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Instructed Eucharist #4; Lent 4 2019

Lent Instructed Eucharist

Used During Sermon Time

Session 4: The Great Thanksgiving to the Great AMEN


 The Great Thanksgiving (333-336, 340-343; 361-363, 367-369, 369-372, 372-375)

Unlike all previous BCP's, the 1979 book has six Eucharistic prayers: two in Rite 1 and four in Rite 2. And if you think that's a lot, there was a time in the early church, as liturgies were being formalized, that there was a different prayer for each Sunday and holy day. Because there is so much here, I'm not going to delve into the details of the prayers, but give a general overview of each.

All six begin with the opening dialogue (salutation and sursum corda).

The salutation (“The Lord be with you. And also with you/And with thy spirit.”) officially begins the Great Thanksgiving. The only other place this occurs is just before the Collect of the Day to officially initiate the Liturgy of the Word. Remember, this greeting comes from Ruth 2:4.

It appeared in the 1549 BCP, was dropped in 1552, and it wasn't until 1979 that it reappeared here. Like at the Collect of the Day, this again calls people to attention as we shift our focus.

The sursum corda (“Lift up your hearts.”) was a command to stand, signifying the congregation's participation in the action.

“Let us give thanks . . .” was the celebrant's request for permission to offer thanks in the name of those present, and the people's response was their consent.

This back and forth between Celebrant and people is based on the Jewish prayer of thanksgiving.

Also note that Communion is to be celebrated with people, ie no private Masses. If the Celebrant begins the service and there is no response, the service ends at that point.

Before the 4th Century, Eucharistic prayers were not standardized, although they did require certain things to be present (think Prayers of the People that require specific subjects but not forms). During the 4th Century these began to be standardized. And each Eucharistic prayer contains a creedal affirmation of the faith.

Part of this standardization includes the acts of creation, the Incarnation, the Fall, the Passion, and the Resurrection.

After the 1789 revision, this creedal affirmation was prefaced by an acclamation of praise (“it is very meet, right . . .”; “It is right, and a good and joyful . . .”). In the 1979 book this standard acclamation is part of Prayers I & II and A & B. The acclamation allows for a Proper Preface to be inserted. Again, the 1979 book allows for more variety, including prefaces for every Sunday, major seasons, saints' days, and certain other occasions.


A word about the various Eucharistic prayers.

Prayer I closely follows the Scottish rite which was adopted for the first US BCP in 1789. This ties back to Samuel Seabury being ordained in Scotland, and agreeing to follow their form in the new US BCP. It is more focused on the atonement and sacrifice than other prayers. Because of this tone, we use it during Lent here at St. John's.

Prayer II is a revised version of Prayer I, adding explicit references to the creation, incarnation, and second coming. It's overall tone is much less penitential than Prayer I. We use this prayer at all times other than Lent.

Prayer A is a shorter, modern adaptation of Prayer I. Although taken from the more sobering Prayer I, I opt to use it during Epiphany and the season after Pentecost (Ordinary Time). This is primarily because it's the first prayer in Rite 2 and the one most people are familiar with simply based on its position.

Prayer B also makes use of a Proper Preface, and includes a conflated prayer of thanksgiving from Hippolytus and Frank Griswold (before he became a bishop and Presiding Bishop). It utilizes forms from the Eastern church. I use it Advent and Lent because of the words, “in these last days,” and, “. . . out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”

Prayer C is very Eastern in style with its versicles and responses. Following the Eastern custom, there is no Proper Preface. This prayer is different in that the epiclesis (sanctifying the water and wine) happen before the Institution Narrative (eat/drink in remembrance of me). I use this prayer during the Easter season because of its participatory format, as well as the line of congregational response, “Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.”

Prayer D is adapted from the liturgy of St. Basil (c. 379). It's used by Greek, Slavic, and Coptic Christians, as well as being one of four Eucharistic prayers of Pope Paul VI. The main substance of this prayer makes it used by more Christians than any other Eucharistic prayer. I use it during the Christmas season because of its reference to the Virgin Mary. I also use it during baptisms, or renewal of baptismal vows, because it allows intercessory prayers within the prayer itself, thereby making baptismal services flow better.


Back to specific points in the Eucharistic prayer.

