When the Liturgy of the Word is done, we move to the table. Just as we prepare and partake a meal in the home of a friend, we 1) set the table, 2) say grace and 3) share the food (we eat and drink). At Mass these ritual actions are called 1) the Preparation of the Gifts, 2) the Eucharistic Prayer, 3) the Communion Rite.
After the prayers of the faithful, we sit and the collection takes place. In the early days of the church, people would bring whatever gift they had for the good of the community: bread and wine for the Mass, also other gifts too: animals, eggs, produce, cloth, whatever was their best gift to offer and was needed for the good of the people. In fact, to not bring anything for the community, or to bring something that wasn’t your best was considered an insult to the community! Nowadays, most faithful work for a salary, and the monetary gifts we place in the collection represent the gift of our lives and the gift of living out the faith in the world.
Preparation of the Gifts
Then the gifts of bread and wine are prepared for their consecration at the Eucharistic prayer. The prayer said over the bread and the wine (“Blessed are you, O Lord”) is said by the priest, where he gives thanks for the gifts of bread and wine, recalling that these gifts will soon become the Body and Blood of Christ. If there is no music or singing, the people respond “Blessed be God forever” to each of these prayers, joining our thanksgiving to that of the priest.
Before the prayer over the wine, the priest mixes a little bit of water into the wine. This was a very common practice in the early times to dilute a very strong wine that otherwise might be too strong to drink (in other words, to avoid people dropping like flies, drunk or knocked out brown). Today, this gesture has a spiritual significance. The priest says, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ (wine), who humbled himself to share in our humanity (water).” We pray that just as the water and wine become one, that we also become one with Christ.
Then the priest washes his hands. While this originally served as a practical cleansing (after all, handling stuff like chicken, duck, vegetables, and other offerings would leave behind grime and other nasties such as germs), the priest also prays silently a prayer for spiritual cleanliness, “Lord, wash
away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin.”
Then the faithful stand and the priest invites us to pray, saying, "Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father." We respond: "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, For the praise and glory of his name, For our good and the good of all his holy Church." After that, the priest prays the Prayer Over the Gifts, and we respond "Amen."
The Eucharistic Prayer
The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving, and the Eucharistic prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving and petition to God. During the Eucharistic prayer, through the action of the Holy Spirit and the words of the priest, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharistic prayer begins with a dialogue between the priest and the people. This dialogue reminds us to lift up our hearts to the Lord and to give thanks to God. The dialogue reminds us that we must be spiritually engaged in the Mass, not just physically present, as we go forward in the Mass. This dialogue leads into the preface of the Eucharistic prayer.
At the conclusion of the preface, we respond to the preface by singing or saying the “Holy, Holy, Holy” acclamation or Sanctus. After the “Holy, Holy, Holy” acclamation, we kneel, unless prevented from doing so because of a physical handicap or lack of space. Only the priest remains standing. Kneeling is a posture of adoration and deep reverence, and is a physical reminder for our minds to be focused on the action taking place at the altar. We have entered the most important part of the Mass: This is not a time for going to the restroom, fumbling with the Missal, or other distractions.
The priest then begin the Eucharistic prayer, of which he has several to choose from. While the words are different in the various Eucharistic Prayers, the underlying structure is the same. Each Eucharistic prayer acknowledges our need to give thanks to God, offers the bread and wine, asks God to send the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and the wine into the very presence of Christ, and intercedes on behalf of the church, the world, the poor, and those who have gone before us.
During the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest gives praise and thanks, and calls upon the Holy Spirit to change our gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. He then recalls the events of the Last Supper - the institution of the Eucharist. When the priest takes the bread and says, “This is my Body,” the bread truly becomes the Body of Jesus Christ. In the same way, the priest takes the wine and says, “This is the cup of my Blood,” and the wine truly becomes the Blood of Jesus Christ. After the consecration of both the bread and wine, the Body and Blood are elevated for the people to see. The servers ring the bells to signal the people that something, or rather, Someone, important is here. Some people were taught to never look up during the Eucharistic Prayer. Nonsense! It is certainly a great time to look and adore the Blessed Sacrament now present in our midst. Others were taught to say silently certain short prayers, like “My Lord and My God” during the elevations. While these aren’t required, they may help you stay focused on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.
After the consecration, the priest invites us to proclaim “the Mystery of Faith.” Here, we proclaim the Memorial Acclamation: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, / and profess your Resurrection / until you come again.” Note that there are other texts for the Memorial Acclamation from the Roman Missal which could also be used. The priest continues with the Eucharistic Prayer, and at the end, raises the consecrated bread and wine and offers a toast, a doxology, a prayer of glory to God in the name of Christ: “Through him, and with him, and in him, / O God, almighty Father, / in the unity of the Holy Spirit, / all glory and honor is yours, / for ever and ever.” Our “Amen” to this prayer acclaims our assent and participation in the entire Eucharistic Prayer. This "Amen" is also known as the "Great Amen" and should be sung or said with gusto and excitement.
The Communion Rite
We stand and prepare to eat and drink at the Lord’s Table with those words taught us by Jesus: “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Communion (the word means “union with”) is the sign and source of our reconciliation and union with God and with one another; so we make a gesture of union and forgiveness with those around us and offer them a sign of peace.
We then kneel, as the priest then shows us the Body of Christ and invites us to come to the table: “Behold the Lamb of God....Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” After the priest has partaken of the body and blood of Christ, the members of the assembly stand and approach the altar in procession. We approach the minister who gives us the Eucharistic bread with the words “The Body of Christ,” and we respond, “Amen.” Receiving the Body of Christ is a powerful time for us. We sing a communion song, raising our voices in joy and thanksgiving for this gift that we are receiving in the Lord. We also take time for silence, to listen to Jesus and what he wants for us.
After communion, the priest will consolidate any remaining Hosts and place them in the tabernacle. The Hosts are placed in the tabernacle for bringing communion to the sick, and for times of private adoration of the Blessed Sacrament whenever the church is open. The ciboria that contained the Hosts and the chalice containing the Precious Blood are then purified by the priest. Purifying the ciboria and chalice ensures that every particle and drop of the Body and Blood of Christ is reverently consumed before these vessels are washed. After the vessels are purified, there is a period of silence to reflect and give thanks for Christ’s gift of His Body and Blood. Then everyone stands while the priest prays the Prayer after Communion. This prayer is not a concluding prayer for the Mass! Instead, it is a prayer on our behalf that the communion we have received bring us spiritual strength and growth in holiness. At the end of the prayer, we all respond, “Amen.”