Every Eucharistic Prayer begins with a dialogue between the priest and the congregation. It takes this form:
The Lord be with you. And with your spirit
Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just.
This dialogue is not a secondary element of the Eucharistic Prayer. It establishes the relationship between God and his people and also the relationship between the priest and the congregation in this act of celebrating the Eucharist.
At crucial moments of the celebration, the priest says to the people ‘The Lord be with you’. (At the beginning, before the Gospel, before the Eucharistic Prayer and at the Dismissal). The priest says that at this point precisely because the Eucharistic Prayer is not an act of the congregation alone, but an act of the gathered people as the body of Christ. The people return that greeting to the priest as a reminder that his role is that of acting in the name of Christ.
‘Lift up your hearts’ comes from a traditional way of speaking about prayer: the lifting up of one’s heart and mind to God. What the whole gathered Church is about to launch into is its most important act of prayer. The priest is inviting the congregation to enter into that attitude before the Father. Appropriately the congregation responds: ‘We lift them up to the Lord’.
‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God’. It is thus that the priest invites the people to enter into this act of thanksgiving to God for what he has done for us in all things but especially in the coming of Christ. The people respond ‘It is right and just’. And then we need to notice that the priest takes up the people’s words as he continues the Prayer: ‘It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks….’.
This dialogue establishes the relationship between the priest and the people in the praying of the Eucharistic Prayer. He speaks not in his own name but in the name of all. The prayer is prayed always in the first person plural: with the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’. It is our prayer.
The Great Amen
At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, we have the great Amen. This is the ‘Amen’ which follows the final words of praise: ‘Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, for ever and ever. AMEN’.
This ‘Amen’ is like the signature of the gathered people of God to all that has been prayed in the Eucharistic Prayer. It is the sealing of their participation in the prayer. It completes what has been expressed and established in the initial dialogue between the priest and the people.
The Great Amen was the original acclamation of the people to the Eucharistic Prayer. Historically it precedes both the ‘Holy, Holy’ and the Memorial Acclamation following the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. It should have appropriate importance given to it.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin