The Secret Prayers of the Mass: The Commixtio

If you look around All Saints on an average Sunday, you might be surprised by the variety of people that you’ll find.  We’ve got older and younger folks, several different ethnicities, lots of different backgrounds, and, yes, even a few Cubs fans.  And just think, that’s just one church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which is just one diocese in the United States, which is just one country in the universal Church!  Being so different and so diverse, it’s amazing at times that the Church survives!

The Catechism reminds us that the Church is the “sacrament of unity, namely, the holy people united and organized under the authority of the bishops.  Therefore, Therefore, liturgical services pertain to the whole Body of the Church. They manifest it, and have effects upon it.” (1140)  Basically, when we celebrate Mass, the Eucharist is both the sign and the cause of our unity as a Church.

Today’s “secret prayer” doesn’t teach us about this as much as the action that accompanies it does.  While the community prays the Agnus Dei or “Lamb of God”, the priest breaks off a small portion of the host and drops it in the chalice, saying, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”

Originally, this action derives from the practice of the commixtio in the earliest days of the Church in Rome.  On Sundays, the Pope would celebrate the central Mass in Rome, and then send small particles of the Eucharist to the priests at the other churches in Rome.  As you can imagine, there were a lot fewer of them at that time.  Then, at the Sunday Mass of those parishes, the particle (called the fermentum) was brought forward and mixed with the Eucharist consecrated at that Mass.  It was a sign of the unity of that parish with the larger Church.

When we perform this action today, the particle is obviously not airmailed to All Saints, but the practice that remains reminds us of the unity that we have with the larger Church, brought about by the Eucharist.  Sometimes we celebrate the fact that we can pull of that unity so much so that it’s easy for us to forget what it is that unites us – ultimately, the love of God, given to us in the most perfect way in the Eucharist.  Through it, we’re united in faith, united in what we believe about the Eucharist, united in the fact that we are branches of the one vine of Christ, and united in our complete dependence on him for eternal life, as the prayer says.

So when you look around next time at Church, try not to look sideways at your fellow parishioners wondering which of them are secret Cubs fans, but take the opportunity to thank the Lord for the unity he gives us in the Eucharist, and pray for a greater unity in the Church!

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