“Lavabo…manus meas”- I will wash my hands (Ps.26:6)
At the side of the altar the priest washes his hands before offering the sacrificial gifts of bread and wine which will soon be transubstantiated into Christ’s very body and blood – Christ who will soon dwell within us. Jesus, the one, true High Priest, will accomplish this through the priest’s hands. The washing of his hands expressly indicates the purity of heart required before a person draws near to God’s presence in the sanctuary – and before those hands will touch, offer and dispense that most holy, spotless and sacrificial victim which the laity will receive in Holy Communion. He utters the words of David (Ps.51:2)
“Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity;
and cleanse me from my sin.”
He will “wash his hands in innocence” (Ps.26:6) and return to the centre of the altar with his hands (those privileged hands within which the intention and power and activity of a man are concentrated) purified in such a way as to publicly symbolise the “interior purification and cleansing of the whole man from all that sullies heart and soul.”
In the Old Testament (Ex.29:4) priests had to undergo ritual washings before they could perform their duties in the sanctuary; and still yet, in some versions of the Jewish Seder service, all present are invited to wash their hands as part of the ritual preparation before partaking of the Passover meal; and in our Roman Catholic rite this washing of the hands has now taken on the added “symbolic” meaning of one’s baptismal purification by water which, when consciously presented, can encourage the congregation to appreciate the connection between the purifying waters of Baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist. And there is a further suggestion made by Bishop Fulton Sheen that the holy water font from which people bless themselves as they enter through the chapel door recalls, anticipates and reflects the baptismal purification of both laity and priest when, after his ordained hands are washed, he makes this appeal:
“Pray, brothers and sisters,
that my sacrifice and yours
may be acceptable to God,
the almighty Father.”
The people respond with a prayer that recognises how both sacrifices (Christ’s and their own) will be united and offered to the Father through the “pure” hands of the celebrant. The faithful at Mass offer the sacrifice “not only by the hands of the priest but also, to a certain extent, in union with him.” (Pious XII).
(Based on – Sheen, Sri, Smolarski, GIRM, Liturgical Calendar)
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
In the light of the New Missal translation and ‘The General Instruction of the Roman Missal’, Extraordinary Ministers are now asked to remain in their seats with the rest of the congregation and not to approach the altar until the Priest (and Deacon) has received from the chalice and the Communion Antiphon is said. Only when the Priest (or Deacon) has turned to open the tabernacle should the Eucharistic Ministers leave their seats and approach the altar. Also, the symbolic washing of the fingers before the distribution of Communion is no longer required.
If Extraordinary Ministers have finished distributing Communion before the Priest has finished, they should remain at the foot of the altar steps, facing the altar, until the Priest ascends the altar steps and has returned to the centre of the altar. After Communion they are asked to continue the practice of using the finger-bowls to ensure that particles of the sacred hosts do not remain on their hands.
Fraction and Commingling
What is happening on the altar at Mass?
At the Last Supper Jesus took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to his disciples to eat saying it was his ‘body’. He then took the chalice and changed its contents into his ‘blood’ and again gave it to them to drink. Body and blood were divided and consecrated and transubstantiated separately at that first Mass as they still are during every Mass since. This separation of the body and blood in the sacrifice of the Mass re-enacts the execution on Calvary when Christ, on our behalf, died a bloodless corpse. From his lanced side his blood was spilt and his body was broken as was the bread broken on the Thursday night before his execution on Good Friday. Consequently when the first Christians gathered for worship in their homes they gathered to ‘break bread’ (Acts 2:46, 20:7) – their description of the ‘Last Supper’ which was actualised on Calvary the following day and is every day at Mass. The bread is still being broken on the altar when the consecrated host is broken into two halves over the paten at the ‘Fraction’ – a visible action of ‘immense significance’ which emphasises that the body of Jesus was broken by the suffering and death inflicted on him by our sins during his bitter passion. The priest lays one half of the broken host on the paten and from the other half breaks off a small portion which he drops into the chalice containing the blood of Christ. The body and blood are re-united, ‘commingled’ in a liturgical action which acknowledges that the Christ present on the altar is the risen Christ - resurrected from the tomb and the one who promises each one of us our own resurrection from the grave. So – while the ‘Fraction and Commingling’ are taking place the congregation prays to the resurrected ‘Lamb of God’ for mercy and peace as the priest quietly prays, ‘May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.’
(Adapted from Sheen, Smolarski, General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Sri)
Knock – What did the apparition mean?
Catholics should realise that the apparition at Knock in 1979 reflected and proclaims what happens each day on the altar at Mass. What the witnesses saw is represented in the sculptured images and figures in the apparition chapel – all of which signify what congregations at Mass should understand and be aware of much more consciously.
The statue of our Holy Mother Mary conveys an attitude of prayerful intercession on behalf of all her children in the Church and indeed all the world at large. On Mary’s right stands the Patron of the Universal Church, St. Joseph, husband and Father of the Holy Family, steadily reminding us of our need to protect the Sacrament of Marriage and family life in these days when marriage and family are being socially fragmented and redefined by political correctness. On Mary’s left is St. John holding open the book of his Gospel in which Mary’s son is described as ‘the lamb of God’.
Behind these three figures at the centre of the church gable, is a young lamb standing on an altar supporting a large cross. In the New Testament, cross, altar and lamb symbolise Christ’s sacrifice of his life which occurred on the altar of the cross at the very same time as the Passover lambs of the Old Testament liturgy were being sacrificed in the Temple by the priests of the Jews in Jerusalem. The apparition at Knock is the only authenticated apparition in the world in which Jesus appears as a lamb. We are asked to realise that what the witnesses saw at Knock in 1879 we see in the actual liturgical re-enactment at every Mass where Jesus continues to offer himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Finally, the angels sculpted on the gable and encircling the altar in Knock are a reminder of the constant movement of life in the Holy Spirit around all our altars and congregations as we celebrate Christ’s crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension, his enthronement as do Mary, St. Joseph and St. John to this very day. The apparition at Knock, our Marian shrine in Ireland, must also and absolutely be understood to be an apparition celebrating the Mass; it is a liturgical apparition of global significance.
(Adapted from the writings of Mary Kearns and Scott Hahn)
Taking up the gifts of bread and wine
For the ancient Israelites ‘bread’ was basic food seen as necessary to sustain life. Similarly ‘wine’ was not just a side beverage but a common part of daily meals. In addition to being used in the Passover feasts of Jesus’ day (and in the Last Supper) bread and wine were offered up regularly in Israel’s sacrificial rites. Since there was a close connection between the sacrificial gifts and the individual giver, offering bread and wine symbolised the offering of one’s self.
The same is true with the presentation of our gifts in the Mass today. In the bread and wine we offer back to God the gifts of His created world and the result of our labours – all being described as the ‘fruit of the earth and the work of human hands.’ The offerings of bread and wine represent our giving of our entire lives to God in our desire to share in the divinity of Christ as he shared in our humanity. The gifts of bread and wine carried to the priest and brought by him to the Altar will become for us the Body and Blood of Christ – ‘the bread of life’ and ‘our spiritual drink.’ Consequently when we receive Communion, the gifts that we first offered are being returned to us with a substantially different life and nature after their Consecration on the Altar.
(Adapted from the General Instructions of the Roman Missal and ‘The Mass’ by Dr. Sri)