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Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV
The “New” Eucharistic Prayer
Accustomed to the eucharistic prayer in the Catholic Mass always being the same, some people expressed initial reticence about the new alternatives – known as Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV – when they were made available in 1968. However, they are not “new” 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. Its brevity makes Eucharistic Prayer II particularly suitable for Masses on weekdays.
Eucharistic Prayer IV is also based on texts from the first few centuries of the church. While following the general pattern of the traditional Roman Canon, it is the most ecumenical of our eucharistic prayers in the sense that it has strong echoes of Eastern (especially Greek) forms.
Prominence is given to the Holy Spirit with two invocations – one asking the Father to sanctify the gifts by the power of the Spirit and another later on asking for the Holy Spirit’s unifying action in the Church.
The preface of Eucharistic Prayer IV can never be replaced by another because the thanksgiving which begins in the preface is continued after the singing of the “Holy, Holy”. The institution narrative is placed within the context of a lengthy summary of salvation history, a feature commonly found in the Eastern tradition.
The intercessions of Eucharistic Prayer IV pray for the church, the world and all the dead. We ask to share heaven with Mary and the saints. The prayer draws to a conclusion with a wonderful vision of our heavenly worship: “Then, in your kingdom, freed from the corruption of sin and death, we shall sing your glory with every creature…”
Eucharistic Prayer III is a new composition based on old forms. It contains elements of the old Roman Canon rearranged to give a more intelligible structure and logical development. The prayer has been enriched by the addition of elements taken from Alexandrian, Byzantine and Maronite liturgical traditions. Like Eucharistic Prayer I, it has no preface of its own – one is chosen from the more than 80 given in the Sacramentary.
The first line of the prayer (“Father, you are holy indeed”) neatly picks up the words of the “Holy, Holy” so that the preface, the sanctus and the opening part of Eucharistic Prayer IV form one continuous prayer of praise to God. Inserts provided for Sundays and feast days (as for Eucharistic Prayer I) are a further structural link with the preface and serve to reinforce the unity of the entire prayer.
Despite their differences, these three “new” eucharistic prayers follow a common structural pattern while adding a richness to our worship of God in this central prayer of the Mass.