Radio Show

Why Are There Multiple Eucharistic Prayers?


On another “Mass Class Wednesday,” Father Dave gets a question from a dedicated radio listener: “In the missalette, I try to follow what the [priest] is reading, and there’s a section where it’s called ‘Eucharistic I,’ ‘Eucharistic II’ and also ‘Eucharistic Reconciliation I, II, III, and IV,’ and I’m not too sure which one to follow [and] why there are several.”

Father Dave starts off with a clarification: “One word you’re leaving out is ‘prayer.’ It’s called the Eucharistic Prayer, so it’s either ‘Eucharistic Prayer I, II, III, or IV,’ but you’re right that there are other ones [like the] ‘Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I-II.’ So you said, ‘Why are there multiple options?’ That’s a good Mass Class question to start with … There are a few reasons … Perhaps at some point — I’m not the most precise historian, but I’m gonna say pretty early on in the Church’s history — we figured out that, you know if we said exactly the same words that last an hour every time … Well, you might want to mix it up a little bit. We picked the most important things to leave alone and remain the same, so the words of institution — when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, so the words he said at the Last Supper — we don’t touch those. Those are the same every time. But again, a lot of the Catholic Church is the sacramentality of realizing that we are experiencing this in our human-ness. So variety is the spice of life.”

Father Dave continues: “Aside from the Church worrying about us not getting bored, we also couldn’t possibly limit the multi-dimensions of how we could praise or thank God to just a couple of prayers. If you listen to those [Eucharistic Prayers], they all emphasize different things. If essentially what’s being asked is, ‘Why are there four different Eucharistic Prayers in the Roman Missal,’ you could [just as easily ask], ‘Why are there four Gospels in the Bible? Why don’t we just tell Matthew’s version?’ Because it’s too much to describe with one thing!”

For a more historical and practical reason, Father Dave offers: “Back in the day, as you can imagine, when Catholicism was spreading, people were celebrating Mass in all sorts of different places all around the world … So, in different parts of the known world, there would be different rites. … And in the country of Italy, there were two main rites, meaning their own sets of prayers. … There was a Roman one and a Milanese one – -there were more, but those were two of the most popular ones for many centuries. … So, now we’ve accumulated a lot of the popular ones that were used for centuries and adapted them and retained some of these more ancient ones. So, Eucharistic Prayers I-IV are the oldest, and the other ones that have options are newer editions and whatnot. And then to answer [your last question] — how do I know which one to follow along with: Some priests, when they begin will say ‘Eucharistic Prayer II.’ It’s not actually part of the rite, and it’s not really common. You can kind of tell if you have your thumb on the page of the missalette — you can tell by the beginning because the words are different right from the get-go. There’s always a preface, and that would probably be hard to [miss].” (Original Air 04-26-17)