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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER

A Eucharistic Prayer is also called an Anaphora.  While there is great variation among the various rites of the Catholic Church, especially in the East, until the Second Vatican Council the Roman Canon or first Eucharistic Prayer was exclusively used with certain variations for many centuries.  While the stance for the prayer in many places (as in Spain, Italy, France and Mexico) is a combination of standing and kneeling (until the consecration); in the United States all but the priest are urged to kneel throughout. Pope Benedict XVI expressed his opinion in favor of the American option as a sign of reverence to the entire prayer. What we celebrate is something miraculous and appreciated by eyes of faith.  The Mass brings us to Calvary.  While the historical Cross of Christ is a bloody sacrifice; the Eucharist is a clean or unbloody re-presentation of that same one-time oblation. The unleavened bread and the wine are transformed through the words of consecration into the real presence of the Risen Christ, substantially present whole and complete in the sacrament of his body and blood.  As Jesus taught the murmuring crowd of Jews in the Gospel of John, his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink.

The Roman Canon “as we know it” goes back to 1570 AD and the Council of Trent, albeit until recent times in Latin.  Pope John XXIII added the name of St. Joseph to the prayer just as he was recently added to the other Eucharistic prayers. 

While there are special prayers for children and reconciliation, there are four standard prayers that are regularly used. The Roman Rite emphasizes similar elements in each anaphora. This part of the Mass is sometimes called the “canon” as it is fixed and generally unchanging. While the pattern varies somewhat between the prayers, here are the common elements as ordered in the Third Eucharistic Prayer:

01.  Praise & Thanksgiving (echoes the Preface and Sanctus)

02.  Epiclesis (Invocation of the Holy Spirit)

03.  Institution Narrative & Consecration

04.  Memorial Acclamation

05.  Anamnesis (Memorial Prayer)

06.  Oblation Offered the Father

07.  Intercession of Mary & the Saints

08.  Intercession for the Church

09.  Intercession for the Living

10.  Intercession for the Dead

11.  Concluding Doxology & Great Amen

The Mass is our most significant act of praise and thanksgiving.  The reason why we should not miss Mass has less to do with the precept of the Church and what we will receive as it does with what we owe to God.  Only with our priest can we offer this act of worship that most honors God.  Those who stop attending because they “get nothing out of it” are failing to appreciate that the point is the other way around, what we can give or offer Almighty God— the gift of his Son and ourselves joined to him.  This is the gist for the prayers of oblation to the Father after the consecration.

The epiclesis is the invocation of the Holy Spirit.  It is by the Spirit of God that Jesus performs his miracles, heals the sick and wounded, and resurrects the dead.  Indeed, Jesus rises from the dead by his own power, again the Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit that conceives the Christ by hovering over the sinless Virgin will come upon the gifts on the altar.  The priest will extend his hands over them.  He will make a sign of the cross.  Some of the Eastern rites will have the priest wave a cloth over the gifts, signifying the Spirit as the wind or breath of God.  Note that the priest breathes or speaks into the cup for the consecration of the wine.  The epiclesis and consecration are intimately connected in the overall liturgical action. 

The words of consecration constitute a narrative; but more than historical, it is evocative.  It is a command performance and our Lord tells his apostles, the first priests, to do this in remembrance of him.  That which is remembered is made present.  One might reckon the Mass as a sacramental time machine. We are transported both to the Last Supper and to the hill of Calvary.  That is the meaning of Anamnesis. It is more than a nostalgic remembrance. The priest says, “This is my Body” and “This is the chalice of my Blood.” At the Last Supper cultic or ritualistic language is used. At the Mass, Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God. We are told that a new and everlasting covenant is established. After the Protestant reformation, there grew a resistance to the reality of this sacramental mystery. However, it is no late Roman innovention. Many of the Jews walk away from Jesus because they find this teaching too hard to accept.  They know that one could not establish a covenant with fake blood.  Jesus means what he says.  The transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is later philosophically defined under the concept of “transubstantiation.”  The appearance or the accidentals of bread and wine remain; but, the substantial reality is changed into the risen Lord, whole and complete in each particle and drop— his body, blood, soul and divinity.  Bells may be rung at the epiclesis and at the two-fold consecration.  Doubting Thomas becomes believing Thomas in confronting the risen Christ in the upper room.  At the consecration my father like many others would echo Thomas by whispering his words, “My Lord and my God.”  It is an act of faith in the Eucharistic presence. We encounter the risen Lord in the sacrament.

