Page 10, 24th November 1978

24th November 1978
Page 10
Page 10, 24th November 1978 — Thanksgiving

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Locations: Alexandria, Rome


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THE Eucharistic Prayer iā€ž derived from the Jewish herakah or grace. Like the berakah it is primarily a prayer of thanksgiving, as indeed the title "Eucharistic Prayer" makes clear.

But there is a great deal more to many of the berakoth, and there is a great deal more to the Eucharistic Prayer.

Last week I concluded by emphasising the importance of the Eucharistic Prayer, and pointed out that originally it was the only prayer in the Eucharist proper. Now it is time to ask, what are the essential parts of a Eucharistic Prayer, and what are the essential contents of each part?

All ancient Eurcharistic Prayers begin with an introductory dialogue: the Roman Rite preserves what is probably the oldest Christian form. It is not a mere decoration: before the celebrant offers the prayer in their name, the people give their assent to his doing so.

It leads directly to the thanksgiving, which must be concerned with some aspect or aspects of God's mighty works of creation and redemption in Christ. It is unfortunate that the word "preface," by which this thanksgiving has long been called in the West, has in English none of its original meaning: Praefatio does not indicate an introduction or preliminary, but a solemn public proclamation. The thanksgiving is the foundation of all that follows it: the Church gives thaks for God's mighty works in the past, and thereby proclaims its faith in their continuance in the present and the future.

Not essential

The Sanctus, which in some prayers (including the Roman Canon) concludes the thanksgiving, and in others (including the new Roman prayers III and IV) divides it, is absent from some early texts, and evidently interpolated in a number of others.

Clearly it is no essential part, valuable though it may be as affording congregational participation in the actual thanksgiving. It may be original in some prayers: some berakoth contain a version of it, while others do not.

The Roman Canon continues, after the Sanctus, with a series of intercessions. These are older in this prayer than the Sanctus, and originally followed on from the thanksgiving: hence their opening words re igitur.

But intercession in this place isall but unique to this prayer; and it destroys the logical flow of thought, as does the placing of the intercessions in the middle of the thanksgiving itself, which is found in one ancient group of prayers.

But was there originally an intercessory element in the prayer at all? The earliest text of a Eucharistic Prayer we possess, that in the "Apostolic Tradition" of Hippolytus (Rome, c 215) has no intercessions, and in a number of ancient prayers they appear to be interpolated, wherever they are placed.

After the first block of intercessions the Roman Canon has an epiclesis (Quern oblationem), which asks for the transformation of the gifts into the body and blood of Christ. An epiclesis (the word itself means "petition") at this point is pecuhr to the liturgies of Rome and Alexandria.

In most of the ancient prayers this petition occurs at a later point in the prayer: Rome and Alexandria have it, in different forms, at both points. What is essential is that at some point in the prayer there should be a petition asking, in one way or another, for the transformation of the gifts.

In the earliest prayers we know, as in many later ones, the thanksgiving leads directly into the Institution Narrative, which now follows in the Roman Canon. It is universal: there is one ancient prayer which does not contain it, but it has been proved that it once did.

It is essential because, whether or not it is regarded as embodying the "moment of consecration", as it has been regarded since the early Middle Ages in the West, it identifies, as nothing else can, the action of the Church here and now with the institution of it by Our Lord himself.

The anamnesis follows. as "memory" or "memorial" or "remembrance" or "cornmemoration": all are inadequate.

Asa liturgical term,anamnesis regfers to the prayer at this point which must contain a statement that the Church is here and now recalling the great redemptive act of God in Christ -as a minimum it must mention the passion and resurrection ā€” and a statement, linked with this, of offering of the bread and cup. For it is by "offering" that we "recall": with, through and in Christ we present him, as he presents us, to his Father.

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