Parts of the Mass: The Eucharistic Prayer

Liturgy Lines topics at present deal with the same topics as Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s multi-part series on the Catholic Mass at and will provide parishes, RCIA groups, RE teachers and others with follow-up material for sessions using that resource.

The Eucharistic Prayer is the centre and summit of the Mass. Its origins are to be found in the blessing prayer (berakah) of the Jewish Passover meal. At the last supper, Jesus added to this traditional prayer the words ‘This is my body’, ‘This is my blood’. Over time, the prayer was gradually altered and simplified. 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;
. 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 which recalls the paschal mystery (see final paragraph);
· 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, and with him, and in him, ….’), the prayer of praise in which the celebrant sums up and concludes the thanksgiving offered to God.
For centuries, only one Eucharistic Prayer, known as the Roman canon, was used. Its origins date back to the time of Ambrose in the fourth century. After the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, a special committee was established to study the Roman canon in light of the liturgical reforms called for by the Council. It was clear that the prayer had several weaknesses, including lacking a strong sense of praise and an explicit epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit). Rather than make major alterations, the committee decided to retain the Roman Canon with some minor changes and to issue alternative Eucharistic Prayers which could replace it at Mass. In 1968, a slightly revised version of the Roman canon was published as Eucharistic Prayer I, along with three other prayers designated as Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV.
The technical term for the commemoration of the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ which is part of every Eucharistic Prayer is the Greek word anamnesis. It sounds like the word ‘amnesia’ and it does in fact come from the same derivation. When you suffer from amnesia, you lose your memory. So an-amnesis means not to lose your memory, or not to forget.
When we celebrate Mass, we gather to hear our foundational story so that we will not forget it. It is not, however, a nostalgia trip back to the past like telling school-day stories at a class reunion. By calling to mind the events of the Paschal Mystery – Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we bring these past events into the present so that we become part of the story and participate in it.


Elizabeth Harrington