There are three options for the Memorial Acclamation, added to the words of the priest retained from the older form of the liturgy, “The mystery of faith.” The second acclamation makes a clear connection to the Eucharist: “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.” The Anamnesis for the Third Eucharistic Prayer is as follows: “Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, and as we look forward to his second coming, we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.” In other words, what happened in time is now the focus of an eternal NOW.  Connected to this oration is the Prayer of Oblation.  Continuing with the third anaphora, we read: “Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and, recognizing the sacrificial Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself, grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.” We offer Christ and ourselves along with him to the Father.  We enter into the Paschal Mystery of Christ and make it our own.

The Intercessions or Mementos are literally for those whom we are praying— we remember them.  The priest quickly brings to mind those whom he is obliged to pray at the sacrifice of the Mass. Pastors are required to pray each Sunday for their parishioners.  While there is insufficient time to recall many names with specificity, he likely has a general  intention to pray for all those on his personal list remembered daily in the recitation of his breviary or the Liturgy of the Hours.  There is no limit to such intentions; however Church law specifies that he can only take one paid stipend a day for an announced Mass intention.  This is to avoid the abuse of trafficking in Mass stipends for remuneration.     

The priest prays that the saints will intercede for us.  We are asking that they pray for and with us.  We want to be where they are.  While we pray to and with the saints; the priest would also have us pray for the Church, for the living and for the dead in purgatory.  The saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory are still attached to us as members of the Church.  The Mass is an earthly and visible expression of the great heavenly banquet and the communion of the saints.  We commend the souls of the dead and look forward to the resurrection of the dead intimated or prefigured in the glorified and risen body of Christ and in the uncorrupted body of Mary that is assumed intact with her soul into heaven.  

While the dead in purgatory are helpless, we can assist them by our prayers, fanning the flames of divine love so that they might be perfected and sped on their way to heaven.  It is by the fire of divine love that souls are purged of impurity and perfected for heaven and the beatific vision.  We should not underestimate the value of the graces and fruits available to them from the Mass. If our loved ones should already be in heaven then these helps would be applied to some other poor soul who needs them and who has no one left in the world to remember him by name and to pray for him. 

The Eucharistic Prayer ends with a doxology or hymn of praise:  “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father,  in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.” The priest raises the Eucharistic Lord in the paten and chalice.  The congregation responds, “Amen.”  That “Amen” makes the entire action of the Eucharistic prayer, their own.  The word “Amen” means many things— so be it— it is true— I believe. 

We come to the Father through the mediation of Jesus Christ.  He alone is the way.  There is no other. 

INTRODUCTORY DIALOGUE, PREFACE & SANCTUS

Everyone stands at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The celebrant invites the people to pray with him.  There is a dialogue. The priest says, “The Lord be with you.” The congregation responds, “And with your spirit.” There is a profound unity and mutuality.  The priest greets the people at various stages in the liturgy.  He does so at the start of Mass. Again, he greets us with the Word prior to the Gospel.  Now he greets the people at the beginning of the Eucharistic action.  He will do so again at the end of Mass with the dismissal or sending forth. Next the priest says, “Lift up your hearts” and the people respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.”

The exhortation “Lift up your hearts!” constitutes the movement into the third “offering” or part of the Mass along with the penitential rite and the preparation of the gifts.  We must love as the Lord loves. We need to avoid divided hearts, enmity and grudges.  We must be the people we claim to be.  We need to acknowledge Jesus as our great treasure. We are mindful of the warning in the Gospel of John that if we say we love God whom we cannot see while we hate our brother whom we can see, then, we are liars.  The Eucharist is Jesus. The Eucharistic prayer is the center of the Mass. We put aside all the worries of the day.  Everything pales in comparison to this offering or sacrifice.  As we remember the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we align our hearts with the Immaculate Heart of Mary and seek to have hearts that beat in harmony with the Lord.         

The priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” and the people answer, “It is right and just.”  Giving thanks is what the liturgy is about.  We are forever mindful of our reliance upon the Lord. We respond to the generosity and mercy of God with unbounded and enthusiastic gratitude.  If people really want to be at Mass and are disposed for Holy Communion, then this is where such faith is demonstrated or professed. 

