The Eucharistic Prayer

03-04-2018What We Do as CatholicsFr. Joe Fessenden

Now that the altar and the gifts have been prepared, the Mass proceeds with the Eucharistic Prayer – this is actually the high point of the Mass I mentioned a few weeks ago. I will explain that further and in more detail in the coming weeks as I walk through the Eucharistic Prayers in detail with you. For now, though, I want to talk about the options you might hear. The Church offers four principal Eucharistic Prayers (I-IV) and several others for specific uses (e.g., Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation and various Eucharistic Prayers for Special Needs).

The basic structure of all of the Eucharistic prayers goes something like this, though the order changes in some cases. I will go into more detail on each movement in the coming weeks.

  1. Preface: expresses God’s gift of salvation in history
  2. Sanctus (Holy Holy Holy)
  3. Epiclesis: calls down the Holy Spirit on the gifts
  4. Institution Narrative: the words of Jesus that effect the consecration
  5. Anamnesis: Remembers Christ’s historical sacrifice and victory
  6. Second Epiclesis: calls down the Holy Spirit on the Church
  7. Prayers for the living and the dead, including the pope and bishop
  8. Doxology

Eucharistic Prayer I, also called The Roman Canon, is the oldest of these prayers. We can trace this prayer back to the 4th-5th century in forms that are recognizable as the current prayer. From the Council of Trent until the promulgation of Missal of Paul VI, this was the only Mass used in the Roman Rite. This option is encouraged by the Church on her highest feast days and Sundays.

Eucharistic Prayer II was composed in the 20th century when the current form of the Roman Rite was prepared. It is loosely based on the Eucharistic Prayer found in the writings of Hippolytus in the 2nd-3rd century. You will notice we rarely use this particular option on Sundays and higher feast days. The guidance from the Church indicates that we use this prayer, principally, for daily Masses.

Eucharistic Prayer III was written from whole cloth, as it were, with the preparation of the Missal of Paul VI. Even though this prayer doesn’t have the long history of the other prayers, in its own way, it expresses the Church’s
theology of Eucharist, the Mass, and salvation in a beautiful way. The Church encourages us to use Eucharistic Prayer III on “Sundays and festive days” when Eucharistic Prayer I is not used.

Eucharistic Prayer IV is based on the Anaphora of Saint Basil from the Eastern Divine Liturgies (Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic). It is unique among the Eucharistic Prayers in that it has a preface that must be used in it rather than options for the priest to pick an appropriate preface to the day. Because of that, the times it can be used are limited to days without a preface already prescribed by the Church. This prayer covers, in the briefest fashion, the whole of creation and salvation history, and, as such, is a beautiful, if brief catechesis on God’s plan.

Fr. Joe Fessenden