Liturgical prayer—the words of the Mass—can enrich and inform our personal prayers
By Father Randy Stice
Last month I introduced the Eucharistic Prayer (EP), “the center and high point” of the Mass. The current liturgy has 13 Eucharistic Prayers. EP I (Roman Canon) was the only Eucharistic Prayer for many centuries, and the other 12 were composed following the Second Vatican Council. In this column I want to discuss Eucharistic Prayer III (EP III), which can be used throughout the liturgical year and is especially intended for use on Sundays and feast days.
EP III, like all of the Eucharistic Prayers, has the same elements and structure. Following the thanksgiving (preface) and the acclamation Holy, Holy, Holy (Sanctus), EP III begins with a section that expands on the holiness of God: “You are indeed Holy, O Lord, and all you have created rightly gives you praise…” This leads smoothly into the epiclesis: “Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts…” This is followed by the institution narrative: “For on the night he was betrayed, he himself took bread…” in which Christ speaks the words of consecration through the priest and concludes with the command to do this in remembrance of Him. The anamnesis (memorial), which begins, “Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son,” makes mention of His resurrection, ascension, and His second coming, leading to the oblation (offering) “we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.” This is followed by a second invocation of the Holy Spirit for unity called the communion epiclesis (common to all of the EPs composed after the Second Vatican Council), that all who partake of sacramental communion “may become one body, one spirit in Christ.” Next are a series of intercessions and then the concluding doxology.
Pope Benedict XVI praised the Eucharistic Prayers for their “inexhaustible theological and spiritual richness.” I want to highlight three such riches in EP III: its emphasis on sacrifice, its intercessions, and its Trinitarian language. In response to the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent (1562) affirmed that Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary and His sacrifice in the Mass “are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same…the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner.’” 1 This truth is expressed several times in EP III. God gathers a people to Himself “so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name,” a reference to Malachi 1:11. The oblation (offering) says, “we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.” EP III then asks the Father to recognize “the sacrificial Victim” whose death reconciled the world to God. Finally, the intercession for the world refers to “this Sacrifice of our reconciliation.”
EP III includes a series of intercessions that are noteworthy for their universal scope. First is the petition to the Holy Spirit for unity (quoted above), after which we ask the Father to “make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain in inheritance with your elect.” Then comes a petition that the Eucharist would “advance the peace and salvation of all the world.” This illustrates why St. John Paul II said that the Mass has a “universal and, so to speak, cosmic character…It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation.” 2
The next petition is for God’s “pilgrim Church on earth” to be confirmed “in faith and charity.” Then comes a petition for the unspoken prayers of the congregation: “listen graciously to the prayers of this family,” and then a request for God to “gather to yourself all your children scattered throughout the world.” And finally prayer for the dead—not only “our departed brothers and sisters,” but “all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life”—that the Father would give them “kind admittance to your kingdom” where we also “hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory.”
A third feature of EP III is the Trinitarian theology in the opening section that follows the Holy, Holy, Holy. “You are indeed Holy, O Lord…for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit, you give life to all things and make them holy.” This is theology in the form of prayer. Everything that God does in the world, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is the common work of the three divine persons.” 3 The Father, through the Son and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, blesses us with life and holiness.
These three features also illustrate how liturgical prayer—the words of the Mass—can enrich and inform our personal prayers. We can meditate on Christ’s eucharistic presence using the references to sacrifice. Under the appearances of bread and wine is Christ, the pure, holy, and living sacrifice, the sacrificial victim for our reconciliation. The intercessions can teach us how to pray for the Church and the world. And we can use the Trinitarian passage to ask the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to grant us and others abundant life and growth in holiness. Prayerful meditation on the Eucharistic Prayers will enrich our participation in Mass and our personal prayers.
1 CCC, no. 1367.
2 Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 8.
3 CCC, no. 258.
Father Randy Stice is director of the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.