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Eucharistic Prayers in Common (Part 2)

Orans on Roman Mural

This is Part 2 of Eucharistic Prayers in Common. I encourage you to read Part 1 first.

Some people will think that what stands in the way of an ecumenical Eucharistic Prayer is disagreement around transubstantiation. Ecumenical agreements on the Eucharist would not concur. Transubstantiation, if taken literally, comes from an Aristotelian metaphysics that can be used as a model for the mystery – it is not the mystery Itself. Transubstantiation is not the ‘object of faith’, but an instrument to understand the object of faith, which is the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

I think a significant difference between Anglican and Roman Catholic Eucharistic Prayers is the way they tell the Last Supper story. Anglicans tend to tell the story as the body and blood given in the present tense. Roman Catholics tell the story as if the body and blood will be given – in the future tense:

This is my body which is given for you (Anglican)
This is my body, which will be given for you (RC)

In other words – in Roman Catholic Eucharistic Prayers, it is as if you are present at the Last Supper and Christ has not yet given his body and his blood. His body will be given. His blood will be shed. This, of course, flows on into understanding of priesthood as being In persona Christi (in the person of Christ). The Anglican present tense is open to such interpretation, but does not require it.

Interestingly, Catholic editions of Protestant/Ecumenical Bible translations do not change the translation in the story of the Last Supper:

Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24 “my blood… which is poured out”
“This is my body which is given for you” Luke 22:19 [RSV and NRSV – stays the same in the Catholic Edition of these].

But, when a Bible is a Roman Catholic translation from the ground up, the words get put into the future tense:

eg The Jerusalem Bible – Matthew 26:28 Mark 14:24
“for this is my blood … which is to be poured out”
“This is my body which will be given for you” Luke 22:19
“blood which will be poured out” Luke 22:20

“This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out” Matthew in The New American Bible

In the Greek,
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τὸ τῆς καινῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυνόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν

ἐκχυνόμενον (ekchumomenon) is the present passive participle of ἐκχέω (ekcheo). In other words: is being shed. Someone on a higher Koine Greek pay grade than I will maybe add in a comment below that there’s some idiomatic usage of the present passive participle ἐκχυνόμενον that means it can be understood as being future tense?! Or are RC Bible translations just wrong at this point?

All RC Eucharistic Prayers have the epiclesis, asking the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine, before narrating the Last Supper story. Anglican Eucharistic Prayers often have it following (following Orthodoxy). This affects (or should affect?) ritual – some Anglicans do (continue to) elevate, genuflect, bow, and have bells and incense at the “This is my body/blood” when a few moments later they refer to it as bread and wine and ask the Holy Spirit to transform it! All NZ Anglican Eucharistic Prayers are of the Last-Supper-Epiclesis order.

One catholic-minded parish I know reorders the NZ Eucharistic Prayer to the Epiclesis-Last-Supper order. Bishops seem quite happy, when presiding there, to use this altered order – and with the recent change to our Church’s Constitution, allowing bishops to bypass the previous complex authorisation process, one might argue that such a rearrangement is thereby authorised in the diocese. Theologically, liturgists will generally insist that it is the whole Eucharistic Prayer that consecrates – a mountain range with various peaks and valleys. I would refine further – it is God who consecrates in response to the community praying the Eucharistic Prayer proclaimed/led by a priest or bishop.

In conclusion, I remind readers that the Third Eucharistic Prayer of An Anglican Prayer Book (1989 Church of the Province of Southern Africa) is word-for-word identical with the RC Eucharistic Prayer II – complete with future tense: “…which will be given up for you…will be shed for you…” (That the English RC translation has changed since then is another story!) This prayer, of course, is allowed to be used by NZ Anglicans.

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13 thoughts on “Eucharistic Prayers in Common (Part 2)”

  1. Father Rob Lyons


    What is your take on the controversy that Roman EP I does not have a functional epiclesis, since it never explicitly asks the Spirit to change the gifts?

    In the old Rite, one of the offertory prayers invoked the Spirit on the gifts specifically, and that, taken together with the Canon’s wording felt sufficient to express the intention. Given the change in wording of the offertory prayers, I can see how the textually weak epiclesis of EP I can cause problems with some priests and congregants.

