Monday, 8 December 2014

On Praying the Eucharistic Prayer

I’m currently embroiled in a (sometimes-heated) discussion about celebrating the Eucharist in the local church where I worship, and so I’ve been flicking through some of my books for wisdom. I found this section of Paul Ferguson’s Great is the Mystery of Faith very illuminating:

One way of thinking about [the eucharistic] prayer, and of why it is important in the Eucharist, is to look at the place it has in the dynamic and the drama of worship. We need an element in worship that will move us on from the earlier part centred on hearing God’s word in Scripture to the moment when we share Communion. To put the point in very functional terms, whatever it is that needs to happen to prepare us for that sharing, and whatever needs to happen in relation to the bread and wine that we will share, this prayer is the means of that taking place.

This is, in every sense, a big prayer. It has many facets to it, and because it is connected so strongly to Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is connected strongly with all the major themes of the Christian faith. When we pray the eucharistic prayer, we are invoking God the Holy Trinity: the Father to whom we direct the prayer; Christ whom we are remembering; the work of the Holy Spirit. It touches on themes of our discipleship; the Church in all times and all places; death, life and eternity; and of course the bread and wine in front of us. The eucharistic prayer is about a lot more than ‘doing something to the bread and wine’. Eucharist is, literally, thanksgiving, and this prayer is one great action of thanks. The story of Jesus’ last supper is retold as part of that thanksgiving, and in a sense is the focal point of it. But this prayer thanks God for all his love in his dealings with humanity and the whole of creation. We thank God for everything throughout time. We thank him for what he has done, supremely in the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; for what he is doing now, in us and among us; and also for the future that he has in store, when (in whatever way he plans) his intentions and purposes come completely to fruition. And as we recount this great ‘story of God’, we thank him that we are caught up in it. Supremely through Jesus Christ, human and divine, his story becomes ours.

Paul Ferguson, Great is the Mystery of Faith: Exploring Faith Through the Words of Worship (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2011), pp. 124–5, italics original

One of the things I’ve only just taken on board (you can mock me in the comments if you wish) is that the eucharistic prayer is a eucharistic prayer! It is not a spiel; it is not mere liturgy; it is a prayer, offered to God by the communicants through the words proclaimed by the celebrant.


  1. What does "mere liturgy" mean?

  2. Thanks for your question, Ryan. By 'mere liturgy', I was trying to tap into a mindset that sees liturgy as no more than (empty) ritual. Even though the words of eucharistic prayers are devised by liturgical committees and drawn heavily from Scripture, I sense that some people simply regard liturgy as unnecessary prattle.