The Eucharistic Prayer has an invariable Preface and a ‘fuller summary of salvation history’
By Father Randy Stice
In this series on the Eucharistic Prayer (EP), we have looked at Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon, which for centuries was the only Eucharistic Prayer used by the Roman Church, and EP II and EP III. In this column, I want to look at EP IV, which was inspired by a Eucharistic Prayer from the Antioch region in Syria preserved in the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions. EP IV has two distinctive features, an invariable Preface and an expanded summary of salvation history.
The Preface always begins with the dialogue between the priest and people, “The Lord be with you/And with your spirit/Lift up your hearts…,” and concludes with the “Holy, Holy, Holy.” EP IV has its own Preface that must always be used. Thus, EP IV cannot be used when there is a proper Preface, such as during Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and feasts of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints. It can only be said when there is no special preface and on Sundays in Ordinary Time, which significantly limits its use.
The Preface for EP IV, addressing God the Father, praises him, “the one God living and true, existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light.” He “made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light.” This leads to the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” in which “we confess your name in exultation” and give “voice to every creature under heaven.”
The second distinctive feature is EP IV’s “fuller summary of salvation history” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 365). Following the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” EP IV, still addressing God the Father, praises him, “for you are great and you have fashioned all your works in wisdom and in love.” He created “man in your own image and entrusted the whole world to his care,” so that in “serving you alone, the Creator, he might have dominion over all creatures.” When through disobedience “he had lost your friendship,” God “came in mercy to the aid of all,” offering them covenants and through the prophets teaching “them to look forward to salvation.”
Then, “in the fullness of time,” God “sent your only begotten Son to be our Savior.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed salvation to the poor, freedom to prisoners, and joy to the sorrowful. He gave “himself up to death,” and through the resurrection “destroyed death and restored life.” Finally, Jesus “sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father,” to bring “to perfection His work in the world” and “sanctify creation to the full.” Then follows the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine.
This section, from the “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the epiclesis, recounts creation; the Fall; the Old Testament prophets and covenants; the coming of Jesus and His earthly ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection; and sending of the Holy Spirit. To appreciate this aspect of EP IV, compare it to the transition from the “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the epiclesis in EP II, which is one sentence: “You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness.”
The scriptural character of EP IV is also noteworthy. Here are the quotes from EP IV with the biblical reference in parentheses. God the Father, “dwelling in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), “formed man in your own image and entrusted the whole world to his care” (Genesis 1:26). “And you so loved the world, Father most holy” (John 3:16 and 17:11), that “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) you sent your Son, who “shared our human nature in all things but sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
“To the poor He proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy” (Luke 4:18). “And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died and rose again for us” (2 Corinthians 5:15), “He sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe so that, bringing to perfection His work in the world, He might sanctify creation to the full” (Romans 8:23). “When the hour had come for him to be glorified by you, Father most holy” (John 17:1), Christ, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). After the consecration are petitions that all who receive the body and blood of Christ may “truly become a living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of your glory” (Romans 12:1), and that all God’s children may “enter into a heavenly inheritance” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
“The Liturgy is the school of the prayer of the Church,” wrote St. John Paul II in 1988. The new EPs were added, he continued, “so as to enrich the Church’s treasury of prayer and an understanding of the mystery of Christ.” Inspired by an ancient eastern Eucharistic Prayer, recounting the Trinity’s work in creation and redemption, and imbued with the language of the Bible, EP IV enriches not only our liturgical prayer but also our personal prayer so that we may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of God’s glory.
Father Randy Stice is director of the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at email@example.com.