Before entering the seminary, I never knew there were different Eucharistic Prayers. The Eucharistic Prayer is that part of the Mass that goes from the time when the people kneel after the “Holy, Holy, Holy” (the Sanctus) to the Our Father.
Before the 2nd Vatican Council, there was only one Eucharistic Prayer (typically referred to as the “Roman Canon”). Now, the “Roman Canon” is more typically referred to as “Eucharistic Prayer I” because the 2nd Vatican Council added 3 other options (Eucharistic Prayer 2, 3, and 4) along with several Eucharistic Prayers for “reconciliation” and another couple for Masses with children.
At a typical Sunday Mass, you will usually hear either Eucharistic Prayer 1, 2, or 3. 1 (the old one) is typically used on big days, 3 is used a lot on Sundays, and 2 is used at most daily Masses because it is the shortest. There is no rule on when to use which prayer (Eucharistic Prayer 2 can be prayed Easter morning if the priest so chooses) but the above breakdown seems to be the usual pattern most priests go by.
I have a personal love for Eucharistic Prayer 1, and probably use it more than the average priest. My love for Eucharistic Prayer 1 stems from many reasons, and I’d like to share those.
1. Every Mass is offered for an intention by the priest, but only Eucharistic Prayer 1 sets aside time to recall that intention in the Mass itself. There are two opportunities to remember intentions in Eucharistic Prayer 1. The priest says “Remember Lord your people, especially those for whom we now pray….” and later “Remember, Lord, those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially those for whom we now pray…”
2. There is a part in Eucharistic Prayer 1 where the priest bows down and says “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.” I love it that it is referred to as “an altar” but no mention is made of it being a table!
3. Another element unique to Eucharistic Prayer 1 is the mentioning of all the saints. The first round of saints mentions the apostles, and the second part of the first group are some saints from the early Church of Rome, including some of the first Popes. The 2nd group of saints are all martyrs, 7 men and 7 women from the early Church.
The saying of these saints can be omitted if the priest chooses, and sometimes I choose this option if I feel like it might distract from the larger celebration going on, but I definitely include it if the Mass is a celebration for any of the saints listed in either group. I also love the fact that it is a nice rejoinder to all those who say the Church hates women – just as many women are present in the second group as men. Also, when rattling the names off, I am reminded of how we are completely surrounded by amazingly heroic people praying for us at all times.
4. I also like the reference in Eucharistic Prayer 1 to “Your priest Melchisedek.” Melchisedek is not actually an Old Covenant priest, he is simply a man who fed Abraham in the Book of Genesis, and was motivated by charity. It is a good reminder that a priest is defined by his office AND by his charity.
All Catholics would do well to look over the three most common Eucharistic Prayers; my love for the Mass has only deepened as I have had more direct contact with the words of the prayers of the Mass. In fact, praying over the prayers of the Eucharistic Prayers would make a fantastic “mini-retreat” for busy lay people and priests alike.