The Preface Dialog

03-18-2018What We Do as CatholicsFr. Joe Fessenden

Now that the priest has invited everyone to stand and pray, he begins the Eucharistic Prayer. The Eucharistic Prayer begins with the “Preface Dialog.” We say this at every Mass, but we sometimes don’t realize that this is actually the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, not when the congregation kneels after the Sanctus.

This exchange, sometimes just called by the Latin of the priest’s second line, sursum corda, is one of the very oldest liturgical pieces we have almost without change. Liturgically, we find it at least as far back as the Apostolic Tradition in the 3rd Century (the 200s). Prior to that, we have little formalized instruction on the liturgy, so it might go back even further.

Priest: The Lord be with you.
People: And with your spirit.

This is the liturgical greeting that happens frequently throughout Christian liturgy.

Priest: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.

The priest invites the people to lift their hearts to heavenly realities. We should not be thinking of the things of earth, but we rather step into heaven to enter the Holy of Holies, the Court of God, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. We leave behind the earth and lift our hearts. I realize this can be very difficult with the cares and worries of our lives, but it is something that is important that we always strive to do; as we enter into the Eucharistic Prayer, we must remember that our problems will still be there when we return to Earth. For now, though, we have the opportunity to spend a few minutes in God’s own courts.

Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right and just.

The meaning of this part of the exchange is hidden in the language – but we have to go all the way back to the Greek to see it. The word ‘thanks’ in English, here, is gratias in the underlying Latin. But it is important to remember that, prior to the 4th century, Pope Damasus, our liturgy was in Greek. The priest said Εὐχαριστήσωµεν τῷ Κυρίῳ (Eucharistēsōmen tō Kuriō, Let us Eucharist to the Lord). Remember the word ‘eucharist’ means thanksgiving; that’s why the Latin and English just render this as ‘thanks,’ but this is a key moment that the Eucharist is introduced in the Mass. The people respond that it is right and just. Remember that justice does not refer to legal questions as it does in common English; rather justice is giving everyone his proper due. And what could be more just, more due to God, than thanksgiving for all the gifts that he gives us?

Fr. Joe Fessenden