Sometimes people ask me about the different Eucharistic Prayers used at Mass and why one is used over another. I thought I’d answer these questions in this week’s bulletin column since the Eucharistic Prayer is the center and high point of the entire Mass.
There are four principal Eucharistic Prayers, numbered in Roman numerals, I through IV. Eucharistic Prayer I is also known as the Roman Canon. It is an ancient text, having existed by the beginning of the fifth century and by the beginning of the seventh it has remained practically unaltered. It was the only Eucharistic Prayer used at Mass in the West between 1570 and 1970. This Eucharistic Prayer may always be used at any Mass. It is especially suited to certain feast days that have special prayers assigned within it (Holy Thursday, Christmas, Easter, etc.). It is also especially suited for the feast days of the apostles and saints mentioned in the prayer itself. Along with Eucharistic Prayer III, it is especially suited for use on Sundays.
Eucharistic Prayer II is adapted from an ancient Eucharistic Prayer called the Anaphora of Hippolytus from the third or fourth centuries. Because of its conciseness and comparative simplicity, it is suited for use on weekdays and in Masses with children, young people, and small groups. It is also suited for use at Masses for the Dead. The Church also notes that because of its simplicity, it makes a good starting point for catechesis on the different elements of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Eucharistic Prayer III is a new composition composed after the Second Vatican Council. Its use should be preferred on Sundays and festive days. It may also be used in Masses for the Dead as it has a longer proper text for such Masses. The liturgical norms suggest alternating Eucharistic Prayer I and III on Sundays.
Eucharistic Prayer IV is also a new composition composed after Vatican II. It is based on Eastern Eucharistic Prayers. Because it comprises a rather detailed summary of the history of salvation and as such presupposes a somewhat superior knowledge of scripture, the Church recommends its use with groups having a better foundation in Scripture. It is suited for use on Sundays in Ordinary Time It cannot be used during Advent or Lent or on certain feast days.
Finally, there are several other Eucharistic Prayers used in special circumstances. I’ll write about these lesser-used prayers in a future column. God bless you.