Non-Eucharistic Eucharist

Non-Eucharistic Eucharist October 30, 2007

Eucharistic prayers were eventually removed almost entirely from the Eucharistic celebration, so that the church ended up, as Louis Bouyer has provocatively put it, “a eucharist in which there is no longer and eucharist at all properly speaking.” To grasp what Bouyer is saying, it is helpful to cite some prayers from different stages of liturgical history. From the Apostolic Constitution of Hippolytus:

“When he has been made bishop, everyone shall give him the kiss of peace, and salute him respectfully, for he has been made worthy of this. 2Then the deacons shall present the oblation to him, and he shall lay his hand upon it, and give thanks, with the entire council of elders, saying:3The Lord be with you. And all reply: And with your spirit. The bishop says: Lift up your hearts. The people respond: We have them with the Lord. The bishop says: Let us give thanks to the Lord. The people respond: It is proper and just. The bishop then continues: 4We give thanks to you God, through your beloved son Jesus Christ, whom you sent to us in former timesa as Savior, Redeemer, and Messenger of your Will, 5who is your inseparable Word, through whom you made all, and in whom you were well-pleased, 6whom you sent from heaven into the womb of a virgin, who, being conceived within her, was made flesh, and appeared as your Son, born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin. 7It is he who, fulfilling your will and acquiring for you a holy people, extended his hands in suffering, in order to liberate from sufferings those who believe in you. 8Who, when he was deliveredb to voluntary suffering, in order to dissolve death, and break the chains of the devil, and tread down hell, and bring the just to the light, and set the limit, and manifest the resurrection, 9taking the bread, and giving thanks to you, said, “Take, eat, for this is my body which is broken for you.” Likewise the chalice, saying, This is my blood which is shed for you. 10Whenever you do this, do this (in) memory of me. 11Therefore, remembering his death and resurrection, we offer to you the bread and the chalice, giving thanks to you, who has made us worthy to stand before you and to serve as your priests. 12And we pray that you would send your Holy Spirit to the oblation of your Holy Church. In their gathering together, give to all those who partake of your holy mysteries the fullness of the Holy Spirit, toward the strengthening of the faith in truth, 13that we may praise you and glorify you, through your son Jesus Christ, through whom to you be glory and honor, Father and Son, with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Church, now and throughout the ages of the ages. Amen.”

Bouyer comments on the “adhesion to the Jewish schema of the table prayers” that fthis prayer shares with the eucharist of Addai and Mari: “There is the same transition from the act of thanksgiving for creation to thanksgiving for redemption, and the same notion of the anamnesis as a recalling of the memorial given by God, to beseech him for the final gathering together of his chosen in the Church for the purpose of his glorification. In the paragraph preceding the anamnesis and the institution narrative introducing it, we note the insistent presence of the themes of the formation of the people of God and the covenant . . . , keynotes of the development of the Jewish prayer.”

Bouyer sees a departure from this standard in the medieval practice of reciting the Eucharistic prayer in a “low voice,” which became common practice in the high middle ages. He discerns individualistic and penitential themes intruding into the prayers. The Missa Illyrica published in 1557 but actually an eleventh century text illustrates: “It is a group of 35 devotional formulas which the priest is invited to say during all the chants of the mass, and in connection with each of the rites he is performing up to after the Sanctus and during the communion. It is a fact that it no longer reflects anything of the spirit of the ancient eucharist.” The rites “receive a symbolic interpretation, dominated by a dramatic notion of the ritual that is obviously completely imaginary.” Eucharistic prayers are still present, but “a Eucharistic spirituality, and even a theology of the eucharist, both without any serious roots in tradition, have buried it and almost completely stifled it with their parasitical excrescences.”

The elevation of the Eucharist after the thirteenth century, invented as anti-Beregarian propaganda, further detached the Mass from Eucharist. Even in the best of the late medieval treatises on the Eucharist, such as that of Gabriel Biel, contain “merely traces of the original sense of the eucharist as a thanksgiving for the mirabilia Dei, or of the anamnesis as the sacramental presence of the redemptive mystery. The ‘thanksgiving’ was reduced to an expression of gratitude for the gift of God received in communion, or expected from the celebration. The sacramental actuality of the sacrifice gave way to the consideration of the ‘fruits’ that were expected from it and which no one tired enumerating.” But this “had very little in common with the ancient view of the whole Church being fulfilled in its common participation in the one redemptive sacrifice.”

In Protestant liturgies, Eucharistic prayers and particularly in Reformed liturgies, Eucharistic prayers of the traditional sort disappeared entirely. Bouyer’s judgment is harsh: While attempting to revive the primitive gospel, Protestantism “kept only the late medieval tendency to substitute a psychological and sentimental recall of the Gospel events for the profoundly mysterious and real sacramental action of the New Testament and the Fathers. And it crowned everything by flooding the celebration with penitential elements which in later centuries had tended to overburden it.” If there remained some mention of thanksgiving, “this now has merely the sense of an expression of gratitude for the gifts of grace received individually by the communicants: a late medieval sense, degraded beyond the point of recognition, given to a New Testament expression which has almost nothing left of its original sense.”

Browse Our Archives