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THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer II (7)
For more on this moment in the Eucharistic Prayers, see Eucharistic Prayer III (8).
“Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.”
In St. John’s account of the Last Supper Our Lord prays that we be one just as he and his Father are one: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20-21).
Our Lord prayed for a unity that would endure throughout time and eternity, a unity not only modelled after the Most Holy Trinity, but participating in that unity. We call that unity communion, and it is not something we can accomplish on our own. The Holy Spirit has been very active in ensuring our communion and showing that communion to others. On Pentecost, through the gift of tongues (see Acts 2:5–13), the consequences of the Tower of Babel were reversed; the men who, after their folly against God, were scattered by their languages (see Genesis 11:1–9) were brought back together again by unifying their understanding, and many believers were baptized and brought into the Church (see Acts 2:41–42).
The Holy Spirit is at the heart of all the unifying forces of the Church. The Spirit empowers the sacraments and other means of holiness to overcome the ultimate source of division: sin. The Spirit helps the faithful and their shepherds to remain true to the teaching Our Lord handed on through the Apostles. Lastly, the Spirit distributes gifts as it wills for the edification of the Church, including the gift of authority in a spirit of service.
Whenever we receive Holy Communion we should not only receive it, but pray for it. The Holy Spirit works through the Eucharist, just as it works in so many other ways, so that we may be one.
“Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity…”
Our Lord at the Last Supper prays that through our unity the world would believe that he had been sent by the Father. The pagans at the time of the early Church were amazed by the love that Christians showed each other. History is no stranger to men and woman united in evil purpose; unity is not guaranteed to be something good. Our Lord prayed for a unity characterized by charity. Charity is the type of unity we find in the Most Holy Trinity: God is a communion of Persons forever giving and receiving in a dynamic of love. When we enter into communion with God, we are also drawn into this communion of Persons in love. It’s not perfect from the beginning; in us it grows gradually and to the degree that we strive to give ourselves for the good of others. The Church spread throughout the world is a testament to the love of God and of love for mankind. We not only share communion with God, but with each other.
In this charitable unity we always seek to recruit new members of the family of faith; sometimes they’re drawn to us, simply because everyone needs to be loved. A solid and sincere love is indestructible; a united family withstands any trial. We spread throughout the world not to score points, but to share the gift of the love of God. That love has proven much stronger than evil.
“Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy…”
Communion is not just sought after in the present or hoped for in the future; every one of us at one moment was incorporated into this communion, often with the help of those who loved first and who loved us first. We’re inheritors of love from the moment of our creation, not just the moment of our birth. God didn’t need to create us, yet he did. Our parents didn’t need to raise us, yet they did, and so many other family and friends have helped us along the way.
It’s logical that we would want to return the favor, and that’s why we pray for all the dead. We pray for holy people so that they receive their just reward, but we also pray for everyone to receive the Lord’s mercy. The saddest fate for anyone in this world is to die unloved. We make sure that doesn’t happen, praying for all those anonymous sinners so that they can come to know the love of God.
In those very prayers we take up Our Lord’s prayer that we all be one: if we pray for their salvation we are praying that they enter into communion with God and with us forever.
“Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with … all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life…”
The full name of the communion for which we strive and for which we seek to perfect is the communion of saints. Every holy person in the grace of God is a saint; they don’t have to wait for Heaven. The only difference between us and the saints in Heaven is that we can’t presume we’ve done enough, loved enough, or been holy enough. Instead of presumption we exercise hope, hope that not only are we in the communion of saints, but that one day we’ll join the saints who have preceded us in Heaven.
The communion of saints is a two-way street: the Saints in Heaven are watching over us and interceding for us. It’s not just the saints whose holiness has been officially acknowledged by the Church; every soul who makes it to Heaven is a saint. Our loved ones who have died at peace with God are also there, watching over us and wanting the best for us, just as they did when they were here on earth with us.
In this moment of the Eucharist we are not just united in communion with present believers, but with a history of communion. Let’s pray that all believers, past, present, and future, be one in charity and holiness.