(NOTE: I am splitting part 8 due to its length. So here is the first part of Part 8!)
8. The Liturgy of the Eucharist“A celebrant who is prayerful, reflective, in harmony with the true design of liturgy, who diligently prepares the homily, and who is humble enough to stand before the altar of God, knowing this is where the membrane between heaven and earth is thinnest [emphasis mine, SAV], brings to the assembly a sense of reverence and awe that empowers the liturgy to truly be the “summit and source” of faith and life (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10).
- Rev. Ronald E, Bassard “The Blessings of the New Roman Missal” (Today’s Liturgy, Easter 2011)
The “membrane between heaven and earth” – what a marvelous description! “Filter” comes to mind. The membrane filters out that part of God’s graciousness that is so infinitely powerful that we could never endure its totality in this life, yet giving us a tantalizing taste, leaving us yearning for more. At the same time, it filters out our worldliness, allowing our prayers to rise to Heaven, cleansed by the sacrifice of Christ. With this in mind, perhaps we can better understand and appreciate all that happens in that part of the Mass we call the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The priest occupies the central role in this part of the Mass. After an opening dialog with us, he prays the words as we pray along silently. At certain points, we respond vocally, but the majority of the prayers are spoken by the priest. That certainly does not mean that we are relegated to the status of spectator. Far from it! Even as the priest prays the words, we engage ourselves in the prayers.
The Preparation of the Gifts begins the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Very little will change in this part. Once everything is in place on the altar – the table is set as usual – the priest offers praise to God. His words will change slightly, but our response – “Blessed be God forever” – will remain the same. Only after he washes his hands will we see the first change. He invites us to pray, saying, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Note here a significant change in his words. Instead of “our sacrifice” he says “my sacrifice and yours”. Yes, there is more than one sacrifice being offered. Because each of us is called to a priestly role in Baptism, each of us is offering our personal sacrifice. But, in so offering ours, we are united with one another in the one, perfect sacrifice of Christ.
In our response to the priest’s invitation, we will see only one change, but an important one. We will say:
“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.”
By adding the word “holy” we not only reflect the words of the Creed: “one, holy…Church”, but we acknowledge that it is through the holiness of the Church that Christ hears and accepts the sacrifice being offered. The priest ends this part of the Mass with the Prayer Over the Offerings, to which we respond as we do now, “Amen.”
The Eucharistic Prayer then follows, the very heart of the Mass. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving”, or “to give thanks”; and that is precisely what we do. Perhaps it would be well here to briefly look at the individual parts of the Eucharistic Prayer. Each has a specific purpose, and each leads to the next. It is a carefully structured prayer that draws us into that great mystery – the consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ – and prepares us to receive Christ in Communion.
1. The Opening Dialogue is a brief conversation between the priest and the people in which the priest calls us to prepare ourselves for what is about to happen. It begins with the priest saying, “The Lord be with you.” Once again, our response will be “And with your spirit.” Then, all is the same as today until the last dialogue. When the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” instead of “It is right to give Him thanks and praise,” our words become simpler: “It is right and just.”
2. The Preface is usually a thematic proclamation of praise and thanksgiving to God, keyed to liturgical time – the Sundays of the year, a particular feast, or even a special occasion for which a Mass might be offered …” (Note: In the Revised Roman Missal, the term “liturgical season” has been changed to “liturgical time”). The last words we say, “It is right and just” provide a sort of “jumping off point” for the priest, who begins the Preface with “It is truly right and just.
3. The Holy, Holy, Holy is a song of praise, proclaiming God’s holiness and glory as we prepare to enter into the most profound mystery of our faith, the transformation of simple bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The opening line, the only change in the song, is a slight modification of the song of the angels in Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” The source for this proclamation of holiness comes from a Hebrew word, Sabaoth, which the Latin used without translation because it is such a beautiful, descriptive word. We will sing:
[The revised words are shown in bold type.]
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might.
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Note, too, that in the revision the word “Holy” is capitalized all three times. This places a distinct emphasis on our God, most Holy, to whom we are singing this song (not to mention a subtle Trinitarian implication). The remainder of the song, which is an adaptation of what the people cried out when Jesus entered Jerusalem, is praising God for all He has done. The “hosts” referred to are the “heavenly hosts”, the countless angels in Heaven over whom God has command. The next line, which remains unchanged – “Heaven and earth are full of your glory” – signifies God’s power over the heavens (i.e., the universe) and earth. As a result, as we sing the Holy, Holy, Holy we are proclaiming God’s power over everything He has created (recall the change in the Creed, “…of all things visible and invisible”).