Eucharistic Prayer I: Introduction to the Roman Canon

All right, here she is – the Big Kahuna, Eucharistic Prayer I.  <Editorial comment commencing> The other Eucharistic Prayers are beautiful and stuffed with important truths of our faith, but next to this one, they seem like child’s play.  This prayer is the oldest, it’s the longest, and it’s jam-packed with stuff…which also means that generally, it’s the least used.  But I think it’s important that we look at this treasure in our liturgy, so I might spend a few weeks with it!

Without doubt, this is the oldest Eucharistic Prayer that we still use.  Sure, EPII and EPIII are composed from other old texts from as far back as the 2nd century, but EPI has mostly been a single unit, used almost in the same form it is today, since Latin took over for Greek as the language of worship in Rome in the mid 3rd century.

St. Ambrose (d. 397) quotes it extensively in his famous work, De Sacramentis (“On the Sacraments”), and Pope Innocent I (d. 417) quotes and references it several times.  The fact that these guys are referring to it so much and so completely and regarding it with such esteem, even this early in the Church’s history, tells us that it had been around even before them!

“I was using the Roman Canon before it was cool!”

This prayer is commonly called the “Roman Canon”, meaning that it was the standard for Eucharistic Prayers from before Ambrose and Innocent all the way until 1974, when additional prayers were introduced.  That’s almost 1600 years!  And we still have the option to do it today.  The new translation changed this prayer significantly, with the goal to make it a more accurate and literal translation of the ancient Latin text.

Sure, this literal translation makes it sound obviously older and archaic, but there’s something special about it.  It’s not supposed to be like reading a narrative out of a book, but it’s intended to be poetic and majestic.  You’ll notice that this prayer loves to repeat phrases for emphasis and use descriptive, flowery language in speaking about the truths of our faith.  The new translation of the Roman Missal wanted to restore some of the majestic tone of this ancient and venerable prayer.

One of the things I love most about this prayer is that it helps us to respect and love our tradition.  I don’t mean this out of nostalgia, thinking of “the good old days” or anything like that.  But I think it helps us to appreciate what we have received from generations upon generations of the faithful who have contributed so much to what we have.  It’s neat to think that when I pray these words at Mass, they’re the same as what St. Augustine might have prayed, and what St. Jean Marie Vianney prayed, and what Blessed John XXIII prayed.

You’ll notice that sometimes I’ll announce the page number of the Eucharistic Prayer in the missalettes on Sundays (I’ve memorized them by now, which is better than I can say about the Nicene Creed…) to help people follow along, and I highly recommend doing so with the Big Kahu–er, I mean, Eucharistic Prayer I.  As you’ll see over the next few weeks, it’s packed, so we want to pray along with it, reflecting on the beauty of the language, the careful presentation of the central truths of our faith, and our relationship with God as redeemed sinners standing with awe and love before the majesty of our Creator.

Homily From Christ the King Sunday, Year B

Christ the King in Russian Iconography

What are the first things that come to mind when you think of a king?  A crown maybe.  A royal scepter.  Maybe a big juicy turkey leg that he’s munching on.  But the one thing that every king has is a throne!  It’s more than a chair, or a place where they can sit down, but it’s the royal seat.  It is from the throne where the king administers justice, conducts diplomatic negotiations, receives petitions from his people, and executes his commands.  And even when the king isn’t sitting on the throne, it reminds people that he’s not just some citizen, but he is the sovereign, the ruler of the nation.  It’s at the throne where the king is given the task of guiding his nation, as maybe a captain guides a ship.  It’s also at the throne where the king is given the task of guiding his people, as a father guides his children.  The crown is a symbol of that two-fold royal identity.  And you can always tell what kind of king someone is by the look of their throne.

Every king has a throne, so when we celebrate Jesus as the King and Ruler of all Creation, the King of the Heavens, the Earth, and under the Earth, what do you think his throne looks like?  Most images picture Jesus as actually sitting on his throne, and it looks a lot like what we’d think a throne would look like.  But actually, Christ’s throne is one-of-a-kind.  We all know it.   It presides over every Catholic Church and over every Catholic school and parish center and household.  It’s the sign by which we are welcomed into the family of the Church, and the sign by which we leave this world.  It’s the mark of every Christian from those hiding from persecution in the catacombs to the babies who were just baptized a few weeks ago.  Christ’s throne, where he rules as king of Heaven and Earth, is the Cross.  And it’s different from, and superior to, any other throne on earth.