The priest-celebrant will pray the Preface alone. It is one of the longest prayers in the Mass and the wording varies with the celebration.  It is selected according to the week of ordinary time or other season or type of celebration or saint in the sanctoral calendar. At the end of the Preface comes the Sanctus or “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

It is the dominate acclamation by the people in the liturgy.  Our hearts are full and we cannot contain ourselves.  We join the song of angels in exultation of the Lord God.  The Preface has given some of the reasons for our joy.  The text is divided between the three announcements of “Holy” and the Blessing (in this context, a form of high praise). Each part concludes with “Hosanna in the highest.”  The benediction is taken from psalm 118:26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.” Jesus uses this benediction in reference to himself as the stone rejected by the builders having become the cornerstone. We are entering into the mystery of salvation. Each utterance of “Holy” points to Almighty God as Trinity:  God the Father is Holy; God the Son is Holy; and God the Holy Spirit is Holy.  God comes to extend something of himself upon us, making us holy or saints.  

Ours is the Lord “God of Hosts” or the king over the army of heaven. Just as Israel of old is urged to trust in divine power even as they are outnumbered and facing fantastic odds; the Church is urged to trust that this power can overcome all difficulties and even force the hand of Satan and death.  There is an eschatological element.  The same Lord that lays down his life will take it up again.  When he comes again, he will do so with throngs of angels in the sky; the Lord Jesus will come to judge the living and dead.  All will be consummated.  God’s glory fills heaven and earth! 

OFFERTORY or PREPARATION OF THE GIFTS

The most radical change between the old and the current missal is in the Offertory Prayers.  Many notable liturgists thought that the old prayers overly anticipated the Eucharist.  Indeed, commenters once spoke of it as a natural offering prefiguring the supernatural oblation.  Notable was the removal of a clear invocation of the Holy Spirit that was only implied in the Roman Canon:  “Come, Thou, the Sanctifier, God, almighty and everlasting: bless (+) this sacrifice which is prepared for the glory of Thy holy name.”  The new Eucharistic prayers would each have a clear epiclesis making this prayer redundant. Also subtracted was a prayer addressed to the Trinity:  “Receive, O holy Trinity, this oblation offered up by us to You in memory of the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in honor of blessed Mary, ever a virgin, of blessed John the Baptist, of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, of these, and of all the saints, that it may be available to their honor and to our salvation; and may they whose memory we celebrate on earth vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven.”

The offertory is much simplified.  Indeed, it has been relabeled the Preparation of the Gifts.  The altar table is set with corporal, purificator, chalice, pall and the Roman Missal.  There are already candles on either side of the altar and a visible crucifix.  While the gravity is given to the Mass as a sacrifice, it is also regarded as a meal or a share in the banquet table of heaven.   

A collection is taken on Sunday for the support of the parish, the priest and the works of the Church. The sacrifice of treasure signifies our self-offering.  Along with the gifts of bread and wine, gift bearers and ushers bring the offertory to the altar.  We enter into a special rhythm:  God gives us grain and grapes— we take these gifts and transform them into bread and wine— we give or dedicate the bread and wine to God.  This is the offertory.  The Eucharistic prayer that follows has God giving us the gifts transformed into the body and blood of his Son— united to Christ we offer ourselves with Jesus back to the Father, that we might be sanctified and transformed.  The gifts represent us and just as the bread and wine will be destroyed and consecrated into the body and blood of Christ; we want to be transformed as well into the likeness of our Lord. We must die to our old selves so as to be made brand new.   

Water will also sometimes be brought forward but is not technically considered a gift.  Of course, this view might be challenged in a world where many lack clean drinking water.  Water is a powerful symbol of life and death. 

The priest offers the bread and the wine to God, so that it might be made holy.  The revised prayers are literally Jewish table blessings.  Our Lord would have employed similar prayers at the Seder of the Last Supper:  “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. / Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.” The congregation responds each time, “Blessed be God forever.”

Prior to the blessing of the cup, a drop of water is mixed with the wine and the minister quietly prays, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  The water signifies both the humanity of Christ and our incorporation into him.  The gift of the Eucharist will raise up, even divinize our humanity by grace. 

I suspect that the offertory is a particular section of the Mass that needs to be revisited by liturgists and upon which better catechesis should be given.  Do the people in the pews really understand their role in this?  Are they offering themselves with all their hopes and dreams, with all their joys and sorrows?  If the Eucharist celebrates the surrender of Christ into the hands of sinful men all so that we might be redeemed; do we see this stage of the Mass as an opportunity to prayerfully surrender ourselves with him?  We need to join or graft ourselves to Christ.  This way the heavenly Father will receive us with his Son and give us a share in his Son’s reward. 

