Eucharist as a liturgical celebration

Deacon Agnoli

By Deacon Frank Agnoli

(Editor’s note: The publication of the third edition of the Roman Missal provides a great opportunity for each diocese, parish and individual Catholic to grow in their love for — and knowledge of — the liturgy. In this series Deacon Frank Agnoli, the Davenport Diocese’s director of liturgy, reflects on the parts of the Mass.)

The Eucharistic Prayer (Part 2)

Reception (encounter that leads to transformation)


In the middle section of the Eucharistic Prayer, we focus on the present — on what Christ is doing here and now, his perpetual sacrifice of self to the Father, and on our joining of ourselves to his great act of love. In other words, our focus becomes the eucharistic body of Christ.

Transitioning from the Preface, we praise the Father (You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness) and then ask the Father to send down the Spirit (the first epiclesis) on the gifts of bread and wine:

Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

We then pray the Institution Narrative:

At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his Passion, he took bread and, giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is my body which will be given up for you.

In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.

The point of the Institution Narrative is not playacting; it is not about mimicking what Jesus did 2,000 years ago. That’s why the priest does not break the bread at this time; and why he is directed to bow and look at the host and chalice while speaking the words of institution, not at the people as if he were pretending to be Christ at the Last Supper. By obeying Christ’s command to “do this” in his memory, we experience in its fullness here and now what he did at the Last Supper and on the Cross. It is about remembering, a special kind of remembering — or making memorial — that we call anamnesis.

The Catechism (No.1363) puts it this way: “In the sense of Sacred Scripture, the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for [humanity]. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real.”

The next section, known as the anamnesis, names what it is that we are doing in the Eucharistic Prayer as a whole. Anamnesis is an interesting Greek word. If you look closely, you may see a familiar English word: amnesia, or “not remembering.” An-amnesis, there­fore, is “not-not-remembering.” It is more than just recalling what has happened before; it is, in the words of Dom Gregory Dix: “the past made present by its effects.”

Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.

This section returns us to the reason we’ve raised our voices in prayer in the first place: giving thanks.

A Note on the Eucharistic Prayers

While the words of the Institution Narrative are the same in each one, we have 10 different Eucharistic Prayers in the new missal. Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon) has its earliest roots in the fourth century (as testified to by St. Ambrose), and is a slight revision of the only Eucharistic Prayer that we used for the roughly 400 years preceding the Second Vatican Council. Because it developed over roughly 1,000 years, it has a form all its own. Eucharistic Prayer II is adapted from the Apostolic Tradition, an early third century text traditionally attributed to Hippolytus of Rome. The pattern of prayer found here was used to craft the remaining Eucharistic Prayers. This prayer has its own optional preface. Eucharistic Prayer III, composed after Vatican II, picks up the themes of the first Eucharistic Prayer and renders them in the format of the second. Eucharistic Prayer IV is adapted from Eastern Christian prayers dating back to the fourth century and is marked by having its own required preface. The two Eucharistic Prayers for Recon­ciliation were composed for the Holy Year 1975, and may be used in Masses in which the mystery of reconciliation is conveyed to the faithful in a special way (such as during Lent). Of Swiss origin and composed in 1995, the Euchar­istic Prayer for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions is really four prayers in one; there is a fixed section and a section (including the proper preface) that varies — giving us four unique prayers.

The Ars Celebrandi

As priest-presider, am I careful not to confuse anamnesis with mime? Do I respect the different actions called for in the rubrics; for example, the differences between “slightly raising,” “raising,” and “showing” the elements to the people?

Do I feed my community with the full range of Eucharistic Prayers that the Church has given us to use?

Entering the Mystery

Do I realize that the Eucharistic Prayer is the prayer of the whole Church, not just the priest’s prayer? Do I join my heart and mind to what the priest is proclaiming on our behalf, or do I do my own thing? Have I taken the time to read and meditate on the Eucharistic Prayers at home, to make them part of my own prayer life?

When I hear the words of institution, do I realize that the “you” for which Christ gave himself is me?

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