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.

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!

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!

Eucharistic Prayer III: “Rising of the Sun to its Setting”

It strikes me as interesting how much the sun impacts our daily lives.  It’s important for temperature, for growing food, for telling time, and it even creates mass chaos on the highways at certain times of day (Ever hear of a sun visor or sunglasses, people?  Good grief!)  Its amazing what impact that ball of fire has for us every day!

As we begin looking at Eucharistic Prayer III, one of the first things we hear is that phrase, “…you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that, from the rising of the sun to its setting, a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.”  This is a new translation from the previous Missal, which used the phrase, “from east to west”.  Both are intended to get across the idea that a vast gathering of people desires to offer praise and honor to God, but “from the rising of the sun to its setting” is very poetic, and it follows exactly the words of Psalm 113.  Also, with us St. Louisans as territorial as we are, you might leave out folks from North or South County!

The sun is something universal – everyone on earth is looking at the same star.  But it’s also a powerful symbol for the Christian Church of the Resurrection of Christ.  The sun appears to be dying in the evening, disappearing into darkness, but then reappears in glory at the beginning of a new day.  In the same way, just as the story of Jesus appeared to be coming to a gloomy end, he was risen and triumphant on the third day!

The rising sun in the east has always been an important part in the liturgy as well.  Many probably recall from their childhood the priest praying ad orientem, or “to the east”.  For many people, it came across as anti-social or dismissive, but in reality, the priest was called to lead all the faithful, focused in a single direction, toward the rising sun (or Son, pun intended), the risen Christ.  Even from the days of the Early Church, prayer to the east, to the Risen Christ, was important for worship.

When we think about our own celebration of Mass, we realize that the universality of the Church isn’t just people all over the world, but the whole Church – in every stage.  It’s not just those who are rising, but those who are dying as well.  All belong to Christ, and all worship him together when we celebrate Mass: those of us here on earth struggling to be his disciples, those who have gone before us and prepare to see God face to face, and those victorious in heaven, who sit at his right and left, worshipping him together with the angels and saints.

Ha!  And you thought 10:30 Mass was packed!  It’s nice to remember that we’re in great company as we pray, together offering our prayers and praises in one voice to the Risen Christ!

Eucharistic Prayer III: An Overview

I think one of the most adorable things in the world might be when a child learns to read, and proceeds to read one of his or her childhood books to us.  Usually, we don’t expect much content from these sorts of books – “See Bob run.  Run, Bob, run!” – but nobody cares, because it’s cute, and we listen anyway.  But you might think of Eucharistic Prayer III as a child reading a book to you, but instead of Where the Wild Things Are, the child is reading Plato’s Republic or St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles!  Eucharistic Prayer III sounds nice and pleasant, but it’s jam packed with important Eucharistic theology and doctrine!

Eucharistic Prayer III is the next anaphora on our chopping block as we dissect it down to its most important elements.  It is medium length, somewhere between EPII and EPI, but if you get to the nuts and bolts of it, it’s incredibly theologically complex!

Some of us think of ourselves as Roman Catholic, but really, the Roman version of Catholicism used to be but one of several other “rites” within the larger Latin-speaking Church, each with it’s own style and Eucharistic Prayer.  Some are still around today – the Ambrosian Rite (celebrated only in Milan, Italy) and the Mozarabic Rite (celebrated in Toledo and parts of Spain) – and others have disappeared completely.  Eucharistic Prayer III reaches out to some of these other traditions, including elements from defunct rites in Spain and Gaul (present-day France).

There are two key themes to unlocking the whole thing: sacrifice and the Holy Spirit.  Sacrifice is an important element of the Eucharist, period.  But in a special way, it is brought out in this prayer.  Sacrifice is what the Mass is – it’s a meal, yes, but as we hear constantly throughout all the Eucharistic Prayers, it is our presence at the foot of the Cross as well.  So we’ll hear phrases like, “holy and living sacrifice”, a line borrowed from Theodore of Mopsuestia, a theologian of the early Church, and talk of victims and offerings – things that might have a bad connotation in a secular culture, but which are essential to who we are as Catholics, because they were done by Christ with immense love!

The other big theme throughout Eucharistic Prayer III is the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes, this poor guy is forgotten in the context of the Mass, or we only call him when we need him to do something.  We know that Jesus is the victim of the sacrifice, and we know that he’s offered to God the Father, but sometimes we don’t think of the Holy Spirit, even if we know he’s there.  EPIII underlines the action of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist – he gathers us as one people to offer that sacrifice, he transforms the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and he transforms us too, giving us meaning to our participation at Mass.

