|ROME, 6 JULY 2004 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: In an earlier reply you mentioned that only the priest should say or
sing the final doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer. This leads to a further
one perhaps not so much of liturgy in the narrow sense as of theology of
the sacraments: Why has the Eucharistic Prayer always been reserved to the
celebrant/concelebrants? It is worded in first person plural, and so it
might seem appropriate for everyone to join in, as in the Credo?
A: From the historical perspective, the fact that this prayer has always
been reserved to the priest is confirmed by solid evidence and so it
appears to be a constant tradition of the Church.
There is some fragmentary evidence form earliest times but the clearest
witness to this practice is St. Justin Martyr who around the year 150
wrote a description of the Mass in which the "president of the assembly"
is described as making a lengthy prayer of thanksgiving ("Eucharist" in
Greek) over the gifts of bread and wine.
Although the prayer is not yet a fixed text it is clear that only the
"president" says it while the people say "Amen" at the end.
To attempt to explain the motives for this reservation I will begin by
using another ancient text: the Anaphora of St. Hippolytus of Rome,
composed around 220.
This is the earliest known written text for a Eucharistic Prayer and forms
the basis for the present Roman Missal's Second Eucharistic Prayer.
The final doxology of this prayer has a variation, not incorporated in the
modern text, but which can enlighten us. It says: "Through ... Jesus
Christ, through whom be to you (the Father) glory and honor, with the Holy
Spirit in the holy Church both now and forever and ever. Amen."
The incision which interests us is the expression "in the holy Church."
This expression shows that the honor and glory offered to God through
Christ and with the Holy Spirit can only be fully achieved in the Church.
This ecclesial dimension helps us grasp the reason why the Eucharistic
Prayer is reserved to the priest.
The celebrant, in saying the Eucharistic Prayer, is acting at the same
time in the person of the Church and in the person of Christ.
In acting in the person of the Church he does not simply represent the
actual assembly, but the entire Church.
In acting in the person of Christ the priest makes it possible for the
present assembly to exercise the common priesthood of the faithful and
thus to unite themselves in heart and mind to Christ, as he offers his
perfect sacrifice to the Father and who allows us to share in this
This common priesthood of the faithful is a true priesthood, and no mere
metaphor. This is why the priest says "Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice
(literally, "my sacrifice and yours"
ac vestrum") be acceptable to God ..."
Yet this priesthood cannot be genuinely exercised except in communion with
the ministerial priesthood acting in the person of Christ and the Church.
And indeed, one of the primary purposes of the ministerial priesthood is
to facilitate the exercise of the common priesthood.
Without this communion the liturgy ceases, in a way, to be an act of the
Church, for the concrete assembly is a manifestation of the Church, but is
not the Church itself.
Thus the priest, in saying the Eucharistic Prayer alone, but in always
using the first person plural, expresses this double aspect of acting in
the person of Christ and of the Church. Through the priest's acting in the
person of Christ, in a way Christ himself acts in the person of the Church
in saying the Eucharistic Prayer.
In other words, Christ himself, as head of his body, the Church, says the
Eucharistic Prayer, and says it in first person plural because while, on
the one hand, only he can offer the Eucharist, he associates his whole
all the faithful
with him in doing so.
Another consequence of this communion in the whole Church is that we are
all engaged in every Mass said anywhere.
This can be seen in some elements of the prayer itself. For example, the
intercessions of the first two Eucharistic Prayers contain the expression
"una cum" —
"together with N. our Pope and N. our Bishop" (although the same Latin
expression is translated differently in the two prayers).
This "together with" is not just a praying-for but a praying-with by which
we are united through the celebrating priest to the bishop and through him
to the Pope and the universal Church.
From these theological reflections, we can see that if the particular
assembly were to join in saying the Eucharistic Prayer it would obscure
the beauty of the Eucharistic mystery.
In the first place, it would obscure the reality of ecclesial communion by
reducing the prayer to an act of those who happen to be present and not an
act of the whole Church. The Church not only extends beyond all political
frontiers but breaks the bonds of space and time so as to enter into the
realm of the communion of saints.
