By Judith Courtney, Liturgy Coordinator
Let’s Take a Walk Through the Mass
Where does the word ‘Eucharist’ come from?
PF The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word Eucharistia that means to give thanks. We gather to give thanks to God for all that he has done in our world and for ourselves. In the context of this prayer we recall the great events of our salvation. It is the prayer that recalls, more than any other prayer, the paschal mystery. It is a prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. It is the centre and summit of the entire Mass.
LC What does the word ‘sanctification’ mean?
PF It means to make holy; to make holy the gifts, to make holy the people themselves. The Eucharistic Prayer is a prayer of transformation. Even though the priest prays most of the words of the Eucharistic prayer, the prayer is not the prayer of the priest. It’s the entire community that’s joining itself to Christ and together are recalling the great deeds that God has done. It’s the prayer of the gathered Church around the table of the Lord.
LC What is the importance of symbols in the Eucharistic Prayer?
PF Bread and wine are the key elements. They symbolize food and drink that become the body and blood of Christ. They should look like bread and wine and be in appropriate vessels. We should endeavour to use the very best Eucharistic bread available for what we do; bread that looks like bread, smells like bread, breaks like bread. It has to be eaten like bread – ‘take and eat.’ Jesus is present in the ordinariness of bread and wine, fruits of the earth. That’s at the very heart of catholic sacramental theology. Jesus is present in the ordinary.
LC Tell us a little about the structure of the Eucharistic Prayer.
PF It’s a dialogue between the presiding priest and the community. It starts with that most beautiful of liturgical phrases, ‘The Lord be with you’. It’s a solemn statement – the Lord be with you, which reminds the community that the Lord is in our midst and in the Lord’s midst we gather to pray this great prayer. And then ‘Lift up your hearts!’ It’s all about the heart. Worship is about the heart. No heart, no worship.
LC The dialogue leads us into the Eucharistic Prayer.
PF Then we have the preface which takes us to the well known and loved holy holy. The Church on earth uniting with the church in heaven. The epiclesis follows – the calling of the Spirit to make holy these gifts. It’s the action of the Spirit that transforms these gifts, it is not just the gifts that are to be transformed – all of us are to be changed.
LC What is the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer?
PF The words of Jesus at the last supper are recalled – this is the institution narrative. This is the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer. Then the priest shows the bread and shows the cup to the people. They are not lifted high in elevation. The memorial acclamation follows. This is a proclamation of the mystery that we are celebrating, the mystery of faith. Then the anamnesis or the offering, where we offer the victim, the spotless victim to the Father, and we also offer ourselves. Then we move to the intercessions where we pray for members of the Church, the living and the dead, recognising that we are part of a universal family. We pray for the pope, and we pray for the local bishop and the entire people of God. Finally the prayer concludes with the doxology, the priest glorifying God in the name of the Trinity, the Father the Son and the Spirit. The elevation of the Eucharistic bread and wine comes at the conclusion of the EP. And the Amen, which is repeated, not said once, should be the great high point of our engagement during the Mass.
LC What does the Eucharistic Prayer ask of the people?
PF The Eucharistic Prayer is about action. It’s not a time for us to be engaged in private devotion or a ‘Jesus and me spirituality.’ It’s a community gathering to give thanks to God. It is very much a communal prayer. I think ideally, although we have other traditions, I think for the best participation, ideally we would all stand, and be in the same posture as the presiding priest. Kneeling is a penitential gesture, it’s a gesture of private devotion, I don’t think it’s the right posture, it takes people into themselves, rather than out. The Eucharist is essentially about eating and drinking, not kneeling and adoring.
LC How do we think of the consecration?
PF The Eucharistic Prayer is a consecratory prayer. The essential elements in it are; the epiclesis, where the priest should boldly hold his hands over the elements, in that ancient gesture of laying on of hands, calling on the spirit to change and transform the gifts of the people. Then the words of institution, originating at the last supper are proclaimed. We can call this the consecration, the transformation, the sanctification, but it’s not just about the change that takes place in bread and wine. It must also be about the change that takes places in the lives of those gathered.
LC What understanding would you like people to have of the whole Eucharistic Prayer?
PF Having gathered, having been with the community in the Lord’s presence, having been fed and nourished by the Word of God, having listened to the homily, we then come to the high point, to celebrate in symbol the dying and the rising of Jesus. We look forward to this great prayer. It’s a prayer of unity, it’s a prayer that makes Christ present to us in a way like no other.