The Eucharistic Prayer

In our discussion on the Eucharistic Prayers, which can be found here, we put on the screen a great side-by-side comparison of the four Eucharistic Prayers that are most commonly heard at Mass. That link is here.

We also made reference to a paragraph in the General Instructions for the Roman Missal. The GIRM is online at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website, and here is a useful link.

The particular paragraph referenced is #365, which says:

  1. The choice between the Eucharistic Prayers found in the Order of Mass is suitably guided by the following norms:

a) Eucharistic Prayer I, or the Roman Canon, which may always be used, is especially suited for use on days to which a proper text for the Communicantes (In communion with those whose memory we venerate) is assigned or in Masses endowed with a proper form of the Hanc igitur (Therefore, Lord, we pray) and also in the celebrations of the Apostles and of the Saints mentioned in the Prayer itself; likewise it is especially suited for use on Sundays, unless for pastoral reasons Eucharistic Prayer III is preferred.

b) Eucharistic Prayer II, on account of its particular features, is more appropriately used on weekdays or in special circumstances. Although it is provided with its own Preface, it may also be used with other Prefaces, especially those that sum up the mystery of salvation, for example, the Common Prefaces. When Mass is celebrated for a particular deceased person, the special formula given may be used at the proper point, namely, before the part Remember also our brothers and sisters.

c) Eucharistic Prayer III may be said with any Preface. Its use should be preferred on Sundays and festive days. If, however, this Eucharistic Prayer is used in Masses for the Dead, the special formula for a deceased person may be used, to be included at the proper place, namely after the words: in your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself all your children scattered throughout the world.

d) Eucharistic Prayer IV has an invariable Preface and gives a fuller summary of salvation history. It may be used when a Mass has no Preface of its own and on Sundays in Ordinary Time. On account of its structure, no special formula for a deceased person may be inserted into this prayer.

Dead and Buried

One of the most offensive claims that Christians make about their faith is captured in the next phrase: “Dead and buried.” Gods are immortal. Gods do not die. But Christians claim that God did die. He died on the cross on Friday. He was put in a tomb. He was in the tomb all of Holy Saturday. God was truly dead. For as you remember, we believe that Jesus was truly man and also truly god. So to state joyfully that the Son of God is allowed to die is an extraordinary thing for non-Christian ears to hear. And nothing was done to Jesus without the cooperation of his human will. So we cannot slip into the fallacy that somehow or other his human nature was overridden by his divine nature. If Jesus is fully man then he has free will. He cannot be some kind of a human robot that is directed by his divine will.

Because he’s human he gets to choose. And Jesus chose to cooperate with his father’s plan. He accepted death on a cross as his Heavenly Father’s will for him. He chose death. On Good Friday here at Saint Catherine’s, we have meditations on the seven last words from the cross. And whenever I meditate on those seven last words I am struck by the sense that Jesus was completely in control of things all the way to the very end. Especially when you read the Passion as given to us by Saint John, it’s very clear that Jesus was not a victim in the sense that he had no power, but he was a victim in the sense that he was the offering – the Holocaust – that resulted in the atonement we talked about last time.

And the word “buried” is included in the Creed because it means that he not only died but he stayed dead. We see in the gospels many times where a child is dead but immediately comes back to life when Jesus speaks. In the ttory of Lazarus, the writer makes it clear that the man is really dead because he’s been in the tomb for a number of days. The sister Martha complains that opening the tomb is going to be a bad idea because it’s going to stink. That’s what it means by buried. I hope some of you Monty Python fans are immediately going to the dead parrot sketch. Jesus was not merely pining for the fjords, he was really dead buried in a tomb.

And meditating on this can be very fruitful for us. Holy Saturday is a very quiet day in the church calendar. There’s no Holy Saturday mass. The first Mass after Holy Thursday is the Easter Vigil, and officially that really starts in the middle of the night of Sunday morning. Over the years, church men have gotten used to moving it so that you know it’s dusk on Saturday, but that’s to accommodate for the fact that Father has to get up and do three more masses tomorrow morning.

So we are really invited on Holy Saturday to enter into the quiet bleakness of the day. We know Jesus is dead because we were there on Good Friday when he died. But on Holy Saturday we don’t know that tomorrow on Easter he will rise from the dead. Those of you who are praying the Liturgy of the Hours will find on Holy Saturday one of the readings for the Office of Readings is an ancient sermon describing what’s known as the harrowing of hell, when Jesus went down to the realm of the dead and preached the good news to those who hadnever been able to hear it during the time of the Old Testament. So even on the quiet bleakness of the morning of Holy Saturday, there is this small but growing sense of joy. So he is dead and buried, but he will rise on the third day.

Was Crucified

The next phrase in the Creed is “Was Crucified.” Crucifixion was a method of execution that everyone agreed was so awful it was reserved for those situations when the Roman State needed to make an example of the criminal. No Roman citizen could be executed by crucifixion; it was just for the rebellious foreigners and slaves. And so they chose crucifixion for these particular cases.

That means that in the Roman – and crucifixion actually seems to be something that the Romans learned from the Persians centuries earlier – so not only in the Roman mind but in the general Pagan mind crucifixion is a special agony reserved for special cases. When there was a rebellion against the Roman state, the crosses would come out. The one thing that the Roman State would not tolerate was rebellion. In many ways it was a very tolerant empire, provided you acknowledged its authority. If you did rebell, then you needed to be canceled, and crucifixion was the most extreme version of cancellation.

But for the Christians, the cross becomes a sign of victory rather than a sign of defeat. It is through the Cross that victory over death has been won for us. The Cross involves suffering – great suffering – but through that suffering even unto death on a Cross, Jesus won for us eternal life. And the sign of the cross, the shape of it, invites so much hope for us. People talk about a circle as being endless, but if you think about it is completely limited: all you can do is go around on the same circle over and over again. But the cross points out with its arms to Infinity, and you may remember how Father Neil frequently says that the cross represents “I crossed out” as a reminder that we must die to self if we wish to gain heaven. And the figure of a cross is so simple, so easy to make the sign of the cross, which means Christians can make a very powerful prayer quickly and without even using words.

So the fact that he was crucified opens us to many of the Mysteries the faith.