Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

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Together at Mass

Together at Mass 9

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God

At the Last Supper, Jesus ‘took, blessed, broke and gave’ and commanded us to do the same ’in memory of me’. He took unleavened bread of Passover and the blessing cup filled with wine. In the preparation of the gifts, we have done as he did. Now we do as he did, not blessing bread, but raising our minds and hearts to bless, thank and praise God our Father. So, we are now ready to begin the Eucharistic Prayer. This is what the Missal has to say about it:
“The eucharistic prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification, is the centre of the entire celebration. By an introductory dialogue the priest invites the people to lift their hearts to God in prayer and thanks; he unites them with himself in the prayer he addresses in their name to the Father through Jesus Christ. The meaning of the prayer is that the whole congregation joins Christ in acknowledging the works of God and offering sacrifice.”

We shall examine more closely the union of priest and people in this prayer. Though it is spoken by the priest alone, it is the whole congregation united with Christ that offers sacrifice and praise.

We shall want to look also at the role of the Holy Spirit in what is happening within this prayer. We call on the Spirit to come down on these gifts to make them holy, to transform them into the body and blood of Christ, and on these people to transform them also into the Body of Christ.

Finally, we offer a brief reflection on our Lord’s own prayers of blessing, thanks and praise. It was not the prayer just of one night, but of his lifelong practice. We will want to see what we can learn so we may unite our own prayer more completely with his.

 

 

The Eucharistic Prayer

“Eucharist” is a Greek word which means to give thanks. From very early day it has been used as a name for the Mass. In obedience to our Lord’s command we gather to do what he did: to remember God’s gifts of creation, his gift of salvation, his love for us his people. We celebrate the reality that we are God’s people whom he has bound to himself in a new and everlasting covenant through his own Son, Jesus himself. And with Christ we give him thanks and praise.

We give thanks and praise: the Eucharistic prayer, the great prayer which is the central act of the Mass, opens with a dialogue between priest and people. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”, he says, and the people respond “It is right to give him thanks and praise”. In effect what the congregation is saying is “Yes, that is what we are here for, to worship our God, to thank him, to praise him, to bless his holy name, to unite with Jesus himself in his own appreciation of the wonder of our Father”.

Then follows the preface, though not in the sense of an introduction. It is ‘coming before’ in the sense of coming ‘face to face with’, coming before the face of God. The community raises mind and heart to come before God to shout out with joy how wonderful God is: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might”

Then we do what Jesus himself did: in our prayer of thanksgiving we take bread and wine which become the presence of Jesus himself, our risen Lord, and, “Through him, with him, in him”, all of us “in the unity of the Holy Spirit” raise our hearts to God and say “all glory and honour is yours almighty Father, for ever and ever”.

The priest proclaims this prayer but “the whole congregation joins Christ in acknowledging the works of God and in offering the sacrifice”. So this eucharistic prayer too is the work of the assembly. This has not always been apparent. Many centuries of practice, with the priest saying this prayer in isolated silence, turned the assembled people into spectators rather than participants. But we are a holy people, called to praise God actively for God’s saving action in our lives. This is our prayer, our shared offering. This is Liturgy, work of the whole people.

So, in every eucharistic prayer the whole assembly joins the priest in mind, heart and voice. By proclaiming the ‘Holy, holy, holy …’ and the memorial acclamation and the great “Amen”, we make it clear that this prayer is the prayer of all present. Indeed, these acclamations are so important that, even if we sing nothing else at Mass, they should be sung , with real vigour and conviction.

Notice, too, how all the prayers are quite explicit that this is the prayer of us all. It is always “we” who pray, thank, offer ...
Eucharistic Prayer I: “we your people and your ministers …”
Eucharistic Prayer II: “we offer you” “we thank you” “make us grow in love” “make us worthy to share eternal life” “may we praise you in union with them”
Eucharistic Prayer III: “we bring you these gifts” “we offer you in thanksgiving” “may he make us an everlasting gift to you”
Eucharistic Prayer IV “”we acknowledge your greatness” “we celebrate this memorial” “we recall Christ’s death …” “we offer you his body and blood …”

 

 

 

“The centre of the entire celebration”

That is what the Missal says about the eucharistic prayer. This demands of us a renewed awareness. In the past the consecration and elevation have been seen as the traditional climax of the Mass. Rather the entire eucharistic prayer is here seen as ‘the high point of the whole celebration’. The command of Christ ‘do this in memory of me’ is not restricted to saying the words of consecration. “This” is related to the whole act of ‘taking, blessing, breaking and giving’ – in other words the entire liturgy of the eucharist.

