Eucharistic Prayer

Excerpts from the book, A Biblical Walk Through The Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy written by Edward Sri, S.T.D. and printed by Ascension Press in 2011.

Scholars have noted that the Eucharist prayer has roots in Jewish table prayers at every meal. The blessing had three parts: praise of God for his creation, thanksgiving for his redemptive work in the past, and supplication for the future, that God’s saving works would continue in their lives. The early Eucharist prayers seem to have followed this general pattern, opening with a three-part dialogue that has been recited in the Church since at least the third century.

Priest: The Lord be with you.
People: And with your spirit.
Priest: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right and just.

Here, the greeting is fittingly repeated as we embark upon the most sacred part of the Mass. In the Bible, the heart is the hidden center of the person from which one’s thoughts, emotions and actions originate. All intentions and commitments flow from the human heart. We should indeed think of God at all times, although this is impossible because or our human frailty; but in this holy time especially our hearts should be with God.

Thanksgiving is a common biblical response to God’s goodness and to his saving works in our lives. Thanksgiving is one thing we can actually offer to the Creator that he does not possess already. Saint Paul teaches that the Christian life should be marked by prayers and thanksgiving. There is a lot to be thankful for at this point in the Mass. The single redemptive act of Christ’s death and resurrection is about to be made present to us in the liturgy, and we humbly express our gratitude. We also should be thankful for the miracle about to take place in our midst. Our Lord and King will soon be with us in the Real Presence of the Eucharist; therefore, the community has great cause for thanksgiving.

God’s love for his people has been steadfast throughout history. He has been faithful to his people from the time of the exodus to the present. We, like the psalmists of old, have much to be thankful for. The Eucharist prayer recounts God’s marvelous deeds in salvation history. This recounting may take on various forms, as there are several options for the preface. But all these prayers focus on thanking God for the very heart of his saving plan: Christ’s life-giving death and resurrection.

All: 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.

This prayer helps us to see with the eyes of the angels what is really happening in the Eucharistic liturgy. The opening words, "Holy, holy, holy Lord" take us spiritually up to heaven. The seraphim acclaim the Lord as the all-holy One, the one God above all other Gods. This angelic hymn of praise has dramatic affects.

Hosanna is a transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “Save us”, which became an expression of praise in liturgical worship. Just as the crowds in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into the holy city with these words, so do we welcome Jesus into our Churches, for he is about to become present in the Eucharist on our alters. We are joining our voices with the angels and saints in heaven in their jubilant hymn of praise. We are mystically entering the heavenly throne room. No wonder we fall to our knees in reverence after singing this hymn.

Priest: Worthy art though, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for thou dist create all things,
and by thy will they existed and were created.

Like the ancient Jews who pleaded with God to send the Messiah, the priest at Mass petitions that the Messiah-King be made present once again, this time under the appearances of bread and wine. We confidently hope that the Messiah who comes to us in the Eucharist will unite us more deeply together in his Church. Similarly, in other Eucharistic Prayers, the priest petitions that after receiving the one Body of Christ in the Eucharist, we may be gathered into one body.

Priest: Take this, all of you, and eat of it,
for this is my body,
which will be given up for you.
Priest: Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured our for you, and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Priest: Do this in memory of me.

In order to understand the full meaning of these sacred words, it is important to hear them against the background of the Passover. Most significantly, the Israelites celebrated the annual Passover as a liturgical memorial. In a biblical “memorial” the past was not merely recalled, it was “re-lived”. The past event was mystically made present to those celebrating the feast. In this, the first Passover event was extended in time so that each new generation could participate spiritually in the event of their liberation from servitude. All Israelites participated in the Passover. All were saved from slavery in Egypt. All were united in the one covenant family of God.

If you were one of the apostles present at the Last Supper, one thing that might strike you about Jesus’ words is that he used sacrificial language with reference to Himself. For Jesus to speak about body and blood in the context of Passover would bring to mind the Passover lamb. With all these sacrificial themes, the Passover ritual, a body being given up, blood being poured out, and the blood of the covenant, Jesus clearly had some type of sacrifice in mind here.

Jesus surprisingly identifies himself with the sacrificial lamb normally offered for Passover. In the Passover meal of the Last Supper, Jesus willingly offers up his own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Understanding this connection between the Last Supper and the cross sheds important light on how the Eucharist we celebrate today commemorates Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. What Jesus commanded the apostles to do was to celebrate the New Passover sacrifice of his body and blood, as a biblical memorial.

As with the Israelites, a liturgical memorial brings the past and present together, making the long-ago event mystically present for the current generation. Hence, when Jesus commands the apostles, “Do this in memory of me”, he is not telling them to perform a simple ritual meal that will help people remember him. He is instructing them to celebrate the Last Supper as a liturgical memorial.

Therefore, as the memorial of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist makes the events of the Upper Room and Calvary sacramentally present to us today. It is in this sense that the Mass is to be understood as a sacrifice. Indeed, in every Mass, we have a unique opportunity to enter sacramentally into the Son’s intimate, loving gift of himself to the Father, a gift that is revealed most clearly in his death on the cross.

Jesus’ speaking at the Last Supper about his own blood being poured out “for many”, is clearly associating himself with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. He is the one coming to die for the “many”. This should not be understood, however, in opposition to the fact that Jesus died “for all”. In a sense, the expression “the many” can be seen as contrasting the one person who dies, the Lord’s Servant (Jesus) with the many who benefit from his atoning sacrifice.

The priest has spoken the words of consecration over the bread and wine, and they have now become the body and blood of Christ. In reverence, the priest genuflects in silent adoration before Christ’s Blood in the chalice and then rises and solemnly says, “The mystery of faith”.

Priest: When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup,
we proclaim your Death, O Lord,
until you come again.

On the cross, Jesus offered up his sacrifice alone. In the Mass, he offers it with his Church as he associates us with this sacrifice.

Priest: We offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.

As we saw above, we are invited to unite ourselves with this sacrifice of Christ. The two are really one, since the Church at every Mass participates in the one self-giving act of Christ’s offering on the cross. The symbolism of the gifts also points to how the Church offers itself to God not on its own, but in union with Christ’s sacrifice. Thus, in Christ, the Church participates in the perfect self-giving love of the Son on the cross.

The Eucharistic Prayer culminates with an expression of praise that was used in the Mass as early as the second century. And the people respond with what is commonly known as “the great Amen”.

Priest: 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.

After hearing the priest acclaim that all honor and glory is God’s for ever and ever, we respond like angels, eager to join in this praise of God, We cry out “Amen”!

All: Amen

This is no ordinary “Amen”. We join all the great heroes in salvation history, in this chorus of unending praise.