Those are just a couple quick points to introduce you to Eucharistic Prayer III (EPIII, this is All Saints; All Saints, this is EPIII!), but hopefully we’ll be able to pick these things out as we pray together on Sunday!  Stay tuned, and Go Cards!!!

Eucharistic Prayer II: “That we may merit to be coheirs”

When I was growing up, I was in Scouts with a guy who’s claim to fame was that he was something like 154,723rd in line for the throne in England.  It’s strange to think about, but if all those people mysteriously disappeared or all died in a freak balloon race accident or something, my friend, by right, deserved to be the King of England!

Talking about being an heir to a kingdom might seem strange to us, but our belief is that we’re heirs in a very real sense – a lot more legitimate than my friend’s claim to succession!  We pray in Eucharistic Prayer II that we “may merit to be coheirs to eternal life.”  There are two interesting parts worth mentioning here: merit and being coheirs.

The idea of merit in our Catholic faith is something very misunderstood, and as a result, steered away from.  Among human beings, it means a general reward or payback owed for the action of an individual.  But that doesn’t make sense with God.  Merit for us comes from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate himself with us.  Anything that we might “earn” or “deserve” by our works of charity for others is first and foremost due to God’s grace.  Even when we do something good for others, we believe that it is God’s grace which inspired us to do so in the first place!  So the reward we’re given isn’t only because of our generosity to others, but also because of God’s generosity to us!

As for being coheirs, this is a birthright that is given to us at baptism.  It’s amazing to think that at our baptism, God radically changed the universe to give us a new identity as his sons and daughters.  Romans 8:16-17 tells us as much: “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

Actually, a royal heir like my friend is a good analogy for this.  If you think about it, a prince or princess as an heir to the kingdom, doesn’t deserve to be king or queen any more than the gas station worker down the street – but they are given that honor by their birth.  Imagine how much more extreme that would seem if the heir was adopted!  In that case, it’s not even by birth, but by the incredible generosity of the king or queen.

Well, I’ve got news for you: we are those adopted princes and princesses of the Kingdom of God!  And it’s not by anything we’ve done to earn that position, but because of waters of baptism, and the incredible generosity of the grace of God.  We’re given the same blessing as Christ, God’s only begotten Son: to be risen from the dead and raised to glory.

One of the greatest things about this is that we don’t have to get rid of 154,722 people to receive this honor – it’s already ours by God’s gift!  So as we celebrate the Eucharist, let us give thanks to God for his unbounded love!

Eucharistic Prayer II: “To be in your presence, and minister to you.”

One of the questions that I get every once in a while is, “Why should I go to Mass at all?  God is everywhere, so as long as I pray every so often and be generally a good person, do I need to go to Mass every week?”  It’s actually a good question, and in some ways, I think Eucharistic Prayer II gives us a pretty good answer.

After the consecration, the priest prays, “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of Life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.”  It’s kind of hidden away in the rest of the prayer, but has a very important meaning with two parts.

The first part is about being in God’s presence.  Now, if you think about it, we’re in God’s presence all the time, right?  God is omnipresent, and is with us every moment of every day.  But there’s something special about being in God’s presence at Mass.  I came across a blog called Grumbling and Gratitude by a neuroscience grad student named Jessica, who had a profound experience of this prayer at Mass.  She pointed out that “being in Mass is only partially about being in his presence.  By devoting time to sit quietly and pay attention to God, I’m showing that I want to be near him.” (By the way, pray for Jessica!  She’s thinking of becoming Catholic!)

Think about it like this: a husband and wife live together and are with each other all the time, but regular “date nights” are still important to foster that relationship as special time together.  Jessica said, “My relationship with God is the same way; He luckily already knows me, but I need to dedicate time to know him.”

God is present in a special way at Mass, however.  Even though God is everywhere, we’re particularly in his real presence in the tabernacle.  We’re in the same room (physically) as Jesus!  That’s awesome!  And that leads us to the second half of this prayer, which is ministering to him.

This word packs a lot of meaning, especially in a church.  Each of us are there to minister to Jesus, but not necessarily in the same way.  The priest, for example, ministers in a special way because of his priesthood.  So the work “ministry” in a technical sense applies to his service.  But let’s think about this word in the context of the Gospel of Matthew.  After Jesus was tempted in the desert, “angels came and ministered to him.” (4:11)  Now, were they wearing vestments and swinging incense?  Maybe.  But what the Gospel is getting at is the angels attending to his needs.  They were serving him.  That’s how we can “minister” to Christ – by worshipping and exalting him in the context of the Mass!