The Peacock Throne of the Mughai Empire

One of the most shocking characteristics of this throne is the material.  Look at other thrones around the world.  The famous Peacock Throne was the throne of the ruler of the Mughai Empire in India in the 1600’s.  It is one of the most famous thrones in history.  You ascended to the throne by steps made of pure silver.  It stood on four solid gold feet, with a golden canopy covering it.  The seat was filled with soft velvet and silk pillows.  Behind the seat was a screen decorated like two open peacock tails – hence the name – and it was gilded with gold, and inset with diamonds, rubies, pearls, and emeralds.  When someone approached the Peacock Throne, the intent was that they would be blinded by it’s splendor, almost as if it were a glimpse of heaven.  But where is it today?  Nobody knows.  The Peacock Throne, along with the Mughai Empire has been lost to the dust of history.

But what is Jesus’s throne made of?  It is rough, plain wood, and the only decoration is the dark red of the blood of the king who gave up his life upon it.  That throne and his kingdom remains, in every Catholic Church and in every Catholic home.  When we approach this throne, our eyes are not blinded by it’s majesty, but opened by it’s humility.  We see the price of salvation, the effects of our sins, the symbol of what hatred really can do – but we also see the unlimited mercy and love of our king.  We’re not dazzled by treasures like diamonds or pearls, but by the treasures of patience, kindness, forgiveness, and humility.  That’s what makes Christ’s throne beautiful.

One of the other shocking thins about this throne is it’s location.  One of the other most famous thrones in history was the Dragon Throne of the ancient emperors of China.  What made it impressive wasn’t necessarily its look, but its location.  It was at the very center of the Forbidden City, and off limits except for the most powerful subjects of the emperor.  When these important subjects, and even vassal kings were brought to the emperor to offer tribute, they were led through a maze of bridges, doorways, and long, winding hallways to get to the Dragon Throne.  Even when they did arrive before the emperor, they had to kneel and press their foreheads to the ground before saying a word.  All this was to emphasize the vast moral distance between the emperor and everyone else, even his most important guests.  But where is it now?  The Dragon Throne is empty, and the emperor is long gone.

Window from St. John’s Anglican Church in Ashfield

So where is the Lord’s throne located?  In pockets, on walls, worn around necks or wrists on jewelry, printed upon every Christian book or store around the world.  Unlike the Dragon Throne, all of this isn’t to emphasize the distance between us and our king, but the intimacy.  He draws us ever closer to him, and invites us to be with him always through that image of his throne.  It’s from this throne that he gives us his redemption because it is a symbol of suffering.  That’s a part of the life of every single person sitting here in this church today – everyone knows this suffering.  But the cross, that symbol of suffering with love, is always close to us, always near to us, always touching us, and we are invited to share that throne.

The material and the location of God’s throne is important, but the last detail is the most important.  Whereas most earthly thrones are probably roped off in museums or royal halls, Christ actually invites us to join him on his throne.  All he asks is that we share our sufferings with him, that we place our crosses on the altar with his.  When we do that, we’re not only subjects and followers of Christ the King, but we are co-heirs with him.  That’s why the Church gives us this feast day today – to remind us that to know, love, and follow Christ the King is the only real path to fullness of life and meaning.  So today, as we come before the throne to receive his body and blood in the Eucharist, let us ask him for the grace we need: never to be intimidated by earthly power, never to be seduced by earthly riches or affluence, never to be discouraged by the weight of our own crosses, but always to have the courage to ascend to his throne, and share ourselves with our King and Lord.


Please note: Usually I take some of my inspiration from around the homiletics world and various priests and podcasts that I look at earlier in the week.  This week, I owe a lot to, so just know that some of the examples and even some of the outline is from their hard workers, to whom I now give the credit.

Eucharistic Prayer III: The Entire People You Have Gained for Your Own

Do you ever get people who ask you to pray for them?  This can happen all the time.  Here at All Saints, we have a “Prayer Chain” which is constantly ferrying along prayers for member of the community, and it can get a little overwhelming to remember these people.  One of the things I try to do is to keep a little checklist of people to pray for, and run through the list before I pray each day.  But let’s just say that the list can get pretty long!

It’s a great thing to remember the folks that we promise to pray for.  But don’t worry: the Church actually has a little checklist built into Eucharistic Prayer III!  After the consecration, we pray for a number of people: Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Carlson (who we pray for at every Mass), the Order of Bishops (all the other bishops throughout the world), the clergy (priests and deacons), and “the entire people you have gained for your own.”

So who is that?  Who has Jesus won for his own?  Obviously, it’s all of us at Mass, and it’s those who have died and gone before us in faith, but the prayer also mentions those “scattered throughout the world.”  So we’re mindful at this moment that we are part of a larger Church, including Catholics of every land, people, and nation.

