Article 106 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series

Paragraphs 1345-1355 Christmas is all about active participation in the lives of our families, friends and neighbors. We offer one another best wishes of the Christmas season as we prepare gifts, in imitation of the Magi who gave “gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” ( Mt 2:11) to the Christ Child. Even as we go about helping those less fortunate than ourselves, we realize that the highlight of Christmas is, or ought to be, our active participation in worshiping God at holy Mass; at Christ-Mass!

It is no coincidence that when we hear words or phrases like “active participation,” such phrases remind us of the Christ-mas(s) or the Sacred Liturgy, as well as the Second Vatican Council. Why? Because the call for “active participation” of the faithful became a hallmark of Vatican II in relationship to the Mass.

Readers may be surprised to learn, especially those like myself who were raised during or after Vatican II, that the term “active participation” was first coined by then-Pope, now St. Pius X some 60 years before the 1963 Vatican II document on the liturgy. Back in 1903, Pope Pius X published his instruction on sacred music to promote more active participation by the congregation in singing at Mass.

Twenty-five years later, in 1928, Pope Pius XI used the term “active participation” in one of his instructions to include the verbal responses by the congregation at Mass. The faithful should not be, he said, “merely detached and silent spectators, but filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the Liturgy” (Divini Cultus).

In 1947, Pope Pius XII, like Pope Pius XI before him, warned the faithful not to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice “in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming” (Mediator Dei).

In addition to the changes or shifts in the Liturgy, as documented in various Church documents and papal pronouncements, we know that most aspects of the Sacred Liturgy familiar to us can be traced back to the early Church. In the second century, for example, Saint Justin Martyr gave us “the basic lines of the order of the Eucharistic celebration” (ccc 1345).

The Catechism tells us that “the liturgy of the Eucharist unfolds according to a fundamental structure which has been preserved throughout the centuries down to our own day” (ccc 1346). This includes two specific parts of the Liturgy of the Mass (ccc 1346): – the Gathering, the Liturgy of the Word, with readings, homily and general intercessions; – the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with the presentation of the bread and wine, the consecratory thanksgiving, and communion.

A few paragraphs later we are told that the Liturgy of the Word includes “the writings of the prophets,” in the Old Testament, and “the memoirs of the apostles” (their letters and the Gospels), in the New Testament (ccc 1349). It continues: the Liturgy of the Eucharist includes “the presentation of the offerings (the Offertory). Then, sometimes in procession, the bread and wine are brought to the altar; they will be offered by the priest in the name of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice in which they will become his body and blood” (ccc 1350). Participants in the Mass “have also brought, along with the bread and wine for the Eucharist, gifts to share with those in need” (ccc 1351). Thus, the custom of the offertory collection or stewardship collection has likewise been part of the Eucharistic celebration from the very beginning.

Echoing Vatican II’s document on the Liturgy, the Catechism (ccc 1345) teaches: The liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist together form “one single act of worship” (Sacrosanctum concilium, 56).

We believe that Jesus, as high priest of the New Covenant, “presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration. It is in representing him that the bishop or priest acting ‘in the person of Christ the head’ [in persona Christi capitis] presides over the assembly” gathered for Mass (ccc 1348).

As presider of the assembly, the ordained bishop or priest, representing Christ the high priest, “speaks after the readings, receives the offerings, and says the Eucharistic Prayer” (ccc 1348). Every person present for the Mass is an active participant, each in his or her own way, “readers, those who bring up the offerings, those who give communion, and the whole people whose ‘Amen’ manifests their participation” (ccc 1348). Finally, this section of the Catechism concludes by highlighting a few additional aspects of the Eucharistic celebration: – Paragraph 1352 mentions the “anaphora” or the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass, “the heart and summit of the celebration,” when the offerings of bread and wine are consecrated as the body and blood of Christ.

- Paragraph 1353 cites the “epiclesis,” the moment when, through the priest who extends his hands over the simple gifts of bread and wine, “the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit … so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ…” At this moment, all participants in the Eucharistic celebration offer their prayers, works, difficulties and sufferings – mystically placing them on the paten and in the chalice so they may likewise be transformed into something beautiful for God.

- Paragraph 1354 discusses the “anamnesis” or the “memorial character of the Eucharist” when the Church calls to mind the Passion, resurrection, and glorious Second Coming of Jesus. In this prayer of the priest to God Our Father, the people of God celebrate the communion of the whole Church in heaven and on earth, the living and the dead, and our communion with the Pope, the bishops, and all the clergy.

- Paragraph 1355 concerns Holy Communion when the faithful (including the clergy) receive “the bread of heaven” and “the cup of salvation.” the body and blood of Christ.

Quoting again from Saint Justin Martyr in the second century, the final words in this section of the Catechism state: “we call this food Eucharist, and no one may take part in it unless he [or she] believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught.”

A Most Blessed Christmas to all our faithful readers!