Monday, August 24, 2015

Why are there so many Eucharistic Prayers?

As we discussed at Mass recently, the Eucharistic Prayer is the prayer the priest offers, at the center of the Mass, recalling and making present Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. And while I almost always use the same prayer—the First Eucharistic Prayer—there are more than one.

This is a development since Vatican II – and, like many things we experienced in recent years, this was a change that was not envisioned by the Council at all. The best way to understand how so many things happened after Vatican II that weren’t called for by Vatican II is to remember the times; the 1960s and 70s were a time of experimentation and rebellion – and that affected the Church. Pope Paul VI, who was pope at that time, rightly or wrongly, chose to overlook some of it; and he gave recognition to several new prayers – we call these Eucharistic Prayer numbers 2, 3 and 4. In the 1990s, several more were approved. Some are called “For Reconciliation,” and others, for “Various Needs and Occasions.” There are a total of ten options.

No doubt you’ve noticed that I very rarely use anything but the first prayer, the Roman Canon. I am following the example of my predecessor, both because needless change is unhelpful; but also, because I agree with his preference. Here are my reasons.

1. The Roman Canon is uniquely a treasure of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is more than just Roman; there are Greek Catholics, Indian Catholics, Arab Catholics, and many others. What defines them is the way they celebrate the Divine Liturgy, aka, the Mass. That is true for us as well. This prayer was always the center of our worship until 1970, and my view is it should stay there.
2. I’m not against using the other prayers; I occasionally do use them, but only where need demands it—i.e., usually the demands of time or simplicity for the sake of those attending Mass.
3. When we take part in a shared ritual action, familiarity and steadiness are very valuable. That’s how the prayers become “ours” rather than merely “mine.” Notice how, when Catholics gather, everyone knows the Hail Mary – that’s because there is only one version. Then notice what happens with the Saint Michael Prayer; there are several variations, and when we pray it together, sometimes we stumble. Then notice what happens with the Act of Contrition: there are too many variations – we don’t have one, common version. In my judgment, the Mass should be a prayer that is, to the greatest extent, something we all possess together. Obviously some of the prayers, as well as the readings, need to change. But the rest? I think it helps us not to have so much variation.

--From St. Remy Bulletin, August 23, 2015.


rcg said...

I understand that are (were) many Eucharistic Prayers before 1968, but they were mainly segregated to different rites, traditions, and orders. I do like your vision of a more uniform Mass as Prayer. This is a feature of the Ordinary of the EF where the variations are largely limited to the variable parts for specific days, feasts, situations, etc.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Before 1970 or so, there was only one Eucharistic Prayer for the Roman Rite, and that was the Roman Canon. As you say, other "uses" or rites in the Church would have their own canon; and for all I know, they may have had more than one option.

I take the view that while options are desirable, there are now far too many in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

rcg said...

I like to shift the focus of my prayer during Mass to coincide with the particular part of Mass; e.g remembering the living, recall the dead, for the clergy,etc. sometimes, often, I read the particular section either quickly as part of my own prayer or meditation. The Canon is important and has a complete and in depth thought that is important in my prayer process. The others in the NO seem sort of rushed or truncated. While I can be corrected on that point I know I have heard clergy say they use the shorter prayers in the interest of time. I sympathize with that out of respect for people who need to squeeze in the Mass for some reason and shorter prayers make for shorter Mas and encourages them to make that effort. But our priest can bang out the EF Low Mass in under an hour and we still have time for Leonine Prayers. That is some powerful and concentrated medicine with cutting a single corner. You are on the right track.