Roman Canon shows connection to Christian way of life

| Father John Paul Erickson | September 16, 2011 | 0 Comments

The following is the next in a series of articles regarding the new Roman missal, which will be used in the United States beginning Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent.                  

At the very heart of the Mass lies the “Eucharistic Prayer,” a text that begins with the preface dialogue and continues until the great amen is proclaimed solemnly by the assembly of believers.

Within this powerful prayer, led by the ordained priest on behalf of the entire community of faith, and, indeed, on behalf of all creation, Jesus Christ continues to offer himself to the Father in loving obedience and whole-hearted generosity.

Full, active and conscious participation in the Sacred Liturgy means that we must make this prayer our own and be ever more willing to lay our life, hopes, dreams, fears and sorrows upon the altar of sacrifice that is also the table of Communion.  It is only by making the prayer of Jesus, which is always a great “yes” to the Father, our own that we will have life and have it abundantly.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Latin rite church has used a variety of eucharistic prayers. But for many years prior to the council there was only one such prayer used in the Latin rite church, even as through its centuries of utilization it has undergone small revisions and edits.

We call this venerable and ancient prayer the “Roman Canon.” This prayer is still offered as an option within the current form of the Mass, and it will continue to be offered when the new translation is implemented on Nov. 27. We often hear it referred to as “Eucharistic Prayer 1” because it is the first option given in the Roman Missal.

Universal yearning

In order to understand the origins of this text, it is important to point out that the Catholic Church is much more expansive, varied and textured than many of us assume. “Catholic” means universal, and a critical component of understanding this universality lies in Christ’s universal applicability to the many cultures and histories of our world.

Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is the answer to the deepest questions and yearnings of the human heart, and these questions and yearnings are in fact universal.

As Jesus Christ is received by a particular people through the preaching of the church and the compelling witness of the martyrs and saints, the mysterious dialogue that takes place between the Word made flesh and that people produces a magnificent synthesis that is a Christian culture, a way of imagining and interacting with the world that is rooted in the saving truth of Jesus Christ. Art, music, architecture and theology are only parts of what is shaped and created in the midst of this immensely fruitful dialogue that is both human and divine.

One field in which this dialogue took place and produced long-lasting fruit was within the Roman Empire. Through a variety of providential occurrences, the empire accepted faith in Jesus Christ, and the many lands that it had acquired and conquered as a pagan kingdom began to be changed by the saving encounter with Christ.

We call the union of the existing Roman culture with the power of Christ and his message the “Latin rite,” a way of being Catholic and Christian that is profoundly rooted in the traditions and imagination of ancient Rome and the lands it had claimed as its subsidiaries. As might be imagined, the “Latin rite” is a pivotal reality in the history of the West in general.

Part of our heritage

One of the truly great fruits of the Latin rite church is the Roman Canon, a prayer that finds much of its origin in ancient Christian Rome. It’s a beautiful and moving prayer, strange and yet familiar.

As Latin rite Catholics, it is an essential part of our heritage and history, the source of inspiration and direction for millions of believers throughout the centuries. It is unfortunate that in many parishes it is no longer used as a liturgical prayer. It is certainly my own personal hope that with the implementation of the newly translated texts, Eucharistic Prayer 1 will become more familiar through more frequent use.

Because of the beauty of the prayer and the powerful images it employs, the Roman Canon is a great text to use as a kind of reflection and meditation on the Mass as a whole and its essential connection to the entire Christian way of life.

In the next few articles, we will be examining this prayer in depth. As so many have rightly pointed out, the implementation of the new text of the Roman Missal is not just about new words.

Much more important, it is an opportunity to once again remember what it is that Jesus Christ is doing when we gather around the altar to offer the sacrifice of praise that is the Eucharist.

Father John Paul Erickson is director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.

Category: New Roman Missal