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Eucharistic Prayer I
Eucharistic Prayer I
For centuries, only one eucharistic prayer, known as the Roman canon, was used in the Latin rite. Because it did not have its own preface, one was chosen for the feast, season or celebration. The rest of the prayer was fixed, apart from some minor additions on certain days. Hence the name “canon”, meaning “rule”.
Its origins date back to the time of Ambrose and is usually dated at around 375. It was most probably composed in Latin as the Roman Church at this time was moving away from using Greek in liturgy towards Latin, the language of the people. The prayer underwent various elaborations until Pope Gregory the Great (590 – 604) edited and stabilised the Roman canon. A slight change was made to the prayer in 1962 by Pope John XXIII who added St Joseph to the list of saints.
Originally this great prayer of thanksgiving was proclaimed aloud by the bishop or priest in the name of the gathered community. By the late 800s it came to be considered too holy to be heard by the people and was prayed in a low voice. The silent canon remained until 1967. Until the end of the 19th century, it was even forbidden to print a vernacular translation of the canon!
After Vatican II a special committee was established to study the eucharistic prayer in light of the liturgical reforms called for by the council. It was clear that the Roman canon had several weaknesses, despite its early origins and long use. It lacks a strong sense of praise and an explicit epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit). It is also very long and repetitive and lacks cohesion.
Rather than make major alterations to rectify these problems, the committee decided to retain the Roman Canon with some minor changes, including the addition of the memorial acclamation, and to issue alternative eucharistic prayers which could replace it at Mass. In 1968, this slightly revised version of the canon was published as Eucharistic Prayer I, along with three other prayers designated as Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV. Because several eucharistic prayers are now approved for use, it is not accurate to call any of them a “canon”.
After such long stability in the Eucharistic Prayer, there were some initial doubts about these “new” prayers. A look at their origins soon shows that they are not modern texts at all.
Eucharistic Prayer II is based on a model prayer for bishops presiding at Mass by Hippolytus. It is included in his description of the traditional liturgy of Rome in 215. Apart from some changes made to the early text to adapt it for use in the Roman rite today, our second eucharistic prayer is the one used by Hippolytus nearly 1800 years ago.
The main characteristics of Eucharistic Prayer II are simplicity, brevity and structural cohesiveness. It includes all the elements used in Roman eucharistic prayers – thanksgiving (a proper preface is provided, but another may be substituted), epiclesis, institution narrative, anamnesis, offering, intercessions and final doxology. In fact, it offers a good model in any catechesis on the various elements of a eucharistic prayer. Because it is concise, Eucharistic Prayer II is particularly suitable for Mass on weekdays.