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 3)
Return-Gift (Transformation that leads to Sacrifice)
Finally, we turn to the future. Our liturgy reflects what we can call an “eschatological tension.” The Greek word, eschaton, refers to the end, to our final goal, to the destination of our journey, which is eternal life with God. In the meantime, we live in tension, we live with the reality that the reign of God is and is not yet. We are straining toward a future of God’s making, but have not yet arrived. This part of the Eucharistic Prayer shifts attention to the ecclesial body of Christ — to us, the Church, we who live in this betwixt-and-between time.
This section begins with a second invocation of the Spirit, or epiclesis. We pray that the Spirit — the same Spirit which transformed the gifts — will now transform (or, better, continue to transform) us:
Humbly we pray that, partaking of the body and blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.
While it is true that, through baptism, we are already the body of Christ, we are also a sinful people. We turn our backs on our identity as Christ’s body, the Church. Rather than the unity of the body, we put ourselves, and our agendas, first. So, here, we plead for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to deepen our oneness in Christ.
As liturgist Sister Joyce Ann Zimmerman has noted, just as there is a double epiclesis there is also a double offering. As Christ offers himself to the Father, we, too, offer ourselves. Having been brought together by the Holy Spirit, and baptized into Christ’s priesthood, we are joined to Christ’s own self-offering to the Father. As Christ prays for the whole Church, we, too, intercede for the living and for the dead:
Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with N. our Pope and N. our Bishop and all the clergy.
Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection
and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.
Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
with the blessed Apostles, and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages,
we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you through your Son, Jesus Christ.
Note that the prayer ends on an eschatological note; we still await the fullness of that reign of which the Eucharist is only a foretaste. More importantly, the offering of ourselves in the liturgy does not occur in isolation. The sacrifice of praise celebrated in the liturgy must reflect lives of sacrifice — of loving service to God and neighbor — outside the liturgy (remember, intercessions are also about reminding ourselves of what our faith calls us to do). The two go hand in hand. We proclaim the story; we celebrate the memorial of Christ; and, changed, we are sent to live Eucharistic lives. As Father Louis-Marie Chauvet has noted, the Christian life must include the three dimensions of Scripture, sacrament and ethics. We’ll talk more about this last point when we get to the Concluding Rites.
The Concluding Doxology
The priest then raises the paten and chalice (if a deacon is present, he raises the chalice) and says:
Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.
Just as at the beginning of the prayer, with the preface dialogue, the Eucharistic Prayer ends with a communal exchange: we (not the priest) respond: Amen! Having knelt after the Holy, Holy, we now stand.
Entering the Mystery
As one baptized into the priesthood of Christ, for whom else do I pray during the intercessions of the Eucharistic Prayer?
Does my “Amen” at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer reflect the awe, wonder, and gratitude that this prayer ought to evoke in us? Can I make the following words from Sister Joyce Ann Zimmerman my own?
And how can we not shout AMEN at the end of this great recital — this great story, this awesome remembering — of all God’s mighty deeds accomplished for our salvation, of the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, at the transformation of ourselves into being more unified and holy members of the body of Christ. Yes, definitely, AMEN! So be it!
The Ars Celebrandi
How well do I understand the Eucharistic Prayers — their origins, theology, spirituality and language? Does my understanding inform how I proclaim those prayers (including remaining silent for the Amen)? Do I keep in mind the bishop’s words as he hands the chalice and paten to a newly ordained priest: “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross”?
(Editor’s Note: The Notre Dame Center for Liturgy has posted a series of excellent videos on its website (http://liturgy.nd.edu/webcatechesis/). Sr. Zimmerman provides a four-part presentation on the Eucharistic Prayers, using Eucharistic Prayer II as her example. The other Prayers are explored in depth by Msgr. Bruce Harbert (I, III) and Father Paul Turner (IV).)