Bishop Conlon 03

Commentary on the Communion Rite Within Mass






A Commentary for the Diocese of Steubenville

by Bishop R. Daniel Conlon

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal is the handbook for the celebration of Mass.  It provides directions for the arrangement of the church, the roles of the various liturgical ministers, and the use of Scripture, prayers and music.  It tells the members of the assembly what is expected of them.  All of this is intended to help assure that the Eucharist is celebrated with reverence and in good order.  We are, after all, offering with Christ his perfect sacrifice to the Father.


 The first edition of the General Instruction was issued in 1970, the second edition in 1975 and the third edition in 2001.  On March 17, 2003 the official English translation of the third edition was approved and is now the norm for the United States and other English-speaking countries.


There are no major changes in the third edition, but there are quite a few minor ones.  We in the Diocese of Steubenville will move toward full implementation of the third edition of the General Instruction by Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004.  Our parish priests will take the lead in explaining and scheduling the implementation of the changes.  The goodwill and cooperation of all parishioners will be important. 


In addition to implementing the changes, I see this as an opportunity for us to assess the quality of our Masses and their faithfulness to the norms that have been provided for the common good.  The third edition of the General Instruction comes more than twenty-five years after the second edition and almost forty years after the Second Vatican Council.  How are we doing?



The most noticeable changes in the third edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal occur during the Communion Rite.  This portion of Mass begins with the Lord’s Prayer and concludes with the Prayer after Communion.  Receiving Holy Communion is the most sacred moment for Catholics that is repeated on a regular basis.  It strengthens our communion with Christ Jesus.  It strengthens our communion with the Church and makes the Church the Body of Christ.  It empowers and nourishes us for the journey of faith and for our mission in the world.


Because it is communion, it demands that we view it as a common action, not primarily as a private act.  Personal belief and devotion are essential prerequisites for receiving Communion.  But in the celebration of the rite itself, the proper sense of unity is fulfilled through external words and gestures that are the same for everyone.


Since the Communion Rite is especially sacred, and since there are a number of noticeable changes in it, I have chosen to provide this commentary for the Church of Steubenville.  This document also allows me to clarify some matters for our local church.  I invite you to study it, discuss it and reflect prayerfully on it, so that we might celebrate the Eucharist in an ever more fitting manner and experience the wonderful gift of the Lord’s Body and Blood in an ever more fruitful way.


I.  The Lord’s Prayer


The Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father, was given to us by the Lord himself and forms the first of three rites that prepare for Communion itself.  This prayer contains many of the themes proper to our understanding of Communion:  a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, our daily bread, a means for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation within the Church, and a bulwark against temptation.


The Lord’s Prayer may be sung or recited, and the simple chant version is highly recommended.  The General Instruction does not call for any particular position for the people’s hands during the Lord’s Prayer; thus, people should not feel pressured to join hands with their neighbors.


II.  The Rite of Peace


The Rite of Peace is the second preparatory rite.  It is a sign of reconciliation among the members of the Body of Christ, who should “have nothing against your brother” before an encounter with the Prince of Peace. 


The greeting that is spoken is a simple “The peace of Christ be with you”; other comments extraneous to the moment are not appropriate.  The gesture of peace is ordinarily a handshake or embrace (or perhaps a kiss among family members); waving to people is not appropriate.  The sign of peace should be shared with those close by and should not entail moving around the church; ordinarily the celebrant and other ministers in the sanctuary should not greet people in the main part of the church.  The Rite of Peace should not be overly long or boisterous.  There is to be no singing during the rite; specifically, any music which accompanies the Lord’s Prayer or the Fraction should not overlap the Rite of Peace.


III.  The Fraction


As a sign that Jesus allowed his body to be broken for our salvation, we divide the consecrated bread and wine in the final rite preparatory to Communion.  The Fraction also reminds us that in the very act of the breaking of his body, the Lord made us, many though we are, one with him and each other.


The Lamb of God is, as a rule, sung; if the Fraction will take a while, a sung version that will extend for the entire rite is preferred. 

The division of the sacred species must be done at the altar and not at a side table, and only the priest or deacon may do it.  Other vessels that are needed should be brought to the altar during the Fraction by the deacon and/or servers.


Ordinarily, all the bread needed for a particular Mass is to be consecrated at that Mass.  If bringing already consecrated hosts from the tabernacle is necessary on occasion, the ciborium is brought to the altar by the celebrant, the deacon or another priest; if the tabernacle is a great distance from the altar, and there is no deacon or other priest, an extraordinary minister may do this.


Communion from the chalice is an option for the lay members of the assembly that is highly recommended, whenever practical.  Care should be taken to assure that enough wine is consecrated for all who wish to receive the Precious Blood, and the chalice should not be limited to some special group of communicants, such as the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.


