A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Eucharistic Prayer for the Celebrant(s) Alone?
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 question — 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? — G.G., Emmitsburg, Maryland
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 sacrifice.
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" — "meum 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 body — 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
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Follow-up: Eucharistic Prayer for the Celebrant(s) Alone? [from 07-20-2004]
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 own.
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 point:
"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 N.).
"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 assistant Bishops).
"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 mentioned.
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
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