After the Proper Preface in prayers I, II, A, & B, the salvation history in C, and the acknowledgment of the glory of God in D, we say/sing the Sanctus. This is the song angelic host sings in Is. 6:3 and Rev. 4:8, and the congregation shares in the singing of this hymn of adoration with the whole company of angels. It is customary to bow during the first part of the hymn, symbolizing our deference to Almighty God. Sanctus bells are also rung during the three Holys (giving rise to the term “Sanctus bells”). This practice dates back to the 15th Century.

The second part of the Sanctus is technically referred to as the Benedictus qui venit, Blessed is he who comes. This phrase is option in Rite 1. Since we see this as an affirmation of both Christ's first and second coming, it is customary to cross oneself here as an acknowledgment of our agreement with this statement.

An interesting side note: In all Eucharistic Prayers except C, the people are directed to stand or kneel. Prayer C assumes the traditional posture of standing for the Eucharistic prayer. Traditionally kneeling was forbidden during the Great Fifty Days of Easter; another reason I use Prayer C during that season.

Each prayer, at some point, includes what is called Salvation History. In Prayers I, II, A, B, & D, this is located after the Sanctus. In Prayer C it happens before the Sanctus.

The Institution Narrative follows in Prayers I, II, A, B, & D. This is the, “He took bread . . . This is my body . . . He took the cup of wine . . . This is my blood” part of the service. It is taken from 1 Cor. 11:23-26. During this time the priest will elevate the host and chalice to show them to the congregation. This practice developed when the Mass was said in Latin and was unintelligible by the majority of people attending. The priest would elevate the elements at the appropriate time to let the congregation know where they were. Sanctus bells are also rung at this time, bringing attention to each element present. After the elevation, people will bow or cross themselves.

The Memorial Acclamation follows. In Rite 1, this is said by the priest. In Rite 2 it is said by priest and people. In short, we remember his death, resurrection, and coming again.

In and around the Memorial Acclamation is what is called the anamnesis. This is the opposite of amnesia, in that, instead of forgetting who you are, you know who you are, to whom you belong, and where you are headed. You remember you and your purpose. For Christians, through anamnesis the death and resurrection of Christ is a present reality, although not yet fully realized.

What follows is called the epiclesis. This is where the priest places his/her hands over the elements and asks God to bless and sanctify them so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they may be infused with the real presence of Christ. The Episcopal church does not hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation (that is, that the bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ), but to the doctrine of Real Presence (the body and blood of Christ are really present in the elements). One way to remember this is that The elements have been substantially changed, they have not been changed in substance. And once infused with the presence of Christ, they are permanently changed. This is what makes the bread and wine a Sacrament, and this is why we place unused elements in the aumbry or reverently consume them after the service.

The Supplication generally follows the epiclesis. It is a petition that those who communicate may be gathered into one and that their faith may be confirmed. There are also prayers for the unity of the Church, and a gathering of all God's people, past, present, and future. Some prayers include an epiclesis of the people within the supplication (the descent of the Holy Spirit upon us). It is customary to cross oneself as we ask to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

The Doxology (a hymn of praise to God) wraps up the Eucharistic prayer. Since Christianity is doctrinally Trinitarian, a Trinitarian doxological statement affirming the Trinity, although differing from rite to rite, was the inevitable conclusion of the prayer. We are affirming that all of this is being done for the glory and to the honor of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Great AMEN, or the People's AMEN, is the only amen in all caps. This is your assent to all that has happened, and it is capitalized to give emphasis to this assent. This should be said with gusto, and the Sanctus bells are rung at this point signifying that this is also a joyous moment.

Here I need to say something about Eucharistic Prayer C, because there are a lot of differences in structure between it and the other prayers.

As I mentioned, Prayer C is Eastern in style in that it uses a litany-form in its structure; that is, after the Celebrant says his/her part, the congregation has a response.

The Salvation History is broken up into three sections with their own responses (p. 370).

There is a longer introduction to the Sanctus that includes a whole host of characters and is taken from Rev. 5:11.

Unlike all other prayers, there is no rubric giving an option to kneel after the Sanctus.

The epiclesis immediately follows the Sanctus, coming earlier than any other prayer.

The Institution Narrative and anamnesis follow.

The Supplication, epiclesis of the people, and doxology wrap it up.


This concludes Session 4.

Next week: The Lord's Prayer to the Dismissal

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