While not a personal prayer, the priest quietly or inaudibly prays for all assembled, “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” The prayer is said quietly so as not to detract from the two-fold offerings and the Prayer Over the Gifts. Aware of his sinfulness and shortcomings, the priest washes his fingers at the Lavabo.  He prays, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”  This is a brief but important gesture and prayer.  The priest is intensely aware that he is just a man; and yet, at the altar he is another Christ, a sharer in Christ’s one High Priesthood. He is only a creature and yet he has been configured to Christ for this great sacrament.  He has the authority to forgive sins. He has the power to call God down from heaven and to make him substantially present in the consecrated host and chalice.  He is Christ arriving at Calvary so that we might all be present at our Lord’s redemptive sacrifice.

The “Orate Fratres” has the priest turning to the people and saying, “Brethren, pray that my sacrifice and yours may be well pleasing to God the Father almighty.” Everyone is invited to pray. The people respond, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” This is where we usually speak of the fruits of the Mass.  The priest has his which can be offered for special intentions gathered from others.  Each congregant also has his own fruits.  Together, the celebration is rendered as efficacious.

Just as Jesus offers his sacrifice in love; we return this love with our own. The whole meaning behind the Lord’s command to take up the cross and follow him is not that misery loves company but that divine love in this world is inherently sacrificial.  I wonder if people actually contemplate, that when they come to Mass they are to lay down their lives spiritually with Christ for others?  Indeed, we are to view the Mass as a confirmation and empowerment of our discipleship outside the church doors— lives of loving service— lives of sacrifice.

During the pandemic I suggested that those attending services remember the many who were missing out of caution, sickness and fear.  We are privileged to have the opportunity to come to Mass and to receive the sacraments. (Remember, the Virgin Mary, the apostle John and Mary Magdalene were our emissaries at the cross.  The other apostles were in hiding.) We can come, mentally and spiritually bringing others with us, letting them know that they are not forgotten. Indeed, we can do this for those around the world, especially where Christians are persecuted and where going to Mass is either impossible or against the law.  

Along with the Collect and the Prayer after Communion, the Prayer Over the Gifts is variable from week to week or even changes daily during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, as well as during the sanctoral days.  There is no invitation to pray because it has already been given with the “Orate Fratres.” The priest prays over the gifts and the people respond, “Amen.” As he will do throughout the liturgy, he prays with his hands extended.  This is his primary sacerdotal gesture. He prays not just for himself but for the entire gathered community.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

If the Liturgy of the Word is taken from the old synagogue service, the Liturgy of the Eucharist replaces the sacrifices that were conducted in the Temple of Jerusalem.  However, those oblations are merely ghosts or shadows of the sacrifice of Jesus that makes possible genuine atonement and reconciliation. The priest will imitate the pattern followed by Jesus at the Last Supper.  Indeed, this re-actualization makes present both the Lord’s reformed Seder (transitioning from the old to the new covenant) and the saving mystery of Calvary’s immolation.  One with the high priest Christ, four actions by the celebrant are made timeless and given an efficacy that only those with faith can appreciate.

1. Jesus took bread and the wine;

2. Jesus gave thanks;

3. Jesus broke bread; and

4. Jesus gave it to them.  

We must become what we receive.  We must be taken, blessed, broken and given.  We must be tabernacles for the presence of Christ.  We must (by grace) become the Eucharist we share, a bread broken for others.  We discern in these four simple actions the ultimate meaning that too many fail to fathom. This is the source for our dedication and strength in bringing healing and peace to a wounded world. This is the mystery that motivates every act of Christian charity and distinguishes it from the good works of well-meaning but often misdirected secular humanists. The public outreach of social workers only superficially resembles Christian service and sacrifice. Our focus remains upon almighty God even as we pour ourselves out as a libation for the world around us.

Over the span of two thousand years many accidentals have come and gone in surrounding and adorning the sacramental mystery.  While the saving action of Christ is complete in its effects, the human accidentals of song, gesture and language are liable to human invention and the changing whims of culture. This is realized in the many rites by which the Eucharist is conducted. No liturgy is absolutely perfect in execution. Indeed, while moving in beauty, the accidentals that should enhance or magnify the mystery we celebrate can inadvertently divert, distance or even conceal the core reality of the sacrament behind that which is extraneous. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council wanted to reform the liturgy so that there might be a more immediate understanding of what we are doing and a fuller participation in worship. We come together not as voyeurs looking for entertainment but to join with our priest in making an offering to the heavenly Father. Not everyone may be pleased with the results, but both the old and the new form of the liturgy constitute the Mass at which Christ is priest and victim.  Any diminution or slander of the sacramental reality and effects of either form is a sinful blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and an arrogant repudiation of the Church’s jurisdiction over her own rites.

We read in the CONSTITUTION ON THE SACRED LITURGY:

10. Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper.

21. In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it. / In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.