Let me tell you about something that continues to concern me. It is about our often-weak response or failure to respond to the prayers of the Mass.
This concern probably comes from my liturgy coordinator hat. I often wonder how many Catholics really know the significance of saying amen at the end of liturgical prayers and especially when receiving the Eucharist.
This was brought home to me again recently when I served as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. Many people came up to receive the Eucharist and looked at me like they didn’t know what to respond when I said, “The body of Christ.”
Some said nothing. Others said “Thank you,” or words similar to that, and still others gave a weak amen.
I am not being too picky here when I say it is very important to respond when we receive Communion, and at other times during the Mass. When the priest or extraordinary minister presents us with the Eucharist, our “Amen!” is a public declaration that we believe this bread and wine are truly the body and blood of the Lord, not just symbols of his presence.
The Semitic root of amen (a-m-n) means to be trustworthy, confirm or support, and so in Hebrew the word is defined as “truth.”
When we are given the Eucharist as the body of Christ, we confirm that we believe it to be true. It is a statement of our faith in Christ and what the Catholic Church teaches.
I served as a campus minister at a large university, and often students brought friends to Mass. They asked me why the church did not want other Christians to receive the Eucharist, even though some truly believed in the real presence in the sacrament.
I explained that when we receive holy Communion, we not only receive the body and blood of the Lord, we also we confirm the statement of our belief in what the church teaches.
Amen, then, is a sign of our unity as Catholics. This is why those taking the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and preparing to become members of the church do not partake of the Eucharist until they are received into the church.
Any time we say amen at the end of prayers or when receiving the sacraments, we proclaim the truth of it, that we believe what is said or done. Because of this, it is important to respond with some enthusiasm.
We are given another opportunity to proclaim our faith in a public way each time we receive Christ in the Eucharist. Hopefully, understanding the meaning of our actions during Mass will help us be more conscious of what we’re saying.
Awareness can prevent us from falling into the trap of going through the motions of the liturgy and the Mass.
The Mass is the central and most important prayer of the church. It is good to take time to reflect on what we do each week when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist.
Sister Margie Lavonis is a Sister of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Ind. Contact her at mlavonis @cscsisters.org.