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THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer II (6)
“The mystery of faith.”
As the Institution narrative and consecration conclude these words invite us to recall the profound mysteries of God that not only take place in eternity, but in history. In theology the study of the “last things” (death, judgment, condemnation, purification, heavenly glory) is called eschatology. An eschatological view sees the present and the past of salvation of history in the light of its future, and all the mysteries of faith have an eschatological aspect.
The history of salvation is not just a series of disconnected events; it is a process that in recent times theology has described as “now, but not yet.” “Now, but not yet” describes well what we as the Church have experienced: salvation has happened, death has been conquered, yet the process of conquest is not yet complete until the end of time. We are now in the last times, times inaugurated with the Incarnation of Christ, but it’s not over yet.
Each one of the possible responses we make to the bishop or priest’s invitation to consider the mysteries of faith is characterized by a sort of eschatological suspense. In this case, suspense is healthy.
“We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”
St. Paul teaches us that if we die in Christ we shall also be raised in him: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). We have already received new life in Christ through baptism and through the Holy Spirit.
This new life has not yet completely bloomed in us. We await the moment of eternal life with faith and expectation: “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Our Lord’s death and Resurrection have already started to change our lives, but the best is yet to come. Wait for it.
“When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.”
These words are inspired by St. Paul too (see 1 Corinthians 11:26: “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”). They come right after his account of the institution of the Eucharist, which is why they’re such a fitting response here. In the context of St. Paul’s original thought his mention that the Lord will return (“until he comes”) is also a reminder to not receive the Eucharist unworthily, because you’ll be judged for it (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-28).
We proclaim his death by consuming his sacrificed Body and Blood, but we also know that death no longer has the last word. Our Lord will return, and not just sacramentally, as he does whenever a sacrament is celebrated; he’ll return at history’s end.
When we think of the end we think of death and we tremble. That’s natural, but it’s not very eschatological: if we’re excited he’ll return, the only thing we should worry about is helping others to get excited too, because there will be a point when he returns and it’ll be too late for anyone to change, including us.
“Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.”
This response is interesting because it implies that we’ve been liberated, but not yet saved. We’re like hostages who’ve been untied, but not yet led to safety. One of the consequences of Original Sin is that we enter under the dominion of the Evil One, “captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Catechism 407).
Our Lord let himself be taken hostage so that through his death we could be set free: “he himself likewise partook of the same nature [ours], that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Hebrews 2:14–15). As a hostage he was killed, but he was not defeated. His death was his release, and that made our release possible too.
As hostages we’ve been ransomed, but we’re still threatened with re-capture if we don’t stay close to Our Lord. It is in following him closely that we’re led to safety. Only when we’ve arrived will we truly and definitively be safe, and we can only do that by staying close to Our Lord and following his lead.