There are five words that most well-informed Mass-goers are excited to hear: “Lord, you are holy indeed…” Yep, that’s the beginning of the second Eucharistic Prayer, which just so happens to be the shortest one! Because it’s so short, and because the themes are fairly general, it is the most commonly used Eucharistic Prayer for weekday Masses when some people have to go to work. (See! We make Mass shorter during the week! You should come to that too!) But at the same time, Eucharistic Prayer II has a very interesting history and some beautiful imagery, which makes it an important part of our prayer.
Since the 7th century, the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass remained relatively unchanged, and we can still see it today (adapted, yes, but mostly intact) in the first Eucharistic Prayer, called the Roman Canon. After 1965, however, it was decided to investigate and produce some new Eucharistic Prayers (also known as a fancy Greek word, anaphoras. Sorry, I just feel like I keep writing “Eucharistic Prayers” over and over again).
One of these was Eucharistic Prayer II. So in a way, it is new, but at the same time, it is very old. It is based off of the anaphora in an ancient document called the Apostolic Tradition, supposedly written by Hippolytus of Rome in the 3rd century.
Oddly enough, Hippolytus was actually an anti-pope, meaning that he was a falsely elected and self-declared pope, while the real pope was Callistus I. He was trying to convince people that he was the real pope, the one in line with the Christian tradition, even from the time of the apostles. The beauty of it is this: by the very fact that this causes him to sit down and write out this tradition, we end up learning more from him than many other writers about Mass in the early Church!
One part of the document is a detailed description of Mass, and, if it is truly authentic and from this time period, it shows us what Mass was like for Christians in the 200’s AD! Eucharistic Prayer II tries to rediscover these roots, and much of the wording today closely mirrors what was written way back when! I guess that shows you God’s sense of humor: that the Holy Spirit can work through a false pope in the 3rd century to deepen our prayer in the 21st century!
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to pick out some of the most beautiful parts of Eucharistic Prayer II and try to explain these images for your prayer! Stay tuned!