Origins and Influences XII: Making comparison

This week’s blog looks different. The texts of the prayers under consideration are presented in table form on a PDF that can be downloaded below.

It is easier to control the layout of the table that way! Hopefully opening the document in a different screen and displaying two screens together will be practical for most readers of the blog. But I apologise in advance for any complication in reading the commentary and accessing the table at the same time.

The PDF offers English translations of the Eucharistic Prayer from the early Church Order commonly known as the Apostolic Tradition (ApTrad), and Eucharistic Prayer II (EPII) from the current Roman Missal. The text of each is laid out to best show the amendments made to the Prayer of ApTrad when adapting it to create EPII.

The notes below relate to the sections of the prayer, as numbered in the central column in the PDF.

1. Preface Dialogue.

  • This Dialogue, now common across Church traditions and in pretty much the words given here, first appears in ApTrad.

2. Preface

  • The Preface of EPII echoes the words of ApTrad (although it would be anachronistic to call this section of ApTrad a Preface, not least because – as we shall see – ApTrad lacks the Sanctus which so shapes later Eucharistic prayers)
  • EPII addresses the Father, ApTrad addresses God. Both ‘names’ are accurate, but addressing the Father as God, directly and without some qualification, runs the risk of some suspecting that the Son, the Word, the Spirit are not God in the same way as the Father. Increased care about such address would be taken later especially in the wake of the Arain controversies.
  • The same controversies made ‘angel’, and ‘child/servant’ (paidos) less acceptable as ways of referring to Jesus – Word, Son, Lord, Saviour and Christ being the most common alternatives.

3. Preface (continued)

  • It is possible that the elaborate description of the incarnation in ApTrad was put in place to guard against incipient Arianism

4. Preface (continued)

  • ApTrad speaks of Jesus’ suffering and the release from suffering that he wins for us. EPII speaks more explicitly of the Paschal Mystery – here, Passion, Death, Resurrection. It might be implied that we benefit from the breaking of the bonds of death and that we share in the Resurrection, but this is less directly evident.

5. Sanctus

  • The Sanctus does not appear in ApTrad. It takes various forms in different rites and first appears in the liturgies of Syria and Alexandria. It is introduced into the Roman Rite during the 5th Century.

6. Post Sanctus

  • The Post-Sanctus of EPII suggests a second purpose to the Eucharistic Prayer. It is not, like the prayer of ApTrad, a Prayer of Thanksgiving, pure and simple, during which bread and wine is eucharistised. It would be more true to say that EPII is a Prayer of Thanksgiving and a Prayer of Consecration. EPII introduces a first epiclesis calling on the Spirit for the purpose of the transformation of the Gifts.
  • It is worth considering what we give priority to when we come to offer any Eucharistic Prayer – giving thanks to God, or enabling making it possible for us to receive Holy Communion. EPII has been objected to from within the Orthodox Churches as being basically a quick prayer provided to consecrate the sacred elements, rather than a prayer focused on thanksgiving.

7. Institution Narrative

  • ApTrad delineates here the dimensions of the Paschal Mystery which EPII names in 4 above. ApTrad displays a narrative verve that EPII lacks. It highlights the dynamic of the saving acts of Jesus.

8 Institution Narrative (continued)

  • ApTrad makes it clear to whom Jesus was giving thanks!  It is perhaps clear in EPII, but if the focus is less  on the Thanksgiving we make and more on the Communion we are to receive we may miss the parallel between what Jesus did and what we do.
  • The words over the bread in ApTrad are close to those in EPII and the other Eucharistic Prayers of the contemporary Roman Rite. Both avoid the terseness of phrase used in the unrevised Roman Canon’s Hic est corpus meum/This is my body.

9. Institution Narrative (continued)

  • EPII’s words over the cup/chalice, retains pretty much the words of the Roman Canon which incorporates phrases from the Gospels and Paul and expands beyond what ApTrad offers by way of commentary on the meaning of the cup and the shedding of his blood.

10 Mystery of Faith

  • The words over the cup in the Roman Canon included the phrase Mysterium fidei. This is not a phrase that appears in the biblical accounts of the Last Supper. It is perhaps best understood as a descriptive phrase, commenting on ‘the new and eternal covenant’. However it was removed as part of the revision of the Liturgy required by Vatican Council II and made into an occasion for a congregational acclamation, highlighting not the covenant but the Paschal Mystery and/or Jesus’ saving death.

11 Anamnesis

  • Both prayers include a section which explains the rite as an active remembering of Christ’s death and resurrection, a remembering in which the past event, the saving mystery, in once more present, real and active. Arguably EPII makes the memorial more of an institutional thing than does ApTrad, again perhaps a consequence of the focus of EPII on both thanksgiving and consecration.
  • EP is more expansive than ApTrad in its description of the bread and cup – once more drawing attention away from thanksgiving towards the consecrated elements.

12 Epiclesis

  • The 2nd epiclesis in ApTrad is more expansive in its explanation of what is asked for and why, and what is asked for is the unity of the Church and the integrity of faith of its members. EPII links the sought for gifts more closely to the act of reception of the Eucharistic elements, named here as ‘the Body and Blood of Christ’. Eucharist is prioritsed over Church and faithfulness. ApTrad asks for the fruits of communion in order to better give thanks (Cf 16: Intercession). Thanksgiving is returned to in EPII but almost in passing after the passages of Intercession which are added to the core prayer provided by ApTrad.

13, 14, 15 Intercession

  • EPII incorporates intercession for the living and the dead, and a calling on the saints – elements of the Roman Canon, and which find parallels and echoes also in Liturgies of the Orthodox, such as those of St Basil and St John Chrysostom.

17: Doxology

  • The Doxology of ApTrad feels somewhat clumsy in its phrasing. In Section 2 the Prayer was clearly addressed to God through Jesus Christ. Now in its conclusion it is addressed to God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.
  • EPII has benefit of the agreement reached in the 4th C AD on how to speak of Trinity and prayer in Christ, and also the general agreement eucharistic prayer is principally addressed to the Father, while not neglecting the trinitarian unity of Father, Son and Spirit.
  • ApTrad does give a final mention to this praise being offered to God in Holy Church. Its phrase seems an enrichment of the Doxology but it has not found its way into the contemporary Roman Rite.

18: Great Amen

  • I’m newly struck by the importance of the Amen, the congregation’s asserting its ownership of the thanksgiving, the remembrance and the intercessions voiced by the priest presider.

Reflection Questions

  • What do you make of the criticism that EPII is basically a prayer to effect consecration and neglects thanksgiving?
  • ApTrad gives the congregation voice in the Preface Dialogue and the Great Amen. EPII allows the congregation’s voice to be heard in the Sanctus and Memorial Acclamation also. What do you think of that?
  • What helps you join with the offering of the Eucharistic Prayer?
  • How much of the detail of a Eucharistic Prayer impacts on you at Mass? What difference does the use of the different prayers in the current Missal make to you? Do you have a favourite? And if so why is it your favourite?

  • Translation of text of ‘Apostolic Tradition’ is taken from Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed. RCD Jasper and GJ Cuming. 3rd revised Edition, Pueblo Books, Liturgical Press, 2010.
  • Translation of Eucharistic Prayer II is taken from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
  • Photograph(c) 2002, Allen Morris, Inscribed stone (gravestone). Museum of Rome, Rome..
  • Comparative table of ApTrad’s Eucharistic Prayer and Eucharistic Prayer II and Commentary (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

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