Eucharistic Prayer III (i.e., the Medium One)
I think one of the most adorable things in the world might be when a child learns to read, and proceeds to read one of his or her childhood books to us. Usually, we don’t expect much content from these sorts of books – “See Bob run. Run, Bob, run!” – but nobody cares, because it’s cute, and we listen anyway. But you might think of Eucharistic Prayer III as a child reading a book to you, but instead of Where the Wild Things Are, the child is reading Plato’s Republic or St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles! Eucharistic Prayer III sounds nice and pleasant, but it’s jam packed with important Eucharistic theology and doctrine!
Eucharistic Prayer III is the next anaphora on our chopping block as we dissect it down to its most important elements. It is medium length, somewhere between EPII and EPI, but if you get to the nuts and bolts of it, it’s incredibly theologically complex!
Some of us think of ourselves as Roman Catholic, but really, the Roman version of Catholicism used to be but one of several other “rites” within the larger Latin-speaking Church, each with it’s own style and Eucharistic Prayer. Some are still around today – the Ambrosian Rite (celebrated only in Milan, Italy) and the Mozarabic Rite (celebrated in Toledo and parts of Spain) – and others have disappeared completely. Eucharistic Prayer III reaches out to some of these other traditions, including elements from defunct rites in Spain and Gaul (present-day France).
There are two key themes to unlocking the whole thing: sacrifice and the Holy Spirit. Sacrifice is an important element of the Eucharist, period. But in a special way, it is brought out in this prayer. Sacrifice is what the Mass is – it’s a meal, yes, but as we hear constantly throughout all the Eucharistic Prayers, it is our presence at the foot of the Cross as well. So we’ll hear phrases like, “holy and living sacrifice”, a line borrowed from Theodore of Mopsuestia, a theologian of the early Church, and talk of victims and offerings – things that might have a bad connotation in a secular culture, but which are essential to who we are as Catholics, because they were done by Christ with immense love!
The other big theme throughout Eucharistic Prayer III is the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, this poor guy is forgotten in the context of the Mass, or we only call him when we need him to do something. We know that Jesus is the victim of the sacrifice, and we know that he’s offered to God the Father, but sometimes we don’t think of the Holy Spirit, even if we know he’s there. EPIII underlines the action of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist – he gathers us as one people to offer that sacrifice, he transforms the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and he transforms us too, giving us meaning to our participation at Mass.
Those are just a couple quick points to introduce you to Eucharistic Prayer III (EPIII, this is St. Michael’s; St. Michael’s, this is EPIII!), but hopefully we’ll be able to pick these things out as we pray together on Sunday!