(This is the fourth in a series of columns on the Eucharistic Prayer. To understand fully this text, refer to the November and December issues of the WRC.)
In this series we have reflected on the Eucharistic Prayer. We have walked through the various aspects of the Eucharistic Prayer including the opening dialogue, the preface, the Holy, Holy, the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis), the consecration, the remembering of what Jesus has done for us (anamnesis) and the offering of the body and blood of Christ to God the Father. We then move into intercessions. We are familiar with intercessory prayer. We offer to God our petitions in the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, after the Creed.
It is most fitting to ask God for the things we need at this point in the Eucharistic Prayer. We have recalled the saving work of God and especially the gift of his Son Jesus. We know that the Lord is truly and really present with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have joined ourselves to Jesus’ sacrifice to the Father. With all this we confidently ask the Father for what we need.
The number of petitions in each Eucharistic Prayer varies, but there are several common themes that are present in all of them. We pray that we may be made one, united with Christ and one another. We pray for the whole church, for the pope and church leaders, for peace in the world and for those who have died. These petitions are prayed by the priest on behalf of the people. We are confident that the God who has blessed us with the gift of salvation in his Son and who is present in our Eucharistic gathering, will hear us. He will give to us what is best. We pray with hope, trusting and believing that God will respond.
The intercessions bring the Eucharistic Prayer to its completion. There is one thing more to do. The priest leads the congregation in the great doxology. The priest tells God the Father that all glory and honor belong to God. This glory that we express is given through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who revealed to us the glory of his Father and invited us to honor God by sacrificing our lives with him (Jesus’) to the Father. We say, “through Jesus and with Jesus and in Jesus.” We pray in union with the Holy Spirit whom we have invoked in the Eucharistic Prayer and who is present with us. He has transformed the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and he is transforming us in this wonderful exchange.
The response of the congregation is the Great Amen. Amen prayed with glorious music is our affirmation. We believe what the priest has prayed for us and with us. We have joined our lives to Christ, and we have offered ourselves to God the Father. We are in the presence of the Blessed Trinity. Our amen at this moment should lift the rafters. It is an acclamation of all that has gone before in this wonderful experience we call the Eucharistic Prayer.
Understanding the depth and richness of the Eucharistic Prayer is vitally important to our praying it well. The call from the Vatican Council II for conscious participation in the Mass is in part, fulfilled in this understanding. A deeper appreciation can also lead us to a more active engagement in the Eucharistic Prayer. The priest vocalizes the words of the Eucharistic Prayer. We enter in by attentive listening. We respond to the dialogue at the beginning and sing the three acclamations. I also think that some unspoken prayers on our part could enhance the experience of prayer.
When the priest is engaging in the various parts of the Eucharistic Prayer, could we not be speaking in our mind and heart a phrase that joins us to the action of the prayer? For example, when the priest is speaking of the great words of God at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, could we not be praying mentally, “thank you Lord.” When he invokes the Holy Spirit on our part, we could mentally pray, “come Holy Spirit.” We the priest is offering petitions during the Eucharistic Prayer, we could mentally pray, “Lord, hear our prayer.” These expressions, offered in silence, could help us continue to focus on the priest’s vocal prayer and draw us deeper into the whole prayer experience.
I hope this series has been helpful in revealing the richness of the Eucharistic Prayer. It is, as we said at the beginning, the center and high point of the entire celebration (of the Mass). GIRM 78