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THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer II
In contemporary celebration of the Eucharist this Eucharistic Prayer is probably the most frequently used, due to its brevity and simplicity. It is modeled after and adapted from a Eucharistic Prayer presented by St. Hippolytus of Rome in the Apostolic Tradition as an example, a prayer dating back to 225 A.D.
Due to its brevity and simplicity Eucharistic Prayer II presents an opportunity and a potential pitfall. It’s an opportunity to meditate on the essential prayer at the heart of the liturgy of the Eucharist. We’ve seen that Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon) is beautiful prose, but it is also a more developed prayer. Eucharist Prayer II is core Eucharistic devotion and intercession.
The potential pitfall of Eucharistic Prayer II is that we’re very familiar with it due to frequent use. It’s usually used for weekday Masses and, in some places, Sunday Mass due to its brevity. As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and if this prayer is used to “get Mass over with” it will hinder the spiritual life, not help it. It requires a contemplative heart to not shy away from going back over a prayer in order to draw profounder fruit from it, especially when it is not verbose. The bishop or priest celebrating Mass selects the Eucharistic Prayer, but we put our hearts into it, whether it is long or brief.
The preface is an integral part of every Eucharistic Prayer, and in the case of Eucharistic Prayer II it has its own preface, inspired by the original text of St. Hippolytus. The preface is one option, unlike Eucharistic Prayer IV, which always uses the same preface.
“… your Word through whom you made all things, whom you sent as our Savior and Redeemer, incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin..”
Every preface articulates why we give God thanks and praise, and in this preface we thank God for his Word. Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Verbum Domini reminds us that we mean many things when we speak of the word of God (cf. n.7): God is not just communicating; he is communicating himself.
In eternity, before he became Jesus Christ, the Word was the Son, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. In becoming Incarnate the Son of God becomes Jesus Christ, and also, thanks to Mary, a son of man and the Son of God. The eternal Word translates himself into a historical expression that we can understand.
God also communicates through creation itself. He made all things with his Word in mind, so when we contemplate creation we can see the “fingerprints” of God, and they shape little by little into an image of his Son, since his Son was the inspiration for creation. This creation is not just something static, like an aging building with a tarnished dedicatory plaque. It moves and changes, waxes and wanes, but always progresses toward something. History is the backdrop for salvation, and just as man fell in history the Son’s Incarnation and earthly life culminates the Father’s work throughout history to redeem man after the Fall. The fact that he strives to save us from ourselves expresses who is truly is: love.
“Fulfilling your will and gaining for you a holy people, he stretched out his hands as he endured his Passion, so as to break the bonds of death and manifest the resurrection.”
The Father had a plan for creation and history, and when it got ugly, due to our sins, the Son was there to help restore its beauty and meaning. Sin was a test of how great God’s love was in the face of being unrequited; sin was a choice of death rather than communion and eternity with God. We were free to reject him and his love, but we were (and are) stupid when we do so.
Sin and death sought to bind Our Lord on the Cross, and he “flexed” his love and shattered both. He restored those who believed in him to holiness so that we could be a holy people of God again after centuries of infidelity.
Love is tested when it is strained. Don’t shy away from “flexing” it for the sake of God or those whom you love.