(This is the third in a series of columns on the Eucharistic Prayer. To understand fully this text, refer to the November and December issues of the WRC.)
The Eucharistic Prayer is prayed to God the Father. The priest and people together who are Christ present, confess the great deeds of God and join Christ in offering the sacrifice (GIRM 78).
After the opening dialogue the priest prays the preface. There are many prefaces that can be interchanged with three of the Eucharistic Prayers. In each preface the priest remembers some aspect of God’s great deeds. The deeds of God mentioned are tied to the feast we celebrate or are more general in nature. The preface prayed invites the assembly to be grateful for what God has done for us.
The Holy, Holy, Holy follows. This is one of three times we offer acclamation. The other two are the Memorial Acclamation and the Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. We raise our voice in a shout of gladness and praise. Ideally the acclamations are sung. Song elevates the spoken word. Just before the Holy, Holy, Holy the priest prays that “we join the angels and saints …” We believe that our Mass on earth is modeled on the eternal heavenly liturgy. When we sing the acclamations, we are literally joining the song of the saints and angels in heaven.
The mention of the great deeds of God continues after the Holy, Holy, Holy in Eucharistic Prayers two, three and four. (Eucharistic Prayer One has all the elements of the other Eucharistic Prayers but they are arranged differently. A separate column would be necessary to explain the structure of Eucharistic Prayer One.)
This expression of thanksgiving gives way to the epiclesis. This is a Greek word which means invocation. Having thanked God for his great deeds, we ask him to send his Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. We do this with great confidence because we have recalled God’s love for us in his great deeds and we know in faith that he wants to give us all that is good for us.
We also pray in confidence because we know in faith that God’s greatest gift to us was his Son’s life, death and resurrection. Jesus gave us his body and blood at the Last Supper and as we prepare to remember with gratitude that moment in Jesus’ life, we join Christ present in invoking the Spirit.
What follows then is the institution narrative and the consecration. Through the agency of the priest who is Christ present leading the body of Christ the church, the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. In this moment we are remembering what Jesus did for us, we are fulfilling his command to “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19), and we are confessing once again the great deeds of God in his Son Jesus. This moment is amazing and all that has gone before in the Mass as a whole and the Eucharistic Prayer in particular, prepares us for the consecration.
All that comes after flows from this moment as well. What more can we do than once again, offer an acclamation, a song of joy and hope for what God has done in Jesus and will continue to do until the end time. Our adoration of Christ present leads us to a song of remembrance and praise in the Memorial Acclamation.
The Eucharistic Prayer continues with the anamnesis, oblation and another epiclesis. Anamnesis is another Greek word that means remembering. Just after the Memorial Acclamation, we pray remembering that Christ not only died but also rose from the dead and ascended. This moment in the Eucharistic Prayer completes the command of Jesus to remember what he did for us.
This remembering leads us to make an offering or oblation to God the Father. This is the true offertory of the Mass. We are invited to join the priest’s prayer of offering Christ, who is present with us, to God the Father and ourselves with him (GIRM78). Participating in this offering of the sacrifice is the obligation that church asks of us. We are to join Christ in his sacrifice of himself to the Father. This is a marvelous moment of deep humility and joyous hope. Joined to Christ, we go to God the Father by God’s gracious design. The hope of our eternal salvation is bound up and given its fullest expression in this prayer which often goes unnoticed without this proper understanding.
During this offering of the sacrifice, we turn again to invocation. We ask that the Holy Spirit transform us too. We ask to become one body and one spirit in Christ, to be made one. The presence of Christ invites us almost immediately into a relationship with one another. As we are one with God the Father through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, so may we be with one another.