Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"O Son of God, bring me into communion..."

IN THE OLD ROMAN MISSAL there was a very beautiful Mass prayer the priest prayed privately before receiving Holy Communion. In the revised Missal following the Second Vatican Council that prayer was divided into two - the priest praying one or the other.

In the Eastern Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom there is also a prayer for the priest preparing to receive the Eucharist. It is easily learned by heart and suitable for reciting, even several times, as one approaches the Sacrament at Mass:

O Son of God
bring me into communion this day
with your Mystical Supper.
I will not tell your enemies the secret,
nor will I  kiss you with Judas' kiss,
but like the good thief I cry:
Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

"bring me into communion this day with your Mystical Supper." Again, and we really must get this sense, mystery doesn't mean a puzzle we have to wrack our brains to solve. Mystery isn't that the clues are so far away from me that I can't comprehend or solve the riddle. But mystery means that God is so close to us - as with a printed text right up against our eyes - we can miss it utterly. This is Bethlehem. This is Calvary. This is the Eucharist.

Your Mystical Supper. Jesus is often in attendance at dinners and suppers. He reveals himself most intimately at the last meal before his dying and again on Easter night to the apostle-travelers. While Americans have lost the sacred sense of meal, for the Middle Easterner, few things are as intimate as eating a meal together. And it's within a meal that Jesus draws most closely to us, in the wonder of his love. 

How the Lord of Creation is present totally in the little bit of bread and wine is  incomprehensible, as is the enormity of his love for all the people of our wounded world. I say incomprehensible because we're so inclined to parcel out love, like little bits of string or crumbs, or make people jump through hoops for the inclusion or the mercy. It simply isn't that way with Jesus, and there are Christians who will bristle at the thought.

Vatopedi Monastery ~ Mystical Supper

I will not tell your enemies the secret. The image below was painted by Duccio Buoninsegna, depicting the betrayal of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. There's a large crowd of people with Judas - torch-bearing temple guards and leaders. Obviously, Judas has told the secret of where to find Jesus so to arrest him. I will not tell your enemies the secret then is a poetic way of telling Jesus before Holy Communion: Count me among your loyal friends, one who will never betray you.

Nor kiss you with Judas' kiss. Judas has taken the gesture of respectful love for one's teacher and twisted it up so that Jesus could be identified in the dark garden. Talk about a betrayal. I want nothing to do with that. Perhaps we've heard about the airline stewardess in Europe who was terminated for refusing to remove the simple cross she was wearing around her neck.

I remember when I was a young boy that three Christian men from neighboring houses came to see my father about helping to buy a house on the street  they had heard was going to be sold to an African-American family. I stood next to my father and heard him refuse.

Finally there is that last bit of the prayer which recalls a final dialogue Jesus had while suffering his crucifixion. But like the good thief. Usually he (the Good Thief) is named Dismas. The other thief is named Gesmas who scoffs at Jesus and taunts him. 

Dismas offers a corrective: We deserve it after-all, but Jesus has done nothing wrong. And then Dismas proclaims that Jesus is a king - Remember me in your kingdom, or Remember me when you come into your reign. He seems to know that Jesus isn't an earthly king, but he still wants to be counted as one who lives under Jesus' rule. 

And the words Remember me, - how beautiful is that, born of a desire to share the intimacy of friendship with Jesus - to be the recipient of his promises. We can wonder how Dismas knew about Jesus and the good things he offers. And don't we all want to be remembered? Maybe that's why we put up headstones in cemeteries. But Dismas wants better than a headstone - he wants Jesus! And Jesus doesn't disappoint. "Today, you will be with me in paradise" Jesus taking care of others even though he is at the end of his own life and suffering greatly.

Holy Communion gives me an experience of Jesus' remembering. In the Eastern Liturgy the point of Jesus' remembering me personally is made even more explicit as the name of the communicant is announced as he/she comes forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

A lot of people are distracted on the Communion line at Mass: little waves to people, managing children, who's here/who's not. The parish expectation might be that we be singing, which is often not very successful. This prayer might help us to focus. Or even in the moments when there is some relative quiet - when the priest and those in the sanctuary are receiving Communion, instead of watching all of that choreography up front, we might pray this prayer in quietness and joy.


  1. A lovely prayer to keep in our thoughts before receiving the Eucharist. And by offering your insights in a line by line explanation, you bring us on a journey to Jesus.

  2. I can remember many years ago that the priest of our parish used to say our name as he gave us Communion. I cannot recall when this stopped. It may have been that one priest only. I do know that when attending Extraordinary Minister training, we were instructed not to us a person's name as they approached to receive. Is this something that was never done in the Western Church? What is the reasoning for this?

    1. This has been the custom of the Eastern Church seemingly "forever" - but not the West. I remember when priests started using peoples' names at Catholic Mass in the 70's. Maybe the Vatican thought it was just another trendy invention, so they put a stop to it. I can't say they knew it was the Eastern practice or if they knew and didn't care. I can't say if the Liturgy overseers knew of the meaning I've referenced. It didn't fly. But is so important to the Eastern Christian reception of Communion that when stepping up to the priest for Communion each person says his/her first name and the priest responds (for example) "The Servant of God, Stephen, receives...." I find it to be very beautiful, "I have called you by name, you are mine," the scripture says.

    2. Thank you Father for this very beautiful and reflective way to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  3. Thank you for these thoughts to accompany the prayer. It makes so much sense to say a prayer when the meaning is laid out for you. Like you did with the Anima Christi. It was so helpful in focusing the prayer and preventing thw rote recitation that many of us are guilty of.