13 August 2009

Thanksgiving after the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

“When a person has eaten some delicious food at a banquet, he is careful not to take anything bitter in his mouth immediately after, lest he should lose the sweet flavor of those delicate viands. In like manner, when we have received the precious Body of Jesus Christ, we should take care not to lose its heavenly flavor by turning too soon to the cares and business of the world.” These are the words of Saint John Chrysostom.

We live in a time when priests usually preside at more than one Mass on a Sunday. For parents and their children, in addition to Mass, Sundays also mean softball practice or soccer practice or some other sport. And of course, Sundays also mean getting home in time for the big game. The Sunday liturgical celebration is in danger of becoming something obligatory that we must, therefore, squeeze in between everything else going on in our lives. And yet, the truth is that Mass is the most important thing we do each week. Nothing else we do has more eternal value for our souls. We all see it every week – church-goers heading for the exit right after Holy Communion. Being preoccupied with secular aspirations on a Sunday is not what makes saints.

The quote from Saint John Chrysostom exhorts us to offer a proper thanksgiving when Mass has concluded. It used to be a fairly common practice which today has subsided. For priests and anyone who prays the Divine Office, the breviaries prior to the post-Conciliar Liturgy of the Hours contained prayers that were appropriate Before and After Mass. Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said: “Thanksgiving after Mass has traditionally been greatly esteemed for both the priest and the lay faithful.”

Saint Teresa of Avila instructed her Sisters about what to do after Mass: “Let us detain ourselves lovingly with Jesus and not waste the hour that follows Communion.”

Saint Philip Neri said: “We have to pay proper respect to our Lord, Whom you are carrying away with you.” Saint Philip defined the love of God as a “devouring fire.”

How much time should be spent in Thanksgiving has always seemed to depend on the individual. Cardinal Arinze recommends ten minutes. Saint Josemaria Escrivá said: “Do not leave the church almost immediately after receiving the Sacrament. Surely you have nothing so important on that you cannot give our Lord ten minutes to say thanks. Love is repaid with love.” But the Church has had some very extraordinary souls in her history. Those like Padre Pio, Jean Marie Vianney and Louis Marie de Montfort couldn’t be dragged away from Thanksgiving by wild horses. Hours upon hours have been spent in Thanksgiving by these beautiful souls as well as others.

Saint Catherine of Genoa once had a dream that she would not be able to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In this dream she was so grief-stricken by this that she cried uncontrollably. The next morning when she woke up, her face was wet. Thus it was not only in the dream that she shed many tears. Her love was so great for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that she could not bear the thought of not receiving Him in Holy Communion.

Saint Gemma Galgani wrote to her spitiual director these words: “Today I went to Confession and the Confessor said that I must stop receiving Jesus. O my Father, my pen does not want to write more, my hand shakes strongly, I cry.” She also expressed these words to Jesus in Holy Communion: “You are my loving prey just as I am the object of Your immense charity.”

As Saint Josemaria said, these are examples of love repaying love.

What does our Lord Himself say about this? Here’s what our Divine Savior told Saint Faustina: “My great delight is to unite Myself with souls. When I come to a human heart in Communion, My Hands are filled with graces which I want to give to souls. But souls do not pay attention to Me: they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. They do not recognize love. They treat Me as a dead object.”

Our Lord invites us to His house and feeds us with “the living Bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:51). Jesus said: “If any man come after Me, let him deny himself” (Matthew 16:24). This is a statement about priorities. Is the Lord truly the Center of our lives? Let us consider reintroducing the practice of spending a few moments in Thanksgiving after Mass. Most disconcerting and heartbreaking are our Redeemer’s words: “Will you also go away?” (John 6:68).