Eucharistic Thanksgiving

The word “Eucharist” itself literally means “thanksgiving.” So why does thanksgiving seem ever more removed from our celebration of the Eucharist?

The word “Eucharist” itself literally means “thanksgiving.” So why does thanksgiving seem ever more removed from our celebration of the Eucharist?

I’ve often criticized the way in which many priests celebrate Mass after Communion. The rubrics explicitly call for a period of thanksgiving after distribution of Communion and the cleansing of Communion vessels. In fact, that thanksgiving period is double: it has personal and communal dimensions. The personal dimension presupposes a period of silence and meditative reflection while the celebrant is in the chair. The communal dimension is the Postcommunion Prayer, which concludes the Communion Rite through an act of common thanksgiving.

How often are those distinct aspects of thanksgiving given short shrift?

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How long do many priests sit in the chair after Communion, silently giving thanks? Most act as if they just sat down on St. Lawrence’s gridiron. How long do many priests sit in the chair after Communion, silently giving thanks? Most act as if they just sat down on St. Lawrence’s gridiron.Tweet This

How long is that period silent? How often is its silence interrupted by (a) the fifteenth verse of the Communion hymn; (b) the organist’s personal solo; or (c) the equivalent of ecclesiastical elevator music, some instrumental notes for what? Ambience? To fill in the airwaves until the priest starts talking again? All of this conspires against recollective silence!

What about when what should be a period of personal thanksgiving turns into the celebrant’s deciding to speak—sometimes even sing!—his own meditations for grist?  It’s supposed to be the communicant’s thanksgiving, not yours.

Happily, most priests have learned not to be so utterly utilitarian and read announcements at that time because (a) everybody’s sitting down and (b) why make people get up and then wait again? Reading announcements at that juncture is wrong because it splits the Communion Rite, amputating the public act of thanksgiving—the Postcommunion Prayer—from everything that preceded it. Don’t do it! If you must read announcements (and ask yourself, then, why you have a bulletin) do it after the Postcommunion Prayer.

I’ve addressed these issues before, but I’ve recently been struck by another practice I think may erode Eucharistic thanksgiving: how we end most Sunday Masses.

In many American parishes, Sunday Mass usually ends with the priest processing through the nave of the church to the door, where he usually engages in some form of “meet-and-greet.” The altar servers—cross-bearer, candle-bearers, thurifer—generally seem to get a perfunctory dismissal at the door, beating a retreat up a side aisle or around the exterior of the church to the sacristy, where they engage in utilitarian things. They remove their vestments, put away items, put out candles, and go home.

Before the contemporary “meet-and-greet” format became prevalent, most priests left the altar at the end of Mass in a direct beeline to the sacristy. The very architecture of many churches still points to that older practice: sacristies were behind the altar, not in the rear of the church. That’s why the altar servers are rushing up side aisles or around the exterior of the church.

By proceeding directly to the sacristy, priest and altar server also had a chance to spend some time in thanksgiving. Granted, oftentimes the utilitarian overtook that: remove one’s vestments, lock up the chalice and ciboria, put away the sacramentary or set it up for the next Mass. But the very order of the process made it possible (a) for the priest himself first to make thanksgiving; (b) for him to provide that example to the altar servers; and (c) to train those altar servers in why thanksgiving is important.

Are those things happening today? And even if priests themselves are still finding time sometime after Mass to make their thanksgiving, how are they training the altar servers to do so? How does that translate to the lectors, who don’t always necessarily return to the sacristy after Mass? Given that Pope Francis seems to want to realize the now 50-year vision of Ministeria Quaedam to make a permanent lectorate an ordinary lay reality, and the Word is always tied to sacrament, how do we link Eucharistic thanksgiving to the practice of the seemingly increasing entourage of people around the altar during Sunday Mass?

I don’t have answers to these latter questions, and, honestly, it’s only recently struck me to ask these questions. But I do ask them, in part, to stimulate a discussion ahead of the “Eucharistic revival” of which the Catholic bishops of the United States tell us we ostensibly are in the midst.  

I don’t necessarily want to remove contact between priest and people on Sundays given the fact that, for the average Catholic, that’s typically the most contact they have with priests. But I also question, given the shape our celebratory praxis has taken, whether we have accentuated all sorts of other things, like the horizontal/social (meet-and-greet) and the utilitarian (abuse extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist to speed up Communion), to the detriment of the respect and veneration of what we profess to acknowledge as God’s Real Presence.  

A perennial temptation behind many “good ideas” (and I’m not saying which are good and which aren’t) is that they get thrown on top of all sorts of other things, practices getting multiplied without stopping to see how they fit together or affect each other. If we are concerned that our focus on the Real Presence is being diluted, don’t we need to examine everything we’re doing to see whether it’s contributory?


  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

tagged as: Church Eucharist Mass

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