The Summit of the Mass: The Eucharistic Prayer

Continuing our series of the different parts of the Mass, we now turn to the summit of the liturgy, the Eucharistic Prayer.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) describes it as follows:

"Now the center and summit of the entire celebration begins: namely, the Eucharistic Prayer, that is, the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. The priest invites the people to lift up their hearts to the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving; he unites the congregation with himself in the prayer that he addresses in the name of the entire community to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the meaning of the Prayer is that the entire congregation of the faithful should join itself with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of Sacrifice. The Eucharistic Prayer demands that all listen to it with reverence and in silence."

This is an element of the Mass that is recited entirely by the priest, with occasional acclamations voiced by the faithful. The priest, in this capacity, is acting in persona christi, or "in the person of Christ" allowing God to work through him to bring about the miracle of the Eucharist. The Catechism explains:

"Christians come together in one place for the Eucharistic assembly. At its head is Christ himself, the principal agent of the Eucharist. He is high priest of the New Covenant; it is he himself who presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration. It is in representing him that the bishop or priest acting in the person of Christ the head (in persona Christi capitis) presides over the assembly, speaks after the readings, receives the offerings, and says the Eucharistic Prayer" (CCC 1328)
The faithful kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer in preparation for witnessing the coming of Christ the King, kneeling before Him in adoration and expectation.

The actions of the priest, too, are very symbolic, each part referring to the great mystery unfolding.

Here is how the GIRM explains each part of the Eucharistic Prayer: 

"The chief elements making up the Eucharistic Prayer may be distinguished in this way:
  1. Thanksgiving (expressed especially in the Preface): In which the priest, in the name of the entire holy people, glorifies God the Father and gives thanks for the whole work of salvation or for some special aspect of it that corresponds to the day, festivity, or season.
  2. Acclamation: In which the whole congregation, joining with the heavenly powers, sings the Sanctus. This acclamation, which is part of the Eucharistic Prayer itself, is sung or said by all the people with the priest.
  3. Epiclesis: In which, by means of particular invocations, the Church implores the power of the Holy Spirit that the gifts offered by human hands be consecrated, that is, become Christ’s Body and Blood, and that the spotless Victim to be received in Communion be for the salvation of those who will partake of it.
  4. Institution narrative and consecration: In which, by means of words and actions of Christ, the Sacrifice is carried out which Christ himself instituted at the Last Supper, when he offered his Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine, gave them to his Apostles to eat and drink, and left them the command to perpetuate this same mystery.
  5. Anamnesis: In which the Church, fulfilling the command that she received from Christ the Lord through the Apostles, keeps the memorial of Christ, recalling especially his blessed Passion, glorious Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven.
  6. Offering: By which, in this very memorial, the Church and in particular the Church here and now gathered offers in the Holy Spirit the spotless Victim to the Father. The Church’s intention, however, is that the faithful not only offer this spotless Victim but also learn to offer themselves, and so day by day to be consummated, through Christ the Mediator, into unity with God and with each other, so that at last God may be all in all.
  7. Intercessions: By which expression is given to the fact that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the entire Church, of heaven as well as of earth, and that the offering is made for her and for all her members, living and dead, who have been called to participate in the redemption and the salvation purchased by Christ’s Body and Blood.
  8. Final doxology: By which the glorification of God is expressed and which is confirmed and concluded by the people’s acclamation, Amen."
The Eucharistic Prayer is that reliving of the Last Supper and representing it to us today. It is not only a "portrayal" of what happened, but more importantly a spiritual re-presentation of the event. In other words, when we are at Mass, we are spiritually present at the Last Supper, witnessing Jesus in the Upper Room with His apostles. 

This time is meant to prepare us to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and to witness His coming as the bread and wine are transformed into His body and blood. It is not a mere symbol, but a truth that is beyond words.

The next time we go to Mass, let us pray the words of the father of the son possessed by a demon, "I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24) The Mass is indeed a great mystery and we need God's help to better understand what is truly happening before our eyes!

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