Sacramentum caritatis #48 Benedict XVI ( The Eucharistic Prayer is "the centre and summit of the entire celebration" ( General instruction of the Roman missal. #78)
The different Eucharistic Prayers contained in the Missal have been handed down to us by the Church's living Tradition and are noteworthy for their inexhaustible theological and spiritual richness.
These words come to us from Pope Benedict XVI, the successor of Peter appointed by Christ to shepherd the Church. He is reminding us of the Church's constant teaching concerning the Eucharist.
If you have a Sunday missal I would encourage us all to prayerfully read the four Eucharistic prayers that are contained there. At the majority of Masses, the second Eucharistic Prayer is most commonly used, but on great feasts we will often hear the Roman Canon used that is the 1st. Eucharistic Prayer.
Before we study these prayers and the sacred words they contain, it might be advisable to respond to concerns over practice that often cause confusion and division. I refer here to posture.
Many of us who are now in our 50s and 60+ years have witnessed many changes in practice. Those of us who travel to other parts of the world have experienced different postures of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Opinions can become quite heated, and judgments made towards one another can be harsh and opinionated, as to the spiritual state of individuals who do not act in ways that we presume are the only legitimate forms of posture etc. There is no universal posture defined for the whole Catholic Church imposed at this point of the Mass, that is the Canon.
If you live in the USA you will kneel from the conclusion of the Sanctus to the conclusion of the great Amen. This is the discipline that the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States agreed upon. The same is true for England and many other regions of the world.
In Canada the CCCB ( Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) have not defined the posture to be taken by all in this country. The practice of standing or kneeling varies from Diocese to Diocese and from parish to parish and within various parishes there are those who choose to kneel or stand throughout the Canon of the Mass. We still await a decision in Canada for the whole country which may or may not be forthcoming.
Here I would simply like to refer us to the words and thinking of Pope Benedict XVI.
In Sacramentum caritatis #65 He refers to reverence for the Eucharist.
A convincing indication of the effectiveness of eucharistic catechesis is surely an increased sense of the mystery of God present among us. This can be expressed in concrete outward signs of reverence for the Eucharist which the process of mystagogy should inculcate in the faithful. I am thinking in general of the importance of gestures and posture, such as kneeling during the central moments of the Eucharistic Prayer. Amid the legitimate diversity of signs used in the context of different cultures, everyone should be able to experience and express the awareness that at each celebration we stand before the infinite majesty of God, who comes to us in the lowliness of the sacramental signs.
In his book, "The Spirit of the Liturgy, the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote. (Page 194).The body and the liturgy:
The man who learns to believe also learns to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ himself.
We are physical human beings and therefore we use our bodies in ways that express our faith( Lex orandi Lex credendi) is a famous Latin expression which reminds us that our words and actions express what we believe. The use of vocal prayer, bells, incense, music, vestments, candles, architecture, posture, decor, all express our belief and as such are a rich tapestry of life that weaves our bodies and souls into a unity of praise, worship and love for God.
Bishop Fulton Sheen once wrote that Liturgy is like a dance each knowing the steps and moving in harmony one with another. Remember practices change throughout the centuries. These are small "t" traditions that are reformable and the Church has the authority to change these at her discretion.
One danger that often rears its head is to raise practice to the level of Dogma. This is to enter into dangerous spiritual ground and can lead to schism and heresy, as it has done so often in past centuries.
Now let us return to the Eucharistic prayer. The Eucharistic Prayer is spoken only by the celebrant and where there are concelbrating priests, they will join their voices with him at the appropriate places. For us as laity we listen attentively allowing the words to penetrate to the very depth of our souls.
The first line of each of the four Eucharistic Prayers draw our minds to God the Father and to his only Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
Taking the third Eucharistic Prayer let us explore together these words that have come down to us through the ages.
God is holy and all creation rightly gives you praise:
We cannot comprehend the awesome holiness of God. We as created beings and wounded through original sin can only cry out to God, realizing that only through him is life possible, and any goodness in us is not through our own ability but comes from God himself, through Jesus Christ the Lord and by the working of the Holy Spirit.
Remember, the authentic signs of holiness in our lives are the fruits of the Holy Spirit which we find listed in Gal. 5:22-23. They are, Love, joy, peace, patience , kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
From age to age you gather a people to yourself,
so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name:
In Malachi 1:11. The prophet speaks of a perfect sacrifice that will encompass all nations.
From the rising of the sun to its setting.
In the celebration of the Mass this prophecy is fulfilled, for only Christ is the perfect sacrifice, he is the perfect Lamb. All the Old Testament sacrifices were imperfect. Christ fulfills this prophecy, for the Mass is the perfect sacrifice of Calvary made present.
Catholic means universal, and she alone is the universal Church founded by Jesus Christ. In every time zone around the world the perfect sacrifice is being offered so that from the rising of the sun to its setting somewhere the Mass is being celebrated, to the glory of God the almighty.
In the next chapter we will draw closer to the pinnacle of the Eucharist the actual words of consecration, where the bread and wine will be Transubstantiated into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ himself.