    Likewise, the structure of EP I isn’t in keeping with the format of the Antiochene style prayers that predominate the Roman Rite today… which I think bugs some.

    Interesting that you mention the issue of order too… epiclesis/supper vs supper/epiclesis. The 79 BCP isn’t consistent on this. Most follow the supper/epiclesis model, while one or two don’t. I always found it funny to have smells, bells, and els (elevations) and then have an epiclesis.


    1. Thanks, Fr Rob. I recently watched an hour-long talk by you online – with limited time, I can’t immediately find the link for others. So you are very agile in this area. I think in your talk you bring up the scriptures that continue to talk about it as bread and wine after talking about it as Body and Blood of Christ – which connects with having the epiclesis follow the Last Supper story (which in the West, including Anglicanism, has had such a “consecrating” focus). Historically, there is a variety of consecrating prayers – with and without epiclesis, with and without Last Supper story. I think they all consecrate. My primary approach would be consecration by thanksgiving – God consecrates in response to our prayer led by a bishop or priest – and I would model the thanksgiving on the Jewish tradition. So, in writing new prayers, I would include an epiclesis and the Last Supper story, all within the thanksgiving framework. I’m sure there’s a lot on this site about all this if people want to explore further. Blessings.

  2. I think the Ministry of the Sacrament, NZPB, p. 466, does not neatly follow your Last Supper-Epiclesis schema.
    (1) Does this Min Sacrament even have an epiclesis? (Preparation of the Gifts prayer/statement p. 467 does not call the Holy Spirit upon the elements: it assumes the work of the Holy Spirit. p. 470’s “Empower our celebration with your Holy Spirit” is very vague).
    (2) If this Min Sacrament does have an epiclesis, is it not plausible to argue that it comes before [p. 467] the Last Supper narrative?

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      In liturgical study, there are different categories of epiclesis (on the elements, on the people, on both, strong – change the bread and wine, weaker – may they be for us, etc). You are right, the one on page 470 is “very vague”:

      Empower our celebration with your Holy Spirit,
      feed us with your life,
      fire us with your love,
      confront us with your justice,
      and make us one in the body of Christ
      with all who share your gifts of love.

      What you point to, prior to the Eucharistic Prayer, I do not think can be called an epiclesis, it is simply telling God stuff that God probably already knows:

      By your Holy Spirit this bread and win
      will be for us
      the body and blood of Christ.

      Also, it is not part of the Eucharistic Prayer.

      NZ had an odd ‘epiclesis’ in The Offertory , last used in its 1970 rite:

      Come, Holy Spirit, Sanctifier, everliving God,
      and bless us and these gifts
      prepared for your use.

      Fr Rob alluded to this which NZ had taken from the Roman Rite (rather than the BCP tradition). I do not have time to investigate the history of the prayer on page 467 but would not be surprised if you told me it was a return, in a different way, of that Roman tradition from someone who recalled that earlier usage in our province.


  3. Dear Bosco, a small matter but important:

    If one were reading the New Testament as containing the actual words of Christ at the Last Supper, would it not be correct for Jesus to say (in the future tense) “will be given”, in terms of the fact that he had not yet suffered crucifixion?

    There is, of course, also the ‘eternal’ understanding of Jesus’ intention, invoking the ‘eternal now’.

    But then, I have no knowledge of the Greek rendering.

    1. Thanks, Fr Ron. As I have indicated, the Greek in the biblical Last Supper stories is in the present. As you know, there are different streams of those stories, but none differ about that. Trying to ascertain what Jesus ‘actually said’ and beneath that what he ‘actually meant’ by that is beyond what I can achieve in a blogpost comment 🙂 Blessings.

