After the distribution of Holy Communion and a suitable time for quiet prayer and reflection, all stand at the priest’s invitation to “Let us pray.”
This prayer is called the “Prayer after Communion” and its function is to formally conclude the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
It is lamentable that many people leave just after having received Holy Communion because they miss this very beautiful prayer. As the formal conclusion to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, during which Christ has again poured Himself out into the bread and wine for the nourishment of His faithful, the Prayer after Communion generally has a tone of thanksgiving, which is the most ancient meaning of the word “Eucharist.”
In the earliest written accounts of the celebration of the Mass, there were no prayers after Communion. Once the faithful had received the Body and Blood of the Lord, all would depart in silence.
As Christianity became more accepted in society, time for reflection enabled the church to discern the need for such prayers to show gratitude to the God who had so blessed His people by giving them Himself in an intimate and holy Communion.
The revised prayers after Communion evoke more direct reference to the mystery that is the Body and Blood of Christ.
The word mystery should not be understood as it is in common usage, where it indicates something secretive or unexplainable.
Theologically speaking, the mysteries of God have been publicly revealed and are explainable, but nevertheless cannot be exhausted since they originate from the infinite God.
The finite human mind will never be able to explain fully the infinite nature of God.
Scientists just last week announced the discovery of the so-called God particle, a sub-atomic particle that gives material things mass and, therefore, weight. Try as we might, however, science will never exhaust this or any other mystery as it relates to the creation of the universe.
The same is true for the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
We will not be able to explain how Jesus is present in the bread and wine other than to say He is because, at the Last Supper, He took those elements and declared them to be His Body and His Blood. This mystery, unable to be fully explained, is attainable only by faith. Creation, redemption and salvation are the sacred mysteries referred to at the beginning of every Mass and most eloquently expressed in the solemn prayer over the bread and wine that make them Christ’s Body and Blood.
Just as we can never fully exhaust God’s creation through scientific inquiry, so also we can never fully articulate it by the solemn celebration of the Mass. That’s why we gather at least every seven days, if not daily, to watch again as Christ pours Himself out for our salvation.
The prayers after Communion attempt to summarize these great mysteries.
Phrases like “such great gifts,” “divine Sacrament,” and “bread from the heavenly table” illustrate that the God of the universe is present under the sacramental signs of bread and wine on our humble, lowly altars for us to consume.
In this sense having the Real Presence in our churches at each Mass has already given to people of faith the God-particle in the Holy Eucharist.