Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Eucharistic Prayer

Recently I had the joy of attending the first annual Reformation Worship Conference where I got to hear Hughes Oliphint Old, T. David Gordon, Terry Johnson, Jon Payne, Mark Ross, Paul Jones, and David Hall speak on a whole host of different topics concerning worship.  My favorite lectures were those by Dr. Old on the reformation of worship in the 16th century.

One of the themes that was developed through all the lectures was the importance of prayer in the reformers' worship.  He noted that as the reformers recovered the truth of scripture, they used the scripture to reshape how they worshiped.  The reform of liturgy was centered on ministering the word of God to the church and this included using prayer as a means of the ministry of the word.  In their prayers, then, the reformers sought to fill their prayers with scripture.  In their recovery of biblical worship and prayer, they noted that the Bible contained different kinds of prayer and sought to institute these different types of prayer throughout the liturgy in appropriate places.

In his lecture on John Knox, he emphasized Knox's contribution to the reform of liturgy and the use of prayer in Knox's directory for public worship, the Book of Common Order (1560).  Old noted that with this directory, Knox developed "several master strokes," one of which was his attempt to develop a good and true Eucharistic prayer.  During medieval Roman Catholic worship, magic and superstition had worked its way into the mass, which led the church to believe that by the performance of certain rites or repeating certain formulas one could avail himself to the power of supernatural forces.  In the mass, then, blessing the elements was a magical and superstitious act where the priest would act in changing the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus.  The blessing in the mass was done by the priest to the elements.

The Reformers, however, sought to rid the celebration of the Lord's Table of this influence by beginning communion with a prayer that made it clear that one was not commanding God's grace or controlling God's grace with the rite, but was dependent on God's grace.  They saw that it was God who needed to act, not the priest.  And they understood that God needed to act in the lives of the believers, not in changing the metaphysical make up of the elements.  This emphasis did not diminish the elements, but rather put them in the proper place as means that God used in working in his people.  This prayer became known as the Eucharistic prayer--a prayer that included an invocation, thanksgiving, and vow of the covenant.

At the heart of the Eucharistic prayer is thanksgiving, hence, its name.  Knox saw that in the last supper celebrated by Christ with his disciples, that Christ blessed the elemtnts and gave thanks.  The words eulogeo and eucharisto, translated "bless" and "give thanks" are synonyms that at their heart convey gratitude and thanks.  Knox saw that the Lord's Table was a place to celebrate communion with Christ and the church as an act of gratitude.  Hence, thanksgiving became the focus, rather than a time of mourning and confession.  The Table was a time to celebrate and give thanks to God for his acts of creation and redemption.  John Calvin also emphasized the importance of seeing the Table as a place for giving thanks as Christ himself did at the last supper:
Whatever gift we receive from the hand of God is sanctified throught the word and prayer, . . . For nowhere do we read that our Lord ate with his disciples unless it is also mentioned that he gave thanks.  By this example we are certainly taught to do the same.  This thanksgiving however has to do with somethig highter: for Christ gives thanks to his Father for his works of mercy to man and his gracious gift of redemption: and we are invited by his example, that as often as we come to this sacred table we be stirred up and aroused to recognize God's great works of love to us and that we enter into true gratitude, (cited by Old in The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship, 300).
By remembering God's gracious works of creation and redemption in prayer, we express thanksgiving for his grace in the past, while at the same time, call upon his grace for the present and the future.

As the Lord's Supper is a time of thanksgiving (a eucharist), we are to follow Christ's example by beginning with a prayer of thanksgiving, where we explicitly ground our thanks in the acts of God in Christ for his church, appealing to him to continue to work in us by his grace that we might walk in the obedience of the newness of life in Christ.  Old, shows the importance of this understanding of the Table and the ministry of prayer before it is received in his book Leading in Prayer, "The Lord's Supper should be a feast of praise and thanksgiving.  It is here above all that the minister should give attention to leading the congregation in prayer," (225).

To this end, then, I have written the following Eucharistic prayer for this coming Lord's Day:

Blessed are you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are the triune God of all creation, the maker of heaven and earth, of all things, both visible and invisible.  And to our King, Jesus Christ, as you are the host of this table, you are the coeternal and cobeginningless Son of the beginningless Father, who in the abundance of your goodness was in the last days clothed in flesh, humbled under the law, crucified on the cross and buried for us, your church, who at the time of your great sacrifice hated and loathed you and your rule.  But by your completed work of salvation, you have refashioned our nature that had been corrupted by sin.  And now, by your resurrection, you are our source of resurrection life and eternal fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit; you always live now before the Father as a visible representation of our righteousness, and to intercede on our behalf. 
Blessed Savior, incline your ear, then, to us, hear our words and help us to lift up our hearts to you and render unto you all praise, thanks and glory.  We are thankful for the gift of your incarnation, ministry, sacrifice, and for its revelation and demonstration of your love for us.  We are thankful that you are risen and have been highly exalted and that you have trampled underfoot the powers of death.  We are thankful that you have burst the gates of hell and lead us forth to eternal life and light.  We are thankful that you are the firstborn of many from the dead and the first fruits of them that sleep.  We are thankful that now you have filled us with your Holy Spirit that we might be joined together with you, our triune God, and with one another in a true mystical body as those united to you both in your death and your resurrection.  And we thank you for the promise of your coming again, to finally establish your Kingdom in its consummation.  We are thankful that you will raise us up in glory, and that you will openly acknowledge us and vindicate us.  We are thankful that you will wipe away our tears and make us perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of our God and one another unto all eternity.
As we rejoice in your completed work on our behalf, glorify yourself in writing these truths upon our hearts through this communion meal.  As you are the true bread that came down from heaven, strengthen our faith to see your body and blood in these elements of the bread and cup; and through our eating your flesh, which is true food, and drinking your blood, which is true drink, draw us unto yourself, that we should not hunger or thirst.  And as you are the living bread that gives life, help our faith to be confident that you share your life with us who receive you by faith, believing that death has lost its victory, that we will be raised up on the last day, and that we will live forever with you.  And let this precious gift of Holy Communion be unto our healing, enlightenment, protection, purification, sanctification and salvation; and that of our whole spirit, and soul, and body.  May you use it to divert us away from evil thoughts, words and deeds, unto a righteous life with increased virtue, stability of faith, living in obedience to your commandments, in the joy of the Holy Spirit.  For from you and through you and to you are all things.  To you Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be glory both now and forever. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.


  1. Thanks, DOD, for the prayer and background.
    That certainly helps frame why it was that certain of the English Puritans even objected to use of the Lord's Prayer as a form in worship - too much a consideration of Papist liturgical magick as then used.

  2. No mention of Thomas Cranmer? Grit: The Puritans were over-reacting. Knox's "Common Order" falls short of the concise solidity of the Book of Common Prayer.