Our Ancient Prayer
Perhaps you noticed this past Sunday that we used Eucharistic Prayer D in our liturgy. If you are someone who pays close attention, you may have realized that this is the eucharistic prayer we use on the seven major feast days of our tradition: Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter Day, Ascension Day, the Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and All Saints. Here at Trinity and in many other Episcopal churches, it is our prayer for when the church gathers in celebration.
One reason we use this prayer on our principal feasts is to create liturgical continuity between our celebrations. The hope is that when we hear these words, something inside us proclaims that this day is special; that this day is holy. It is kind of the poetic equivalent of our nicest clothing: the fine suit, the sumptuous dress, or the flamboyant party shirt we keep in the back of our closets to be brought out only for the happiest of events. When we slip into that clothing, we know something special is about to happen; we know joy is coming. Our prayers can function similarly, subliminally telling us that this day is holy and special when we hear the familiar words.
Another reason we pray Eucharistic Prayer D on our principal feasts is because it is our oldest eucharistic prayer or rather it is an adaption of the oldest prayer in our liturgical resources. This prayer is an adaptation of the The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. Basil was an early thinker of the church, served as the Bishop of Caesarea which is in modern day Turkey, and he lived from 330-379 C.E. Most of his work centered around the nature of God, particularly focused on the Holy Spirit, and he was a key figure in establishing how we understand the Trinity. He also wrote, edited, and adapted liturgies and our Eucharistic Prayer D is and adapted translation of his eucharistic prayer.
The ancient nature Eucharistic Prayer D immerses us in the historical prayer of the Church. When we pray this prayer, we are joining our voices with sixteen hundred years worth of holy voices who have offered these same words in thanksgiving and to the praise of God. What could be more appropriate than praying this prayer on the Feast of All Saints? Forms of this prayer are currently found in many of the diverse expressions of Christianity. So not only are we joining with the saints in heaven, but we are also lifting up our hearts with people around the world praying these words. This prayer taps into the centuries long continuity of holy people partaking in holy gifts.
A final reason we offer this prayer on our principal feasts is that it so beautifully and vividly tells the story of our salvation. After the preface and the sanctus, we pray:
We acclaim you, holy Lord, glorious in power. Your mighty works reveal your wisdom and love. You formed us in your own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that, in obedience to you, our Creator, we might rule and serve all your creatures. When our disobedience took us far from you, you did not abandon us to the power of death. In your mercy you came to our help, so that in seeking you we might find you. Again and again you called us into covenant with you, and through the prophets you taught us to hope for salvation.
Father, you loved the world so much that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior. Incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, he lived as one of us, yet without sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation; to prisoners, freedom; to the sorrowful, joy. To fulfill your purpose he gave himself up to death; and, rising from the grave, destroyed death, and made the whole creation new.
And, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, he sent the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all. BCP 373-374
This detailed recounting of our shared narrative grounds our celebrations through the remembrance of all God has done for us. It offers a context for our prayers and praises, a reason for our joy, and a basis for faith and hope. When we pray Eucharistic Prayer D, we proclaim that God truly has been good to us and this is the reason for our celebrations.
The next time we will pray this prayer together will be when we gather on Christmas Eve to celebrate the first advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope that this reflection will deepen your joy and celebration on that sacred of night.