A fitting conclusion for a series of articles on the priest’s quiet prayers at Mass is to reflect on the quiet prayers of thanksgiving he offers after Mass. This time of thanksgiving after Mass is not specifically prescribed in the same way as are the various private prayers during Mass. The only prescription, in fact, comes through Canon Law rather than through the General Instruction on the Roman Missal. Canon 909 reads: “A priest is not to neglect to prepare himself properly through prayer for the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice and to offer thanks to God at its completion.”
What precisely does this thanksgiving consist of? In a section entitled “Thanksgiving After Mass” in the Missal of Paul VI, we find some prayers that were also found in the 1962 Missal. The collection in the more recent Missal is somewhat reduced but still contains the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Anima Christi, the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola (“Receive Lord, my entire freedom”), the prayer before a Crucifix (“Behold, O good and loving Jesus”), the Universal Prayer attributed to Pope Clement XI (“I believe, O Lord, but may I believe more firmly”), and Prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Clearly these prayers could be used to satisfy the canonical requirement.
Direct and Personal
However, we should consider the thanksgiving after Mass, required by the Code of Canon Law for the priest—and surely just as important for the faithful—to be more than a few more prayers to be recited. The Church’s law provides us with some spiritual direction in this case. Even after the liturgical prayers have ended, personal prayer has not ended. In fact, these moments following the liturgical prayer are particularly fruitful times for continued personal prayer.
In former times, some prayers for particular intentions were prescribed during this special time immediately after the Mass. Pope Leo XIII’s prayers after Low Mass fit into this category and actually builds on a prayer for the liberation of the Church that was prescribed by Blessed Pius IX. At other times in history, as well, prayers were added immediately after Mass for special intentions that were local, regional, or universal. The intuition is that this time immediately after Mass has a special efficacy and important intentions should be lifted up to God while he is still so close to us in the communal celebration of the sacred mysteries.
One special intention that we should always have is that the Eucharist we have just celebrated would have the greatest possible fruitfulness in our souls. This is the sense of the Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas that includes phrases such as: “May [this Holy Communion] cancel my faults, destroy concupiscence and carnal passion, increase charity and patience, humility and obedience and all the virtues….” Following the Mass we also anticipate the challenges and trials we will face as we go out into the world and so we pray for protection that the Eucharist “may be a firm defense against the snares of all my enemies, both visible and invisible.”
The Anima Christi leads us into an intimate union with Christ, reflecting the realism of the Sacramental encounter that has just taken place. The Eucharist is no mere symbol! In reciting this ancient prayer, we ask for the salvation that comes from Christ’s Body, the inebriation that comes from his Blood, the strength that comes from his Passion, the safe refuge that can be found by entering into his wounds, and the sanctification that comes from our encounter with his soul. The Byzantines offer such expressive prayers during the Divine Liturgy in preparation for receiving Holy Communion. Although we do not do that in the Roman Rite during the Mass, the Anima Christi that can be offered in thanksgiving reflects back with a particularly vivid description on the tender, human-divine encounter that takes place in Holy Communion. Following the Mass it is an especially meaningful and appropriate prayer to offer so that our intimate union with Christ given in the grace of Holy Communion may extend into the rest of our lives.
The Prayer of Self-Offering from St. Ignatius and the Prayer Before the Crucifix do not reflect the reception of Holy Communion directly, but still personalize the encounter that takes place in the Mass and extend that encounter into our lives. These words of surrender and placement of ourselves before his gaze properly and concisely capture the attitude that should remain in us as we end our celebration of the Sacred Mysteries. The Universal Prayer attributed to Pope Clement XI, on the other hand, covers all possible needs of our souls. It will be remembered more for its comprehensive content than for brevity! The final prayer offered in the missal is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it tenderly speaks of the reality of receiving her Son in Holy Communion and asks her help not to waste this tremendous gift.
Get Lost in Love
Each of these prayers gives us a sense of the attitude we want to cultivate in our hearts following the Mass. This is directly contrary to the erroneous attitude of efficiency that reduces the Mass to a function and measures it only by the quantity of time that it takes to celebrate. The intuition of lovers is to linger a little longer in each other’s company. Therefore, it is fitting that we may wish to do so with our Lord through these prayers provided in the missal; however, this same sense of wishing to prolong our intimacy with God is also found in the ancient practice of entering into a little meditation while we are still in the glow of the Eucharistic celebration.
The liturgical historian Josef Jungmann beautifully described this special time of thanksgiving following the Mass: “Next comes silent prayer and meditation. It is no discovery of modern piety that the time after Mass and Communion, when the crowd has dispersed and quiet has settled over the church, is a time for the priest—and the same holds for the faithful—to give himself to more than vocal prayer.” The Passionist tradition established by St. Paul of the Cross regulated 30 minutes of meditation before Mass and 30 minutes after Mass as well. Prior to St. Paul of the Cross, this was already promoted in the Imitation of Christ.
All of this is to say that there is a minimum requirement to make some thanksgiving after Mass rather than to rush immediately out the door into the next activity. The invitation to thanksgiving does not prescribe minimums and so we should seek to follow this direction in a generous way and resist the temptation to fall into a kind of spiritual minimalism. The generous heart will remain a little longer with the Beloved following the celebration of the source and summit of our faith. That sweet time should be marked by tender expressions of love, acknowledging the realism of the encounter with Jesus Christ in his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, asking for the graces to continue living the Eucharist in daily life, and above all meditating on what has happened as we rest in the Presence of the Great Lover who dwells a little longer in our bodies.
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”)
- Quod ore sumpsimus (“What has passed our lips as food”)
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.