Q: Archbishop J, how do we achieve full, active, and conscious participation in the Eucharist?
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy by the Second Vatican Council states: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (14).
The text then gives the reason for this level of participation: “Christian people, ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ (1 Pet 2:9; cf. 2:4- 5) have a right and duty by reason of their baptism” (14).
I have asked many lay people what this means for them. One person I asked had developed a way of participation that corresponded to each part of the Mass. I asked her to write about her experience for me.
Some months after Sandra wrote her reflection she died from cancer. Her answer holds the community with the mystical, the Body of Christ (us) with the Eucharistic presence, True devotion with mission.
As you read her account, focus on the dynamic of each part of the Mass and her devotion to Christ as she attempts to live full, conscious and active participation in liturgy.
While reading Sandra’s account, reflect on the way you participate: your preparation, your consciousness during Mass, your attention to the spiritual dynamic that is happening during the celebration. And ask yourself what focus or devotion you need to achieve full, conscious and active participation each time you come to the Eucharist.
The Holy Eucharist—Companion on the Journey
O Sacrament Most Holy
O Sacrament Divine
All Praise and all Thanksgiving
Be every moment Thine (Anon)
Holy Mass has always been meaningful in my life, by God’s grace. My life is and has always been filled with blessings and graces. One of the reasons for this flow of gratitude has been the gift of being able to attend Mass daily and to receive Jesus—the gift of all gifts, regularly, along with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
We are taught that Holy Mass is the source and summit of our Catholic faith, and I am so thankful to be able to participate in such a Divine action. Of course, my journey with cancer has made this participation even more meaningful and as I approach the inevitable, every word and action becomes more focused.
I begin my attendance at Mass recalling that, as part of God’s family, I am invited to participate in the most important event that has ever taken place in the history of the world.
This is not a time for looking back at what happened over two thousand years ago; I stand in the Eternal Now. I call on the Holy Spirit to fill me anew and to help me to enter into the moment—a moment when Heaven comes down to join Earth and all the angels and saints are present. I acknowledge my many sins and ask pardon. As we sit to listen to the Word, I pray for the grace to be attentive as I am often prone to distraction.
The ‘Alleluia’ that welcomes the Gospel lights a small flame in my heart, as I bless myself: “Living Word of God transform my mind, my lips and my heart.”
The Gospel is story time for me. Jesus speaks to me personally, as well as to all of us sitting at His feet. I pray that His word will fall on fertile soil and bear, somewhere and sometime, fruit that will last. Come Holy Spirit!
The Homily, as we all know, can hold our attention or not, but I truly believe that much of my faith development and understanding of God’s Word have come from listening to homilies, some more memorable than others.
The Communion Rite begins and the flame in my heart grows stronger. As I join with my brothers and sisters present, I offer my all, and when the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to transform the gifts, I know that this is one of the greatest outpourings of the Holy Spirit ever. What a moment of power! It is at this time that I often place an urgent need or desire before the Lord, the God of transformation.
The flame burns brightly now as I anticipate the priest’s prayer over the gifts of bread and wine in the words of Jesus Himself. The words are no longer those of the priest but the words of Jesus, the Word of God.
I keep in my mind the image of the blood-soaked wood of the cross with Jesus hanging upon it and, at the prayer of Consecration of the Bread, I give thanks for the moment when Jesus opened for us the gates of Heaven and won for us eternal life.
At the prayer of the Consecration of the Wine, I give thanks because this moment made life worth living and death worth dying. My Lord and my God! What an act of perfect love!
If I could grasp the mystery of what is happening at that moment on the altar before me, I would not be able to remain standing or kneeling but would seek to remove myself from His Holy Presence. What a wonder! God Himself is present, offering us His very being. The angels and saints bow down before Him: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord!”.
As we come to the distribution of the Eucharist and I offer my personal thanksgiving, I become aware that through this tiny morsel of bread, I have become part of the Body of Christ, that I am joined to my brothers and sisters and we are one loaf, one Body.
I pray again to the Holy Spirit for the grace to become as Eucharist, broken and shared, to love each and every one and to try to carry our burdens together.
As we end the celebration, I have a deep sense of gratitude and joy. Who am I that I should receive the Body and Blood of my God? Much too much for my simple mind to grasp. All glory and praise to Him who left us the gift of Himself to be our companion on the journey.
The spiritual dynamics
Note the movement from gratitude to contrition, then to gratitude and union with God and with the Body of Christ (us). The final dynamic is mission: “I pray again to the Holy Spirit for the grace to become as Eucharist, broken and shared, to love each and every one, and to try to carry our burdens together.”
The ending is gratitude and joy. These are true spiritual dynamics that have been tested by time. This is what the inner dynamic of a spiritual encounter looks like. It moves us from contrition, through gratitude then compassion to mission and then joy.
We are invited to full, conscious, and active participation in the Liturgy. This is achieved by a habit of spiritual devotion that centre on the different parts of the Mass and their dynamics.
Develop little devotions that focus on each part of the Mass and its spiritual dynamic. The devotion must take you deeper into the sacred mystery and the spiritual work that is being accomplished.
After writing this and before Sandra died, she wrote a little book reflecting on her experience. This reflection is included. Sandra Armstrong, Come My Beloved: Reflections on My Life-Ending Diagnosis, Suffering and Surrender to God’s Call, Amazon, 2023.