God doesn’t want us to roll out of bed grudgingly for Mass on Sundays.  We should realize that it is truly a blessing to be able to worship, and to be in God’s presence and worship him.  When you wake up tired and grumpy on a Sunday, think back to this prayer.  It’s not that I have to go to Mass, but that I get to go to Mass!

Eucharistic Prayer II: The Dewfall

When I was in Scouting, one of the greatest feelings on a campout was waking up refreshed (which hardly ever happened), unzipping the “door” of the tent, and stepping out into the cool morning air.  I remember that you had to be careful in the way you set up the tent overnight, not wanting any clothes or bags to touch the walls of the tent, or they would be soaking wet in the morning from the heavy dew.  The morning dew was a beautiful sight, lightly shining in the sun on the grass.

So how did dew make the new translation of Eucharistic Prayer II?  It reads, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall…”  For most of the priests I know, this was one of the changes that they would always joke about because it stood out so much!  Dew seems like kind of a strange analogy for us today, but it’s important that we take a look at how the people of ancient Israel viewed it.

Dew was actually something important in the Bible, and has numerous references from the Psalms and Isaiah.  In the arid climate of Israel, dew was a major source of moisture for the vegetation in the desert, and therefore was a source of life.  Dew is also something that doesn’t fall from the sky like rain during a thunderstorm, but appears seemingly unseen from an unknown source.

The Book of the Prophet Hosea writes: “I (God) will be like the dew for Israel: he (Israel) will blossom like the lily…his splendor will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.” (14:5)  I think this is the image that our Eucharistic Prayer is getting at, asking that the Holy Spirit come down like dew upon us and upon our gifts placed at the altar.  Like the dew in the desert, God’s grace is a gift to us, giving us that nourishment, refreshment, and life that we need to survive.

This is especially important for those of us who find ourselves in a spiritual desert.  There are certainly times of dryness and aridity in prayer, where no matter what we seem to do, our prayer feels lifeless.  It seems rather counterintuitive, but the best thing we can do when we struggle with dryness in prayer is to pray more.  We need to keep praying for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and re-energize us, drawing sustenance from the dewfall of the Spirit like a desert flower.  When you receive the Eucharist at Mass, pray for the energizing and the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit to pour into your heart, and give you life to the full!

Eucharistic Prayer II: “The Fount of All Holiness”

Out in St. Peters, Missouri, we’re pretty familiar with the Missouri River, although usually from above as we sit in traffic on the Blanchette Bridge.  What’s interesting about the Missouri River is that although the portion that we see is so large, it has it’s origin at Brower’s Spring, all the way up in the mountains of Montana.  The massive river that we see comes from something unseen to us, but inexhaustible!  That spring is a powerful force!

Brower’s Spring, Montana

The image of a spring is a great one for our faith.  We’ve been looking at Eucharistic Prayer II, and one of the very first lines is, “You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness.”  This reference to a fount is found throughout scripture, and should make us think of that powerful spring.  We’re invited to envision God’s grace like a spring or fountain, gushing forth and giving us power, life, and refreshment.

Sacrosactum Concilium, the document on the Sacred Liturgy written at the Second Vatican Council, talks about it this way: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed, and at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows.” (10)  The whole purpose of what we’re doing on Sunday – between the singing, the spoken responses, the colorful vestments, the boring homily, and of course, the Eucharist – is to bring us closer to Christ.  Even after we walk out those squeaky doors, our works of charity for others are ultimately aimed to bring us back to the altar, to that most intimate moment of union with God!

But even as all that is going on, Christ pours out his grace on us, like an unending, inexhaustible fountain, empowering us to grow in our relationship with him, and to be better disciples of him by the things we do for others.  Like that fount hidden away in the Montana mountains that gives way to a powerful river, God’s unseen grace pours into us, giving us the ability to do the most powerful thing on earth – give of ourselves.

The fount of holiness is a neat image, and one that can be powerful for us, especially when we feel weak.  So the next time you pray the Eucharistic Prayer, try to make that effort to actively be open to God’s grace, letting the roaring waters of that fount of holiness rush over you!

The Roman Missal: The History of Eucharistic Prayer II

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!