Liturgy of the Eucharist: A prayer of thanksgiving

By Ian Bozant, Contributing Writer

How does the Liturgy of the Eucharist begin?

After the preparation of the offering, the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with a dialogue between the priest and the congregation. The opening part of this dialogue, where the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” and the congregation responds, “And with your spirit,” has already been discussed previously.

The second part of this dialogue, “Lift up your hearts,” is made our own with the response, “We lift them up to the Lord.” The heart here is not merely the biological heart but the biblical heart – the deepest part of the human person and so, God is asking us to lift up the deepest part of ourselves to him. Thus, we answer honestly when we offer our whole selves to God in prayer.

The final part of the dialogue is a directive that gives the rest of the preface and Eucharistic Prayer its focus: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which we respond, “It is right and just.” Thus, we thank God for the many gifts in our lives, but in a particular way we thank him in advance for the great miracle about to occur in the eucharistic sacrifice.

What is the Preface?

The Preface follows this threefold dialogue and it is directed to the Father in a prayer of thanksgiving on behalf of the priest and all the faithful gathered together in prayer. If we pay particular attention to the Preface, we see that each Preface (since there are various options) gives a particular focus to our thanksgiving. However, each leads to the same conclusion – uniting ourselves to the prayer of the angels and saints.

What is the Holy, Holy?

The “Holy, Holy, Holy” is the hymn of praise that we sing after the priest has prayed the Preface – a prayer of thanksgiving on our behalf. This hymn and prayer invokes the intercession of the angels and saints that they may aid us in entering this divine mystery, while also calling to mind the fact that what we do in the sacred liturgy is God’s action, and the angels and saints are present with us as we unite our action in the earthly liturgy with the heavenly liturgy.

Is the Holy, Holy scripturally based?

This prayer is taken from Scripture from the prophet Isaiah, where he receives a vision of the heavenly court complete with the divine throne of God and the six-winged seraphim who stand in awe of God and offer him praise: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). This phrasing is strange to the modern ear, but by calling God holy three times, it is a Hebrew expression of declaring God as the most holy of all things. The second half of the prayer – “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” – echoes Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the crowds greet him with these words of Psalm 118, a psalm traditionally prayed as they made their pilgrimage to the temple.

How many Eucharistic Prayers are there?

Following the Holy, Holy, the priest has the option of choosing one of the Eucharistic Prayers within the Roman Missal. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, there was only one Eucharistic Prayer, and it was known as the Roman Canon. It remains today as Eucharistic Prayer I and is the longest, usually used on more solemn occasions. Since the Second Vatican Council, the church has allowed for more variety in the Eucharistic Prayers. There are no restrictions in any liturgical book which guide the priest in choosing which Eucharistic Prayer he will say. There are four main Eucharistic Prayers, but after the Second Vatican Council, other Eucharistic Prayers were permitted (i.e. Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation, for Children and for various needs). Though some of these Eucharistic Prayers are less commonly prayed at Mass, they are all sacred texts approved for use by the church in the liturgy.

What is the Eucharistic Prayer?

Regardless of which Eucharistic Prayer is used, the overall theme is the same: thanksgiving. Each prayer, however, gives a particular focus and invites us to continually offer ourselves and our intentions in union with the priest offering Christ to his Father. In the Eucharistic Prayer, Jesus offers himself to the Father as our sacrifice. In uniting ourselves to Jesus throughout our lives, but in particular during the Eucharistic Prayer, we make our own lives an offering to God. Through this prayer of thanksgiving, the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ become truly present for us. The Eucharistic Prayer is itself the highest point of the Mass because it is through the Eucharistic Prayer that the words of consecration are prayed over the bread and wine – it is here that Christ becomes truly and substantially present for us. Thus, we can also view the Eucharistic Prayer as a memorial making present Christ’s whole life and in particular his saving action on the cross so that we can participate in it ever more fully.

What is the Mystery of Faith?

After the consecration (which will be discussed next week), the priest proclaims a curious choice of words: “The mystery of faith.” This expression taken from St. Paul’s letter to Timothy is an expression of the adoration and awe at the very Body and Blood, shed on Calvary, now present on the altar – truly, it is the great mystery of faith! In response, the congregation proclaims one of three acclamations that sums up the mystery of our salvation taken from the words of sacred Scripture. With the new translation, each of these acclamations are now directed toward Christ, reiterating this understanding of adoration as we address Christ present in the Eucharist.

What is the Great Amen?

At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, we conclude our prayer of thanksgiving and praise with an “Amen” that has been traditionally called the Great Amen as a response to the Doxology – or expression of praise to God – of the priest: “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.” This Doxology stems from Scripture in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans as does the Great Amen (Romans 11:36). This prayer from the priest acknowledges the praise that is due to God on behalf of this great miracle and we assent to this rightful acclamation with a joyful sign of our belief: Amen!

Ian Bozant is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at ibozant@nds.edu.

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