Eucharistic Prayer III and IV
by Fr. Erasto Fernandez
This week we take up a brief examination of the elements of the different Eucharistic Prayers (EPs), so that those who are interested could get a glimpse of the riches they contain. The Commission entrusted with the work of composing new EPs was explicitly instructed to maintain the genius of the Roman Canon, taking it as the model or guide. We see that this injunction has been admirably observed in EP III, even when blending it with the Eastern anaphoras.
Like the Roman Canon, this EP III does not have its own Preface, and hence according to the feast celebrated, one could use a Preface suited to the occasion. As we move into the prayer itself, we notice the smooth transition from the Preface brought about through the words: 'Father, you are holy indeed…' an effortless linking with the Holy, holy of the Sanctus acclamation. It also contains a brief summary of the saving deeds of the Lord mentioned in the Preface. In this opening section, the Church is presented as the culminating fruit of God's saving will and the offerer of the pure sacrifice that Malachi speaks of in 1:11.
Following directly from this prophecy of Malachi about the pure sacrifice, the epiclesis goes on to ask that the Spirit be sent upon the gifts present, so that the Church may offer her memorial sacrifice. Without any break, the prayer then moves into the Institution Narrative and Anamnesis recalling the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord. Thus, the eschatological aspect of the Memorial Acclamation is taken up and elaborated.
The Communion epiclesis (calling down of the Spirit upon the celebrating community) that follows tells us that the victim sacrificed is the gift of his Church; it is through this victim that God wills us to be reconciled to him. It goes on to say that the fruit of this sacrifice of Christ is the gift of the Spirit and our unity in Christ: a unity that will find its highest expression in our sharing of the one Bread and one Cup. The community too is to enter into this offering, after the Spirit has transformed God's people into a gift pleasing to the Father.
Another smooth transition follows leading into the Intercessions, embracing both the vertical dimension (that we might receive the promised inheritance) and the horizontal one (taking in all God's children scattered everywhere). These prayers remind us of God's salvific will, wanting all people to be saved, and of Christ's priestly intercession for all his followers (Paul asks for prayers for everyone: see 1 Tim. 2:1). After remembering the faithful departed, we look forward to the consummation of our entire earthly pilgrimage in the heavenly liturgy when Christ comes and we share his glory. The final prayer of blessing then leads into the Doxology and concludes with the people's burst of praise, the Great Amen. When this is sung by all in full voice, it is a fitting conclusion to the great act of praise and thanksgiving that the Eucharistic Prayer is. And when the Amen is meant as a commitment, it ensures that this hymn of praise will continue right through the day - always and everywhere.
If EP II took its basic contents from the anaphora of St. Hyppolitus and EP III followed fundamentally the Roman Canon, but with the positive elements of the Greek anaphoras neatly blended, EP IV relies for its substance on the Antiochene Constitutiones Apostolorum. It is besides, the prayer that is most 'ecumenical' in that it would appeal to Christians of both the Roman and Oriental background.
When composing this EP, the commission seems to have set out on a different approach as compared to the composition of the other EPs. Its structure is basically eastern in that the Sanctus does not really divide the Preface from the rest of the EP. The berakah (praise) which begins in the Preface continues after the Sanctus outlining all of God's marvelous work: creation of the universe and especially of mankind; then even though the Chosen People disobeyed God, his constant fidelity to his covenantal invitation is stressed - extending as it does even into the New Testament times, thanks to Jesus. He brought this work of redemption to a climax in his death and resurrection. He continues this work through the outpouring of the Spirit, and it finds concrete expression in the life and work of the Church.
Reference to the Spirit naturally leads into the consecratory epiclesis and is followed by the Institution Narrative, Memorial acclamation and the Anamnesis. Once the Memorial has made the Lord present in several ways, the community is introduced into that sacrifice in which it shares through the one Bread and the one Cup, so as to become one body in Christ and a living sacrificial gift to him. The second invocation of the Spirit leads to the Intercessions as it is the Spirit who brings about the communion of all: Pope, bishops, clergy, faithful, as also of those who seek God with a sincere heart and those whose faith is known to God alone! Next, recalling the members who have reached the goal, notably Mary and the saints, we too look forward to the final coming of God's kingdom when 'all glory and honour is yours, heavenly Father, for ever and ever - Amen.'
The Preface of EP IV which is invariable looks not so much to one feast or aspect of Christ's redemption but to the total saving action of God in which the Father is the main agent or actor. The Father is the center of this prayer, because it is he who acts through creation, the providential guidance of the people of Israel, the redemption gained by Christ and its continuation in the Church through the Spirit, right up to its fulfillment at the end of time.
The bulk of each EP is its content of praise and thanks to God for all his marvelous deeds in saving us his chosen and beloved people. In that context of praise, it is worth recalling an injunction which Jewish rabbis give to devout Jews who pray the 'berakah' prayer a hundred times each day. Realizing that routine easily sets in with regard to such repetitious practices, the Rabbis advocate 'kawanah halleb' (which, translated means 'attention of the heart,') as the most important element in the prayer of praise. They remind the people that the hundred berakoth they make is not just a matter of words or formulae, but must be something that flows from the heart, else it would not have much value. This reminder would stand us too in good stead as we seek to make our entire day a living and continuous praise of the Father.
Son, give me your heart…
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