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THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon)
What is now called Eucharistic Prayer I was originally known as the Roman Canon. It was the only Eucharistic Prayer used in liturgies of the Roman Rite, and it was “Canon” in the sense of being the rule of worship for many centuries and the source for some unifying parts of the Eucharistic Prayers we also use today. In its original Latin it shows that it was composed according to the rules of Latin composition, not adapted from another language, such as Greek, so it is truly a Roman contribution to worship that contains a treasury of prayers and elements.
“To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition…”
The “therefore” right at the beginning of the Roman Canon shows its continuity with the Preface and Sanctus that was just said. Aware and grateful for the works in salvation history already done by the Lord, we confidently ask him for what we need.
“…through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord…”
We’re not only celebrating the Eucharist in memory of Our Lord; we’re celebrating it through him. Without his mediation our prayers would be in vain.
“…that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices…”
There is a blessing of the gifts of this point, but it doesn’t seem to be an epiclesis (an invocation of the Holy Spirit) as found at the beginning of other Eucharistic Prayers. It hearkens back to the Preparation of the Gifts, but here it also uses the language of sacrifice. Our Lord is not sacramentally on the altar yet.
These are the sacrifices we are making. We have to not only feel the bite of what we offer to the Lord, but also strive to offer it with a pure heart that strives for holiness and seeks nothing other than God’s glory and will.
“…which we offer you firstly for your holy catholic Church. …”
The Roman Canon, unlike other Eucharistic Prayers, has a list of intercessions at the beginning in addition to intercessions following the consecration.
Our Lord offered himself for the whole world, and so we make intercession for the whole world, beginning with the Church, which is called to intercede for the whole world. Just as the flight attendants tell you in the case of an emergency to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others to put on theirs, the Church knows it needs grace and prayers in order to help the entire world.
“Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop,…”
Unity is not just something the Church achieves by herself; she needs grace and direction from Our Lord, and the Lord has also provided for her through the Roman Pontiff and through the Bishop under whose jurisdiction the Mass is being celebrated. They are the backbone of the vital connection that unites believers throughout the world in Catholic Communion, therefore we mention them by name and pray for them during every Mass.
“…and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.”
Catholic communion is also shared with those who have preceded us and we pray to be able to hand it on to those who’ll come after us. The bishops, as successors of the Apostles, have been entrusted with the mission of handing on the teachings Our Lord entrusted to his Apostles, but it is also the duty of the entire Church to remain true to those teachings. An important part of our communion is our communion in the truth. We cannot live like cafeteria Catholics, choosing the teachings that are convenient to us and ignoring those we don’t like. Catholicity means adhering to the whole of something. Just as we recite the Creed every Sunday this is the moment to renew our faith in all the Church’s teachings because, in faith, we believe that they have been handed down to us by the Apostles.