An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Preface (Eucharistic)

Introductory section of the eucharistic prayer, including the salutation, the Sursum Corda and ending with the Sanctus. Eastern eucharistic liturgies typically have prefaces with a fixed text that recalls salvation history. This tradition is reflected in Eucharistic Prayer D, based on the liturgy of St. Basil, and Eucharistic Prayer C, both of which have a fixed preface (BCP, pp. 372-373, 369-371). Western eucharistic liturgies for certain major observances in the church year have typically included a variable portion of the preface which is included in the fixed or common portion of the preface. This variable preface reflects the theme or occasion of the day, and it is known as the proper preface. The Leonine Sacramentary, which is the oldest surviving Roman sacramentary, provided a separate preface for each Mass. The Gelasian Sacramentary had more than fifty proper prefaces, and the Sarum Missal had ten proper prefaces. The 1549 BCP provided five proper prefaces, including Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday.

The 1552 BCP allowed the use of the Christmas, Easter, and Ascension prefaces through the octaves of those feasts, and permitted the Pentecost preface to be used until Trinity Sunday. The 1979 BCP includes twenty-two proper prefaces (pp. 377-382). There are three proper prefaces of the Lord’s Day, “Of God the Father,” “Of God the Son,” and “Of God the Holy Spirit.” There are nine proper prefaces for seasons, including Advent, Incarnation, Epiphany, two proper prefaces for Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. There are ten proper prefaces for other occasions: Trinity Sunday, All Saints, Apostles and Ordinations, Dedication of a Church, Baptism, Marriage, Commemoration of the Dead, and three different options to commemorate a saint. Traditional language versions of the proper prefaces (BCP, pp. 344-349) are for use with both Rite 1 eucharistic prayers. Contemporary language versions of the proper prefaces are for use with Eucharistic Prayers A and B of Rite 2. The 1979 BCP provides a proper preface for all days of the church year, except weekdays after Pentecost that are neither saints’ days nor an occasion for use of the propers for various occasions. Many of the proper prefaces are appointed for use in several different observances. For example, the proper preface for Trinity Sunday is used on Trinity Sunday, Independence Day, Saint Michael and All Angels, Thanksgiving Day, and the observances “Of the Holy Trinity,” “Of the Holy Angels,” and “For the Nation.” It may also be used for the observances “Of a Theologian and Teacher” and “For the Unity of the Church.” The Altar Book provides music in simple and solemn tone versions for all the proper prefaces. See Salutation; see Sanctus, The; see Sursum Corda.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.