The Roman Missal: Eucharistic Prayers

Well, summer is over, and you know what that means…it’s time to start writing bulletin articles again!  Ok, so maybe that’s not the first thing you think of with Labor Day, but the mind of a priest can be a strange thing indeed.

I’ve been writing about things in our weekly encounters with Christ at Sunday Mass for about a year now: first the new translation with all of its fun and interesting details, followed by the “secret prayers” of the Mass, the ones we usually don’t even know are going on.  Now, I’d like to move on to that part which you might feel you’re overly familiar with – the Eucharistic Prayers.

This is one of those parts of the Mass that if we’re not careful, can feel drawn out or overlooked.  It can seem like the priest is just up there reading.  The kids are starting to get antsy.  Those 19th century kneelers are starting to get uncomfortable.  You begin to notice that we’re creeping towards kickoff.  All of this, combined with an atmosphere of quiet on the part of the congregation can make it feel like there’s not as much interaction.  But really, this is the most important part of the Mass, and, believe it or not, it’s the most active as well!

We pray the Eucharistic Prayer together with the whole Trinity.  The priest leads the congregation in prayer, which we can hear very clearly with the little introductions at the beginning (“The Lord be with you…”, “Lift up your hearts…”, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God…”).  Together, we’re offering praise and sacrifice to God the Father.  Actually, if you are a grammar fiend, you will notice that grammatically, almost all of the Eucharistic Prayer is directed toward the Father.  It is a sacrifice of praise offered to the Father, just as Jesus offered himself to the Father on the Cross.  This sacrifice is really an oblation, one of those new words we find sprinkled throughout the Mass.  An oblation is a gift from the core of our hearts offered to God.  Incidentally, my dictionary even defines “oblation” with reference to the Eucharist!  Score one for Catholicism!

So what is this sacrifice?  Well, it is none other than the Body and Blood of the Son, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity.  And this sacrifice is offered in the Holy Spirit (the 3rd Person), meaning that it’s the Holy Spirit that makes it all happen.  At one point in the Eucharistic Prayer, we have the epiclesis, where the Church begs for the power of the Holy Spirit to consecrate and transform that gift we’ve presented with human hands, so that they might be offered through divine hands to the Father.

That’s some pretty amazing stuff, and it can really help us to get more out of Mass if we understand what it is that we’re praying.  So to help make it more active and meaningful, the next part of my writings will be focused on the Eucharistic Prayers.  There are a bunch of them: the four main ones, two more Reconciliation ones, and four more for “various needs and occasions”.  All that being said, I’m going to focus on the big three: Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon), II, and III.  Stay tuned!