or "concluding rite"
(as it is called in the
Roman Missal) is relatively
short and simple:
a final "The Lord be with you," a blessing,
the dismissal and (often) a hymn
sending us forth.
The final prayer of the meal sharing
is the Prayer After Communion. This is
not a prayer of thanksgiving—the
eucharistic prayer itself is our thanksgiving
prayer—but rather a prayer of transition.
While the words of the prayer
vary according to the season and feast,
this prayer always asks the Father to
help us who have celebrated these
eucharistic mysteries to turn toward
the world and to live in such a way
that we become worthy of the gifts we
have just received. The prayer moves us
into a journey.
I once heard a Scripture scholar
describe the Bible as a story of oases and
journeys. During his lecture he recalled
leading a group of student archaeologists
through the Egyptian desert.
Everyone was hot, sweaty and tired.
Each time they would come upon an
oasis, everyone would run and take off
their shoes and soak their feet in the
water. "We wanted to stay there forever,"
he said. "But you can't stay at the
oasis; you have to get up and continue
the journey through the desert if you
are going to arrive at the site of the
next archaeological dig."
The first three parts of the Eucharist
(gathering, storytelling and meal sharing)
are something of an "oasis" on
our Christian journey. The commissioning
rites help us transition from
the oasis of worship to our journey,
our life in the world.
At Mass we have gathered with other
like-minded believers and seekers. We
have laid down our burdens at the door
of the church so that we might be
encouraged by the stories of God's constant
love. We have shared our sacred
meal and experienced a foretaste of the
heavenly banquet. And now that we are
refreshed, encouraged and strengthened
for the journey ahead, it is time to
dry off our feet and put on our shoes—just as those student archaeologists did.
Taking up the burdens we left at the
church door, we return to our daily
For many Catholics, the Eucharist—and especially the time of intimate
prayer after Holy Communion—is like
an oasis in the desert. I know that often
I would like to stay there forever and
relish the closeness of the Lord! Perhaps
that is why, at Jesus' Transfiguration,
Peter said, "Lord, it is good for us
to be here. This is really great! Let's
make some tents and stay here forever!"
(see Matthew 17:1-8).
But the Gospels tell us that Jesus had
a different idea. Peter, James and John
had to go back down the mountain
and continue their journey. At the foot
of the mountain, there were sick people
waiting to be healed, devils to be
cast out, doubts and fears to be dispelled.
Like Peter, James and John, we have
to leave the oasis of Communion and
continue down the mountain on our Christian journey. We, too, will find
people who need to be healed, evils to
be eradicated and fearful people waiting
for our encouragement and support.
In the story of the two disciples
returning home to Emmaus (see Luke
24:13-35), we see that a stranger gathers
them together. They tell their story
and recall the Scriptures. They invite the
stranger into their home and, while
sharing their meal, they "recognize him
in the breaking of the bread."
This must have been an "oasis
moment" for the two disciples! They
had thought that Jesus was dead and
buried. Now here he is at table with
them, sharing word and bread and life!
How they must have wanted that
moment to last forever!
But again Jesus has a different idea,
and what happens next is very important
for understanding the Eucharist.
Jesus doesn't permit them just to sit
there, resting in the joy of his presence.
"Their eyes were opened and they
recognized him, but he vanished from
their sight" (Luke 24:31). He vanished
from their sight! And the disciples
immediately get up from the table
and—even though the hour is late—they dash back to Jerusalem to tell the
others: "He has risen!"
The fourth "movement" of the
Eucharist is the commissioning. Like
the disciples at Emmaus, we are sent
forth from the Eucharist to announce
to the world the Good News that we
have experienced in the gathered
assembly, in the Word proclaimed and
in the breaking of the Bread. We are
commissioned—sent forth on mission—by our encounter with the Risen
Lord at the Eucharist. We are to continue
each day the biblical theme of
oasis and journey.
The return to the world is an essential
element of the Eucharist. In the
eucharistic prayer, the Church asks the
Holy Spirit for a twofold transformation:
that 1) the Holy Spirit change the
bread and wine into the Body and
Blood of Christ, and 2) the Holy Spirit
change us—we who eat and drink—into the body and blood of Christ.
