What is the “Great Amen” and what is its importance?
The “Great Amen,” as it has come to be referred to in some circles, is understood as that “amen” that is sung (or spoken) at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer. The priest concludes the Eucharistic Prayer by holding the paten and chalice (assisted by the deacon) above the altar, singing or saying the words of the doxology, “Through Him and with Him and in Him….” (These words are called the “doxology” as they are an offering of glory to God [from the Greek ‘doxa,’ meaning ‘glory’]). This particular amen, meant to be given only by the people/choir (and not the priest, who is standing in the place of Jesus Christ the Head), is the assent of the people to the Eucharistic Prayer and all of its particular elements of the consecration, praise, thanksgiving, and petition that the priest has just concluded on their behalf.
It is important to note that none of the official liturgical books – and in particular, the Roman Missal – call this particular amen the “Great Amen.” As to why this title has come into common use: I can only give an educated guess that this term began to be used recently (since Vatican II) through the influence of those who interpret Justin Martyr’s brief and very general description of worship (from the 2nd century) as giving greater emphasis to this amen, as he makes an explicit reference to the amen of the people after the priest offers the prayers that include the consecration. The emphasis today of this amen at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer in relation to other moments in the Mass of the giving of our assent with an amen may be based upon its emphasis within this single ancient source (though this work is an important one). The influence of such perspective today has led to the consequence of this amen being sung in many places with a more notable melody than the other times at Mass that we are to say or to sing amen. However, it is questionable whether such is truly necessary – as once again the Roman Missal itself does not delineate or emphasize this amen over other moments of Mass that call for our amen.
It is also notable that in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (that is, the Mass from the Roman Missal of 1962), this doxology and amen are far less conspicuous –as the manner by which the priest prays the doxology is in a low voice, and with only a brief and low elevation of the host and the chalice within the words of the doxology. The amen does come at the same moment (after the doxology and before the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer,) but without any added emphasis in comparison with other amens.
Why don’t we receive communion immediately after consecration?
The easiest (and hopefully most useful) way to answer this question is simply to speak of our preparation for Holy Communion. While the consecration of the Eucharist stands as the central moment of the Mass, the immediate moment after the consecration is not seen as the natural time for reception of Holy Communion. Rather, it is important that we prepare our minds and hearts to partake of this most sacred gift by our humble calling upon the Father in the prayer Jesus taught, in our laying down of any and all divisions and expressing true charity in the sign of peace, and in our profession of unworthiness and need for mercy in the Lamb of God and the accompanying “Lord I am not worthy….” Know that the placement of all three of these elements have longstanding tradition in the history of the liturgy – going back to at least the late 6th century and the reforms of Gregory the Great. All of these elements aid us in preparing our disposition to receive the Eucharist in the most reverent and receptive way – that the life of God given to us in the Eucharist may be most effective in us.