This weekend the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The greater our devotion for receiving the Holy Eucharist, the deeper our relationship is to Jesus Christ, and vice versa. The Eucharist is and should be the source and summit of our faith. For this reason, I thought I would dedicate a column to the central part of the Mass from which flows the Eucharist: the Eucharistic Prayer. During the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, many of us follow along in our missalette, while others simply listen and watch. Either way, the more we understand what is going on in this part of the Mass, the more deeply we are able to participate in it with our prayers as the priest says the words.
If you pay close attention to the words of the prayer, you would notice that the words are addressed not to the congregation, or even to Christ, but to God the Father. This is because the prayer of the priest at the altar conveys the worship offered by Christ to the Father while undergoing his passion, death, and resurrection. Yes, this was an act of worship in the sense that Christ was making an offering to God his Father on our behalf. And so in the Mass, the priest acts in the person of Christ and makes the same offering, along with all the baptized who make up the Church, Christ’s Body in the world. When we, the Church, pray the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, we not only offer Christ to the Father, but we also offer ourselves – our whole lives, all our joys and sufferings, in union with Christ on the cross. We are participating in Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, which occurs eternally and outside of time. And to think some people say that Mass is boring!! There is truly nothing else like it on earth!
As you may have noticed in your missalettes, there are several different versions of the Eucharistic Prayer, but they all essentially follow the same format. These are the main parts:
1) Preface: The words of the preface are thanks and praise to God for his whole work of salvation, or some aspect of it. The preface varies according to the day, feast, or time of year.
2) Sanctus: The Holy, Holy, Holy is sung in union with all the saints and angels in heaven worshipping God.
3) Epiclesis: When the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine at the altar, the Church implores the Holy Spirit (this is what “epiclesis” means) to consecrate them, that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ.
4) Words of Institution: the words and actions of Christ at the Last Supper are re-presented. “This is my body… This is my blood… Take this, all of you…” Through these words the sacrifice of Christ is effected.
5) Anamnesis: This is the Church remembering (this is what “anamnesis” refers to) what Christ has done for us. We recall his blessed passion, glorious resurrection, and ascension into heaven, and we proclaim “the mystery of faith,” and say, for example, “we proclaim your death O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again.”
6) Oblation/Offering: The Church offers Christ, the sacrificial Victim, back to the Father in the Holy Spirit. We also offer ourselves so that we may be one with God and with each other.
7) Intercessions: We acknowledge that we celebrate this Eucharist in communion with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, for her and for all her members, living and deceased.
8) Final Doxology: The glorification of God is expressed and concluded with everyone’s response, “Amen.”
Next time you come to Mass, try to identify these parts of the Eucharistic Prayer. In doing so, you will find that you can be more fully engaged in this beautiful act of worship to God.