The portion of the Communion [Eucharistic] liturgy that includes the portions immediately after the offering through the Congregational Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer is known as the Great Thanksgiving. This Great Thanksgiving has echoes to ancient Jewish prayers, as well as what we see/hear happening between Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper. Parts of what is said here are the oldest known portions of Christian worship, echoing things we read in various portions of the New Testament [Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26].
Somewhere in the third/fourth centuries, three particular things were added to this very ancient Christian/Jewish table prayer. These three include the Dialogue, the Preface and the Sanctus. Let’s look at the Dialogue first.
In the Dialogue, the pastor is asking the congregation for the authority to proclaim the Great Thanksgiving in the name of all those present. It is in these opening words that we gather ourselves together to speak to God, because the Eucharist is a holy conversation, between humans [the presiding minister and the congregation] and between humanity and God. It is the Dialogue that opens up that conversation.
The Dialogue begins with the first two verses of a very old Christian greeting. “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you.” We are opening ourselves to one another for what is to come.
The second verses, “Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them to the Lord.” While there are a number of ways of understanding these words, at their root is a very practical action: they were a command to stand up and join the pastor in the prayers.
The third verses, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” “It is right to give him thanks and praise.” Here are the words that open up the dialogue between the pastor, the congregation, and God. The pastor asks, the congregation gives permission and acknowledges that they, too, want to join in these prayers to God.