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Grains of sand on a beach, very close up.

GIRM Thanksgiving

In this gift [of the Eucharist] Jesus Christ entrusted to his Church the perennial making present of the paschal mystery. With it he brought about a mysterious ‘oneness in time’ between that Triduum and the passage of the centuries.

John Paul II - Ecclesia de Eucharistia

When the Church was being persecuted by the Romans, Christians often gathered to celebrate the Eucharist in the tombs of those who had been martyred. It was safer there. The priest would celebrate Mass on the tomb itself and would therefore lead the prayers with his back to the people. In the ninth century, under the emperor Charlemagne, it was thought that altars should be surrounded by magnificent decoration. They were therefore built against highly ornamented walls, and the priest again prayed with his back to the people. Obviously this contrasts quite strongly with the Last Supper where Jesus and the Apostles reclined on sofas around a table. However, when the priest had his back to the people an important aspect of the Mass was emphasised: that we all offer Christ’s sacrifice of the Cross with him.

     We still, today, offer Christ’s sacrifice to the Father with the priest. We do so in the context of a shared meal just as Jesus did, and we offer the same sacrifice that he did. The same sacrifice that countless generations of Christians before us who have offered. As John Paul II says, there is a mysterious oneness that reaches back across the centuries to that original event. During the Eucharistic Prayer and its Preface everyone except the priest is silent for most of the time. However, it is most definitely a dialogue and the voices of the people are vital. They sing with the Angels and the Saints in the Holy, Holy. They acclaim the central mysteries of our faith in the Memorial Acclamation. Then, finally, with the Great Amen they affirm the prayer said by the priest on behalf of all present.

The profound importance of the assembly’s ratification and acclamation can be difficult to bring about in the one short word Amen. It should be sung or at least spoken very loudly.

Celebrating the Mass, 199

     The General Instruction says that these three parts of the Thanksgiving should be sung if at all possible. As Saint Augustine says, ‘singing is for one who loves’. Perhaps for many that singing is done very quietly or even mentally. But it should reflect the fact that during the Eucharistic Prayer we are also offering ourselves to God. Not our money, but our very selves.

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