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The Centre and Summit of the Mass
PRAYING THE GREAT PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
Now the centre and summit of the entire celebration begins: namely, the Eucharistic Prayer, that is, the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. The priest 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. (GIRM # 78)
In other words, the assembly prays the Eucharistic Prayer in unity as the Body of Christ. The people participate in the prayer through the opening dialogue and the three acclamations and by joining their personal praise and sacrifice to that of the Church. They approve and ratify the words and actions of the prayer by their resounding ‘Amen’ at the end. According to Jerome, the Great Amen of Masses in 4th century Rome rumbled like thunder and all the pagan temples trembled. How does ours compare?
Because the Eucharistic Prayer is the most solemn prayer of the liturgy, all the texts used are authorised by the Church. The following elements are always included, thought the order may vary:
· thanksgiving, especially in the preface which “gives thanks for the whole work of salvation or for some special aspect of it”. (GIRM # 79a) The Sacramentary contains over 80 prefaces for feasts, seasons, votive Masses and special occasions.
· acclamation, the “Holy, holy” sung by the people and presider after the preface, which combines verses from Isaiah with the acclamation which greeted Christ as he entered Jerusalem. “This acclamation is sung or said by all the people with the priest”. (GIRM # 79b) Here we join the singing of the angels and saints before God’s throne, so how can our lips remain sealed?
· invocation or epiclesis, the calling down of the Holy Spirit on the gifts of bread and wine;
· institution narrative, the retelling of the scriptural account of Christ’s words and actions at the last supper;
· memorial prayer or anamnesis (‘lest we forget’) which recalls the paschal mystery;
· offering in which the entire Church and this assembly offer Christ and themselves to God in union with Christ;
· second invocation of the Spirit, this time on those gathered that they may become “one body, one spirit in Christ”;
· intercessions for the Church and the world, the living and the dead;
· final doxology (“through him, with him,….”), the prayer of praise in which the celebrant sums up and concludes the thanksgiving offered to God.
In the Middle Ages, theologians determined that the precise point at which the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Christ was at the words of institution (“This is my body… This is my blood..”), and this part of the Eucharistic Prayer came to be called ‘the consecration’. The current theological understanding is that the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer consecrates the gifts. In fact, some Eastern Rite Churches use an ancient Eucharistic Prayer which does not contain the words of institution.