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Focusing On The Eucharistic Prayer

By Father Jim Sauer
Father Jim Sauer

Over the next few months, we will explore the various components in the Eucharistic Prayer.  We may now use 10 Eucharistic Prayers in our worship, along with three for Masses with children or when a large number of children are present.  Ten Eucharistic Prayers is a monumental change in our liturgical practice.  Until Vatican Council II, only one Eucharistic Prayer – called the Roman Canon – was used, which dates back to Pope Gelasius I (492-496 A.D.), who made its final additions. 


Since only the Roman Canon was used for worship, the Church developed the custom of adding a “Pre-face” to this prayer.  Our new Eucharistic Prayers have their own unique Prefaces – except for Eucharistic Prayers I, II, and III.  For these three Eucharistic Prayers, a different Preface may be used, whose content depends on the liturgical season (Advent-Christmas/Lent-Easter) or a solemn feast day (Immaculate Conception) or another occasion (Christian Unity, Funerals, etc.)


The Preface begins with an opening dialogue, which serves to unite the presider and assembly in offering its Great Thanksgiving.  This dialogue also reveals that the Eucharistic Prayer is the whole assembly’s prayer and not simply that of the priest, whose vocation is to pray in the assembly’s name.  Additional acclamations (“Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Memorial Acclamation” and the “Amen” at the end of the prayer) also show that the prayer belongs to the entire assembly.


The priest greets the assembly, “The Lord be with you,” followed by the people’s response, “And with your spirit,” which is a recognition that the priest is ordained to lead the assembly in the Eucharist.  Then follows the words “Lift up your hearts,” with the people’s response, “We lift them up to the Lord” – stressing the real nature of prayer as a “lifting up our minds and hearts to God in mutual communication.”  Finally, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which the people proclaim, “It is right and just.”  Giving thanks is the only rightful attitude we creatures can have before God “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Ephesian 1:3).


The priest continues, “It is truly right and just to give you thanks, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.”  All prayer is addressed to the Father through our mediator Jesus Christ.  The preface continues with reasons for thanking God for what God has done for us in creation and his acts of redemption culminating in God’s gift of his only Son Jesus Christ.  A beautiful example is found in Preface I of the Sundays in Ordinary Time – “Through his Paschal Mystery, he (Christ) accomplished the marvelous deed, by which he has freed us from the yoke of sin and death, summoning us to the glory of being called a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for your own possession, to proclaim everywhere your mighty works, for you have called us out of darkness into your own wonderful light.”  Each Preface expresses a different motif for thanking God.


The Eucharistic prayer links the praise of God by the earthly assembly with the heavenly liturgy.  All creation praises God with one voice.  Each Preface concludes with the recognition that the earthly worshippers are now joining together with the angels and saints in heaven as portrayed in the Book of Revelation (4:8-10).


The Preface concludes with the ancient chant “Sanctus” (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) taken from Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8.  To the Sanctus was added an acclamation from Matthew 21:9 (based on Psalm 118:25) – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” recalling Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  The church gathered here and now continues the acclamation of Jesus as our king and long awaited savio