Opinion & Features

In praise of Eucharistic Prayer I

Please don't skip this beautiful prayer

As a new Catholic, I know I have been naïve about a number of things. One of them was assuming that at Mass at most churches on any given Sunday, I would hear a list of funny names like Linus, Cletus, Clement, and Sixtus within the Eucharistic Prayer.

At the parish where my family and I were received and confirmed, our priest uses Prayer I, or the Roman Canon, every time. I know there are other options, but I had no idea until recently they were used more frequently than their forebear. I should have known better.

In my former ecclesial home, the Anglican Communion, most churches have various liturgical options. The renewal movement that produced the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the Church of England’s Common Worship also influenced the Novus Ordo.

When I was an Episcopalian, I had two options for eucharistic prayers in traditional language (Rite I), and four more in contemporary language (Rite II). I didn’t complain. But when I became Catholic, it was a balm to my soul to hear my priest call down heaven every Lord’s Day with the same ancient words that nourished Gregory the Great, Joan of Arc, the Martyrs of Nagasaki, and countless ancestors in faith across dozens of generations. It seemed to me that this was what being Catholic was all about.

I came into full communion with Rome after a long sojourn in various Protestant denominations, and I am naturally suspicious of anything that cuts corners for the sake of convenience. In my teenage years I attended an Evangelical church with a large stage, a video screen and a band. The message lasted 45 minutes, and the prayers and readings never followed any discernable pattern. Repetition of anything, especially something old, was taboo. Eventually I couldn’t figure out whether the faith on offer there had a valid pedigree or was just being made up on the spot.

Using the Roman Canon, at least on Sundays, is a hedge against such uncertainty and a declaration of the authenticity of the faith for all times. The other Eucharistic prayers are perfectly faithful developments to be employed judiciously, and especially on weekdays. I like them. But it shouldn’t be too much to ask for a priest to draw from the deepest source available to him at least once a week.

The Catholic faith is meant to maintain all the ties to ancient revealed religion and God’s call to his people, Israel. We worship in spirit and in truth in continuity with the practices of God’s people who wandered in exile, made sacrifices in the Temple, and studied the Law and the Prophets in the synagogue. What we do on Sundays is right in line with what the people of God have always done, only more so. The story of communion with “all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith,” is rich. We need to hear those names. The Roman Canon hits this nail right on the head.

Prayer I adds just a couple of extra minutes to the length of a Mass (or none at all if Father can trim his homily ever so slightly), but the benefit is a much more dramatic, holistic confection of the Lord’s body and blood. Why on the Lord’s Day should we jump straight to the Consecration? What’s our rush? The story of a great victory is not told with only the final shots and the waving of a white flag. When the Church gathers to make its sacrifice, it is fitting to ramp up to the words of institution by situating our action in the grand sweep of salvation history.

Likewise, a few extra phrases afterwards help us soak in the significance of Christ’s mystical appearance before we come forward to receive him. Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek offered something pleasing to the Lord in their day. We want to follow their lead along the path where the angel carries our gifts to the “altar on high”, however long it takes.

Finally, the Roman Canon’s evocation of the connection between the living and the dead maintains a depth to our faith that is not replicated in any other medium. The other Eucharistic prayers describe this mystery of life, death and our final hope, but not to the degree we find in Prayer I. The names of many holy ones give added perspective to our earthly journey to our eternal destiny. If not only our Lord, Our Lady, and the Apostles, but Agatha, Lucy, and everyone else in the heavenly host is for us, who can be against us?

As an excited newcomer, I humbly request that priests use the Roman Canon each Sunday, when the General Instruction of the Roman Missal tells us it is “especially suited”. Clergy should not be afraid of being perceived as too “trad” or boring. After all, they are there to make a sacrifice, and so are the rest of us. Let’s do it justice.

Andrew Petiprin is the author of Truth Matters: Knowing God and Yourself (New Growth Press). He and his family live in Nashville, Tennessee