The View from the Pew Part V: The Liturgy of the Eucharist (Part II)
Having looked at some of the components of the Liturgy of the Eucharist last week, this week I thought I’d break down a little more the various parts of the Eucharistic Prayer itself. Again we have a few different Eucharistic Prayers to choose from, but the Eucharistic Prayers each contain similar parts. During this part of Mass, the priest invites the people to “lift up their hearts” to God in thanksgiving, and the priest leads the congregation in the prayers to God the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit.
The priest leads the prayer, but it is also a community event where together, we pray to God in various parts throughout the prayers that follow.
Here are those parts:
a) The thanksgiving (expressed especially in the Preface, in which the Priest, in the name of the whole of the holy people, glorifies God the Father and gives thanks to him for the whole work of salvation or for some particular aspect of it, according to the varying day, festivity, or time of year.
b) The acclamation, by which the whole congregation, joining with the heavenly powers, sings the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). This acclamation, which constitutes part of the Eucharistic Prayer itself, is pronounced by all the people with the Priest.
c) The epiclesis, in which, by means of particular invocations, the Church implores the power of the Holy Spirit that the gifts offered by human hands be consecrated, that is, become Christ’s Body and Blood, and that the unblemished sacrificial Victim to be consumed in Communion may be for the salvation of those who will partake of it. (This is why the priest places his hands over the bread and wine at this part of Mass, to emphasize the prayer invoking the Holy Spirit’s coming on the gifts at the altar).
d) The institution narrative and Consecration, by which, by means of the words and actions of Christ, that Sacrifice is effected which Christ himself instituted during the Last Supper, when he offered his Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine, gave them to the Apostles to eat and drink, and leaving with the latter the command to perpetuate this same mystery. (I try to go slowly during this part of the Mass; in the Roman Missal the words are larger and bolded, emphasizing that this part the priest speaks slowly and reverently).
Right after this the priest says “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” Ever wonder why we say this at each Mass? It’s a reminder to us that Jesus is now present on the altar, so we greet Him through an acclamation. We can think of it almost like a conversation with the Lord. There are 3 we choose from, namely: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.”; “When we eat this Bread and Drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again,” and “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.” It’s a way of drawing us in more to the mystery of the Mass so the people of God can acclaim what has happened recognizing now Jesus in our midst.
e) The anamnesis follows, by which the Church, fulfilling the command that she received from Christ the Lord through the Apostles, celebrates the memorial of Christ, recalling especially his blessed Passion, glorious Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. Anamesis comes from an Attic Greek word meaning “memorial sacrifice” and we recall what Jesus has done speaking of His Passion and Resurrection.
f) The oblation, is next. Earlier, we asked the Lord to accept the bread and wine as a token of the gift of our persons. Now that the Consecration has occurred, the bread and wine aren’t there anymore; we now have the Body and Blood of Jesus. So at this part of the Eucharistic Prayer, we are offering Jesus to the Father.
So here, the Church, through the priest, is addressing herself to God the Father. For instance in Eucharistic Prayer IV, we have the wording: “Lord, look upon this sacrifice which you have given to your Church; and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise.” In Eucharistic Prayer I, there is a point where the priest bows during this part, symbolizing the bold petition: Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, . . . In the Second, Third, and Fourth Eucharistic Prayers we ask the help of the Holy Spirit to gather all who share this one bread and one cup, so that we may become one body with Christ, a living sacrifice of praise: Look with favor on your Church’s offering, and see the Victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself. Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.”
g) The intercessions follow and remind us that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church so we pray for one another. This is why we pray for the dead and the living and one another, and our pope and bishop; we are one Church throughout the world.
h) The concluding doxology, ends the Eucharistic Prayers, by which the glorification of God is expressed and which is affirmed and concluded by the people’s acclamation Amen.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on during the Eucharistic Prayers themselves, so even though these prayers may be quite familiar, pay close attention to this part of the Mass. Through our silent meditation, we can ponder again how deeply God loves us by becoming present on our altar. I’m always struck and moved by how at most every Mass I celebrate, people recognize the sacredness of this part of the liturgy; you can often hear a pin drop. Let the words speak to you. Gaze upon the host that is now the Body of Christ and think about how deeply God loves you. And talk to others, especially children, about what is going on at this part of the Mass. So many Catholics aren’t even aware that Jesus is who is welcomed on our altar, not a representation, but the Body of Christ. Catechesis from womb to tomb is so important.
Next week, we’ll get into what happens once the Eucharistic Prayer has ended, namely the Lord’s Prayer and Communion Rite of Mass followed by the concluding prayers. As you can see, Mass may be routine for so many of us, but so much happens at each liturgy and it is all centered around the greatest love story ever told. What a privilege it is to be with our Lord every time we come together as the people of God around His altars.
Have a blessed week! ~ Fr. Paul
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