come under our roof” to heal us with his love, joining us into one Body.


Let us reflect:

-Am I ready to be transformed, joined together with my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ?

Then after the dialogue, before the procession to communion begins, read the following:

The Communion Procession

…is Christ giving himself (in bread and wine, our lives, transformed) back to us, so that we might share in his life, or as it is said in John’s gospel “he might be one with us.” While we join in a song giving God praise for what he is doing in our lives through the Eucharist, we move in procession to receive his redeemed life which he gives to us. After all have received, we observe our third profound silence to take in all God has accomplished in us.

Let us reflect:

-Am I aware that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist and that I am called to carry his healing presence to all that I meet?

After silence has been observed, read the following:

The Prayer After Communion

…concludes the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The priest, united with us, gives voice to our gratitude for all God has done in our lives, and what He is preparing us for: salvation, perfect union in God’s love.

The Prayer After Communion is prayed. Then read the following:

Next week we will look at the Eucharistic Prayer and the Concluding Rites.

Intellectual property and written text 2011: Michael Morison, Jonathan Lewis, Fr. Patrick Michaels, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Mill Valley, CA.


Editorial Notes: 7/18-22


We’ll be out of the office this week on Monday and Wednesday.  But, we’ll be back providing new content beginning on Friday.  We’ll have the third part of our series on catechesis through the Mass.  In addition, we’ll begin our first of a seven part series by Fr. Brian Daley, SJ of the University of Notre Dame on the Eucharist as the medicine of immortality.

A Sermon: The Ascension of the Lord

Fr. Kevin Grove, C.S.C.

Parochial Vicar, Christ the King Parish, South Bend, IN



The disciples must have been so stunned when they looked up into the sky and watched Christ being carried away on a cloud.  There they were, staring at this most amazing sight and two angels in white appear to say “Why are you staring?”  And we can be too quick to jump to the conclusion, because they had work to do, spreading the Good News to all of the nations.  Yes, that’s true.  But if we are too quick to start in on the doing—even doing for the sake of Jesus–, then we can miss the being, the glimpse of who they were that the disciples received when they looked up into the sky.

But this glimpsing takes a bit of explanation.  A lot of people in this congregation, myself included, wear some sort of help for their vision—glasses, contact lenses, or even the long term correction of laser surgery.  Try to recall your very first pair of glasses and what it was like to look around you.  For me it happened in the third grade.  I went home from school and explained that I couldn’t read the math problems on the chalkboard.  My family took me to the eye doctor and he fitted me for my first pair of glasses.  Looking back through photos, I marvel at how goofy they really looked, but what I will never forget is the car ride home from the eye doctor.  I noticed for the first time in my life that paved roads were visibly made of individual rocks all compacted and bound together.  The trees at the side of the road had individual leaves and were no longer amorphous blotches of green.  And I could see tall blades of grass bending in the wind.  I didn’t know all that I had missed.  The entire world was new to me, presented to my eyes and my mind with a detail and clarity that changed the way I would look at things for the rest of my life.  I just wanted to keep looking at things, discovering anew the glory of creation.

The Ascension, for the disciples, was one of these moments of clarity and vision.  They saw something that they had never seen before, and it wasn’t just because it was their Lord riding on a cloud.  They knew that Jesus had become a human being just like them, that he had skin that bled when it was cut, that he laughed, and ate, and drank, and loved.  And they were all amazed when he had been raised from the dead, because no human had done that before.  But in the Ascension he adds something new.  He takes humanity with him to heaven.  In Jesus’ rising up to heaven on that cloud, he took not only his own, resurrected human body.  He took what would be the disciples’; he what will be mine and yours.  Human skin went up to heaven, not just as a soul but as a body too.

And for the first time in their lives, the disciples saw their own bodies—their own humanity–as they really are in God’s eyes—worth eternity, beautiful, and groaning for resurrection.  That is a spectacular moment of clarity.  No wonder they were looking up at the sky.  They had just seen Christ’s body go to heaven; and they knew he would do the same for them on the last day.

It is only once the disciples had this perspective, and had the chance to keep looking up into the sky reveling in their new vision, that the two angels appear to them and tell them to get going.  It was only their new vision in Christ that prepared them to receive the Holy Spirit and lead others to discover the glory of their persons in the eyes of God.  They needed their own spiritual vision correction and Christ on a cloud had provided it.

This is the feast when we not only commit ourselves to going out and doing works in the name of our Ascended Lord, today is when we look up at the sky and realize that in watching our Lord rise up in human flesh, that our very vision of salvation is being changed.  We can see more; we can see further; we can see visible signs of invisible grace.  And with that vision, most importantly we can see ourselves as in God’s eyes we are.  We can see that Christ can take your earthly body and mine and not only raise them from the dead, but lift them up to him in glory.  Why?  Because his earthly body is already there.

Jesus will send us out the church doors again this day to do His work in the world through the week, but before we go, let’s not forget our time here at the divine eye doctor.  Christ is ascending to glory before us; he’s changing our vision, too.