So after the little conversation known as the Sursum Corda (‘Lift up your hearts’ etc.) I talked about a couple of weeks ago comes the great prayer of Thanksgiving. It’s all one prayer but it does come in sections, and opens with what’s known as the Preface.
As the name suggests the Preface goes before the core of the prayer, known as the Canon.
It stands between the ‘Lift up your hearts’ and the ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord’ known as the ‘Sanctus’ (next week’s lesson!)
Notice when you hear it next that the celebrant moves from a conversation with the congregation to addressing God our Father in prayer. So even though at our main mass on Sundays the priest is facing the congregation, at this point he is not talking to them! (At masses in the Lady chapel the priest and congregation are all facing the same direction)
Of course, although you may not be praying any words at this point, it’s not so much a matter of you listening to the priest pray, the congregation is invited to join him in an attitude of prayer as he or she prays on behalf of all.
At various times of the year the words of the Preface change to reflect the Season (eg. Lent or Easter or Advent) or the Saint who is being remembered.
You will notice the priest holds his hands up in what is known as the ‘Orans’ position from medieval Latin for one who is praying or pleading. It feels very natural to pray in this way and it was the custom for Jews at the time of the Lord. For Christians it reflected the extended arms of Christ on the cross. There is evidence to suggest that until the ninth century everybody in the congregation prayed in this way. I sometimes think it’s a pity that this tradition was lost…