The Eucharistic Prayer

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11th in a series of short homilies on the Mass

We read in the Gospel according to Matthew: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.'” (Matt 26:26) These four actions are distinctive—took, blessed, broke, and gave—so that we recognize them when the Gospel writers use them at other times (when Christ miraculously multiplies the loaves and fishes, and when he appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus: Matt 14:19; Mark 6:41, 14:22; Luke 9:16, 24:30). And they are performed again in every Mass:

  • took, when the gifts are brought forward and the altar prepared;
  • blessed, in the entire Eucharistic Prayer;
  • broke, in the fraction rite;
  • and gave, in Holy Communion.

In the first homily in this series, we saw that many parts or aspects of the Mass can be found elsewhere: gathering together, singing, praying, listening to Scripture, even receiving Holy Communion. But that second action, blessed, in the Eucharistic Prayer, is only found in the Mass and nowhere else. And so the General Instruction of the Roman Missal appropriately calls it “the center and high point of the entire celebration.”

Yet it can also be the part of the Mass that is hardest to explicate—in comparison to the Liturgy of the Word and the Communion Rite, whose parts are more easily identified. Throughout this series, we have looked at what is occurring in general within the Eucharistic Prayer, and how we enter into it. Now let us connect this to the components of the Eucharistic Prayer itself. The General Instruction identifies eight components that we find in all the Eucharistic Prayers, though with varying emphases and lengths. What are they?

First, there is Thanksgiving—which is what the Greek eucharistia means—expressed especially in what is called the Preface. After the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” he then does so, giving thanks for some particular aspect of salvation chosen according to the liturgical season, or the saint being celebrated, or some other reason.

And this leads to the second component, which is the Sanctus or Holy Holy acclamation. The whole assembly joins in praise of God, using the words of both the heavenly powers seen by the prophet Isaiah (6:3; cf. Rev 4:8), and of the crowds who accompanied Jesus when he entered Jerusalem (Matt 21:9; Mark 11:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13).

Soon after this comes number 3, the Epiclesis, which comes from the Greek “to call upon.” Here the priest asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit to transform the gifts—while holding both hands, palms downward, over the gifts.

Then comes the fourth component, the Institution Narrative and Consecration, when the priest speaks again the words of Christ during the Last Supper. Through these words, the bread and wine are transformed, so that Christ is made truly present and the sacrifice is effected.

And we must note that this too, like all parts of the Eucharistic Prayer, is a prayer. Even when the priest and people face each other, it is not a dialogue between them; and it is certainly not a theatrical acting out. Rather, it is a prayer that the priest speaks, in the person of Christ, to the Father; and all the faithful pray within their hearts with him.

Christ commanded his apostles, “Do this in memory of me,” and we fulfill this command literally in the fifth component, the Anamnesis, which is Greek for memory or remembrance. The whole assembly does so, speaking to Christ, who is himself the Mystery of Faith present upon the altar.

The priest next expresses the sixth component: that this is an Oblation or sacrificial offering—Christ himself, and also us in union with him—offered to the Father.

Seventh, come the Intercessions, in which the priest recalls that we celebrate the Eucharist in union with the whole Church, on earth and in heaven, naming several of the saints. And, as we offer Christ and ourselves, we pray for all the Church’s members, both living and dead, and indeed for the whole world.

Finally comes the doxology, in which words of praise and the raising of the consecrated elements sums up and concludes the whole Eucharistic Prayer; which the assembly affirms with the Great Amen.

Thanksgiving; the Holy Holy; the Epiclesis; the Institution Narrative and Consecration; the Remembrance; the Offering; the Intercessions; the Doxology. This is the Eucharistic Prayer; this is the “the center and high point” of the whole Mass. Indeed, this is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (Lumen Gentium 9, cited in CCC 1324)

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