Last Sunday we looked at the structure Liturgy of the Word, how the readings of the Mass rotate, and how there are other parts to the Liturgy of the Word besides the readings. This Sunday we focus on the first part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which many of the faithful understand as the heart of the Mass.
Having offered the Prayer of the Faithful (petitions), the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the offertory where the altar is prepared and gifts of bread and wine, along with gifts from the faithful for the work of the Church and care of the poor, are offered. At the altar, a small amount of water is mingled with the wine by the priest or, if present, deacon. This goes back to the ancient practice of having to cut the wine with water if the wine was too strong. Today, this action is retained symbolically to show the mingling of our human nature in the divine person of Jesus. The first prayers that the priest prays over the bread and wine are known as the Berachot prayers (Blessed are you, Lord God…). These prayers are a reminder of Jewish table prayers and are reflective of the Jewish influences on the original structure of the Mass.
Following the Berachot prayers, which may be prayed out loud or privately, the gifts, altar, and people may be incensed on feasts and solemnities. At the end of the preparation of the gifts, the celebrant washes his hands. Again, this act is taken from an ancient practice where the priest at one time had to wash his hands out of necessity, having received crops and even livestock, that were brought forward by the faithful as gifts at the Mass. Today, the celebrant washes his hands as a sign of his desire to have his heart and life purified from sin.
After the offertory is complete, the priest invites the faithful to beseech God to receive the offering of bread and wine, as well as our very lives, and that it may be pleasing to him. Finally, the Prayer Over the Offerings is prayed. This prayer is specific for the day or feast. Next week we will look at the structure and form of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Last time in the Weekly we looked at the first part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This week we are looking at the Eucharistic Prayer which follows the Preparation of the Gifts. The Eucharist prayer starts with the Preface which itself begins with the dialogue between the priest and the assembly and ends with the Holy, Holy which itself is the prayer of the angels found in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The Preface is variable and reflects the church season or a specific feast and is marked by the tone of thanksgiving for God’s goodness and grace.
Following the Holy, Holy (the Sanctus), the main part of the Eucharistic prayer begins. There are four main Eucharistic prayers that are generally chosen from as well as nine other ones for specific needs or occasions. All of the Eucharistic prayers follow the same structure beginning once again with praise following the Sanctus and then moving to epiclesis by which the power of the Holy Spirit is called down so that the bread and wine may become the Eucharist. The institution narrative and Consecration immediately follows the epiclesis. Here the celebrant, standing in the person of Christ, speaks Christ’s words at the Last Supper by which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. The Consecration ends with the people’s acclamation following the priest announcing “the mystery of faith.”
The Eucharistic prayer continues with the anamnesis which means to remember. Here, God the Father is asked to look upon the sacrifice offered and to remember, then and always, the sacrifice offered by his Son for us, and finally to accept the offering. Following the anamnesis are various intercessions offered for the Church: for her leaders, for all the faithful, and for the faithful departed. The Eucharistic prayer culminates in the doxology by which the glory of God is proclaimed as the Eucharist is elevated by the priest and deacon. The great Amen is the assembly’s response to this declaration.
Following the Eucharistic prayer is praying of the Lord’s Prayer and the Sign of Peace where we make sure to be at peace with our neighbor before approaching the altar. The assembly then receives the gift of the Eucharist and the Mass concludes with the closing prayer, blessing, and dismissal.