In Eucharistic Prayer II, for example,
we ask God to make the bread and
wine "holy by the power of your Spirit,
that they may become the Body and
Blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus
Christ." And then we pray, "Grant that
we, who are nourished by his Body and
Blood, may be filled with his Holy
Spirit, and become one Body, one Spirit
The eucharistic prayer asks that the
Holy Spirit change not only the bread
and wine but also us! We are commissioned
to go forth to continue the mission
of Christ to reconcile all things
to his Father.
Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist,
we must be attentive to both parts of
this prayer. In the transformed bread
and wine, we recognize Christ, risen
from the dead, truly God and truly human, and we recognize Christ's body,
the Church—particularly the poor, the
marginalized and those whom the
world considers worthless. "For," as Paul
writes, "all who eat and drink without
discerning the body [the Church], eat
and drink judgment against themselves"
(1 Corinthians 11:29). (All Scripture
quotes in this article are from the New
Revised Standard Version.)
One day, St. John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.) was preaching on the parable
of the sheep and the goats (Matthew
25:31-46). St. John told his congregation:
"Do you wish to honor the body
of Christ? Do not ignore him when he
is naked. Do not pay him homage in
the temple [here at Mass] clad in silk,
only then to neglect him outside where
he is cold and ill-clad. He who said,
'This is my body,' is the same who said:
'You saw me hungry and you gave me
no food,' and 'Whatever you did to
the least of my brothers you did also to
me'....What good is it if the Eucharistic
table is overloaded with golden chalices
when your brother is dying of hunger?
Start by satisfying his hunger and then
with what is left you may adorn the
altar as well" (Gospel of St. Matthew,
homily 50:3-4; available from www.newadvent.org/fathers).
When I was a high school student at
our Franciscan seminary in Cincinnati,
there was a fire across town at the diocesan
seminary. The diocesan seminarians
came and lived with us while their
building was being repaired. They
brought with them the crucifix that
had hung in their now-ruined chapel.
Fire had destroyed the arms of the corpus,
and the charred, armless image
was displayed with the inscription, "I
have no arms but yours!"
That crucifix made a lasting impression
on me and my understanding of
the Eucharist. At each Eucharist, we
invoke the Holy Spirit to make our
arms be Christ's arms reaching out to
heal and to comfort, that our words
be Christ's words of love and forgiveness,
and that our hands be Christ's
hands lifting up the fallen, the discouraged
and the outcast. This reaching
out to the poor is at the heart of our
Christian journey. "The Eucharist commits
us to the poor," says the Catechism
of the Catholic Church (#1397).
At the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
on Holy Thursday, we wash feet.
Washing feet! Isn't this a rather strange
way to begin these holiest of days? Perhaps
the Church proposes this ritual
foot-washing to remind us that the
Eucharist is a sacrament of humble
It is wonderful to be inspired by
beautiful vestments and monstrances of
gold and silver. It is helpful to understand
theological and liturgical terms.
But we can never forget that the
Eucharist transforms us into the body
of Christ so that we might think and act
This transformation is at the heart of
the mystery. In the Gospel reading on
Holy Thursday, Jesus commands: "Do
you know what I have done to you?
You call me Teacher and Lord—and
you are right, for that is what I am. So
if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed
your feet, you also ought to wash one
another's feet. For I have set you an
example, that you also should do as I
have done to you" (John 13:12-15).
Humble service to one another! The
Eucharist forms us for this mission and
strengthens us to realize it. This is why
Pope John Paul II (echoing Vatican II's
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church)
called the Eucharist "the source and
summit" of Catholic life and mission.
We frequently use the terms Eucharist and Mass to describe the same act of
worship. What's in a name? Which is
the better term?
I'll admit that Mass is the word that
comes most readily to my lips. It is a lot
shorter and easier to say and the word
Catholics use most often: going to Mass,
missing Mass, saying Mass, the time
for Mass and so on.
I am often asked where the name
comes from. During the centuries when
the Roman-rite Mass was celebrated in
Latin, the last thing the people heard
the priest say was "Ite, missa est." Probably
Mass comes from "Ite, missa est."
