Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: No. 84 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that the priest, before he himself receives Communion, “prepares himself by a prayer, said quietly, that he may fruitfully receive Christ’s Body and Blood. The faithful do the same, praying silently.” There are two options for this private prayer of the priest in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite. Usually, however, this prayer of the priest is said while the faithful are reciting or singing the Agnus Dei, and then immediately after this chant has concluded the priest makes the invitation: “Behold, the Lamb of God ….” It is clear that according to the GIRM, the priest must wait until this chant is concluded before (deinde) saying his private prayer, as the faithful remain in silence. This is a specific opportunity, at a powerful moment of the Liturgy, to experience the sacred silence called for by the Council. It must logically be the case that this and other private prayers to be said by the priest should be said at a similar pace to the prayers said out loud in the Mass. Experience, however, seems to indicate that priests often say these prayers more quickly, perhaps out of a sense that the faithful do not want to be kept waiting. — L.B., Port Elizabeth, South Africa
A: I agree with our reader as to the importance of silence within the Mass, and that following this rubric effectively offers a very good opening for silent prayer at a most solemn moment of the Roman Rite. As we shall see, however, prolonged moments of silence are not common during the celebration of Mass.
It might be objected that the interpretation regarding the obligation to wait until the Lamb of God is over before reciting the prayer cannot be upheld in all cases.
For example, in describing communion of priests during a concelebration, the GIRM says:
“240. During the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), the Deacons or some of the concelebrants may help the principal celebrant to break the hosts for the Communion of both the concelebrants and the people.
“241. After the commingling, the principal celebrant alone, with hands joined, quietly says either the prayer Domine Iesu Christe, Fili Dei vivi (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God) or the prayer Perceptio Corporis et Sanguinis tui (May the receiving of your Body and Blood).
“242. Once the prayer for Communion has been said, the principal celebrant genuflects and steps back a little. Then one after another the concelebrants come to the middle of the altar, genuflect, and reverently take the Body of Christ from the altar. Then holding it in their right hand, with the left hand placed underneath, they return to their places. However, the concelebrants may remain in their places and take the Body of Christ from the paten held for them by the principal celebrant or held by one or more of the concelebrants passing in front of them, or they may do so by handing the paten one to another, and so to the last of them.”
At least, in this case, the norms say that the priest initiates the prayer after the commingling. However, since GIRM No. 242 foresees the distribution of hosts to the concelebrants only after completing the prayer, a period of silence ensues which would substitute, so to speak, the one foreseen when a priest celebrates alone.
However, this is not always the case. In many large concelebrations, the Agnus Dei can take up the entire time of distribution of Communion to the priests. In other circumstances, the concelebrants follow another legitimate option and do not begin to receive Communion until after the principal celebrant has begun to administer Communion to the lay faithful, and so the period of silence that would arise by following GIRM No. 242 basically disappears.
I think that this difference during concelebration has probably led to the fact that many priests now habitually begin the preparatory prayer for communion immediately after the commingling.
I doubt very much if anything can be done to change this. First of all, it could well be argued that both practices are in fact legitimate, and second, priests, like most people, tend to follow set patterns in our regular activities.
This question does, however, help us to remember the indication of GIRM No. 84 to offer the people an opportunity for silent preparation for communion.
As GIRM No. 45 points out:
“Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times. Its nature, however, depends on the moment when it occurs in the different parts of the celebration. For in the Penitential Act and again after the invitation to pray, individuals recollect themselves; whereas after a reading or after the Homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise God in their hearts and pray to him.
“Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner.”
Although this text does not mention specifically the moment of silence in preparation for communion, my opinion is that it is not so much a meditation but a moment of recollection as to what is about to occur in receiving Communion. The attitudes expressed in the two prayers offered to the priest in the missal can serve as inspiration for everybody’s prayer during this silent preparation.
The duration of this silent preparation is essentially that of the duration of the prayers said in an unhurried manner. Since they are brief prayers, this would probably be somewhere between 20 and 25 seconds for most people.
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