By Deacon Frank Agnoli
(Editor’s note: The publication of the third edition of the Roman Missal provides a great opportunity for each diocese, parish and individual Catholic to grow in their love for — and knowledge of — the liturgy. In this series Deacon Frank Agnoli, the Davenport Diocese’s director of liturgy, reflects on the parts of the Mass.)
The Eucharistic Prayer (Part 1)
What are we doing here? The General Instruction tells us: “The Church’s intention … is that the faithful not only offer this spotless Victim but also learn to offer themselves” (GIRM 79). In the Eucharistic Prayer, our daily lives — presented earlier with/in the gifts — are joined to Christ’s self-offering to the Father. As liturgist Father Gil Ostdiek put it: Through, with, and in Christ we become a “holy and living sacrifice” offered to God in thanksgiving.
My guess is that many of us, rather than actively engaging in the Eucharistic Prayer, fall into the habit of just passively listening to the priest pray — or, even pay no attention at all. Or perhaps we’ve not understood that “doing Eucharist” is more than receiving communion; that “Eucharist” is more verb than noun?
So how can we engage in this prayer more fully? Perhaps a first step is to understand how the prayer is put together — how it “works” — and we’ll use Eucharistic Prayer II as our example. In doing so, we’ll use the insights of French sacramental theologian Father Louis-Marie Chauvet. To begin with, we can divide the Eucharistic Prayers into three major sections. We can talk about each section in terms of time (past, present, future) and in terms of the body of Christ that is our focus: Christ’s historical and glorified body, Christ’s eucharistic body, and Christ’s ecclesial body. We can speak of the dynamic of the liturgy in terms of gift, reception, and return-gift.
Gift (Remembering that leads to Encounter)
In this first section — the Preface and Holy, Holy — we recall the past (God’s gift of self) with gratitude as we focus on the historical and glorified body of Christ.
The Preface begins with a dialogue between the priest and people. Dialogues are an important element of the Roman liturgy. They are sacramental: they both express and help to bring about the communion between priest and people. Dialogues require the participation of both parties; one can’t go on without the consent of the other.
This particular exchange ends with the priest calling us to give thanks to God, to which we respond: “It is right and just.” The priest then begins the Preface with those words: “It is truly right and just … ” In a sense, we hand the priest the words that he is going to use to give voice to our prayer. While it doesn’t seem like a big deal, this is a small example of the way that the liturgy reminds us that the Eucharist is the prayer of the entire community. While we might have different ministries at Mass, we are all one body.
While the Preface differs according to the season, the feast, or the rite being celebrated, its purpose remains the same: to highlight the particular reasons for our gratitude. So one way that we can enter more intentionally into the prayer (instead of zoning out) is to offer a silent “thank you” after each of the sentences or phrases in the Preface that mention a cause for thanksgiving. For example, take a look at the Preface that goes with Eucharistic Prayer II:
It is truly right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, your Word through whom you made all things,
(Thank you — for the gift of Creation)
whom you sent as our Savior and Redeemer,
(Thank you — for the gift of our salvation)
incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin.
(Thank you — for the mystery of the Incarnation, of a God willing to take on human flesh)
Fulfilling your will and gaining for you a holy people,
(Thank you — for calling us into the Church)
he stretched out his hands as he endured his Passion,
(Thank you — for Christ’s willingness to suffer on our behalf)
so as to break the bonds of death and manifest the resurrection.
(Thank you — for transforming death into life)
And so, with the Angels and all the Saints…
With all the angels and saints, with the entire Church across time and space, we praise God with words taken from both the Old (Isaiah) and New (Revelation, Matthew) Testaments: “Holy, Holy, Holy …!” How often are we aware that our praise and prayer is part of something so much bigger than ourselves or our parish?
Entering the MysteryHave we “lifted” up our hearts in prayer, and do we do so routinely at home?
For what are we grateful (or, in contrast, do we feel entitled)?
Are we aware that we are part of the communion of saints that transcends time and space, and that we are all raising our voices in praise and thanksgiving to God?
The Ars CelebrandiAs a priest-presider, do I respect the form and function of the dialogues, or do I treat them as solo lines? Do I take my time and make eye contact with the assembly? Do I wait for the people’s responses — and their posture changes — before going on?
Am I careful to keep in mind when I am to join the people in their parts (the Confiteor, Creed and communion invitation) and when I am not (Memorial Acclamation, Amen, Lord’s Prayer doxology, responses in the dialogues)?