Ite means "Go!" And missa is a technical
term for a formal dismissal.
Often what we hear last is what sticks
in our memory. (In the parking lot after
Mass, people are more likely to remember
the final hymn than the homily
or Gospel!) This dismissal (missa) became
the name for the entire action.
The word Eucharist comes from the Greek verb eucharistein, "to give
thanks." The verb form of this word
appears in each biblical account of the
first Eucharist. For example, "Then he
took a cup, and after giving thanks he
gave it to them, and all of them drank
from it" (Mark 14:23).
There are some good reasons to call
the sacrament and its celebration the
Eucharist instead of the Mass. First of all,
this term echoes Jesus' words at the
Last Supper. Once we know what the
term eucharist means, each time we
hear it we will be reminded of our primary
response both to this sacrament
and to the very gift of life itself, namely,
The Eucharist is the primary and
most important response that a person
can give for the gift of life. It ritually
expresses our primary stance before
God, namely, gratitude.
The word Mass refers to only one
aspect of the Eucharist, the dismissal;
Eucharist is a much more inclusive term.
The Baltimore Catechism, which even
today shapes our understanding of
Eucharist, treated the Eucharist in three
separate chapters: "The Holy Eucharist,"
"The Sacrifice of the Mass" and "Holy
Communion." The unfortunate result
of this pedagogical choice is that many
Catholics, even today, think of the
Eucharist in these three separate categories:
1) the real presence in the consecrated
host, 2) Mass, and 3) receiving
Communion. The New Testament invites
us to a more unified vision of the
When I was doing research for my
doctoral thesis on liturgical law, I studied
the development of Vatican II's
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. As
that text evolved from preliminary
drafts into its final form, the title of its
Chapter Two, which in the early drafts
was called "On the Mass," was changed
in the final text to "On the Most Sacred
Mystery of the Eucharist."
In documents of this importance—a dogmatic constitution of an ecumenical
council—no change, no matter how
small, is insignificant. If the authors
of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy preferred Eucharist to Mass, that fact
alone would be reason enough for us to
prefer the term Eucharist.
When I think of those archaeology students
with their feet in the cooling
waters of the oasis, I know that they
don't really want to stay there forever.
As peaceful and refreshing as the oasis
may be, an archaeologist's real thrill is
doing archaeology, and for that, one
must leave the oasis and journey on to
the next dig.
The same is true with our Christian
life. As enjoyable and refreshing as it
may be to bask in the presence of the
Eucharist, the real thrill and excitement
of Christian life are found in the
journey, the mission: "Go into all the
world and proclaim the good news to
the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). This
is the message of the commissioning
rite at the Eucharist.
Our basic, daily pilgrimage is following
Jesus. And if I had to put into one sentence
all that Jesus said and did, all
that he tells us about God, I believe
that sentence would be, "God is love,
and those who abide in love abide in
God, and God abides in them" (1 John
4:16). When we come up out of the
waters of Baptism and "follow Jesus,"
that does not mean that we have to
become carpenters, fishermen or charismatic
preachers. "Following Jesus"
means that we have to become great
Years ago, when I was a music student,
I would spend hour after hour at
the piano, learning the two pieces
required for the recital at the end of the
semester. And after weeks of practice, I
could play those two pieces rather well.
But just because I could play two songs
didn't mean that I was an artist at the
piano! A real artist isn't limited to a
couple of pieces. Artists can play whatever
music is set before them. Artists
can play all the pieces.
Similarly, to be good at the art of
loving, we have to be able to love all
the pieces. You have to be able to love
everyone—even as God loves everyone
and invites people of every race, language
and way of life to the great
eucharistic banquet of the Kingdom.
Every Eucharist sends us forth to love
all the people whom God loves.
This text is adapted from Chapter
Eight and the Conclusion of Father
Richstatter's latest book, The Mass: A
Guided Tour (St. Anthony Messenger
Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., earned a doctorate in
sacramental theology from the Institut Catholique of
Paris and serves on the faculty of St. Meinrad Seminary
and School of Theology. He is a popular writer
and speaker at parish and diocesan gatherings.