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The duty and privilege of ‘making a thanksgiving’ after Mass

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

November 21, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) -- One of the most outstanding acts of piety and devotion open to Catholics in their daily lives is to remain after Mass for a time of thanksgiving. 

This custom did not take long to develop among the Christian people, who knew the special Guest they had received into their bodies and souls with the gift of the consecrated bread and wine — no mere earthly food but the food of immortality, Christ Jesus Himself, “the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25). No greater honor could the baptized enjoy than approaching this fearful banquet in a state of righteousness and welcoming the Lord of heaven and earth, who deigned to “become flesh and pitch his tent” among them (cf. Jn 1:14).

Over time, the worthy reception of Holy Communion was seen as intimately bound up with giving thanks to Our Lord, who is really, truly, substantially present in the Most Holy Eucharist — a word that means “thanksgiving,” as we are often reminded. How strange it would be if we spent a lot of time preparing for the arrival of One who is both a great dignitary and a best friend, as we do in the Holy Mass from its start until Communion time, and then having met Him, rushed away to other business of far lesser importance?

It is not always possible, of course, to remain after Mass. Sometimes the children are fussing, or the Mass took longer than expected, or we are subject to a tight work schedule. Nevertheless, if we are able to take some time after Mass, we ought to do so; it is a true requirement for advancing in holiness, gratitude, virtue, conquest of sin, and friendship with God. This is why the Vatican Decree Sacra Tridentina Synodus of 1905, issued at the behest of Pope St. Pius X, specifies adequate preparation and thanksgiving as conditions for the frequent and fruitful reception of Holy Communion. (See this LifeSite article for more detail.)

No one, to my mind, has written more touchingly of this loving duty and indeed this intimate privilege than Sir (and Saint) Thomas More, who suffered greatly for his fidelity to the Catholic Church, and who surely could not have endured the psychological torment of his lengthy incarceration and the many allurements constantly brought against him, had he not been deeply wedded in spirit to the Eucharistic Lord, Whom he had received with such immense devotion. Here is an excerpt from More’s “A Treatise: To Receive the Blessed Body of Our Lord,” published in volume 13 of The Complete Works (Yale University Press) and available online here.

Now, when we have received our Lord, and have him in our body, let us not then let him alone and get us forth about other things, and look no more unto him (for little good could he that so would serve any guest); but let all our busyness be about him. Let us by devout prayer talk to him, by devout meditation talk with him. Let us say with the prophet, “Audiam quid loquatur in me Dominus” — “I will hear what our Lord will speak within me” (Psalm 84:9). For surely, if we set aside all other things and attend unto him, he will not fail with good inspirations to speak such things to us within us as shall serve to the great spiritual comfort and profit of our soul. 

And therefore let us with Martha provide that all our outward busyness may be pertaining to him: in making cheer to him, and to his company for his sake; that is to wit, to poor folk — of which he taketh every one … not only for his disciple, but also as for himself. For himself saith, “Quamdiu fecistis uni de his fratribus meis minimis, mihi fecistis” — “That that you have done to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to myself” (Matthew 25:40). And let us with Mary also sit in devout meditation and hearken well what our Savior, being now our guest, will inwardly say unto us. 

Now have we a special time of prayer: while he that hath made us, he that hath bought us, he whom we have offended, he that shall judge us, he that shall either damn us or save us, is, of his great goodness, become our guest, and is personally present within us, and that for none other purpose but to be sued unto for pardon — and so, thereby, to save us. Let us not lose this time, therefore; suffer not this occasion to slip which we can little tell whether ever we shall get it again, or never. Let us endeavor ourselves to keep him still, and let us say with his two disciples that were going to the castle of Emmaus, “Mane nobiscum, Domine” — “Tarry with us, good Lord” (Luke 24:29), and then shall we be sure that he will not go from us, but if (i.e., unless) we unkindly put him from us.

It should be added that it is fitting to remain for a time and give thanks even when we have not received Holy Communion. This might strike the reader as puzzling. What’s there to stick around and give thanks for, in that case?

One of the widespread errors of our age is that Mass is “for the purpose of receiving the Eucharist” — so much so that it is thought strange to attend Mass without receiving. This, of course, has led to a situation in which nearly everyone receives, when it cannot be assumed that nearly everyone is in a state of grace, having examined their consciences and confessed their sins.

Undoubtedly, the union of the members of the Mystical Body with their Head is included in the purpose of the Mass: Our Lord gave us His flesh and blood so that we could be united with Him most intimately. But we can receive Communion also outside of Mass, as when It is brought to the sick in hospital, or to soldiers on a battlefield. The primary and inherent purpose of the Mass as such is to adore, praise, placate, and supplicate the Most Holy Trinity. It is the perfect act of divine worship, by which the Father is well-pleased with the Son; through it, the Church Militant receives an outpouring of grace, the Church Triumphant an increase of joy, the Church Suffering an alleviation of pains. 

The truth of the inherent value of the Mass was better understood in olden times, when people spoke of “assisting at Mass.” We assist in this outpouring, this increase, this alleviation, by our presence and our personal prayer united to the Holy Sacrifice. In other words, we are already mightily blessed simply to be there for this august Mystery, this all-worthy Offering. 

Even if there were nothing else “in it for us,” so to speak, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, all by itself, would give us matter for a lifetime and, indeed, an eternity of thanksgiving. In heaven, the communion we enjoy with God is so perfect there is no need any more for sacraments, yet the worship of the Mystical Body still continues — the Son still offers His divine humanity and His holy wounds to the Father, and we offer ourselves with Him.

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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history, and directed the choir and schola. He is now a full-time author, speaker, editor, publisher, and composer.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published seven books, including Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014); Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017); A Reader in Catholic Social Teaching (Cluny, 2017); and Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has been published in Czech, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and will soon appear in Spanish and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over 750 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church. 

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, please visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.