The people’s part in all of this is much more than simply acknowledging the presence of Christ on the altar and the offering of the sacrifice by the priest. It is the privilege and the duty of all to be involved in the action of the Mass, giving thanks with Christ to the Father, uniting themselves with his self offering, so that they too may be lifted up ‘with and through and in him’ to the glory of the Father.

Our prayer is prayed not only over the bread and wine, so that they become the body and blood of Christ for us to share; it is prayed over the entire assembly so that we may become one with the dying and risen Christ, for the glory of God and for the good of the world. Participation in this great prayer of praise is intended to transform us. By grace we more and more become what we pray. Notice how the petition for the transforming work of the Spirit is made over gifts and people:

Over the gifts we pray as follows:
EP 1 - “Bless and approve our offering … Let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord”
EP 2 - “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ”
EP 3 - “We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ at whose command we celebrate this eucharist”
EP 4 - “Father, may this Holy Spirit sanctify these offerings. Let them become the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord …”

And after the consecration we pray:
EP 1 - “Then as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing”
EP 2 - “May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit”
EP 3 - “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ”
EP 4 - “and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise”

We conclude our prayer hoping that one day we too may arrive at the table in heaven. We look forward to that day and raise our voice with those of all the saints as the priest raises the consecrated bread and wine in a gesture of offering with the doxology, a prayer of glory to God. To this the people respond with the acclamation the great “Amen”, declaring their assent to the whole prayer that has been offered in their name.

 

 

Giving Thanks and Praise

We remember God’s gifts of creation and of salvation; we celebrate his love for us, the people whom he has bound to himself in a new and everlasting covenant through his Son, Jesus Christ. And with Christ we give him thanks and praise.

In the life of Jesus we have our prime example of thanking and praising God. What we see can best be described as an attitude of appreciation of the many signs of God’s love and goodness, that shows up constantly in his life, his prayer and his conversations. He is acutely aware of all that is going on around him, of the sky which changes with the seasons, of the flowers which decorate the fields, the crops growing through night and day, and the trees rich with fruit. In it all he recognises the ‘creator of heaven and earth’, who makes it yield food, who knows of every sparrow that falls, who makes the sun rise and the rain fall. And for this abiding and creative presence of his loving Father he gives thanks. He is alert to spot the generous spirit of a wealthy young man and the total sacrifice of a poor widow; he recognises the complete trust of a Roman centurion and acknowledges the faith and courageous argument of a Canaanite mother. And in it all he sees the signs of the loving and live-giving presence of God, and gives him praise.

Not that the life of Jesus was surrounded by all that is sweet and light. His was a time of great unrest, of political oppression, of religious tension, of cruelty and persecution. Jesus himself had to face hypocrisy and frustration, desertion and want. “The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head”. However, Jesus was not a “fair-weather” friend of God. Even in times like these he was still able to trust that he was not deserted by God and to say, even if it had to be through gritted teeth, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth”.

Sometimes we see Jesus thanking God, sometimes praising, sometimes blessing. The basic attitude underlying all these words is always the same: “appreciation”. Whatever the words used, Jesus was expressing his profound appreciation for God’s goodness and greatness seen in the context of everyday life, and still to be trusted even when it seemed to be hidden.

For sharing in eucharist, we need to develop the same sort of spirit of appreciation of the many signs of God’s goodness, love, beauty, and so on, in and surrounding our own lives. We might pay more explicit attention to the beauty of an object, the value of a friend, the kindness of a stranger, the skill of a workman, the power of a machine, the wonder of an invention, the generosity of a relation, the courage of someone who is sick, the pleasure of a meal together, the fun of a family outing, and so on. It adds up to an attitude of appreciation of all life’s gifts and especially of the gift of life itself. We may speak of it as ‘counting our blessings’, but in a way that increasingly recognises them as so many signs of God’s presence in our everyday living. This is the stuff of which a spirit of thankfulness is made. It is the foundation of our sharing in eucharist.

When Jesus took bread and gave God thanks and praise, it was not the prayer just of that instant. It was the reflection of a life which was entirely eucharistic, a life in which he gave thanks to God always. So, too, should it be for us.