Parts of the Mass: The Preface

Liturgy Lines topics at present deal with the same topics as Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s multi-part series on the Catholic Mass at and will provide parishes, RCIA groups, RE teachers and others with follow-up material for sessions using that resource.

After the procession and preparation of gifts comes the centre and summit of the entire celebration - the Eucharistic Prayer. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains that in the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest associates the people with himself in the prayer that he addresses in the name of the entire community to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, and the entire congregation of the faithful joins with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of Sacrifice. (# 78)
The first part of the Eucharistic Prayer is called the Preface. I suspect that most people seldom bother to read the Preface of a book but skip over it to begin at Chapter One. We often do the same with the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass because we get distracted or our thoughts wander and the Preface is over before we’re aware of it. This is unfortunate because it is an integral part of the Eucharistic Prayer. Anyone wanting to understand the purpose of liturgical seasons and feasts could do no better than to listen carefully to the Prefaces that are used on these occasions.
In the introductory dialogue between the presider and the assembly that follows the Prayer over the Offerings, the priest says “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” and the people respond “It is right and just”.
Almost every Preface picks up the phrase ‘right and just’ and begins: “ 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.” This makes it clear that the Eucharistic Prayer is prayed by the entire assembly, not just the presider.
A common ‘theme’ of all Prefaces is thanksgiving, expressing gratitude for the whole work of salvation or for some special aspect of it.
The Preface concludes with the ‘Holy, Holy’, the text of which comes entirely from scripture:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

The Roman Missal contains over 90 prefaces for feasts, seasons, votive Masses and special occasions. There are guidelines to follow in deciding which Preface is to be used for a particular Mass.
Sometimes – usually for feasts and seasons – a proper preface is set down for the day. On these days, Eucharistic Prayer IV cannot be used because it has a fixed preface that can never be replaced by another. Eucharistic Prayer II also has a proper preface but another may be substituted.
Eucharistic Prayers I and III do not have a fixed preface and one is chosen for the feast, season or celebration.
The Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs and Occasions and the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses of Reconciliation have their own prefaces so are not suitable when a proper preface is set down for the day.


Elizabeth Harrington