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Service of the Word: The Eucharistic Prayer, 30.05.21

Below are the notes used for the above.

The Eucharistic Prayer

 

Many prayers in liturgy: opening prayers, blessing of water, consecration of priest. Pride of place to EP.

 

More than a prayer. Words of Christ prayed by Church which bring about central action. Work of redemption. Sacrifice of new law after manner of Christ at Last Supper.

 

What form should the prayer take given this purpose?

 

It grew out of the Church’s practice in obeying Jesus’ command to do in memory of him.

 

Eucharist instituted at end of Passover meal. Its prayer grew from Jewish table prayers of blessing.

 

“Eucharist” tells us where it came from. Thanksgiving, yes, but blessing mainly. Thanksgiving to God, good. But blessing means a gift of providence first given by God, and then man’s response is to bless. Initiative is God’s. So, prayer takes form of commemorating that. “Blessed be the Lord who has rescued you from the Egyptians” (Ex. 18:10).

 

But blessing God is not just for good received. Job blesses God in the midst of his affliction. Accept his will = to bless God. We bless God whatever: we respond to him with love and confidence for who he is, come what may. True Eucharistic attitude.

 

Special moment of day to bless, meals. Grace before meals was a bread ritual. Grace after meals was a wine ritual. Tells you that the outward form of our Eucharistic prayer grew out of a combination of these two rituals.

 

At time of Jesus, the head of the family would invite everyone to say the blessing. He would then say in his own words what was the reason for blessing God and everyone would respond blessing God for that reason. This would be repeated three times. Blessing God now, remembering what he did, asking that he continue to be good.

 

The prayers would vary depending on the feast and season, but the structure remained the same. You can detect something of the earliest Christian Eucharistic Prayers in this. “The Lord be with you. Lift up your hearts. Let us give thanks or blessing to the Lord.” We all respond. Priest gives the reason for blessing.

 

Three parts to these prayers. First we praise, thank or bless God in the present, in whose presence we stand. Second, we commemorate what he did for us in the past. Third, we petition from Him what we want in the future.

 

Isn’t this our experience of God? We experience his gift of grace, we bless him, we ask him to keep it going.

 

Eucharistic Prayer is not a random collection of words, but reflects how God has revealed himself, how we have experienced him and how we want to go on doing so.

 

On Trinity Sunday, emphasize how the EP is directed to the Father by the Son, who associates us with himself in the Spirit. The Father sends the Son into our gathered community as he once sent him into the world. The Son worships the Father in his offering of himself to him in the Spirit. Father and Son send us the Spirit to share in the worship and live it out until it is consummated.

 

As things developed and the understanding of the faith grew, the liturgy, the Mass and therefore the EP also developed. The three main themes remain: invitation or dialogue to bless; the recalling of God’s wonderful deeds for us in Christ; and our prayer of petition or invocation. But others then are gradually added.

 

Ten themes now found in all our EP’s, one way or the other. Many of them emerged during the time the Church was persecuted, up until roughly the year 320 AD. Not many EP’s were written down because the priest would be free to use his own words but always respect the basic points. But as doctrine became more complex and heresies appeared, it became necessary to fix the prayers usually after the model of the best celebrants. In different parts of the Church, there were variations on a theme, the different rites. Roma, Antiochene, Egyptian, Byzantine, etc..

 

What are these ten main parts of a EP?

 

  1. Opening Dialogue. Our version of this, rooted in Jewish one, is practically same as the year 200 AD. Sursum corda is proper to offering up sacrifice: we offer our hearts, selves, to God with the sacrifice of Christ.

 

  1. Preface. Not introduction, but speaking out loud. The EP itself may have been called “preface” earlier, but now it is reserved to this part between the dialogue and the holy, holy. What does it mean? Solemn entry into the divine presence. Here and now our congregation is one assembly with all those in heaven who worship the divine majesty. A dominant theme is often to thank God for the gift of redemption.

 

  1. Sanctus. As if to emphasize we are in the divine presence, we use the words of the cherubim and seraphim from Isaiah 6, which was one of the high points of mystical experience in bible. A Christian reference is added with the reference to Him who comes in the name of the Lord. Also the first of three acclamations of the people. This shows a concelebration of the EP in alternating chorus. But the EP, even in its Jewish origin, was never recited in its entirety by all present.

