Q. Why do our priests have to say the same prayers at every Mass? Why can’t they pray from their heart like other clergy do? I think it is much more meaningful than reading the provided prayers.
A. That is a really good question. Thank you for asking it. The prayers that the priest uses at Mass are taken from the Roman Missal, the large book that you see on the altar. In addition to including everything needed for the celebration of the Eucharist, the Roman Missal contains the three main prayers of each individual Mass, that is: the Collect (opening prayer for Mass), the Prayer over the Gifts and the Prayer after Communion.
The Mass, as you know, is the highest form of prayer and is the ultimate gift given to us by Jesus through His Church. To receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus is the greatest act that we can do in any given day.
Over the 20 centuries of Catholic history, the Church has structured and formulated the prayers for the Mass, taking many of the words of the Mass from Jesus Himself and the Scriptures and the witness of the early Church Fathers.
The Eucharistic Prayers make clear that these prayers are offered, not to Christ, but to the Father. It is worship offered to the Father by Jesus as it was at the moment of His passion, death and resurrection, but now it is offered through the priest acting in the person of Christ, and it is offered as well by all of the baptized, who are part of Christ’s Body, the Church. This is the action of Christ’s Body, the Church at Mass.
There are primarily nine Eucharistic Prayers: Four Universal Eucharistic Prayers, (Eucharistic Prayer I, II, III and IV), three for Masses for Children and two for Masses for Reconciliation.
These prayers, as well as the other prayers of the Mass, have incredibly significant meaning, are imbued with lofty aspirations and call upon the Trinity to truly draw us into their very being. The Church believes she has been tasked by Jesus to formulate these prayers for the Eucharist. In doing so, the Church has invited experts in classical languages, liturgy, history, music and many other sacred disciplines to produce the most solemn and sacred action between heaven and earth in the Mass.
Since the Mass is the prayer of the universal Church, priests are asked to use the prayers and words as given to them. I know priests, in other parts of the United States, sometimes ad lib parts of the Mass. I wish they would not do that. Priests are actually bound to celebrate Mass as the Church in the structure that has been given to us. Since the Mass and other sacraments have been entrusted to the Church, no priest has the authority or the right to change any part of the Mass. To do so can easily turn into a production with the priest at the center of the Mass rather than the Lord. For me, at least, I think it can be tempting for the priest who ad libs the Mass to think, ‘I know more than the Church, so I will just make it up as I go.’
Celebrating the Mass is undoubtedly the highlight of my day and I hope it is for you as well. Just thinking that the Mass is an incredible sacred action that intersects heaven and earth is really beyond imagining.
When I was a young priest, I remember Bishop Flavin (Bishop of Lincoln 1967-92) telling us, “do what the Church asks you to do.” I think that it is pretty good counsel.
Can I suggest a good book on this subject? Father John Riccardo’s “Rerouting.” This book could be a good book for Lent. Also, if your schedule allows it, attending daily Mass is also a great Lenten practice. Again, thanks for your question.
This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.