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'Mysterium Fidei': A continued look at the Eucharistic Prayer
The sacred words of institution and consecration, which constitute the heart of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, are not merely historical or Biblical words used to recount the activity of the Last Supper, but in fact, in the Holy Mass, Christ truly re-presents His sacrifice through His priest acting as His instrument. Bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ as the words of consecration are spoken by Christ through each Catholic priest throughout time and history. This truth inspired Pope Benedict XVI to remark that, "This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God Himself acts and does what is essential."
Until this moment in the Mass, all the prayers and actions prepare for Our Lord's sacramental arrival. From this moment forward, when Christ is truly present on the altar, the priest again addresses the Heavenly Father on behalf of the Church. The four remaining parts of the Eucharistic Prayer that are addressed to the Father are: anamnesis, the oblation, intercessions and the doxology.
Immediately following the consecration, the celebrant announces: "The mystery of faith." The people respond with one of the four options that expresses the Paschal Mystery: "We proclaim Your death, O Lord, and profess Your Resurrection until You come again."
This acclamation leads us into the next part of the Eucharistic Prayer, called by its Greek name, anamnesis, or "memorial." The anamnesis is a prayer of remembrance in which the Church calls to mind the Lord's passion, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. We are reminded that the Church is acting in memory of Our Lord and obeying His explicit command, "Do this in memory of Me." We are mindful of Our Lord's parting mandate and the Church rejoices in her fidelity to Christ; we are, in fact, faithfully following the command to "Do this in memory of Me."
The oblation or offering follows the memorial in the Eucharistic Prayer. Prior to the consecration, the priest asks the Lord to accept the gifts of bread and wine as a token of ourselves. But now, following the consecration, the bread and wine no longer exist; they have been changed into the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. Christ is now offered to the Father. In the Roman Canon, three Old Testament persons are mentioned whose offerings were acceptable to the Father: Abel, who offered the firstborn lamb of his flock; Abraham, who was willing to offer his own son; and Melchisedech, who offered bread and wine as a priest of God.
Each of these three Biblical sacrifices foreshadows the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which fulfilled all others. Monsignor Ronald Knox explains, "All those remote people in the Old Testament are dragged in here, because we want to remind ourselves that the instinct of offering God sacrifice is an instinct which the human race had long before the Christian dispensation came to explain how the thing could be done. All those old sacrifices of bullocks and goats and rams under the Jewish Law, and in their way, even the sacrifices offered by the old pagans to their gods when they were trying to do their best, are caught up and contained in this supreme sacrifice which Our Lord's Death has now made it possible for us to offer."
Christ is, therefore, the High priest offering the Mass, but in the oblation, we discover that He is also the Victim being offered.
Because Christ is the High Priest and mediator between God and man, intercessory prayers form the next part of the Eucharistic Prayer.
The intercessions make clear that each Mass is offered for the salvation of the whole world in union with the entire Church on earth, as well as in heaven. All members of Christ's Mystical Body are included in the benefits of the Mass: we seek the intercession of those in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the angels and saints; we pray for the living and we intercede on behalf of the dead.
"The Church never allows us to be selfish in our prayers," adds Monsignor Knox, "she makes us think of the other people we didn't know, whose death was a grief, whose memory is a sacred thing, to other people, not us."
The pope, the bishop of the diocese, and the clergy are always mentioned, since union with the pope and the local bishop reminds us of our unity with the Catholic Church throughout the world.
With the close of the intercessions comes the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer. The formula, known as the Doxology, is common to all Eucharistic Prayers. The Greek word doxology simply means "A word of glory or praise." The priest raises the chalice and paten in a final word of praise to the Father as he prays, "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."
The faithful conclude the Eucharistic Prayer with the "Amen," which may be recited or sung. St. Jerome wrote in the fifth century that the "Amen" at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer "resounded in heaven, as a celestial thunderclap in the Roman basilicas."
Let us pray that our assent, that our "Amen," will proceed from the same ardent faith, hope and love.
Father Matthew Buettner is the pastor of St. Dorothy Church in Lincolnton. This is excerpted from "Understanding the Mystery of the Mass – Revisited." Previous columns are online at www.catholicnewsherald.com.
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