Second, it would cast a shadow over the reality that Christ himself is
drawing us into his prayer of self-offering to the Father. This allows us
to exercise the baptismal priesthood that is itself his gift to us and
through which we receive the capacity to share in the mystery of his
passion, death and resurrection.
Finally, the common recitation might also bring us to forget that since
both the common priesthood and its exercise is a gift of grace. We are not
equal partners with Christ but beneficiaries of his love.
These are not the only reasons, and the theme merits more than one
treatises. My only hope is that I have not committed a sin of presumption
in trying to do justice to such a mystery, not only by treating it so
briefly, but in trying to explain it in the first place. ZE04070621
* * *
Follow-up: Eucharistic Prayer for the Celebrant(s) Alone? [from
Related to the reasons why the Eucharistic Prayer is reserved to the
priest alone (see July 6) some readers have asked for clarifications on
some technical aspects.
Several correspondents asked about priests making additions, adjustments
or "corrections," or inserting various personal prayers or community
songs, within the Eucharistic Prayers.
These fall under the general heading on unwarranted additions for which
there is no justification. We have already commented on this phenomenon in
the light of the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum."
One reader asked when the Eucharistic Prayer begins. Properly speaking, it
begins with the "Lord be with you" of the preface and not after the
Sanctus as was once commonly held.
This is clearly seen in the way that the new Latin missal prints the
Eucharistic Prayers always beginning with the "Dominus Vobiscum" even in
those (the Roman Canon and Third EP) that have no proper preface of their
A Michigan reader asked if the Eucharistic Prayer for Children could be
used at a regular Sunday Mass.
These Eucharistic Prayers are specifically reserved for celebrations
mostly attended by children, and therefore are usually reserved for
weekday Masses at schools. They are designed for the mentality and level
of understanding of children in or around the age of first Communion.
Therefore, apart from the fact that the use of such Eucharistic Prayers at
a regular Sunday Mass is illicit, some parishioners might be justly
offended by being treated as 8-year-olds.
A priest from Toronto asked about the proper way of mentioning the bishop
or bishops in the Eucharistic Prayer.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 149, addresses this
"If the celebrant is a Bishop, in the Prayers, after the words 'Papa
nostro N.' (N., our Pope), he adds, 'et me, indigno famulo tuo' (and me,
your unworthy servant). If, however, the Bishop is celebrating outside his
own diocese, after the words 'Papa nostro N.' (N., our Pope), he adds, 'et
me indigno famulo tuo, et fratre meo N., Episcopo huius Ecclesiae N.' (me,
your unworthy servant, and my brother N., the Bishop of this Church of
"The diocesan Bishop or anyone equivalent to him in law must be mentioned
by means of this formula: 'una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N. et Episcopo
(or Vicario, Prelato, Praefecto, Abbate)' (together with your servant N.,
our Pope, and N., our Bishop [or Vicar, Prelate, Prefect, Abbot]).
"It is permitted to mention Coadjutor and Auxiliary Bishops in the
Eucharistic Prayer, but not other Bishops who happen to be present. When
several are to be named, this is done with the collective formula 'et
Episcopo nostro N. eiusque Episcopis adiutoribus' (N., our Bishop and his
"In each of the Eucharistic Prayers, these formulas are to be modified
according to the requirements of grammar."
The GIRM does not, however, specify what is to be done when a bishop,
other than the ordinary, presides at a concelebrated Mass.
In this case both the local ordinary and the celebrant should be
It is also customary only to mention the Pope's name, leaving out the
numeral and to omit honorific titles such as cardinal.
It does not seem that the bishop emeritus (that is, retired) is usually
mentioned unless he conserves the government of the diocese until a
successor is named.
Masses celebrated while the Holy See is vacant omit the words "famulo tuo
Papa Nostro N." (N. our Pope). A bishop's name is also omitted when the
diocese is vacant or one celebrates while at sea or in other situations
where there is no resident bishop.
Because ecclesial unity is formed through the pope and the bishop it is
not correct to extend the prayer by specifically naming priests such as
"N. our pastor." ZE04072023