The Eucharistic Prayer: Institution Narrative and Consecration

by Fr. Christian Mathis on November 11, 2009

consecration pope

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.

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  • Susan Scriven de Dragon

    Father,
    This is an important posting for me because coming from a protestant background, I have never fully understood the transubstantiation idea. In my conversion process, I just prayed and asked God to allow me to accept it without understanding, which He did. But this explanation makes so much sense to me. Thank you.

    P.S. One of my favorite songs … =)

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    Thanks Susan. It does ultimately, as you have so beautifully put, come down to faith in God.

  • Anne

    As a convert, I also appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to go into more detail about the Eucharistic Prayer. I don’t think I ever had such a hard time with the idea of transubstantiation. After all, as Christians we are asked to believe in a number of miraculous things. In becoming Catholic, I just accepted that I was adding a few more things to that list. But having more background on the prayer is very helpful.

  • Mark G.

    The Church permits the East it’s own liturgy & theology. If that includes a consecration without the words of Jesus Christ, so be it. A lot of things are permitted or valid without necessarily being the most helpful. To Latin ears, it just sounds bad.

    As referred to in the post, many latter day theologians want to cast off the Church as it is and return to some purer church of ancient times – a phenomena I call “the urge to crawl back into the apostolic womb” (think of Fr. McBrien’s recent spillage about how Adoration is wrong). This tactic a) neglects God the Spirit’s guidance of the Church through history, and b) pretty much allows any dissident theologian to dream up any theory they wish since the evidence about the early church is so fragmentary.

    We have to remember that us Latin Rite Catholics have a beautiful and fully fleshed out (pardon the pun) liturgical & sacramental life. Our patrimony is the Roman Canon of St. Pope Gregory the Great from the late 500′s, and – aside from those who were present to hear the actual words spoken by our Lord that night – there are surely no more beautiful words than, “Hoc est enim corpus meum.” Can’t see a huge need to improve on that.

    I wouldn’t go fishing around in America Magazine for sound sacramental theology, either. It’s writers & agenda are notoriously heterodox.

  • http://nowealthbutlife.com Rae

    Thanks for posting this. I was vaguely aware that there were valid Eucharistic prayers that did not contain the the words of institution but had never considered how this should impact my thinking about the Eucharistic prayer in its entirety.

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    Mark,

    My point is not to go searching into the past, but to say we need not limit ourselves to one section of the prayer to the exclusion of the whole. For example, the Roman Canon itself excludes elements that would be necessary in later prayers down to this day.

    And I would trust America Magazine for theology that is more often than not attempting to divest itself from ideological battles. In this case, for instance, they have included an article from a man who is clearly an expert in this area of theology and has been in on the conversation. More than I can say for myself.

  • http://notsmartenoughtohaveone Steve Ohmer

    While I’m not at all comfortable with even the thought of a Eucharistic Prayer without the Words of Institution, I really want to check out some of these “other” prayers.

    With regards to our transubstantiational belief and how difficult that belief is, I’m reminded of two things:

    First: it’s really easier for me to believe that the “host” is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, than it is to believe that the “host” is a piece of bread.

    Second: as a musician, one line of a great Eucharistic hymn text comes to the forefront of my thinking at just about every Mass: “faith believes, nor questions how…” (from “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!”)

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    Welcome Steve!

    It is good to have you here. Yes, it is indeed not the norm today either East or West, but Fr. Gerry’s pointing to this particular prayer has caused me to pay more attention each time I have prayed the prayer since—whether it be the words of institution or some other part!

  • Mark G.

    I’m confused about the purpose of the post, then, Father. Are you just highlighting the various aspects of the whole Eucharistic prayer, or that there are many different forms of the Eucharistic prayer, or trying to suggest that some models of this prayer are more appropriate?

    I suppose in any case, I’m a bit frustrated that theologians & liturgists always want to reject their own patrimony & try to go foraging in others’ fields. Why would the Roman Church desire to import prayers from local churches over its own native worship? I think this infatuation with liturgical archaeology greatly hurts catechesis, devotion to the Church, & people’s faith in general, as fallen human nature is always drawn to the flashy, newest discovery & attendant theory.

    The fact that the Roman Canon does not expicitly include the 2nd epiclesis doesn’t mean its defective, as 1,500 years of continual use have testified. It’s extended prayer for the entire Church – militant, suffering, & glorified – is a clear prayer for God to bring his people to unity in himself.

  • Fr Christian Mathis

    Mark,

    I am not suggesting it is defective, just different. I love the Roman Canon, but do not reject the other prayers just because I happen to like one more than another. My point is indeed to highlight the whole prayer as I believe that the prayer in its entirety is important. The reason for bringing in another form of prayer in the post is to make this point. There are many who have taken to seeing only certain parts of the liturgy as being important and I feel this as something that should be continually addressed.

    One example that comes to mind outside of the Eucharistic Prayer, but within the liturgy as a whole are those who do not see the prayer after communion or the dismissal as important enough to stay to the end of the liturgy.

  • Mark G.

    Ah, I see now. You are completely correct. Please forgive me. I get a little over-protective in discussions about the liturgy.

    I have really made an effort to understand the purposes of the various movements of the liturgy & how they see flow together into an encounter with God. The Collect & the post-Communion really stand out to me these days. I reflect on them during the week, too (thanks, Magnificat), like today’s post-Communion, “… teach us to judge wisely the things of earth and to love the things of heaven…” I think I will make this my personal mantra.

    I fail to see how others can’t be enthused about the liturgy, the privileged meeting place of God with his people. But that’s the me of today talking; at one time, I didn’t get it either & left the Church for years.

    I’ve often suggested the use of liturgical bouncers; in this case to bounce them back to their pew!

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