Origins and influences VII: An uncommon prayer.

In the last of these mini-essays the focus was on the apparently deliberate eucharistic overtones in the accounts of the multiplication of the loaves.

Attention was drawn to how in Mark’s Gospel it is pointed out that Pharisees and disciples alike miss the point of the miracle, of the invitation made to life-giving communion with Jesus, our living Bread.

It is important for us to engage with these eucharistic themes that extend beyond the Last Supper, and are not about post-resurrection celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. Why? Because it is possible for us to be so narrowly focussed on the those events and our celebration that we miss the breadth of their significance for the rest of

In Sacramental theology the following distinctions are made between dimensions of Sacrament and sacramental presence.

  • Sacramentum tantum = “the sign alone” (e.g., bread and wine + words of consecration)
  • Res et sacramentum = “both sign and reality” (e.g., the body and blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine)
  • Res tantum = “the reality alone” (e.g., the grace of union with Christ)

All of our current Eucharistic Prayers in the Catholic church have at their heart the supper narrative and the words of consecration. It is not easy for Western Catholic Christians to think of Eucharist other than in terms of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus which dominates how our tradition express the sacramentum tantum and the res et sacramentum.

I wonder whether thinking of Eucharist in terms of Passion and Death actually leads us to an unintended misspeaking about Eucharist these days. When ministering the eucharistic Bread and say ‘The Body of Christ’, do we not actually mean ‘The Body and Blood of Christ’, or maybe still more accurately do we not mean ‘Christ entire: living and saving’.

This is not just a quibble about referring to the host as Body and the Wine as the Precious Blood – the symbolism has been there from the beginning and it is rich and potent. But at the last Supper (according to the Synoptics) it was used to anticipate a forthcoming sacrifice, of the whole Christ. Christ could not offer his body without offering his blood; we can separate them conceptually, symbolically but not in fact. It is the one and living Christ who offers himself at Calvary, and that same Christ risen and living who is shared with us in Holy Communion. We must never forget the saving Death, but neither should we neglect the saving life, glorified in the Resurrection. Narrowness in our modes of expression of the sacramentum tantum and res et tantum can narrow our appreciation of the wondrous res tantum which enriches our being (with Christ!) in our here now and everywhere and forever.

Famously there is a eucharistic prayer that does not include any reference to the Last Supper, and indeed mentions Jesus death only in the phrase “this great and awesome mystery of the passion and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ”. It is a Syrian prayer called the Anaphora of Addai and Mari which has been long in use in the Assyrian Church of the East.

The (Western) Catholic Church has in the past required the use of the ‘form’ of the words of institution for a Eucharistic Prayer to be valid, to effect the change from just bread and wine to Bread and Wine that are Christ’s Body and Blood. However in 2001 the Catholic Church declared the prayer valid, putting forward three reasons.

  1. The Anaphora of Addai and Mari dates back to the early Church.
  2. The Church of the East has otherwise preserved the orthodox faith in regard to the Eucharist and Holy Orders.
  3. Although the Words of Institution are not spoken expressly, their meaning is present: “The words of Eucharistic Institution are indeed present in the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, not in a coherent narrative way and ad litteram, but rather in a dispersed euchological way, that is, integrated in successive prayers of thanksgiving, praise and intercession”

Consequently this ancient prayer is now used in two of the Oriental Catholic Churches, namely the  Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (India), and the Chaldean Catholic Church (Iraq).

Read it through, see what strikes you.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and at all times and for ever and ever.
Amen.

Let your hearts be on high.
To thee, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Israel, the glorious King.

The offering is being offered to God the Lord of all.
It is meet and right.

Worthy of praise from every mouth and thanksgiving from every tongue
is the adorable and glorious Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
who created the world in his grace and its inhabitants in his loving-kindness,
and redeemed the sons of men in his mercy, and dealt very graciously with mortals.

Thy majesty, o my Lord,
a thousand thousand heavenly beings
and myriad myriads of Angels adore
and the hosts of spiritual beings, the ministers of fire and of spirit,
glorifying thy Name with the Cherubim and the holy Seraphim,
ceaselessly crying out and glorifying and calling to one another and saying:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty:
the heavens and the earth are full of his glory.
Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who has come and comes in the Name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

And with these heavenly hosts we give thee thanks, o my Lord,
we also thy unworthy, frail, and miserable servants,
because thou hast dealt very graciously with us in a way which cannot be repaid,
in that thou didst assume our humanity that thou mightest restore us to life by thy divinity,
and didst exalt our low estate, and raise up our fallen state,
and resurrect our mortality, and forgive our sins, and acquit our sinfulness,
and enlighten our understanding,
and, our Lord and God, overcome our adversaries,
and give victory to the unworthiness of our frail nature
in the overflowing mercies of thy grace.

And for all thy benefits and graces towards us
we offer thee glory and honour and thanksgiving and adoration
now and at all times and for ever and ever.
Amen.

Do thou, o my Lord, in thy manifold and ineffable mercies
make a good and gracious remembrance
for all the upright and just fathers who were pleasing before thee,
in the commemoration of the body and blood of thy Christ,
which we offer to thee upon the pure and holy altar,
as thou hast taught us,
and make with us thy tranquillity and thy peace all the days of the age,
that all the inhabitants of the world may know thee,
that thou alone art God the true Father,
and thou didst send our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son and thy Beloved,
and he, our Lord and our God,
taught us in his lifegiving Gospel
all the purity and holiness of the prophets and apostles
and martyrs and confessors and bishops and priests and deacons,
and of all the children of the holy catholic Church,
those who have been signed with the sign of holy Baptism.

And we also, o my Lord, thy unworthy, frail, and miserable servants,
who are gathered and stand before thee,
and have received by tradition the example which is from thee,
rejoicing and glorifying and exalting
and commemorating and celebrating
this great and awesome mystery
of the passion and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And let thy Holy Spirit come, o my Lord,
and rest upon this offering of thy servants,
and bless it and sanctify it that it may be to us, o my Lord,
for the pardon of sins and for the forgiveness of shortcomings,
and for the great hope of the resurrection from the dead,
and for new life in the kingdom of heaven
with all who have been pleasing before thee.

And for all thy wonderful dispensation
which is towards us we give thee thanks and glorify thee without ceasing
in thy Church redeemed by the precious blood of thy Christ,
with open mouths and unveiled faces
offering glory and honour and thanksgiving and adoration
to thy living and holy and life-giving Name,
now and at all times and for ever and ever.

Amen.

Plenty of food for thought there.

Over the next couple of weeks we will look at the Introductory Rites of our current form of Mass and then take a look at Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon

When we come back to Origins and Influences we will look first at what some hold to be the earliest text of a Eucharistic Prayer in the Didache, a perhaps 1st Century Jewish Christian text; and then to the accounts of celebrations of Eucharist in Justin Martyr (c150AD). Other than Paul’s observations in 1 Corinthians, these are our earliest accounts of the rituals of Eucharist.

Reflection Questions

  • What do you make of the Prayer of Addai and Mari?
  • What might we lose and what might we gain if using a prayer that does not include the words of Institution?
  • What seems to you most important about our public prayers?
  • How do the public prayers announced by the priest ‘connect’ with you? How do you ‘hear’ them? What do you retain from them?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.

Acknowledgements

  • English translation of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari: A. Gelston, The Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1992, pp 48-55.
  • Photographs. (c) 2007, Allen Morris, Image from St Mary’s college Chapel, Twickenham.
  • Text (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

2 thoughts on “Origins and influences VII: An uncommon prayer.

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