The Eucharistic Prayer
by Fr. Erasto Fernandez
Having reviewed the Preface, it would be most appropriate now to take a closer look at the entire Eucharistic Prayer, seeing what we can learn from it. For most people, this prayer is the one that is least understood, and possibly the one that is most badly prayed. Sometimes, we could even ask whether we really pray it or merely recite it, and that too at break-neck speed! Would we be wrong in suggesting that this happens simply because we fail to understand its richness and purpose within the entire structure of the Eucharist. There are several ways in which we can recapture something of the richness of the Eucharistic Prayer. We suggest one by way of a starter.
Word Flows into Prayer and Action
As we scrutinize the present Eucharistic Prayers (as many as we have), one common shortcoming seems to be that there is hardly any connection whatsoever between the liturgy of the Word and that of the Bread. In the section on the Word, we encounter God presented to us in a very pointed and personal way. We expatiate on this in the homily and ensure that it is reflected in the faith that we profess (Creed) and the prayers that we make (of the faithful). But from that point onwards, there is no reference to these deep and important insights for the rest of the Eucharist: they are set aside and almost forgotten while we recall other unconnected insights into God's love and care. When dealing with God, of course, this doesn't really matter. But if it is desired that the insights gained in the liturgy of the Word somehow influence our lives, then it is important that these be brought into the liturgy of the Bread, and particularly into the central prayer of thanksgiving: the Eucharistic Prayer.
This can be done in several ways. For a start, we suggest one very simple way that we could use till we get accustomed to this approach. Let us suppose that in the Gospel we proclaimed the passage of the feeding of the five thousand (Mk. 6:30-44) and emphasized in the homily Christ's compassion that led him to feed the harassed people first with the word and then with the bread. This could be brought into the Eucharistic Prayer later in several ways and at several spots. Presuming we take EP II, then at the Preface itself when we pray: "He is the Word through whom you made the universe, and who in the desert reached out to the hungering multitudes that sought him out. He taught them about your kingdom and later led them to experience your powerful and loving providence by offering them enough bread to eat and be filled. The left-overs proclaim that your love never runs out but that even today we can experience its healing power, if we come to you through Jesus for he is the saviour you sent to redeem us…"
We could also recall the insights of the Word section when we invoke the Holy Spirit. The text reads: "Lord, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all life and holiness. Having created us you wish that no person goes hungry or remains in want but you provide plentifully both of your life-giving word and also of nourishing bread. We bless you for the numerous people who share their bread and their lives with us, bringing us your love and concern. It is through the generosity of our brothers and sisters that we have this bread which we bring today to your altar. Let your Spirit come upon these gifts …"
Or again as we pray the Memorial Prayer after the Institution narrative: "We thank you for counting us worthy to receive your nourishing word today which reminded us that you always provide for us especially in difficult circumstances. Lord, when you give you always offer much more than we need to teach us that your gifts are meant to be shared with others around us. As we stand before you to praise you, open our hearts in love to serve our needy brethren. May all of us who share …"
Another example could be: "Lord, remember your Church throughout the world; make us grow in love even to the extent that we will forget our own shortcomings and emptiness, but reach out to others sharing the little that we have. For we believe that through our faith-filled openness and courageous self-giving, we can take away all the hungers of our needy brethren. Make us your Church into true servants of the world, together with John Paul II …"
Further on in the Prayer too we could add a line or two saying: "Have mercy on us all. Do not call to mind the times when we closed our hearts to others and failed to share because we focused only on what we lacked. Make us more large-hearted; help us forget ourselves even to the point of giving of our very lives for others and thus make us worthy to share eternal life with Mary …"
Now, the important point is not that in any one given Eucharist, we insert all these insights into every possible place where they would fit in meaningfully. Rather, it would be helpful to choose just one or two places in which to make the link between the two important sections of the Eucharist. Any exaggeration is always harmful, and so here, too overloading of the Prayer would be counter-productive. If at all this approach is to be meaningful, it stands to reason that we would need to prepare the interventions thoroughly and well in advance. This preparation could be done when the celebrant prepares his homily, since the prayer generally recalls the key points made and emphasized in the homily. Spontaneous, ad-lib approaches could be disastrous and might lead to unpleasant pauses and diversions, and eventually even to hierarchical opposition to this practice. It also presumes that the Celebrant really prays the Eucharistic Prayer - and does not view it as merely a formula that has to be recited for the sake of validity.
Realizing that the Eucharistic Prayer is the central prayer of the Eucharist, we need to pay a lot more attention to this prayer than we usually do, to make it as effective and meaningful as possible. The very articulation of this prayer is itself a proclamation and contributes to the spiritual effects produced by an active and intelligent participation in the Eucharist. Further, it shapes our Christian attitudes in that it teaches us how to praise and thank the Lord in all circumstances. By recalling the gift of Jesus to us in the Institution Narrative, it invites us to inculcate the same attitude of sharing in our Christian lives. The Intercessory part reminds us that our blessings are always meant to be shared, and that in the actual sharing we give the greatest praise and thanks to the Father. We notice also that every section of this prayer is addressed to the Father - a typically Christ-like approach to prayer (which many Christians unfortunately do not adopt). The prayer also fosters the eschatological attitude so distinctive and characteristic of the Christian (that the Kingdom is already in our midst) as opposed to the Jewish approach - of still awaiting the promised Messiah and salvation.
When we look at the way this prayer is usually prayed, we may have to admit that most priests and Christians too have not yet grasped its tremendous importance and centrality in Christian prayer and living. To many it is still a formula to be raced through. Those interested in a deep Eucharistic spirituality would do well, therefore, to make it a habit to articulate each and every word that is prescribed. Besides, an analysis of the structure of the prayer would be useful too, just as a careful reflection on the key ideas that go into the making of this prayer would be immensely beneficial. Since the homily at Eucharist need not always be on the readings of the day, from time to time, the different sections and key ideas of the Eucharistic Prayer could also be explained to the people. Occasionally, and especially in small groups celebrating Eucharist, the participants could be encouraged to 'expand' the key ideas after due preparation: e.g. the praise, intercessions, calling down of the Spirit and so on could be made more personal and contextual.
Finally, whenever possible, the zealous pastor/Celebrant could check to see how much these 'attitudes' of praise, petition, attention to the Spirit and so on are being acquired by his people and feature in their daily living.
"Happy are you if you put this into action!"
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