The Second Vatican Council said that the faithful should not be present at the mystery of faith as "strangers or silent spectators," rather, they should have "a good understanding of the rites and prayers and take part in this sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full involvement" (CSL 48).
This directive tells us that not only are we to participate in the responses during Mass, but that we should understand what we are doing. This understanding is much more than an academic understanding. This is particularly true with our participation in the Eucharistic Prayer. The quotation above continues, "they should give thanks to God; by offering the immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn to offer themselves as well" (CSL 48).
Having been instructed and nourished in the Liturgy of the Word we enter into the Liturgy of the Eucharist with parts--take, bless, break, share--corresponding with particular actions of Christ at the Last Supper.
In the Preparation of the Gifts bread and wine are brought to the altar, just as Christ himself took these elements and gave them to his disciples saying "Take, eat, and drink: this is my Body; this is the cup of my Blood. Do this in memory of me." (GIRM 72.1).
In previous centuries the faithful brought gifts of bread and wine for the celebration of Mass as well as gifts from their possessions for care of the poor and the Church. The meaning of the presentation of the gifts remains the same today. We are to see our lives and our work in these gifts we offer to God.
The psalmist asks, "How can I repay the Lord for all the good done to me?" (116:12) and immediately answers, "I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people" (Ps. 116:13-14), "I will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord." (Ps 116:18).
In the Eucharistic Prayer thanks is given to God for what Christ has accomplished for us. In this prayer the bread and wine become Christ's very Body and Blood. (GIRM 72.2)
In each of the Eucharistic Prayers we hear phrases that continue the notion that as the celebrant offers the bread and wine to become Jesus' Body and Blood we are also offering ourselves – "we offer you this sacrifice of praise", "accept this offering from your whole family", "bless and approve our offering", "from the many gifts you have given us we offer to you this holy and perfect sacrifice", "it is our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks", "we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy", "we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice", "gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise".
By these words we can see very clearly that the Church's tradition understands that we are not removed from this offering of the bread and wine that become Christ's Body and Blood.
Although we are many, in the fraction rite and the reception of Communion, we receive from the one bread that is the Lord's Body and from the one chalice that is the Lord's Blood. We too receive the one bread and one chalice that are the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ in the same way the disciples received them from Christ's own hands. (GIRM 72.3)
The Fraction Rite and the reception of Communion are connected because the Host, which was once whole, has been fractioned into many pieces and shared with we who are many. As we, the many, receive the one Bread of Life which is Christ we are made one.
This unity in Christ is demonstrated most clearly by our receiving hosts consecrated at the Mass we are attending and in the unity of our voices as we sing the Communion song.
When present at Mass we are called to enter into the mystery we celebrate. The texts of the liturgy remind us of the disposition we are to have as we celebrate the Mass. As we enter this new liturgical year let us commit ourselves to listen attentively to God's word and to join ourselves to the offering so that "through Christ the Mediator we might be formed day by day into an ever more perfect unity with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all." (CSL 48)