But guess what?  Even if people aren’t formally part of the Catholic Church, we still pray for them!  Yep, we’re sneaky like that.  That includes even those who are separated by schism, heresy, ignorance, or indifference.  So we pray for Assumption, our neighboring Catholic parish, regardless of how bad we beat them/were beaten in soccer the other day.  We pray for Grace Community Chapel just down Mexico Road, along with all of our separated Protestant brethren.  We pray for people in distant or remote areas of the world who have never had a chance to follow Christ.  We even pray for people who just don’t care about their faith anymore, but who try to do acts of charity for others.

The sacrifice that we offer at Mass is offered for all!  That’s not to say that it doesn’t matter what religion you are, or that all religions are the same (They’re not, by the way).  We truly believe that Jesus has indeed built his church on the Apostles and has given us the sacraments as channels of his divine life.  But we also desire that others would come to see and accept that truth, and that they would share it with us.

So keep that in mind the next time you go to Mass, and just as we’re praying for Pope Benedict and the Archbishop, the signs of unity in our Church, let’s pray for all those who aren’t present with us at the altar!

Homily From the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

One of my favorite things to do here at the parish is to hang out on the parking lot for school dismissal.  And one of the funniest things to see is when the preschool teachers lead their students out to their parents, almost like the mother ducks leading their baby ducks.  The mind of a preschooler must be a very interesting place because everything is distracting.  “Oh, looks like I need to tie my shoe!  I think I’ll do that right in the middle of the crosswalk!”  “Oh wow!  What an incredibly shaped stick!  I must investigate further!”  The preschooler has absolutely no qualms about stopping to do something else half-way to the parking lot, while the teachers are desperately trying to get them to focus on one thing, and one thing only – getting to the safety box so they can go to their parents.  I think the new motto for preschool should be “Keep your eyes on the prize.”

Our readings invite us to do something kind of similar today.  We’re entering a period in our readings where we’re starting to get to the end of the Church year, and the Church uses the opportunity to teach us to look at the end-times.  We’re going to hear a lot of things over the next two weeks about the second coming, the apocalypse, the end of the world, and all that stuff.  These kind of readings are what scholars would call “apocalyptic literature” – writings that include visions, warnings, or signs about the end times.  Why do we have these kind of readings?  Some of these readings like the four horsemen from Revelations are both the most interesting and the most disturbing.  But they aren’t meant to scare us, but to help prepare us.  They are there to remind us, “Hey, you see all this around you?  It’s not going to last forever!”  It teaches us that there actually is an end, and we need to be prepared for it.

“The Final Judgment” by Michelangelo

Oddly enough, these sort of readings are actually there to comfort us.  It might seem kind of weird, but if you think about it, all these readings were written as a response to crisis.  The Book of Daniel, where our first reading comes from, is from the time of captivity in Babylon.  These people are torn away from their homeland and aren’t sure if they’ll ever return again.  The famous Book of Revelation was written during some very tough times in the early Church, times of persecution from the Romans and Jewish authorities.  The church was energetic, but still very small and very weak.  Even some of the apocalyptic words that we hear from Jesus are said for a people under tremendous pressure by the Romans and at the same time, wondering if God was still with them.

Even with strange, and sometimes frightening imagery, these words are meant to bring comfort.  They say, “Look, you see the suffering, you see the difficulty?  One day, it will end.  And not only that, but I will be with you to hold you close.”  That’s comforting, and it comes from a God who loves us.  Jesus even gives us these words today because he cares about us.  He warns us about these signs and visions of the end times because it allows us then to organize our lives – not to get distracted or overwhelmed, but always with our eyes on the prize, and eternal outlook.  It’s easy for us to have a purely natural outlook on life.  We get wrapped up with our daily to-do list, and we forget about the big picture, about what sort of things to invest our lives in.  And so often, we neglect our friendship with Christ, the one thing that will never pass away.  In fact, I challenge you to listen closely to the words of our prayers throughout Mass.  Probably about 90% of the time, they’re about the things we’re doing here on earth, but always with our eyes on the prize of heaven, with that eternal outlook.  In that way, this apocalyptic message isn’t a message of terror, but one of hope.

