In the past couple weeks; a couple questions have come up regarding some of the practices during our Masses. One had to do with genuflections, and the other had to do with the Eucharistic prayer. I will offer some explanation this weekend and next weekend, as the reply to the Eucharistic prayer will be a bit longer.
I appreciate these questions, and encourage you to ask if you have questions you might like to see addressed in the bulletin.
God bless. Fr Jim
WHY DO WE BOW OR GENUFLECT? At various times during the Mass, the priest and congregation genuflect or perform a deep bow. What is the significance of this in the liturgy? It is a statement that we are entering into a sacred space. When you enter the church and arrive at your pew, we normally genuflect before the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Tabernacle. When the procession arrives at the entrance to the sanctuary, the same gesture is performed. For this reason, the proper place for the Tabernacle is front and center, as our entrance into the church and the procession are oriented to the same location. The sanctuary reflects the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem; the most sacred place in the entire Temple, where sacrifices were offered by the High Priest once a year. The church itself is a sacred space, and within the church, the sanctuary is the holiest space. This is where the sacrifice of the Mass takes place, and is set off from the rest by steps, and historically, by a railing. These are visible reminders of the hallowed ground we enter for the Mass.
You will also notice the priest, servers, lectors, Communion ministers and others bowing deeply at times. We genuflect as we enter and depart from the Sacred Space, and at other times, as we pass in front of the Tabernacle, we stop and offer a deep bow in recognition of the sacred space we are passing, and in respect for the Real Presence reserved in the Tabernacle.
THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER So which Eucharistic Prayer is Father using today? Is there a way for me to know so I can follow along easier? Normally, we have 4 Eucharistic Prayers to select from, although there are 3 more devoted to reconciliation that are occasionally used as well. For the most part, I use either Eucharistic Prayer II or III, and occasionally E P I, but this is a personal choice. E P IV is also occasionally used, but it has a proper preface (The Lord be with you...through the Holy Holy Holy) that must be used with this prayer, as it includes a summary of salvation history that flows with the particular text in this prayer. There are no times I am aware of that one or another is required, and each has a beauty all their own.
The Mass has four essential parts; the introduction/ entrance, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Dismissal. The heart of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the heart of this is the Eucharistic prayer. During daily Masses I normally use E P II as this is the shortest of these three, and I try to be respectful of the time for our parishioners that may be on their way to work. For funerals and weddings, I tend to use E P III as the optional parts that mention the names of the deceased or the newly married couple seems more meaningful. I interchange these during weekend Masses, with no set pattern, as it seems to me that it is good for those attending a particular Mass hear a variety of prayers in order to keep the active participation at a deeper level.
Practically speaking, the easiest way to know which of the three that will be used is to pay attention at the very beginning of the E P, after the Holy, Holy, Holy. When the epiclesis is prayed is the key that indicated the prayer being used. (The epiclesis is the calling down of the Holy Spirit over the gifts; when the priest stretches his hands over the gifts; when we ring the bells for the first time) In E P I, there is a lengthy prayer before the epiclesis, in E P II the epiclesis is after only a line of introductory prayer, and in E P III, there is a short introduction before the moment of the epiclesis. E P IV also has a longer introductory prayer, although it does not have the blessing of the gifts that is included in E P I, and does not include the extra imagery used in E P I.
More on the Eucharistic Prayer next time.