FESTIVE CELEBRATIONS OF THE EUCHARIST
SOME IDEAS AND SUGGESTIONS
A festive celebration gives the opportunity to celebrate the Mass in a fuller and more attractive way than usual. People can be more lavish in their use of ritual symbols than is often possible in the normal daily or weekly celebrations.
In particular, many celebrating communities may wish to highlight the growth in lay ministry, as well as the nature of the event being celebrated, drawing on symbols of the life and history of the celebrating community. Some of the suggestions which follow will touch on one or other of these particular aspects of the celebration and will be highlighted with the symbol*
A Welcoming Atmosphere
*Suitable decoration of the Church in advance.
The table with the Eucharistic gifts of Bread and Wine is ready in a prominent place, perhaps highlighted from before Mass with one or two lighting candles.
The only items on the altar are the cloth, candles, and the Book of Gospels [if it is not going to be carried in the entrance procession]. If possible, the microphone should be hidden out of view at this point.
*If possible, a cantor might briefly rehearse the congregation before Mass and encourage them to sing throughout the celebration.
*A pre-ceremony welcome and introduction may be given by a lay person if appropriate. This introduction should be brief and should not prevent the Opening Procession of the Mass from beginning right on time. A request could be made asking people make sure that mobile phones and pagers are switched off, so as not to disturb the prayer. If there are a lot of people present who are from outside the parish, an explanation of how and where communion will be distibuted can be useful. Always have these words scripted and keep them as brief as possible.
Some quiet instrumental music may help to set a prayerful atmosphere before the celebration begins.
*At Parish Jubilee celebrations or other special occasions, particular aspects of the life of the community can be highlighted by having appropriate symbols carried during the Entrance Procession. Ideally, these symbols would be so well chosen and used that they would need no explanation. One could however have a brief explanation beforehand or, better still, it could be printed in the participation booklet.
*Particular lay ministries can be highlighted by giving the ministers a place in the procession. Both this and the previous suggestion will also reduce the ‘clerical’ emphasis. For the same reason, if there is a large number of concelebrating priests, it may be helpful for most of them to take their places before the main procession begins [N.B.: if possible, the seating of concelebrants needs to be such that they will not block the view of the altar when they stand for the Eucharistic Prayer.]
The procession should move through the main body of the church instead of being confined to the area around the sanctuary.
The altar may be incensed [pay attention to Smoke alarms near where thuribles are lit/kept/used. If possible, they should be switched off before major ceremonies].
*If the celebration falls on a Sunday the festive nature of the celebration can be highlighted by replacing the penitential rite with a Blessing and Sprinkling of Water, which is accompanied by an appropriate song. If desired, two lay people can solemnly carry forward a large urn of water for the blessing.
The singing of the Gloria should normally be such that the congregation may easily join in, as with all the main Eucharistic Acclamations, which rightly belong to the people.
Liturgy of the Word
The readings should be clearly marked in the Lectionaries and well rehearsed by those proclaiming the Word. The Responsorial Psalm is best sung, again in a way in which the whole congregation can participate.
*The procalmation of the Gospel should be highlighted with a procession with the book, accompanied by candles and incense (often called the Gospel Square). The Book of the Gospels is placed on the altar at the beginning of Mass so as to highlight the essential unity between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Now it is carried in procession from the altar to the ambo. The procession is accompanied by the singing of the gospel acclamation (the song accompanies the movement. Co-ordination between the choir director/organist and the movement will be required to make sure the Acclamation is not over long before the Book of the Gospels has reached the Ambo). The Gospel is normally read by a deacon [or priest] other than the principal celebrant.
*The Prayer of the Faithful is introduced and concluded by the presiding priest. The intentions are read by a lay reader. Having more than two readers read the intentions can make this into a very fussy part of the Mass and can distract the main body of the Faithful from entering into the prayer which is essentially theirs.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
*The altar is prepared by a number of ministers: the corporal(s), missal and purificator(s) are placed on the altar. This ‘dressing’ of the altar is best seen as a preparation for and different to the procession with the gifts. Some people favour keeping the altar completely bare until this moment and have a more elaborate ‘dressing’ with the cloth and candles.
*The principal items in the procession of gifts are the bread and wine [and if there are other items, the bread and wine should come last in the procession]. It is preferable to bring forward all the ciboria and chalices needed in this procession rather than ‘sneaking’ some of them in from the side. This has the added advantage of allowing a larger number of people to participate in the procession. Other donations of money or gifts for those in need are also appropriate. Such real gifts are preferable to items which are brought forward, only to be taken back again at the end of Mass [symbols of this kind have a better place in the Entrance Procession]. Gifts that are well chosen and effectively carried should not need any explanation. If however some explanation is necessary, it may be included in the participation booklet, or it could be read out just before the procession takes place. It is best to avoid reading a commentary during the procession, as the procession is ideally accompanied by song or an instrumental solo.
The gifts and altar may be incensed
The music chosen for the peoples Eucharistic acclamations: the Holy, Holy, the Memorial Acclamation and the Great Amen should be such that the congregation may easily join in the singing.
It is good for the presiding priest to hold the gifts high for the full duration of the singing of the Great Amen thereby acknowledging the importance of the people’s response (the rubrics of the Roman Missal clearly state that the Eucharistic gifts are “lifted up” at the Doxology, whereas they are shown to the people after the Institution Narrative). The symbolism of the one bread and the one cup is highlighted if only one paten and chalice are elevated at this point.
The Communion Rite:
The sign of peace is an important moment in the Liturgy, but even more important is the Breaking of the Bread [think of it: this was the name given to the whole Mass in the Acts of the Apostles!]; thus it is preferable from a musical point of view to have singing for the breaking of the bread [the Lamb of God] rather than for the sign of peace.
*Ideally the host being broken should be large enough for the priest to share it with at least some of the congregation. Unless some effort is made to perform this sign with some generosity, its meaning and importance will be easily overlooked.
*Even when there is a large number of priests present, the smooth running of the communion arrangements often necessitates the involvement of Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in the planning and the ministry on the day. They are often more familiar with the best distribution points. They receive the host after the presider has received. It is also suitable for them to receive from the chalice. They can also assist the priests greatly with the discreet and orderly purification of the scared vessels.
*Especially at large celebrations, if the Eucharist is not being distributed under both species, arrange to have a chalice (in which no fermentum or particle of the host has been placed nor dipped) distributed by a designated Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion so that people with a gluten intolerance can come to communion. Under no circumstances should a chalice be left on an altar or side altar for people to take for themselves. A Sacrament is always given to us by another person.
Sometimes it is appropriate for various people to be thanked after the Post Communion prayer and before the Final Blessing. This is also an appropriate moment of inserting other elements that are not normally part of the liturgy, eg., presentation of awards, scrolls, reading of reflections and other additions. These extra items are always inserted after the Prayer after Communion. To do so earlier intrudes them into Communion Rite, which has a very particular focus.
After the Final Blessing, which may take the form of a Solemn Blessing, the Final Procession is accompanied by a congregational hymn, or by music of an instrumental or choral nature – this might give the choir or the instrumentalists the chance to show what they are capable of.
Something to be considered throughout, and at every celebration, is the role of silence in the liturgy. Various opportunities present themselves: during the penitential rite, before the opening prayer, after the readings and the homily, brief pauses during the Eucharistic Prayer (for example: after the epiclesis) and especially before the prayer after communion. While it can be helpful to take some opportunities for comments, introductions, etc, one needs to be careful not to overload the celebration with words.
More silence, less words.
If you are using words, use only authentic words.
Active participation through singing.