The Eucharistic Prayers at Mass

In the fall of 2020 I did a series of presentations entitled, Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass. The goal of that series was to help people understand why we do what we do at Mass. From better understanding, we hope for more active participation in the Mass. Active participation is not simply a matter of our external actions at Mass. It includes our internal actions. Are we paying attention, are we engaging with what is going on?

In part III of my series, Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass I spoke on the structure of the Eucharistic Prayers (slides 14-29). Today I would like to reflect on the differences between the Eucharistic Prayers in the hope of encouraging to attentively listen to the Eucharistic Prayer during Mass.

The Roman Missal contains ten eucharistic prayers. Generally, I think the most often used Eucharistic Prayers are numbers 2 and 3 but all are thoughtful prayers that can be used as the priest chooses.

Eucharistic Prayer I is also known as the Canon. For a long time this was the only Eucharistic Prayer used. It is the Eucharistic Prayer that includes extended lists of saints’ name. It also has special parts that are used during the Christmas and Easter seasons. All of the Eucharistic Prayers are addressed to the Father. Eucharistic Prayer I makes this very clear with its first words, “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.” While the prayers are addressed to the Father, Jesus is included often, and the Holy Spirit is invoked.

Eucharistic Prayer II is the oldest of the Eucharistic Prayers used today. Originally it was attributed to Hippolytus but now it is less certain of its exact author but still attributed to the early church. It is the shortest of the Eucharistic Prayers. I find this shortness makes it direct and clear in its wording of “partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ.” Eucharistic Prayer II also has its own preface but it can be used with other prefaces (more on prefaces later). Lastly, Eucharistic Prayer II also includes an insert remembering the dead that can be used at funerals.

Like Eucharistic Prayer II, Eucharistic Prayer III includes a special insert that can be used at funerals. To me, Eucharistic Prayer III is the prayer that most explicitly includes the role of the Holy Spirit in what is going on as we celebrate the Eucharistic Prayer.

Eucharistic Prayer IV includes its own preface that is always to be used with it as it speaks of creation and how Jesus creates us anew.

Then comes two Eucharistic Prayers with the theme of reconciliation. They are known as Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation I & II. They both include their own prefaces but can be used with other prefaces. I find the second one a good choice during Advent for its references to the Second Coming of Christ as we reflect on our readiness for the coming. The first Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation is a good choice during Lent for its reference to Jesus’ saving action on the Cross. I use it at other times of the year when preaching on reconciliation and forgiveness.

So, that is the first six Eucharistic Prayers. I said before there are a total of ten in the Roman Missal. Well, technically there are seven. The last one, the Eucharistic Prayer for Use in Various Needs, is technically one prayer but with parts that vary both at the beginning and the end, it is presented in the missal as four prayers.

It was written for a Swiss Synod that meant from 1972 to 1975. It was later approved for general use. The first prayer has its theme as “The Church on the Path to Unity; the second is “God Guides His Church along the Way of Salvation”; the third “Jesus, the way to the Father”; and the fourth is “Jesus, Who Went About Doing Good.” I especially like the third one for its reference to Jesus as the way and truth and the life (John 14:6) as well as it call to look “into the signs of the times by the light of faith.” I also especially like the fourth one when preaching on our call to love our neighbor and the Corporal Works of Mercy.

So, these are the ten Eucharistic Prayers. Before concluding, I would like to say a little more about the prefaces. Except for the special inserts in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Eucharistic Prayers do not change for the liturgical seasons. That does not mean the liturgical seasons are forgotten. The preface begins the Eucharistic Prayers. There are two prefaces for Advent, three for Christmas, four for Lent, and five for Easter. There are also two for the Ascension as well as special ones written for Pentecost and other solemnities. There are eight written for Sundays in Ordinary Time. For weekday Masses there are six general ones plus ones written for saints, martyrs, pastors, and holy men and women. Lastly, there are five preface options for funerals. To cover all would be more than I hope to offer here. My point in mentioning the prefaces is how they incorporate different seasons and feasts into the Eucharistic Prayer.

If you would like to learn more about the Eucharistic Prayers, I invite you to watch part III of my series, Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass. I hope what I offered today encourages you to pay attention to the words of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass every time you go. They are important words.


Fr. Jeff

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