The use of extraordinary ministers should be judicious, no more than necessary but enough for the orderly distribution of Communion.  These ministers should wear clothes that reflect the dignity of their office. 


Everyone, except the celebrant, kneels at the conclusion of the Lamb of God, unless prevented by physical condition.

IV.  Communion


Truly, we are not worthy to see, touch or consume the very Lord of Life.  But Jesus taught that without eating his Body and drinking his Blood we cannot have life.  This is a paradox:  the presence of God before whom we should shrink in awe and yet made readily available to us through ordinary signs.  This paradox calls for a careful balance of attitude:  reverence mixed with joy; adoration mixed with familiarity; sense of unworthiness mixed with the peace of the forgiven sinner.  Each potential communicant, at each Mass, must attend to his or her attitude before approaching Communion.  Yes, we are invited enthusiastically by our Shepherd to eat and drink. Yet no one should accept the invitation casually and certainly not in a state of serious sin.  Another important way to prepare for Communion is to fast from food for at least an hour beforehand.


Singing during the Communion procession, and by the whole community, should be the norm, at least at Sunday Eucharist.  It begins as the celebrant receives Communion and continues until the Communion procession ends.  (Creativity and planning can allow for the musicians to receive Communion without a major lull in the singing.)

As soon as the celebrant has drunk from the chalice, the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should walk to positions behind or next to the altar and at some distance from it.  Those who will minister a chalice should pick up a purificator from the side table.  The priest(s) and deacon(s) give Communion to all the extraordinary ministers and then hand them the appropriate vessels.  The ministers are to bow before receiving Communion.


As people approach the Communion station, they should prepare to receive the Lord by maintaining an attitude of reverence and concentration.  Participation in the singing can assist with this while also supporting Communion as primarily a communal act.

Standing is the correct posture for receiving Communion, although no one who kneels is to be refused Communion or publicly reprimanded.  When standing directly in front of the Communion minister, both for the Body and the Blood, the communicant is to bow his or her head as a sign of reverence for the true presence of Christ.  The Communion minister should wait until the bow is complete before saying, “The Body [or Blood] of Christ”.  The response is a strong “Amen”.  If the chalice is offered, communicants are encouraged to receive the Precious Blood.  Extraordinary ministers may not offer Communion by intinction (dipping the host into the chalice), nor may communicants do this for themselves.


The General Instruction makes no provision for the Communion minister to give non-communicants a blessing.  While this practice may be appealing to some people, it is often confusing and runs the risk of diminishing the unique importance of Communion.  Therefore, it is to be discouraged.  (A better alternative would be to ask the priest for a blessing upon entering or leaving the church.)


Provision should be made for musicians and handicapped persons to receive Communion easily and reverently.  If Communion must be brought to these people, only the designated ministers may do so.  Hosts for people who are unable to attend Mass should be placed in pyxes on the altar during the Fraction and then presented to the ministers by the celebrant before the Prayer after Communion, with little or no commentary.  The ministers should remain standing in the sanctuary until they join the procession out of church.


Upon returning to their seats, the communicants should kneel or sit.  They should continue singing and then pray silently when the hymn concludes.  Everyone should sit when the celebrant sits.  A song or instrumental piece after Communion is permitted, but any semblance of a performance is to be avoided.


After the distribution of Communion, any remaining hosts are brought to the altar, where the celebrant consumes them, if possible, or gathers them into a ciborium.  He or the deacon or another priest carries the ciborium to the tabernacle; if the tabernacle is a great distance from the altar, and there is no deacon or other priest, an extraordinary minister may do this.  Any remaining Precious Blood is likewise to be brought to the altar for the celebrant to consume; if there is too much Precious Blood for him to consume, the ministers carry the chalices to the side table and reverently consume the Precious Blood there.  The celebrant may purify the empty vessels at the altar or side table immediately after Communion, or he may do this after Mass; if there are many vessels, extraordinary ministers may purify them reverently after Mass.  If the vessels are not purified immediately after Communion, they are to be covered with a corporal on the side table.


The Communion Rite concludes with the Prayer after Communion, with everyone standing.  Brief announcements, if truly necessary, may be made by the celebrant or another person after the Prayer after Communion but not from the ambo.



As with all the sacraments, we may not see or feel any change when the Eucharist is over.  But in faith we know that we as individuals and as the Church are transformed more completely into the image of Christ.  And we are more prepared to bring that image of Christ into the world outside.  As the bishops of the Second Vatican Council said, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.  It is a great blessing to be part of it.


October 28, 2003

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude,

Apostles and participants in the first Communion Rite



“When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and ‘the work of our redemption is carried out.’ This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there.”


                                                Pope John Paul II

Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia