The liturgical year includes two major cycles organized around the Church’s principal feasts: the Incarnation cycle, which includes Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, and the season after the Epiphany; and the Paschal cycle, which incorporates Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, and the Day of Pentecost. While there are some liturgical and musical changes that occur within these cycles, each is meant to be experienced as a liturgical whole. It is for this reason that at our 10:30 service, we tend to use the same Eucharistic Prayer throughout each cycle. During the Incarnation cycle, for instance, we have been using Eucharistic Prayer B, which contains a number of references to the “Word made flesh” and meditates on what it means for God to dwell among us. During the Paschal cycle, we will start using Eucharistic Prayer D at the 10:30 service.
Eucharistic Prayer D, which can be found beginning on page 372 of the Book of Common Prayer, is one of the most ancient prayers we have in our prayer book. It has been used for more than 1500 years in one form or another. Because of its age, it has some features that set it apart from the other Eucharistic prayers. Most conspicuously, it is quite long, clocking in at around 880 words. By contrast, the second longest Eucharistic prayer in our prayer book, Eucharistic Prayer 1, is around 750 words (we will use Eucharistic Prayer 1 at the 8:00 service during Lent). Prayer D’s length can feel intimidating; it is not especially conducive to twenty-first century attention spans. There are, however, good reasons for its impressive word count. In the first place, Prayer D, unusually for Eucharistic prayers, includes the Prayers of the People. Shortly after the epiclesis (the invocation of the Holy Spirit), the Celebrant asks God to remember those who minister in the Church, those who are sick, and those who have died in the peace of Christ. There is something incredibly powerful about offering our prayers for the people around us at the altar: the heart of our common life.
Most of Prayer D’s length can be accounted for in the section between the Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) and the Words of Institution. It is this section that makes Prayer D so appropriate for the Paschal cycle. It reminds us that we were formed in God’s image; that even though we were disobedient to God’s commandment, God did not abandon us to the power of death; that God’s Son gave himself up to death; that he destroyed and renewed creation by rising from the grave; and that God sent the Holy Spirit so that “we might live no longer for ourselves.” In so many ways, this section of Prayer D traces the arc of the Paschal cycle: on Ash Wednesday, we remember that we have been created from the dust of the earth; throughout Lent, we reflect on the ways we have dishonored the image of God in ourselves and others; during Holy Week, we meditate on Christ’s faithful obedience to death on the cross; throughout Eastertide, we rejoice in his victory over death; and on Pentecost, we consider how this victory might transform our relationship to the people and the world around us.
As we meditate on the Paschal mystery over the coming months, our hope is that Eucharistic Prayer D will be a companion and guide as it reminds us of our call to live “not only for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us.”