Father Matthew Buettner: The Eucharistic Prayer: The most solemn moment in the Mass
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is composed of three distinct movements: the Offertory, the Eucharistic Prayer and the reception of Holy Communion.
The essence of Christianity is the reproduction of what Jesus encountered in the soul of each and every individual in the world. As Our Lord accepted His suffering, crucifixion, death and the glory of the resurrection, so also every person is to offer his or her human nature as an offering to the Heavenly Father. We are to die to sin so that we may rise and live in grace and glory. And in the Eucharistic Prayer, we unite ourselves with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the High Priest and Victim.
The consecration of the Mass occurs within the larger context of the Eucharistic Prayer. It begins with the Preface and continues through the doxology chanted by the celebrant and concelebrants: "Through him, and with him, and in him...." As a prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification, it is the center and the summit of the entire Mass.
The prayer is recited by the celebrant alone or parts may be recited by other concelebrating priests. In either case, the priest speaks on behalf of the Church, often denoted by the use of "we": "We offer to you..."; "We pray to you...." However, in the "institution narrative," the person speaking changes, although the voice remains the same. No longer does the priest speak on behalf of the Church, but now Christ speaks. No longer is it "We pray to you...," but "This is my body." Here, within this prayer of the Son addressed to the Father, eternity punctures the barrier of time and space, as the voice of Jesus Christ, the High Priest, is heard speaking the sacred words consecrating bread and wine into His own Body and Blood.
As Blessed John Paul II wrote in "Ecclesia de Eucharistia": "The priest says these words, or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation...."
This is the most solemn moment in the Mass – the greatest expression of love on earth. That is why the Church instructs us that "The Eucharistic Prayer demands that all listen to it with reverence and in silence."
The Eucharistic Prayer truly makes present the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As the Holy Father adds in the same encyclical, "When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord's death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and 'the work of our redemption is carried out.' ...The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice."
And so before the Eucharist is a banquet, it is first of all the sacrifice of Our Lord on the cross.
In other words, before the reception of Holy Communion is the consecration, where Christ perpetuates and continues throughout time His redemptive sacrifice.
Why? What is the purpose of continually re-presenting His sacrifice if the redemption already occurred?
Above all, the sacrifice of Christ is true worship of the Father. The sacrifice of the Son gives glory and honor to the Father. Further, you and I are the beneficiaries of His sacrifice.
The fruits of the redemption must now be applied to our souls. Finally, Jesus instructed us to "Do this in memory of me." And so in humble obedience, the Church faithfully follows the command of the Lord to offer the sacrifice of Christ, that not only may bread and wine become His Body and Blood, but more importantly, that we may be consecrated to Him and more and more become what we receive: the Body of Christ.
SANCTUS, SANCTUS, SANCTUS
Since the advent of the Novus Ordo (New Mass) authorized by Pope Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council, there are several options for the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass given in the Roman Missal: four common Eucharistic Prayers, as well as other approved texts.
Of the four main Eucharistic Prayers, the first Eucharistic Prayer, commonly known as the Roman Canon, originated in Rome at the end of the fourth century. It developed its present form around the seventh century and has had no significant changes since. In fact, the Roman Canon was the only Eucharistic Prayer used exclusively in the Roman Rite since the Middle Ages until the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965). This Prayer contains two lists of saints: the first includes the apostles and the early popes, while the second list includes many early martyrs.
The second Eucharistic Prayer is the shortest and is similar to the text of St. Hippolytus dated around the year 215. The third Eucharistic Prayer is a reconfiguration of the Roman Canon, rich with Eastern influences and emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the fourth Eucharistic Prayer provides a fuller summary of salvation history and relies extensively on Biblical events and is in the great tradition of Eucharistic Prayers from the East, most notably from St. Basil.
Certain commonalities define them as Eucharistic Prayers. The Eucharistic Prayer is composed of several parts that can be distinguished as follows: Thanksgiving (Preface), Acclamation (Sanctus), Epiclesis, Institution Narrative and Consecration, Anamnesis (Memorial), Offering, Intercessions, and the final doxology.
The Eucharistic Prayer actually begins with the Preface and its customary dialogue between the celebrant and the congregation: "The Lord be with you." "And with your spirit." "Lift up your hearts." "We lift them up to the Lord." "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God." "It is right and just."
Ever since the third century, this series of three verses and responses has marked the introduction of the Preface. Here is established the ultimate purpose of the Mass: "Dignum et iustum est." ("It is right and just.")
Following this dialogue is the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer: Thanksgiving. As with the Eucharistic Prayers, there is a variety of Prefaces found in the Roman Rite that change depending upon the festival of the day or the liturgical season of the year. The Preface expresses profound praise and gratitude to the Father for the wonders of His creation and the wonderful work of redemption accomplished by His divine Son.
Each preface concludes by singing the unending hymn of praise, the second part of the Eucharistic Prayer, called the acclamation or the "Sanctus" (Sanctus is the first Latin word, which means "Holy"): "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest."
What is the origin of this mysterious hymn? The Sanctus was added to the Mass by Pope St. Sixtus (119-128), and has two parts. The first part, "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory," is taken from the vision of the Prophet Isaiah (6:1-3), where he saw the Lord sitting upon the throne surrounded by angels singing this hymn. The second part, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest," is taken from the shouts of praise offered to Jesus as He made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which we commemorate on Palm Sunday.
In the Sanctus, we unite ourselves to the angelic voices of heaven as we draw near to the Divine Throne and await the coming of Our Savior. The Sanctus is the final warning of the imminent approach of Our Lord, who will become truly present in a few moments in the consecration. With haste we unite our voices with the heavenly host of angels and saints and await Our Savior's coming.
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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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy