. . . uniting heaven and earth
At the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, we are called to “lift up your hearts”, because the heart is synonymous with the whole person. The priest, when pronouncing this invocation, slightly raises his hands upwards, as if he wanted to “lift” the hearts of the faithful towards God with this slight gesture.
Let’s try to understand individual parts of Holy Mass.
The Preface – this term is probably not known to many. The Preface is the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer, that is, the most important part of the Mass when the consecration takes place, i.e. the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. The Preface begins with the priest’s invocation: “The Lord be with you”, up to the hymn “Holy, holy, holy . . .”.
The title “Preface” comes from the Latin word praefatio and means an introduction or a pre-gathering speech. Of the whole Eucharistic Prayer it is the Preface that most expresses God’s glory. The Preface begins from the dialogue of the priest with the people: “The Lord be with you” – “And with your spirit”. In this way the presence of the Lord among His people is pronounced. The next part of the dialogue “Lift up your hearts” (Lat. Sursum corda) – “We raise them up to the Lord”, requires a bit more discussion.
So, in the Bible we often come across the image of the raising of the eyes to heaven and lifting up the hands. It is found in the psalms: “I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven” (Ps 123). Saint John writes that before the raising of Lazarus “Jesus lifted up his eyes” (J 11:41). Stephen before being stoned cried: “I see the heavens opened” (Acts 7:56). Lifting the eyes or hands during prayer is an evocative image which signifies a general orientation of our lives towards God.
We are called to “lift up your hearts” at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer because the heart is synonymous with the whole person. Man lives on this earth and transforms it. This work has meaning and gives happiness when the heart is with God. The priest saying this invocation raises his hands slightly, as though he wants by this small gesture to “lift up” the hearts of all the faithful to God.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” – these words of the priest in the third part of the dialogue of the Preface express the essential character of the Eucharistic Prayer, that is, thanksgiving for the richness of God’s work. The people respond: “It is right to give Him thanks and praise” – is a confirmation of the words of the priest. Here, in the Preface, the people, not alone, but under the guidance of the priest give God thanks for the work of salvation and the abundance of grace. This dialogue at the beginning of the Preface is the sign of the union of priest and people. It is together they form a community devoted to God.
It’s next that the proper text of the Preface begins with the words: It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God”. Let’s take note here that the three essential names of God are mentioned: “Lord” – already used in the Old Testament instead of the term “Yahweh”, “holy Father” – the source of all holiness and “almighty and eternal God” – as such He stands above all creation, but in Jesus Christ He is so close to us.
Then the text of the preface in one, two or three sentences present a short mystery for the day, that is, it reveals one of the saving works of God and at the same time expresses a truth of the faith and gives the intention for thanksgiving (today . . . ). This part of the Preface depends on the liturgical season and so changes, i.e. the Preface in Advent is different from the Preface for Lent or in Easter, and still different on a feast day. This part of the Preface is stylistically and linguistically a work of art, because it expresses the maximum content in a concise form.
The Preface ends with a rallying cry so that heaven, i.e. the angels, as well as earth, that is, we ourselves, with one voice worship God. In this moment, as the Constitution on the Holy Liturgy (s.8) says, the liturgy on earth is united with the liturgy of heaven.
The Roman Missal in English contains 97 Prefaces. It is a tremendous treasure for the liturgy! It has been reported that the Viennese composer, Joseph Haydn, once revealed that he would have given all of his works to have been the author of one Preface; and he created many wonderful works, among others 14 Masses, 2 Te Deums, Stabat Mater, and the biblical oratorio The Creation. At the time he expressed this desire, he must have been thinking of a Gregorian melody, and perhaps also of the text. The Preface also delighted Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Preface – as already mentioned – sings to the glory of God.
Let’s see how Saint Benedict praised God. After completing his studies in Rome, scandalised by the immorality of its inhabitants, he left for Subiaco. There in the mountains, in a remote area, he began to live as a hermit. Then, following the voice of his calling, he founded a religious community, and settled in a monastery at Monte Casino. According to the rule he wrote, the Benedictines praise God singing the psalms several times a day and also at night.
The pope, Saint Gregory the Great, wrote in his biography of Benedict, that six days before his death he told his brothers to prepare a grave for him. On the sixth day, exhausted by a fever, during Holy Mass he received Viaticum, that is, the anointing of the sick and Holy Communion. Supported by his brothers, standing with arms raised and singing psalms in praise of God, he gave up his spirit on 21 March, 547. This moment in time is memorialised in a sculpture in the courtyard of the monastery at Monte Casino (maybe you’ve been there).
Let’s pray to Saint Benedict, patron of Europe, which has replaced God with man – and this is the paradox – this man destroys it with his ideologies which are invented and detached from reality.
During Holy Mass, after the invitation in the Preface to “lift up your hearts”, we praise God above all for His Son Jesus Christ, who gives us the Holy Sacrifice; we also praise God on behalf of those who do not.
A Prayer after Communion:
Quite simply, thank You that You are there
for not fitting into our minds, which are too logical
for our hearts not being able to embrace You, because they are too anxious
for being so close and so far, different in everyone
for already being found and not yet found
that we run away from You to You
for not doing anything for You, but everything thanks to You
that what I cannot comprehend – is never an illusion.
Thank You, God.