The Liturgy of the Eucharist refers to the part of the Mass that begins with the collection and the preparation of the altar and the bread and wine. What are we doing in these actions? Much of the answer lies in the word "eucharist." Derived from the Greek, it means "thanksgiving."
Our thanksgiving is best expressed in the main prayer of the liturgy of the eucharist, the eucharistic prayer. Some history of this prayer: its roots are in the Jewish tradition of meal blessings. As a devout Jew, Jesus would have prayed such blessings at meals. Early Christians (who were Jews) used them in their celebrations known as "the breaking of the bread," when they obeyed Jesus' command to "Do this in memory of me." Over time, references to Jesus and the meaning of his life, death and resurrection were incorporated into these blessings. Two of the present eucharistic prayers we now use date from the third and fourth centuries, all follow a similar pattern. In other words, Christians have been praying this way at the eucharist ever since there were Christians!
The eucharistic prayer is thanksgiving for the heart of life as Christians understand it: for all of God's creation, and especially for the saving works of Christ. It is proclaimed over bread and wine, symbols of what is most basic, food and drink from the tables of ordinary people. In this context, when we are focused on the foundations of our life, we also petition God for the abundance promised at this table to be shared with the whole world, with the church, with all who seek God, with the dead.
The prayer is an action that everyone in the church is meant to participate in: It is not "the priest's prayer." From "The Lord be with you" and the dialogue that follows, through the Great Amen, the eucharistic prayer requires the conscious participation of all present. We involve ourselves fully when we join our hearts to the words sung and spoken by the priest, when we assume an attentive posture, when we listen attentively, when we sing the acclamations with full voice.
In the end, "eucharist" is what our life as Christians is all about. Wherever we stand, in suffering or joy or confusion or routine, our life is always to be thanksgiving, always to be a sharing of God's abundance with all in need.
[Source: St. Paul Roman Catholic Parish Bulletin, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, May 16, 2010]