The final quiet prayer of the priest at Mass is offered while he purifies the sacred vessels after Holy Communion. He prays: “What has passed our lips as food, O Lord (Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine), may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”
The prayer’s origin is ancient, already found in the earliest sacramentaries. The indication was always that it was to be said quietly and so it is intended to be the personal prayer of the priest. At the same time, it uses the plural and, in some ancient sacramentaries, it is coupled with instructions that it be said after all have finished receiving Communion. Thus, although the priest is praying privately, it is not self-centered but still communal in its intention.
In the 1962 missal we also find the prayer Corpus tuum Domine…, translated roughly as “May Your Body, O Lord, which I have received, and Your Blood which I have drunk, cleave to my innermost being; and grant that no stain of sin may remain in me, who have been fed with this pure and holy Sacrament; Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.” This prayer, only going back to the 9th century, was not as ancient as the Quod ore sumpsimus, but it is worth including here because of its publication in the 11th-century Communion Devotions of Monte Cassino where it was provided for the devotional use of the faithful. As mentioned in the introduction to these reflections on the silent prayers of the priest, these prayers can assist the faithful as well as the priest in entering more deeply into the Mass. This prayer expresses particularly beautifully the way that the Blessed Sacraments cleaves to the deepest part of us. Sometimes we compliment a food by saying that it sticks to our ribs. Analogously, the Blessed Sacrament sticks to our soul.
To focus now on the prayer for the purification of the vessels provided in the Missal of Paul VI, we see that a central theme of the prayer is on an ongoing possession of the Sacrament with purity. Purity is a rich word in our Catholic faith that sometimes wrongly takes on narrowly moralistic tones or even evokes Puritan connotations of dour and joyless dispositions. To the contrary, St. John Henry Newman saw purity as being intimately connected with love: “Purity prepares the soul for love, and love confirms the soul in purity.” The Catechism expands on this explanation of purity by also including truth and chastity: “‘Pure in heart’ refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. There is a connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith.” We can easily see how this richer understanding of purity could be connected with reception of the Bread of Angels. We want every reception of Holy Communion to enlighten our minds with truth, like the angels, and deepen our bodily integrity even as it enflames our hearts with love.
We can also think of purity in terms of pure spring water. In this way we see how it implies a clarity, transparency, and lack of duplicity. Pure spring water is not discolored, and it does not have any debris or other mixture in it. This describes very well the purity that we pray for in receiving Holy Communion. We want to be the same throughout our whole self. When we are at Mass or receiving Holy Communion, we rightly try to be at our best. This is true especially for a priest, who is most truly a priest (and thus should be most truly himself) in the celebration of the Eucharist.
The ongoing work of the Christian life is to spread our best throughout the whole of our life. According to the Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion, the key note of the Rule of Benedict is that the divine presence is everywhere. St. Benedict essentially arranges every dimension of the monastic life to help the monk tune into the divine presence everywhere. But then he says that we should be especially aware of the divine presence when we celebrate the liturgy. Such authenticity and integrity is a fruit of our effort and a fruit of grace. It is particularly appropriate to pray for this grace, especially at this privileged moment when the living Flesh and Blood of the Incarnate Lord is alive in us sacramentally.
Also at these moments shortly after receiving Holy Communion, we are positioned between heaven and earth and so we end this prayer after Communion asking: “that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.” We are still in the heavenly realm of the Eucharistic Prayer and the Communion Rite. At the same time, we are very much on earth in our humanity. We are tasting eternity in communing with the Eternal One, while also possibly feeling the pressures of time as we draw close to the end of the Mass. We do well to savor these moments of eternity as we pray that the medicine of the Eucharist (the literal translation is “remedy”) stir up hope in us for heaven and do its work on our hearts to help us get there.
Unscripted but Intentional
This is the last of the priest’s silent prayers during the Novus Ordo Mass other than a short period of unscripted silent prayer before the Prayer after Communion. It is worth drawing attention to these unscripted silences around the opening and closing orations. A brief silence is to be inserted in the opening Collect following the invitation “Let us pray.” This silence is a space for the priest and the faithful to insert their private prayers before the priest collects all those prayers and offers them to the Lord. Likewise, after Communion a brief silence is expected before the priest says, “Let us pray,” or else it is to be inserted after this invitation, again allowing the faithful time for their personal intentions.
The private prayers that would be particularly fitting at the beginning of the Mass would be the intentions for the Mass and special petitions that the faithful might want to lift up to the Lord in this greatest of prayers. At the end of the Mass, there is more fittingly a personal thanksgiving and petition for ongoing grace from the Sacrament. Altogether we can see how richly the Mass is augmented by these quiet prayers. The priest models personal prayer for himself and for the faithful throughout the course of the Mass. It reveals a necessary level of interiority for the celebration of this greatest visible sign of invisible grace.
For previous instalments of Father Hicks’s The Quiet that Speaks series, see:
- Introduction to the series and the examination of the prayer Munda cor meum (“Cleanse my heart”)
- Per evangelica dicta (“Through the words of the Gospel”)
- Per huius aquae et vini mysterium (“By the mystery of this water and wine”)
- In spiritu humilitatis (“With humble spirit”)
- Lava me, Domine (“Wash me, O Lord”)
- Haec commixtio (“May this mingling”)
- Domine Jesu Christe (“Lord, Jesus Christ”)
- Perceptio Corporis et Sanguinis tui (“May the Receiving of your Body and Blood”)
- Corpus Christi custodiat me (“May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life”)
Father Boniface Hicks, O.S.B., became a Benedictine monk of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA, in 1998. Since his ordination to the priesthood in 2004, he has provided spiritual direction for many men and women, including married couples, seminarians, consecrated religious, and priests, even as he completed his Ph.D. in computer science at Pennsylvania State University. He became the programming manager and an on-air contributor for We Are One Body Catholic radio in 2010 and has recorded thousands of radio programs on theology and the spiritual life. He has extensive experience as a retreat master for laity, consecrated religious, and priests. He became the Director for Spiritual Formation for St. Vincent Seminary in 2016 and the seminary’s Director of the Institute for Ministry Formation in 2019. Father Boniface has offered many courses on spiritual direction and the spiritual life. He is author of Through the Heart of St. Joseph and, together with fellow Benedictine Father Thomas Acklin, he is author of Spiritual Direction: A Guide for Sharing the Father’s Love and Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love. All of his books have been published by Emmaus Road Publishing.
Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, vol. II, 400. ↑
Ibid, 401. ↑
John Henry Newman, Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1906), 63. ↑
Catechism of the Catholic Church 2518. ↑
cf. Rule of Benedict chapter 19. ↑
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