The Liturgy of the Eucharist: The Eucharistic Prayer

The Prayer over the Offerings

The Eucharistic Prayer brings us to the central part of the celebration. In the past there was not one name for the Eucharistic Prayer in Roman Latin liturgies. One name for the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin was the simple and poignant prex: “prayer.” This prayer is the most important prayer of the entire celebration; it is the prayer. Even today in Greek liturgies, the Eucharistic Prayer is called the anaphora, which means “elevation” or “lifting up,” evoking when the celebrating bishop or priest raises the Body and Blood of Christ in offering to God the Father.

Since the current edition of the Roman Missal contains four Eucharistic Prayers, along with an appendix containing three others (one of which has four thematic variations) it’s important to consider the elements that all Eucharistic Prayers have in common.

In the Roman liturgy the “Roman Canon,” Eucharistic Prayer I, was celebrated almost exclusively for centuries, and has had a great influence on the other Eucharistic Prayers. With the exception of Eucharistic Prayer II (which was originally put into writing by St. Hippolytus of Rome around 215 A.D., but used even before that time), the other Eucharistic Prayers were composed after the Second Vatican Council, but recently keeping liturgical traditions, including traditional liturgical prayers in mind. They all take certain texts from the Roman Canon for uniformity.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM] summarizes the Eucharistic Prayer as “the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification” (GIRM, 78). It consists mainly of the following elements (cf. GIRM 79) that help us to navigate whatever Eucharistic Prayer on which we wish to meditate:

Thanksgiving. It is an expression of our thanksgiving to and glorification of God for either all or part of the work of salvation, depending on the celebration of the day. Eucharistic actually comes from the Greek verb εὐχᾰριστέω, which means “to be thankful” and “return thanks.” This is especially expressed in the prefaces, which are an integral part of every Eucharistic Prayer.

Acclamation. This is especially expressed in the Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord…”), where the whole congregation strains to unite with the heavenly powers to proclaim the holiness, power, and glory of God. The Sanctus used in all the Eucharistic Prayers is taken from the Roman Canon.

The Epiclesis. The term epiclesis comes from the Greek word ἐπίκλησις, which can mean “calling upon,”  “invocation,” or “appeal.” In the case of the epiclesis the bishop or priest calls upon the power of the Holy Spirit so that the gifts prepared for the celebration of the Eucharist become consecrated. You can recognize the moment of the epiclesis when the bishop or priest places his hands together briefly, then extends them and holds them over the offerings. Epiclesis can refer to any invocation of the Holy Spirit, but in the Eucharistic Prayer, strictly speaking, it refers to this moment.

The Institution narrative and Consecration. The bishop or priest recalls the very actions and words of Christ as the Last Supper that transubstantiated bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood for the first time, and through the power of the Holy Spirit just invoked, the bread and wine once again become Christ’s Body and Blood. The Institution narrative, particularly the words of consecration, are taken from the Roman Canon.

The Anamnesis. The term anamnesis comes from the Greek word ἀνάμνησις, which means “a calling to mind” or a “recollection.” In the moment of the anamnesis we recall the mysteries of Christ, recalling his Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension and honoring his wish that we “do this in memory of [him],” just as he asked the Apostles to do at the Last Supper and the Church has done ever since.

Oblation. With the perfect and unblemished sacrifice now present, thanks to the consecration, the Church, represented by the celebrating bishop or priest as well as the faithful, offers Christ’s Body and Blood to God.

Intercessions. Through the intercessions we express that our celebration is done in communion with the whole Church, both on earth and in Heaven, and is offered for her and for all her members, living and dead. We express our communion and strive to exchange spiritual goods.

The concluding doxology. The term doxology comes from the Greek word δόξᾰ (“reputation,” “honor,” “credit,” “glory”) and refers to a prayer giving glory to God. In this case the Eucharist prayer concludes with a final giving of glory to God. The concluding doxology is taken from the Roman Canon.

With this roadmap in mind you can navigate any Eucharistic Prayer. Take some quiet time before Mass and go over a Eucharistic Prayer, using your missalette or missal, and follow this roadmap to see some of its depth and richness. If you aren’t subscribed to a monthly missalette or don’t own a small missal consider getting one. It is a valuable prayer resource and a great way to prepare for Mass and remain engaged; there are many good editions available.

Each one of these elements of prayer is something that can enrich your personal prayer. Does your prayer regularly include some of these elements, excluding the ones proper to the sacrament (such as the consecration)? Meditating on the Eucharistic Prayer and its elements can be a great way to detect and fill any gaps in your prayer life.

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