Here we come to the part of the mass that most Western Christians would consider to be the center and most important part of our prayer, that being the institution narrative and consecration. The new GIRM describes this section of the Eucharistic Prayer in these words,
- Institution narrative and consecration: In which, by means of words and actions of Christ, the Sacrifice is carried out which Christ himself instituted at the Last Supper, when he offered his Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine, gave them to his Apostles to eat and drink, and left them the command to perpetuate this same mystery.
At our recent priest gathering, I was challenged by Fr. Gerry Austin to look once again at the Eucharistic Prayer in the wider sense. He reminded us that there are indeed valid forms of the Eucharistic Prayer that do not contain the words of institution and therefore this is not required for the consecration to occur. It is true that there are no such prayers in the West, but our sister Churches in the East do have such prayers and as we are in union with them, the Roman Catholic Church has acknowledged their validity. The prayer most commonly looked at in recent years that falls into this category is the prayer of Addai and Mari that is used in the Assyrian Church of the East. In the seminary I studied with students from this Church. In 2001 the Vatican declared this ancient Eucharistic Prayer to be valid, even without containing the words of institution.
Those of you who find this to be completely new or even confusing might take a look at Robert Taft’s 2003 article in America Magazine entitled, Mass Without the Consecration? which I will refer to in this blogpost. Taft explains first that,
The Catholic magisterium teaches that the traditional practices of our Eastern sister churches are worthy of all veneration and respect.
He also reminds his readers that there are several ancient Eucharistic Prayers that do not contain the words of institution. From the very fact that these prayers have been in practice from the earliest years of the Church without having been condemned by the Church Fathers would indicate that Christians have been using them for the valid celebration of the Eucharist for many years longer than most of our current prayers.
Fr. Gerry pointed out to us that we must remember that many things in the Church have developed over time. For example, Eucharistic Prayer I does not have the traditional epiclesis due to the fact that it is older than the other prayers we use in the West and originated before the time that the Church had more clearly defined the role of the Holy Spirit.
Taft’s article also notes that we might do better to see the entire Eucharistic Prayer as a formula of consecration, rather than limit our understanding to seeing only the words of institution as consecrating the bread and wine that is offered. I believe that if more people adopted this understanding, it would enrich our experience of the Eucharist. Taft is also quick to point out that are not saying that the words of institution are unimportant. He writes,
…the words of institution are always consecratory, even in the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, because Jesus’ pronouncing them at the Last Supper remains efficaciously consecratory for every Eucharist until the end of time.
These words remind me of a homily given by Fr. Bob Barron who was one of my professors at Mundelein Seminary when responding to those who question how Catholics can believe that the bread and wine in the Eucharist actually becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Fr. Bob points out God’s word has an authority that is unlike our own human words. One need only think back to the story of creation where God speaks, Let there be light, and there was light. His word has the power to bring things into being. So when Jesus says, This is my body, this is my blood, His very words have the authority to bring about what is spoken.
We are reminded each time we gather for the Eucharist of these transformative words when we hear them narrated by the priest. We should in turn give thanks for the great gift that God continues to give us by sharing His only Son completely with His Church.