Q. When I attend Mass I try to follow along in my Daily Roman Missal. I notice that priests choose different Eucharistic Prayers for different Masses. However, I haven’t noticed any particular pattern. How do priests determine what Eucharistic Prayer they will use for Mass?
A. Mass is celebrated by following the Roman Missal, which is the book that contains the prescribed prayers for the celebration of Mass. Within the Roman Missal are four principal Eucharistic prayers, two Eucharistic Prayers for reconciliation, and four Eucharist Prayers for various needs.
Priests have the option as to which Eucharistic Prayer that they would like to use. However, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which gives instruction for how the Mass is to be celebrated, offers norms to guide priests in choosing a suitable Eucharistic Prayer for a particular Mass.
Eucharistic Prayer I, also called the Roman Canon, may always be used. However, it is especially suitable during Masses in celebration of the saints whose names are mentioned within it, e.g., Ss. Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, etc. Also, some celebrations such as Christmas, Easter, and Epiphany, have their own proper texts in Eucharistic Prayer I, and so it would be fitting for the priest to choose it for those celebrations.
Eucharistic Prayer II is the shortest of the Eucharistic Prayers, and is suitable for weekday Masses. It is provided with its own Preface, but another Preface may be preferred by the priest in its use.
Eucharistic Prayer III is “preferred on Sundays and festive days” (GIRM 365). It is often used during the celebration of the feast day of a saint because there is a place within it where the priest may mention the name of the saint being celebrated, or the patron saint of the church where the Mass is being celebrated. This Eucharistic Prayer is commonly utilized at Masses for the dead because it has a special formula to pray for the deceased person by name.
Eucharistic Prayer IV gives a summary of God’s salvation history, that is, his providential plan of love for us. It may be prayed during Sundays of Ordinary Time, perhaps selected by the priest to connect to the theme of his homily on that day.
The Eucharistic Prayers of various needs might be chosen by a priest for Masses with children. The Eucharistic Prayers for reconciliation are often preferred for retreats or for other pastoral reasons.
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