The Eucharistic Prayer is “the center and summit of the entire celebration …” (GIRM 78) To state this is not to say that this is the only part of the Mass that matters. All that has led up to this moment is preparation. The summit of a mountain does not exist except that it sits on the mountain itself. Up to this point in the liturgy, we have experienced the risen Lord present in the gathered community and in the person of the priest presiding. We have acclaimed our sinfulness and known again the mercy and love of God in Christ. We have glorified God present. We have heard Him in the scripture readings that have been proclaimed. We appreciate anew the marvelous works God in his son Jesus which are summed up and fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thus, the Eucharistic Prayer is the summit toward which we have been climbing.
Even so, it is difficult to truly enter this moment in the Mass. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest does most of the speaking. This leads to passivity, not because we want it to, but because this is what happens when one is speaking, and another is listening for a significant time. At least most people tell me that this is the time in the Mass where it is easy to become distracted. We can’t change the way the prayer is presented. We can understand the Eucharist Prayer better and engage the prayer in ways that invite a more dynamic involvement.
We need to understand the Eucharistic Prayer as something the whole assembly prays. The priest as Christ present leads his body, that is, the congregation. The General Instruction notes that the priest … “unites the congregation with himself in the prayer that he addresses in the name of the entire community to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit” (GIRM 78). For the priest to unite the assembly with himself, the assembly must be ready and willing to join the Eucharistic Prayer.
As stated above, the Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to God the Father. Like the whole of the Mass, Christ present in us, offers himself to God the Father and God the Father responds. The Mass is a prayer dialogue. The Eucharistic Prayer begins in dialogue reminding us that we are praying to God the Father and that both the priest and people have a part in that dialogue.
The first statement is a strong reminder that God is in our midst. The whole first part of the liturgy has affirmed that. God is present in the community gathered and in the Word we have shared. The community acknowledges this and declares that God is present in the priest who is leading them. This is our belief. Christ is in his church when they gather, head and members. St. Paul uses this dialogue often in his letters. We continue this ancient practice, recognizing the Lord is with us here and now.
Next, the priest invites us to lift our hearts to the Lord. We are asked to give ourselves to God, who is at once, present to us and also living in glory. Everything that we have done at this point in the liturgy is summed up in this phrase. We respond that we are doing this now. Our attentive listening, our speaking the prayers and our singing all speak about how sincerely we have lifted our hearts to the Lord.
The priest then sets the tone for the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer. He reminds us that we are going to give thanks to God. We give thanks because we remember what God has done for us. We
remember that we are blessed by God’s love and action in our world. Remembering we are blessed, we offer thanks. Thanks lead to praise of God’s goodness. Our response says that we understand how
important this is, that we have in fact touched the goodness and blessing of God and we believe it is right — not just a nice idea — but RIGHT to give God thanks and praise. The general instruction says it this way. … “the meaning of the Prayer is that the entire congregation of the faithful should join itself with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of the sacrifice” (GIRM 78). The Eucharistic Prayer is a model for our Catholic way of life. The Eucharistic Prayer is then, a stewardship prayer.
In the next few columns we will deepen our understanding of the Eucharistic Prayer and our participation in this center and summit of the Mass.