When Eucharistic Prayer IV Can Be Used

Author: Father Edward McNamara


When Eucharistic Prayer IV Can Be Used

ROME, 22 NOV. 2005 (ZENIT).

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 365 d, states: "Eucharistic Prayer IV has an invariable Preface and gives a fuller summary of salvation history. It may be used when a Mass has no Preface of its own and on Sundays in Ordinary Time. Because of its structure, no special formula for the dead may be inserted into this prayer." My question is: What we should understand by a "Mass that has no Preface of its own"? For instance, if I celebrate the votive Mass of St. Joseph, which refers to the Preface of St. Joseph, should I refrain from using Eucharistic Prayer IV? — J.A., Montreal

A: It is probably easier to answer by saying what is a Mass with a preface of its own (or proper preface) than what is not.

A clarification regarding this point was made by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to the Italian bishops' conference in an official reply to a doubt in the mid-1970s. This response specified that a proper preface meant preface of the day, not the preface of the season.

Thus, only those Masses are considered to have proper prefaces which are obligatory on a specific day.

In practice this means the Masses of major solemnities which have prescribed prefaces, such as Christmas, Easter, and the Sacred Heart; or one of a specific range of prefaces, such as Sundays of Advent and Lent.

Thus, Eucharistic Prayer IV may be used on Sundays of Ordinary Time. It may also be used for daily Masses during the same period, and may even be used for daily Mass during periods such as Advent and Lent. But it would probably be pastorally better to respect the seasonal preface unless there is a very good reason for using Eucharistic Prayer IV.

Likewise, this Eucharistic Prayer may be used for any votive Mass, even if the rubrics indicate another preface. Since the celebration of the votive Mass is itself an option, the Mass' variable elements are not strictly obligatory.

Thus, for example, the preface of St. Joseph is obligatory on March 19 — and consequently Eucharistic Prayer IV may not be used on that day. If, however, one celebrates a votive Mass of St. Joseph on any day that such Masses are permissible, one is free to use either the preface of St. Joseph, or another legitimate preface. And so the fourth canon is also usable on such occasions. ZE05112220

* * *

Follow-up: When Eucharistic Prayer IV Can Be Used [12-06-2005]

Some interesting questions arose apropos of our discussion regarding the use of Eucharistic Prayer IV (see Nov. 22).

One reader asked: "What about Eucharistic Prayer II? It has been my experience that IV is almost never used by priests, III frequently on Sundays, Eucharistic Prayer I practically never. While II seems to be the Eucharistic Prayer of choice on weekdays, many Sundays, and other solemnities as well as feasts, but (almost) invariably without the Preface proper to Eucharistic Prayer II."

It is true that Eucharistic Prayer II has a proper preface. But the rubric expressly indicates that it may, and often must, be substituted by any of the other ordinary or seasonal prefaces. This prayer may thus be used in exactly the same way as Prayers I and III, which have no prefaces of their own.

Because of its brevity it is especially recommended for weekday Masses. While not forbidden on Sundays and solemnities, it is preferable not to use it then as it easily creates an imbalance between the duration of the longer Liturgy of the Word and the shorter Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The reason why this prayer has its own preface lies in its origin. This prayer is an adaptation of the anaphora of St. Hippolytus of Rome (martyred A.D. 235). This is the oldest extant text of a developed Eucharistic prayer, so old in fact that it predates the introduction of the Sanctus to the liturgy.

Since the Sanctus is now considered as essential to the literary structure of the Eucharistic Prayer, it was decided to adapt the first, and theologically richest, part of this ancient prayer and transform it into a preface.

Other changes involved modifying the language in the light of later dogmatic developments. For example, the original spoke of "Your Servant Jesus Christ" — a perfectly orthodox statement a century before the Arian heresy broke out, but hard to understand in later centuries.

Some colorful expressions were — perhaps unfortunately — omitted such as in the institution narrative where it explains that Christ "freely accepted death, that he might ... break the bonds of death and tread hell underfoot."

A more delicate problem arose from an English reader who asks: "The difficulty that I, as a mere layman, have with this Preface [of Eucharistic Prayer IV] is that it clearly and most obviously, in English, denies the divinity of Our Blessed Lord and of the Holy Spirit. It starts: 'Father in heaven, it is right that we should give you thanks and glory: you alone are God, living and true.' Is not this heresy? I know good priests here in England who never use this Eucharistic prayer now. It has to be said, by the way, that all this kind of thing simply causes confusion among the poor laity. Priests and, indeed, bishops should remember the laity when they consider the liturgy. We do not all have degrees in theology; mine is in English and I can, therefore, understand the meaning of words in that language."

Far be it from me to accuse the liturgy of heresy. But our reader certainly has a point that we are before a less-than-adequate translation.

Indeed, if I am not mistaken, this translation was corrected in the missals used in the United States and now reads "you are the one God, living and true."

This new version might not fully satisfy our reader but it certainly attenuates the difficulty caused by the expression "you alone" which does not faithfully reflect the biblical background of the text.

This part of the preface emphasizes God's transcendence by joining together several biblical expressions. He is "one" "living" "true" "eternal" "dwelling in unapproachable light," but above all he is the Father, the God of Goodness, source of life, filling his creatures with all blessings.

Thus the point of the preface is not to make a dogmatic statement of the Father's divinity with respect to the other two divine persons of the Blessed Trinity, but, through bold contrasts, to stress that God is at the same time transcendent and loving.

The biblical basis for the expression "you are the one God" lies in several texts: Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:4; and above all Ephesians 4:6 "one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all" (RSV).

As our reader says, it should not be necessary for all lay people to have degrees in theology in order to understand the liturgy. I believe, however, that changing the language would solve nothing and that the answer lies in formation, not in simplification.

No matter what language we translate the liturgy into, it will always and inevitably remain in Hebrew and Greek. By this I mean that the Christian message, and hence the liturgy, is inextricably rooted in the biblical and cultural background of the time of Christ, the time God himself chose for realizing the incarnation of the Word and the redemption of mankind.

Thus, living the liturgy always requires the mediation of some form of formation, even at the basic level, to open up the reality of salvation history.

If priests desire to help the laity understand and live the liturgy, they must offer a true mystagogic formation and explain it in their homilies, and other formative opportunities, in such a way as to draw them ever deeper into the mystery.

Lay people, for their part, should see their ongoing formation as part and parcel of living a Christian life. Ongoing learning is usually considered essential to progress in all walks of business and life. It should be even more so in the business of the spiritual life. ZE05120621

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe http://www.zenit.org/english/subscribe.html
or email: english-request@zenit.org with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field