Just as those words were written or spoken for people in a time of crisis, so they’re written for us too when we go through crises in our lives.  For some of us, we look out in the world and feel a bit overwhelmed.  Sometimes this happens for me.  I look out, and I see a world that is a mess.  We’ve got Israel and Palestine, and pretty much the whole Middle East wanting to kill each other.  We’ve got people without work everywhere.  We’ve got superstorms and earthquakes destroying billions of dollars worth of homes.  The moral fiber of our society is troubling.  There’s a simple acceptance, and in some cases, and embracing of things intrinsically contrary to our faith like abortion, artificial contraception, and same-sex marriage.  There’s compartmentalization of the faith to something like a cultural perk.  Mass attendances are dwindling, parishes are shrinking, schools are closing.  And all this going on while there are fewer and fewer priests – which on the one hand means excellent job security for me, but on the other means lots more work with less support.  It’s overwhelming.  It’s scary.  It’s discouraging.  But these apocalyptic messages remind me that the battle is already won!  All these problems, and all this fear won’t matter someday.  I can’t give up, I have to keep working hard, but always with my eyes on the prize.

Lots of other people deal with terrible things.  They’re lives seem to be a mess.  They’re in a rough marriage.  They’re having trouble putting the kids through school.  They have friends or relatives who are sick, or have their own health issues.  They don’t know how to pay for a house because their job situation stinks.  And there are infinitely more stories out there, because all of us have different and unique problems and situations.  But the words of Jesus are spoken to us to keep our eyes on the prize, to keep that eternal outlook.  One day, these problems won’t matter because we’ll have Christ, and all else will pass away.

Now does that mean that we can just leave behind what’s going on around us?  No!  “No more taxes!  The end of the world is coming!”  “No more exercise!  The end of the world is coming!”  “No more laundry!  The end of the world is coming!”  No, the choices we make today are important, and especially our moral choices, good and bad, continue to have present and eternal consequences.  We have to live our lives today as people of tomorrow.  We continue to love our families and help the stranger, even going through the really rough times with or for somebody.  Not with some kind of misguided solidarity, as if to say, “Well, if I’m going to suffer, it might as well be with you.”  Maybe a good way to approach others is with the mindset that I’m going to do what I can for you on earth, so that I can help you get to heaven.

Brothers and sisters, as we gather together today, we’re mindful that all around us will pass away – this church, this parish, and even these sacraments will pass away.  But the Lord makes himself present here in the Eucharist to remind us that even when all around us is dust, his love will continue to endure.  Let us continue through this celebration to dedicate ourselves to living on this earth with our eyes fixed on the life to come.

Homily From the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Growing up in West County, shopping malls were not a very uncommon thing.  We had Chesterfield Mall and West County Mall within a pretty close distance.  And if you drove a little bit further, you could go to the Galleria.  So moving here and finding myself across the street from Mid Rivers Mall was not entirely strange.  But even though it’s so close and has so many stores and options, I absolutely dread going to the mall.  Some people get really into it – they love looking at all the stores and walking all over the place, taking it in just for the fun of it.  One thing that you need to know about me is that I’m a particularly impatient walker, and I’m always driven towards a goal, so meandering around a mall for fun makes absolutely no sense to me.  And even worse, it drives me crazy to get caught behind those type of people.  For some of us, including myself, we need a list when we go to the Mall.  I like to know what I need to get and where I can get it, and then just get in, take care of business, and get the heck out of there – and then go home and bathe.

Maybe that’s the German side of me, but there are some people who are very goal oriented.  Faith is often times the same way – just give me a list of what I need to do.  I’ll gewt it done, check the things off the list, and BOOM.  Heaven.  Done.  Task complete.  I’d venture to say that I’m not the only one who has to stretch myself a little further in this regard.  How many times do we come to Mass just because it’s something we have to get done or checked of the weekend list?  How late can I arrive and still receive communion: the Gospel?  The homily?  The Our Father?  Now for some, that’s how they were taught, and I apologize for that.  But now it’s time to move on, because that’s not what God is asking of us.

I listen to a podcast each week from a guy named Mark Hart (nicknamed the Bible Geek), and he points out that this week, God tells us, “Look, here’s your list.  I want you to give me all that you are, and all that you have…and then some.”  It’s the “and then some” that really makes the difference – that little extra effort.  That little “and then some” is what separates the folks that are just “good people” and the folks that are saints.

In the first reading from the First Book of Kings, we have this story about Elijah the prophet going to the home of this poor woman who is on her last legs – she doesn’t think she has enough food or water to survive in the extreme famine and drought that she’s experiencing.  And as a prophet, Elijah makes a pretty bold statement on behalf of God, asking her for something to eat.  And the woman shows extreme generosity and hospitality.  She gives out of her poverty – everything that she has…and then some.  She does what he says, makes him this little cake, and through her trust and generosity of heart, the promise of God is revealed to her.  God responds to her faithfulness, and took care of her – her flour jar doesn’t go empty, and her water remains.  God took care of her in a way that she could never have taken care of herself.

Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Then in the Gospel, we hear Jesus start by talking about the scribes and Pharisees, and he tells us to beware of these guys.  So he goes over to the side near the money box and invites his disciples to see what happens.  So these rich people with their long and elaborate prayers and their expensive tassles and their prestige come and put a tithe offering in the box, and it’s a lot of money.  But then this poor widow comes and deposits a few small coins, and Jesus points out that she is putting more in the jar than anyone else.  Sure, the others might have put more in monetarily.  They probably put in more coins, more drachmas, but the poor widow gives more than anyone else because she is giving all that she has…and then some.  There’s nothing wrong with reciting prayers, and there’s nothing bad about giving money.  But we need to ask ourselves if it is for us, or for God.  Do we want to be praised for every little prayer that people see us do, or every little gift that other people see us give?  Do we give until it hurts?  Or do we give until it hurts…and then some?

This year, Pope Benedict is challenging us to live a Year of Faith, and this is the lesson we’re trying to learn.  Some people would take Jesus’ words today to the extreme of thinking that faith is what’s important and the other things like prayer and giving isn’t important.  But we’re not saying that we should get rid of structured prayers like the rosary or the Divine Mercy chaplet or other prayers.  Real and authentic faith doesn’t mean that we get rid of these things.  In fact, there are a lot of people in our parish who can easily tell us how their faith and devotion to God has grown through these sorts of prayers.  What this Year of Faith is challenging us to do, however, is to take a look at what’s in our hearts as we pray, and as we come to church, and as we do things for others.  The Year of Faith challenges us to see why we do these things.  It challenges us to take the time and energy and devotion to pray all these prayers and to go to church, and then to give a little extra from our hearts.  This Year of Faith is all about the message of today – of giving all that we have and all that we are…and then some.

That’s why we’re here in the first place.  We’re following in the footsteps of one who have everything that he had and then some, and we are re-presenting that event again for us here to receive and to follow.  Look at the crucifix.  That’s a guy who gave us everything that he had, even to the last drops of his blood, and then some.  And he did it not simply because that’s what the Father told him to do, and not simply because it was something that he had to do to check it off his list.  He did it for us out of love.  Now it’s our turn.  Let us receive that great gift of love from Christ Jesus, and through the Eucharist, become people who give everything that we have and everything that we are…and then some.

Eucharistic Prayer III: Oblations and Epicleses

Well, there they go again.  Just as you’re sitting down with your coffee to enjoy this wonderful bulletin article (because you’re not reading it during Mass, right?  Right???), they have to go throw more vocabulary in there!  Yep, it’s “oblation” again!  We’ve mentioned this a little in this column already, but what is an oblation again?

Well, the best way to think about it is that an oblation is a special offering that we give to God – like a gift or sacrifice of some kind.  One great way that we see this in the Bible is the story of Elijah and the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18), one of my all time favorites.  Elijah and the prophets of the pagan god Baal get into an argument and decide to put their money where their mouth is.  So both of them are trying to call down God’s power to consume their oblation sacrifice.  Elijah makes fun of them a little bit, and then prays that God come and accept his sacrifice, and then BAM! a huge pillar of fire comes from heaven and burns the sacrifice.

We kind of do something similar at Mass with the epiclesis.  We pray, “…by the same Spirit, graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration,” praying that the Holy Spirit would come down on those gifts like he did for the prophet Elijah.  A pillar of fire would be impressive, but a lot more destructive, and we’d have to have the fire department standing by at all our Masses, so we’ll just stick with the epiclesis.  Through the sanctifying power and words of Christ re-spoken through the priest, at the expressed command of the Lord himself (“Do this in memory of me.”), we call down the Holy Spirit upon our gifts.

But the neat thing about Eucharistic Prayer III is that later, there is another epiclesis.  But the oblation this time isn’t just the Body and Blood of Christ, but our hearts.  We pray, “May he make of us an eternal offering to you…”  The oblation at Mass starts with the gifts at the altar, but continues with the gift of ourselves.  We are called to enter into Christ’s offering of himself, so that we offer ourselves as victims alongside the Victim himself.

I know this is a theme that we’ve all heard before, but it’s important to realize that Mass is more than just our sitting by as we watch something happen.  We are called to be actively engaged in offering ourselves.  So maybe the question for this week as you prepare for Mass next week is, “What is it that I want to offer God as an oblation.”  Have a great week!