The Liturgy of the Eucharist: Part III
We have been using the new translations of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal for a few weeks. We are getting used to new words and cadences, but more than that, we are becoming better acquainted with a language which, over time, has been honed to express how what we believe is rendered present and active in our sacramental life of worship. Nowhere in the Mass is this more evident than in the Eucharistic Prayer which we have been studying in the past two columns. This is the final installment and will take us from the institution narrative (Consecration) of the Mass up to the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Great Amen.
Thus far, we have considered the following parts of the Eucharistic Prayer: the Preface and Sanctus in which the note of thanksgiving is sounded; the epiclesis (calling down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine); the institution narrative in which bread and wine are consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ; the first elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ before the worshipping assembly for adoration; the anamnesis or remembrance in which we truly encounter what we remember, namely, Jesus' death, resurrection, and exaltation; that is, we enter into and share in the Paschal Mystery.
Singing or saying the words, "the mystery of faith," the priest invites us to participate in this "effective" remembrance of Jesus' Death and Resurrection, by singing or saying one of the following forms:
We proclaim your Death, O Lord and profess
your Resurrection until you come again.
When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup,
we proclaim your Death, O Lord,
until you come again.
Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross
and Resurrection you have set us free.
This act of remembrance or anamnesis continues as the Eucharistic Prayer exalts in the Lord's Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. It is only by entering into this mystery that we enabled to offer the Father the One Sacrifice that is holy and pleasing in His sight. We offer to the Father what He first provided for us when He sent his divine Son who assumed our human nature, preached the Good News, manifested his Father's glory, and took upon Himself the sins of the world, overcoming them by His saving Death and Resurrection. Thus, the whole Church and we, as members of the Church, offer to God the spotless Victim by which we are reconciled to God and to one another. In the presence and power of that Sacrifice we offer ourselves and whole lives through Christ to the Father. The Second Eucharistic Prayer puts it this way:
Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial
of his Death and Resurrection,
we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life
and the Chalice of Salvation,
giving thanks that you have held us worthy
to be in your presence and minister to you.
Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body
and Blood of Christ, we may be
gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.
Here again the priest invokes the Holy Spirit whom he had previously invoked as he extended his hands over the offerings of bread and wine. Now, in what is sometimes called "a second epiclesis", the priest prays that, through sharing in the Eucharist, the worshipping assembly may be gathered into one, that is to say, into the communion of the Church in heaven and throughout the world. In this prayer, we ask for the unity of the Church, not relying on our own views and efforts, but asking the Holy Spirit to join us all more closely to Christ. As we pray in this fashion, we should have in us "the mind of Christ"(1 Cor. 2:16) who prayed: "... so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17: 20-21). Blessed Pope John Paul II comments that the Eucharist is the sign and source of our unity and apostolic vigor, for in it Christ abides in us and we abide in Christ through the Holy Spirit. United in "... the perpetuation of the Sacrifice of the Cross and her communion with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church draws the spiritual power needed to carry out her mission. The Eucharist thus appears as the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 22). Further, as we pray to be gathered into one, we look ahead and share by way of foretaste in the inexpressible trust, joy, and oneness of the redeemed in heaven, gathered glorious summit of the Triune God's throne.
Brought together into one by sharing in Christ's sacrificial love in the power of the Holy Spirit, the priest offers intercessions in which we pray for the Church throughout the world, for living and the dead, and for congregation gathered for Mass. Again, it is important to remember that our intercessions for the Church and the world partake of the presence and power of Christ's Sacrifice; we are not just praying on our own. In our prayer we ask the Lord to strengthen the communion of the Church – not just in the abstract but concretely, for Church as she is today, in the midst of the blessings with which she is endowed and the stiff headwinds she faces. We pray for the Pope, the successor of Peter, as the visible principle of unity and pastor of the universal Church, and for the local bishop as the chief shepherd of the local Church or diocese, as well as the clergy who are their close co-workers:
Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout
the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity,
together with Benedict our Pope and William
our bishop and all the clergy.
Similarly we pray for those who have died. Sharing in Christ's sacrificial love, a love stronger than sin and more powerful than death, we ask that the souls of those who have departed from this world gain admittance into the liturgy of heaven. Praying for the dead, as we do at every Mass, we continue a practice that goes back to the beginning of the Church. We are also reminded not to take for granted that the deceased are in heaven and thus no longer need our prayers:
Remember also our brothers
who have fallen asleep in the
hope of the resurrection,
and all who have died in your
welcome them into the light
of your face.
Notice also that in praying for the living and the dead, the Church asks for the prayers the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. This is most prominent in the Roman Canon or First Eucharistic Prayer, in which we invoke the Apostles, early popes, bishops, and men and women martyrs, some 31 saints in all. This reminds us that our prayer spans time and eternity. Not only do we pray in continuity with those who went before us in faith but indeed, in the Eucharist we are joined to the saints, most especially the Virgin Mary. Standing at the foot of the Cross, she shared more intimately than anyone else in the sacrifice of her Son. Her song of praise, the Magnificat, remains a model of the praise and thanks that should well up in our hearts and in our assemblies as we encounter a love like no other, the love of Christ for us!
Thus, in the Second Eucharistic Prayer, the priest prays:
Have mercy on us all, we pray,
that with the Blessed Virgin
Mary, Mother of God,
with the blessed Apostles
and all the Saints
who have pleased you
throughout the ages,
we may merit to be co-heirs
of eternal life,
and may praise and glorify you
through your Son, Jesus Christ.
The Eucharistic Prayer concludes with the Doxology in which "all glory and honor" is offered to the Trinity. This acclamation of praise is at the same time a profession of faith in Christ. For it is "through Him, with Him, and in Him" and "in the unity of the Holy Spirit" that we worship the Father "in spirit and truth" (John 4:22).
As the priest prays the Doxology, he, together with the deacon, elevates the host and chalice once more. We see no longer bread and wine but the Lord Jesus in whom we have communion with the Father through the Holy Spirit. And with joy and thanksgiving we say, "Amen!" Throughout the Mass, we often sing or say the word "Amen" but this is known as "the Great Amen," the summit of our expression of belief in and consent to all that has taken place thus far.
Next month we will continue our study of the Mass by looking at the Communion Rite. In the meantime, I wish you, your families, and your loved ones a most joyful Christmas. May the highlight of your Christmas indeed be the Eucharistic Sacrifice in which the Lord continues to dwell in our midst.