The Eucharistic Prayer: Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

The eucharistic prayer is the heart and apex of the celebration of the Mass. It is addressed to God and proclaimed by the priest celebrant in the name of the whole assembly. The people participate in the prayer in the opening dialogue and the three acclamations and by joining their personal praise and sacrifice to that of the Church.
The assembly approves and ratifies the words and actions of the eucharistic prayer by their strong and convincing ‘Amen’ at the end. Because this prayer is the most solemn prayer of the liturgy, all the texts used are authorised by the Church. The assembly should never be put in the position of saying “so be it” to what is not the prayer of the Church.
The origins of the eucharistic prayer are to be found in the blessing prayer (berakah) of the Jewish Passover meal. At the last supper, Jesus gave this traditional prayer of thanksgiving a new dimension by adding the words “This is my body”, This is my blood”. After Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension the apostles continued to gather for table fellowship in memory of the Lord. The traditional Jewish prayer forms over the bread and cup were gradually altered and simplified. As there were no liturgical books, the leader improvised using the structure of the berakah. It wasn’t until the 4th century that fixed forms, which differed according to geographic regions, began to appear.
Down through the centuries the Church has used a number of names for what is now known as the eucharistic prayer, the two most common being “canon”, the Greek word for a fixed rule or standard (the Roman eucharistic prayer was fixed from the sixth to the twelfth century) and “anaphora”, Greek for “lifting up” or “offering”. (In German the eucharistic prayer is called Hochgebet or “high prayer”).
The eucharistic prayer is not a series of separate prayers strung together but one unified prayer of thanksgiving from the opening dialogue to the great Amen. The various parts of the prayer fulfil different functions in giving praise and thanks to God.
The eucharistic prayer always includes the following elements which may vary in their order: thanksgiving, especially in the preface; acclamation, the “Holy, holy” sung by the people and presider after the preface; 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 which recalls the paschal mystery; offering (oblation) in which the entire Church and this assembly offer Christ and themselves to God in union with Christ; a 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.
According to Augustine, our “Amen” is like putting our signature to the prayer. Do we realise what we have signed?


Elizabeth Harrington