The Prefaces of Lent - 9th March 2014

The first section of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass - the part that comes after our “It is right and just” and before the “Holy, holy” - is called the Preface. If we are distracted and our thoughts wander, the Preface can sometimes over before we are aware of it. This is a pity because it is not like the preface of a book which can usually be skipped over.

All of the approved Eucharistic Prayers (ten or thirteen, depending on whether the Various Needs Eucharistic Prayer is counted as one or four) contain certain key elements. One of these is thanksgiving, and this is especially evident in the Preface. In addition, during feasts and seasons of the church year, the Preface always reflects the focus of the celebration.

Today is the first Sunday Lent, the Church’s 40-day season of preparation for Easter. There are twelve Prefaces in the Missal for use during this time, one allocated to each of the six Sundays of Lent and another six for use on weekdays.

The Prefaces for the Sundays of Lent serve to reinforce the Gospel readings of the day. For example, on this first Sunday, the Gospel reminds us that the Lord was led into the wilderness for forty days and tempted by the devil. The Preface takes this up and proclaims:

By abstaining forty long days from earthly food,
he consecrated through his fast the pattern of our Lenten observance
and, by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent,
taught us to cast out the leaven of malice,
so that, celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery,
we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.

The Gospel reading on the second Sunday of Lent is always the account of the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. In the Preface for that day we hear:

For after he had told the disciples of his coming Death,
on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory,
to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets,
that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection. (Preface for the Second Sunday of Lent)

Anyone wanting to explore the meaning of Lent could do no better than to pray and reflect on the Prefaces for weekdays, for example:

For by your gracious gift each year
your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts
with the joy of minds made pure,
so that, more eagerly intent on prayer
and on the works of charity,
and participating in the mysteries
by which they have been reborn,
they may be led to the fullness of grace
that you bestow on your sons and daughters. (Preface I of Lent)

For you will that our self-denial should give you thanks,
humble our sinful pride,
contribute to the feeding of the poor,
and so help us imitate you in your kindness. (Preface III of Lent)


Elizabeth Harrington