I was struck today by the beauty of the Communion rite today, the Communion Antiphone and the Post Communion prayer in older, traditional form of Holy Mass today, for the Feast of the Ascension… which falls 40 days after Easter. The Mass texts from the Feast of the Ascension can be used for the feria days that follow.
There is a pattern repeated during Mass. There is a procession, a greeting and a prayer. Think, Introit chant- Dominus vobiscum – Oremus…. The same occurs at the Offertory and then Communion, the chant accompanies the procession to receive and, after Communion, there is the greeting and then the prayer. The chant and the oration tie together, and at the core of the knot is the greeting and response.
So… first we hear the Communion Antiphon (in chant notation below). Then, the
Praesta nobis, quaesumus,
omnipotens et misericors Deus:
ut, quae visibilibus mysteriis sumenda percepimus,
invisibili consequamur effectu.
That word mysterium in Latin prayers is laden with significance. It is the Latin rendering of Greek mysterion and is virtually interchangable with sacramentum, another Latin word used to render Greek mysterion.
This prayer is found in many ancient manuscripts. In the Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis it is found at the entry CXLI. ITE IN ASCENSA DNI. AD SCM PETRUM… that is, for the Feast of the Ascension celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Grant us, we implore,
almighty and merciful God:
that we may obtain by an invisible effect
that which we grasped by means of visible sacramental mysteries.
The sacraments, especially Communion of the Most Holy Eucharist, are gateways, paths, even cracks into a greater way, a bigger way of living.
Moses, having encountered God in the burning bush and having learned his ineffable Name, later wants to see God. He asks God to show Himself to him. God instructs Moses to stand behind a rock with a cleft in in and then glimpse God as God passes before the rock with His back turned. This is what happens with us during Holy Mass and Holy Communion. We get a glimpse at the vast reality beyond, a reality was cannot grasp here and now. Only in the time to come will we grasp it.
That percipio means “take possession of” or “seize”, but also “to perceive, understand”, “to obtain”. There is a juxtaposition of “grasping” in the prayer found in consequor and percipio. Consequor can be “reach, attain, obtain” but also “follow a model”. In our conformity to the thing we consume at Holy Communion we have the possibility of grasping that which it signifies. Sacraments, mysteries, are signs which symbolize and confer that which cannot be perceived, grasped, in the senses. They are visible signs that confer grace.
We must learn in our worship to peer not only at the signs themselves, but also through the cracks and spaces between the signs, which permit us a glimpse of MYSTERY.
Let us turn to the East in our worship, toward the One who returns though He has never left us alone.
Moreover, that Communion Antiphon (above) has an interesting musical element linking it to the 4th Sunday of Advent’s Ecce virgo. There is an ascent in the melody: re-mi-fa-sol-la on the accented syllables of the words “Orientem” in the Ascension chant and, respectively, “Emmanuel” in in the Advent chant. This particular figure occurs only in these two chants. The Advent chant (just before Christmas) refers to Christ’s First Coming and the Ascension (just before Pentecost) referring to his Second Coming. Both involve an ascent and a descent, an emptying and a filling, a going forth and a return, an exitus and a reditus. The Son leaves the Father us so He can return with us. Christ leaves us so that He can return. These chants are like bookends in the liturgical seasons.
Also, in the chant today we sing or say: “Psállite Dómino, qui ascéndit super coelos coelórum ad Oriéntem, allelúia. … Sing to the Lord, who ascended above the heavens to the East.” Today’s chant reminds us that the best and proper “orientation” of our liturgical worship is toward the liturgical EAST, whence Christ will come again.
It is as if the liturgical East is the crack in Moses’ rock through which we peer at mystery.