As a seminarian, I was privileged one summer to take a course from the renowned liturgist, Godfrey Diekmann. This was back in those heady days shortly after Vatican II when it was very much in fashion to frown on prescribed ritual prayers and write your own. This was particularly true for the Eucharist Prayer, the “Canon” of the mass, which a number of priests began writing for themselves. Diekmann, it turned out, was not a great fan of this. Asked about it in class one day, he said, “It seems today that everyone who has a tiny bit of imagination and even less theology feels obliged to write a Eucharistic Prayer.”
Because of the Covid restrictions this year, I have often celebrated some form of the Eucharist virtually. At first, leading those services, my thought was, what’s the value of a Eucharistic prayer if there is to be no communion? Therefore, I simply jumped from the Liturgy of the Word straight to the Lord’s Prayer. Eventually though I deemed that something more might be offered. Thus (with Godfrey Diekmann’s words now forty years distant) I wrote a Eucharistic Prayer for a virtual mass.
What is a Eucharistic Prayer? Most people would say it’s that part of the Eucharist where the priest consecrates the bread and wine, but that’s only part of it. The Eucharistic Prayer is that part of the Eucharist where we make memorial (Zikkaron, in Hebrew) of the major event by which Christ saved us, in order to make that event present for us to participate in today. We come to the Eucharist not just to receive the body and blood of Christ, but (just as importantly) to participate in an event, namely, the saving action of Christ as he undergoes his Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost. The Eucharist is the Christian Passover Supper and, like the Jewish Passover Supper, its purpose is to make a past event present to us.