 

  1. Commemoration of the saving work of God. This comes after the Holy, holy. It is a joyful proclamation of the mighty deeds of God on behalf of his people.

 

  1. The Words of institution or “dominical” words, i.e. words of the Lord (Dominus). At heart of all Eps. Central words spoken in first person (not in second, as up till now; nor in third person, as in the intro to the dominical words). Taken from Lord’s words at Supper.

 

Just as our entire act of worship depends on our Lord’s own worship at the Supper and on the cross, so this central section is the pivot of the entire EP. The words of Jesus are the central proclamation of the Christian gospel. They proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Not just calling to mind. We are doing it in memory of him as he commanded, with bread and cup. The priest does not say the words in his own first person, but in person of Christ. It is Christ who speaks, and it is Christ who makes present the exact same sacrifice he made present at the last supper in anticipation of his death the next day. Because Christ does this in and through the priest who also represents the Church, then it means that Christ makes his own sacrifice the Church’s own sacrifice.

 

Then comes the second acclamation of the people proclaiming the mystery of faith. Not the real presence of the Body and Blood, but the real presence of Christ’s sacrifice in his death and resurrection. Why is it proclaimed at this point? Answer:

 

  1. Prayer of commemoration and offering. After proclaiming the Lord’s sacrifice in his own words, we go on to spell out the meaning of it by commemorating it and by offering it once more to the Father, associating ourselves with it once more. The words of Jesus focus on his impending death, which is the basic act of our redemption. But he did not remain dead. He was glorified. The acts of his glorification belong to the work of redemption. They bring it to completion and prove that the Father accepted it. So we remember also his resurrection, ascension and return in glory and offer these as well to the Father. It is all of this together which makes his sacrifice fruitful for us.

 

But then, the EP unites the assembled congregation and whole Church to Christ’s offering and offers not only his sacrifice to the Father, but we offer ourselves, too. We enter into the movement of Christ’s offering to God. Our gifts have become his body and blood.

 

  1. Prayer of Invocation or Petition. The main petition in the EP is that the salvation of the world will be fulfilled. This is the aim of our Eucharist. We do this by calling down the Holy Spirit to do two things: first, to make the celebration fruitful in drawing us all into communion in one body and one spirit; second, to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

 

  1. Intercessions. We intercede in union with the saints for the Church, the Pope, Bishops, priests, deacons and whole people; for the salvation of the world; for the dead. Sacrifice always has this aim to ask the favour of God. Intercession is a form of commemoration and communion. We remember those we pray for and we want to be in unity and peace with them.

 

  1. Doxology. Jewish prayers frequently conclude with joy and blessing (cf. Psalms 88 and 105). This note of praise at the end of the EP echoes the note of praise at the beginning, in the preface. The doxology we use in all EP’s comes from the Roman Canon. It has high literary and theological quality; outstanding expression of the mediation of Christ. In the Eucharist, we don’t just recall that Jesus mediated salvation to us: we actually relive it. When the priest raises once again the chalice and paten at the doxology, it is a very solemn showing of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. We are actually holding them up as if we were holding Christ up in our collective arms and showing him to the Father. With these gifts in our hands, we can come with confidence before the throne of God. To come before God with the sacrificial offering was the high point in ancient rituals of offering. And so, the EP comes to a climax in a moment of high sacrificial solemnity. Ancient Irish liturgy was so enthralled with the wealth of this moment that it delayed over it and sang the doxology no less than three times.

 

  1. Amen. This is the people’s acceptance and ratification of all that has gone before. St. Jerome said that this Amen at his time sounded like a clap of thunder through the church. This one word can’t really express the meaning we would like it to have at this point, so singing it is important. The Our Father can also be considered as a kind of people’s ratification of the EP.

 

How to conclude? The EP when prayed worthily out loud by the priest, when entered into interiorly by the people and when they make their three acclamations with faith and devotion, unites us to the ancient Jewish faith, to our forefathers and foremothers in the Christian faith of these 2,000 years, to all the living and dead whom we remember, to the angels and saints in heaven, and above all to the living Lord Jesus as he exercises once more his priestly office in the midst of the Church and before the throne of the Father, commemorating the night he was betrayed and left us his body and blood, the day he was crucified and died, the day he rose, the day he ascended, the day he sent the Spirit upon us and the day on which he will return in glory to present those who have loved and believed in him as an eternal kingdom to the Father.

 

Through him, and with him …

 

 

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