Liturgy Matters — The Eucharistic Prayer

By Dr. Judy Bullock

Judy-Bullock-2013-wWhat is the content of the Eucharistic Prayer?

Although many of us may think that the Eucharistic Prayer is limited to the account based on the Last Supper narratives in the Gospels and in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, each Eucharistic Prayer actually contains much more. There are eight elements that make up this extraordinary prayer of praise, thanksgiving, consecration and transformation.

1. Praise and thanksgiving — Each Eucharistic Prayer begins with the preface, a variable introduction that names the things for which we are most grateful this day. The prefaces are based on the themes of the particular seasons of the liturgical year or the particular sacrament being celebrated. For example, during Advent the prefaces express our thanks for God’s gift of his son.

2. Acclamations — Acclamations are responses added to the body of the text in order to engage the people and as a means to express their joy, faith and affirmation of this great prayer. There are three acclamations in the Eucharistic Prayer: The Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy); the Mystery of Faith, having three possible options; and the Great Amen that concludes the prayer. The Mystery of Faith is the one element of the entire Eucharistic Prayer that is addressed to Jesus.

3. Epiclesis — A third element of the Eucharistic Prayer is the Epiclesis. This Greek term describes the twofold portion of the prayer in which the priest, praying in our name, asks God to send his Holy Spirit down on the bread and wine to change it into the Body and Blood of Christ. Later in this prayer, the priest prays that we too will be transformed, unified into the Body of Christ, as we receive the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ.

4. Institution Narrative and Consecration — The most familiar part of the Eucharistic Prayer is the section based on accounts of the Last Supper including Jesus’ words and command to “Do this in memory of me.” Although the narratives around the institution of the Eucharist are different in each version of the Eucharistic Prayer, the words of institution are now the same for each prayer. This uniformity was added to the missal by Pope Paul VI.

5. Anamnesis — This Greek term is best described in English as a “remembrance.” The meaning of “anamnesis,” however, is not a nostalgic remembering. We are not having just a passion play. God’s saving acts in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago are still acting in our lives today. By the power of the Holy Spirit these saving mysteries are ongoing.

6. Offering — This is the part of the Eucharistic Prayer when we join our sacrificial offering of praise with the offering of Christ’s Body and Blood presenting them to God the Father. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 48, reminds us that the faithful “should learn to offer themselves as well.”

7. Intercessions — The last part of each Eucharistic Prayer contains a set of intercessions which mirror the intercessions that conclude the Liturgy of the Word. We exercise our priestly ministry to offer prayer for others when we name these intentions and ask God to hear them.

8. Doxology — Each Eucharistic Prayer concludes with this final expression of praise and thanksgiving, “Through him and with him, and in him … .” Although the Doxology is trinitarian in nature, the focus is placed most clearly on Jesus as our mediator. The Sacred Host and Precious Blood are elevated during the Doxology and “Great Amen.” With our “amen” we affirm the content of the entire Eucharistic Prayer.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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