Q: When I was growing up many years ago we were taught that it was a good idea to spend ten minutes in thanksgiving after Mass, since Our Lord was still within us in the sacramental species for that length of time. Few people do that these days. Is it still a good idea?
There is no question that it is a good idea to spend some time in thanksgiving after Mass, and this even if one has not been able to receive Our Lord in Communion.
We should bear in mind, of course, that in many parishes there is a time of silence after Communion in which we can do part or all of our thanksgiving.
But I wouldn’t recommend focusing on the presence of Christ in our body, since we cannot be sure for how long he is present in the sacramental species.
It has always been taught that Christ remains in the Eucharist as long as the species, or appearances of the host, are those of bread. Thus if the host were left in the tabernacle for years, it would eventually disintegrate and would no longer have the appearance of bread, at which time the Real Presence would also cease.
When we receive Communion, the host dissolves on the tongue almost immediately, so it is doubtful that Christ is present sacramentally for any appreciable time after that.
But independently of that, there is every reason to remain for some time after Mass in thanksgiving.
The Mass is the high point of the week, or of the day, for those who are able to attend it more frequently. In it we are present at the sacrifice of Calvary, where Jesus offers himself to the Father for our Redemption in a sacrifice of infinite value.
We can unite our personal intentions with those of the priest, knowing that they are not only our personal prayer, but are now raised to the Father by Christ in union with his sacrifice. When we want to pray with special efficacy, the most powerful way is to unite our intentions with the Mass.
And before the sacrifice takes place, God speaks to us in the readings. It is as if we are with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and he is explaining the Scriptures to us. (cf. Lk 24:27)
And then as the personal high point of the Mass, Jesus gives himself to us in holy Communion. As he explains in the synagogue of Capernaum, when we receive him in the Eucharist he lives in us and we live in him. (cf. Jn 6:56)
There is no more intimate union with Jesus on earth than Eucharistic Communion. Truly, we become “one flesh” with him.
For all of these reasons a lifetime would not suffice to thank God adequately for the great gift of participating in the Eucharist.
Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father. Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?”(n. 60)
Given the unparalleled importance of the Eucharist in our life, it makes sense to remain in thanksgiving once the Mass is finished, just as it makes sense to arrive at the church early in order to prepare ourselves for this most important activity.
When people are going to attend a “special” Mass, for example one celebrated by the Pope or a bishop or a Mass for a special occasion such as a wedding or funeral, they endeavour to arrive early and are in no hurry to leave afterwards. They want to reflect on the great mystery in which they are participating.
Well, every Mass is “special”. In every Mass we are with Jesus on Calvary, he speaks to us in the readings and he gives himself to us in holy Communion. It is only natural to want to pray beforehand and to give thanks afterwards.
In the thanksgiving, apart from thanking God for what has just taken place and for the great gift we have just received, we can reflect on what we have heard in the readings or the homily and on how we are going to put it into effect. Also, we can pray for our loved ones and for all our other intentions.
And of course we can consider that we are now “other Christs” in a very special way, having become united intimately with Jesus in holy Communion.
When we leave the church to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, we should act in accordance with our great dignity so that we will be more effective in making Christ present to others.