It is Thursday, and therefore Liturgy time on the blog. I am doing a commentary on the Mass, striving to draw forth how it is a pattern for Christian life and discipleship.
After 22 blog posts covering the Introductory Rites, Liturgy of the Word, and the Preparation of the Gifts, Preface and Sanctus, we are now launching into the Eucharisitic Prayer, the heart of the matter, truly.
It is worth noting at this point that from here on up to the Great Amen in the priest does pretty much all the talking. This is theologically significant. He not only symbolizes Christ in this liturgical moment, but actually is acting in persona Christi.
The exclusivity of the priestly prayers (i.e. that the laity don’t just join in and pray along with him) means that the liturgy is fundamentally something Jesus does and we receive, something we enter into in the mode of passive reception before active participation. And in fact our deepest entry into ‘full, conscious, and active participation’ lies in knowing that we are primarily graced recipients of the action of the Mass and not the principal actors.
I will be using Eucharistic Prayer I, also known as the Roman Canon, for this commentary. It was until the post Vatican II reforms the only canon we had, the one anaphora, or Eucharistic Prayer, of the Latin Church for over a millennium. That it is not done all that often in many North American parishes is frankly shameful. It is held to be too long, which is ridiculous.
It is two minutes longer than the other prayers. Anyhow, I don’t want to start ranting about that subject, amusing as that might be for some, but I just want to go on record as saying that it is disgraceful that so many Catholics are deprived of praying the prayer that all their ancestors prayed because we need that extra two minutes for what… another verse or two of Gather Us In?
Anyhow. Back to the Mass! The prayer begins “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless + these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices…” As we begin the prayer, we consciously address the Father, through the Son. So important, that. God is Father—this in a sense is the whole point of the Year of Mercy, to recapture the awareness of God as Father. And this is done as we approach Him the way He must be approached in truth—through the Son.
The language of humility is important here. We do not approach God upright, with heads held high as if we are His equals. No – we bow, we prostrate, we kneel, we throw ourselves down before Him. He loves us and delights in us, and wants us to know Him as our loving Father… but let us never forget that He is the awesome God, the Eternal, the Mighty, the Holy… and we are frail creatures of dust.
And we bring Him these gifts and ask Him to accept them.
At this juncture, the gifts are not the Body and Blood—we are still referring to the bread and wine here. That these gifts are ‘holy and unblemished’ of course recalls the whole Old Testament theme of only bringing sacrifices to God that are whole and intact, not the injured and damaged.
Here, it does indeed imply (since the bread and wine symbolically are the offering of the whole Church of its own self, and of each member of the Church of our own selves), that we are free of grave sin as we approach the altar. I know this is a contentious and hard subject these days, but my brothers and sisters, it is really important. The Church and Christ provide every help possible for us to be clean of grave sin, and all are welcome to be present at the liturgy and participate as much as they can, even if they are burdened with sin. There is no harshness, no rejection in this.
But we must not—we simply must not!—approach the altar of God if there is serious blemish, serious disobedience, serious sin in our lives. It is not a matter of censorious priggishness, but of basic integrity and honesty with oneself and with God. It is spiritually damaging in the extreme to willfully flout this, and demand to receive the Eucharist when one’s life is not in accordance with the commands of God, made known to us through His spotless Bride, the Church.
So we begin the Eucharistic Prayer in a place of deep humility, deep knowledge that we are entering here into the very action of Jesus Christ towards His Father, and deep self-examination that we are indeed disposed to enter this action. As we go about our day today, let us be mindful that our whole life is to be lived right here at this Eucharistic moment, to the Father through the Son, an unblemished offering through Christ to our Father in heaven, in deep humility, amen.