  4. I have been giving some thought about this matter of the verbal tense of the words of institution as well as the position of the consecratory epeclesis in relation to an ecumenical Eucharistic Prayer, and after doing some research, I honestly think it has to do more with a theology of ordained ministry as opposed to the the other two issues, Annibale Bugnini in The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975, pp. 453-454, explores a bit of the variant wording of the words of institution and notes through history there have been various readings, none which follow scripture exactly. He also explains how these variant texts emerged. Prior to the reform of the Roman Missal, the Roman Cannon only has, “For this is my body,” for the first part of the words of institution. In the reform the desire was to make it parallel to the second part and more in line with almost all other traditions. The tradition that the Roman Rite inherited was to express the words of institution over the wine with a future tense. The history of the variant tenses in the verbs used would be interesting but I think ambiguity can be traced to the account in 1 Corinthians which omits the verb. Given that Rome accepts the validity of the Anaphora of Adai and Mari which has no words of institution, I think is a significant point in and of itself in this whole discussion.

    Just as an aside to Bosco’s point about biblical translations, it is interesting to note that the official bible translation of the Church of Rome, the Vulgate and the New Vulgate, make use of the present tense in all accounts of the words of institution.

    The position of the consecratory epeclesis is an interesting discussion in and of itself, in the Roman Canon, it isn’t explicitly present, although some scholars have suggested that is had one, but in the course of history it was lost. The new anaphoras place one of epicleses before the word of institution. Interestingly, so do some of the Eucharistic Prayers in the CofE Common Worship. Rome however accepts the validity anaphoras in both the East and the West that place the consecratory epeclesis after the words of institution, so in the end I don’t this is central to an ecumenical Eucharistic Prayer. As an aside the Eucharistic Liturgy of Lima with the 1982 BEM document, places the consecratory epeclesis before the words of institution.

    In the end I do think it comes down to a theology of ordained ministry and apostolic susccession.

  5. As I recall, it is Rite 2 Prayer C in TEC’s 1979 BCP which has the Epiclesis and the Words of Institution reversed. The other prayers are in the Institution then Epiclesis order.

    I recall in MCC congregations, which are made up of LGBTQ folks from many different Christian denominations, that many of their clergy, not willing to get bogged down with any one eucharistic theology, after the Words of Institution, invoke a catch-all epiclesis that goes along these lines;

    “We ask, that by your Holy Spirit, you bless and sanctify these gifts of bread & wine, that they may be for each of us a perfect and acceptible Holy Communion.”

  6. Thank you, Bosco, for another thoughtful post. I tried to look up the earliest ms of the Roman Canon worded in the future, but can’t find it in the midst of Christmas preparations. I wonder if you or your readers might know.

    On the plurality and multiplicity of Eucharistic Prayers, the liturgical work on the post-conciliar missal is important. Before that, a single EP was the norm. Orthidox churches have a few different anaphorae, but their use is tightly regulated by rite, place and time. One trigger for multiple EPs in the missal, and/or a justification, was the corralling of the prayer from the Apostolic Tradition as that of anti-pope Hippolytus and the earliest Roman EP, whereas it is now considered to be West Syrian in origin, and not associated with Hippolytus. Coptic Basil provided another archaeological source for EPs that turn out quite different. I think it’s worth asking the question whether this plurality is a Good Thing. The oddity of favouring prayers of a West Syrian origin in new compositions is the real source of the epiclepticism you cite. Rome simply moved the epiclesis. Anglican evangelicals have been keen to water down consecratory language almost as much as their animus against sacrificial language. The question, as a modern Anglo-Catholic, is whether I can use consecratory gestures with a late epiclesis, all the while believing that neither the verbum nor the epiclesis is The Moment.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Gareth. And for your points. I cannot do the research on the development of the Roman Canon currently – and I will soon close the option for comments, as I have indicated, as I need to make some space for myself.

      Some may be interested in my research on the evolution towards fourth-century Eucharistic Prayers in Antioch and Alexandria which you are pointing towards.

      I am an advocate of minimal gestures in the Eucharistic Prayer. I write about this in my book Celebrating Eucharist – and I’m sure there will be other references to this elsewhere on this site. In theory. In practice, I’m conscious of pastoral constraints – I don’t think that worship is the appropriate locus for constantly making a point (right though the point may be). The priest is not the owner of the liturgy.

      Like you, as I’ve indicated, I am convinced that the whole action consecrates (or, rather, God consecrates in, through, because of, and in response to the whole Eucharistic action).


  7. Indeed, in the Roman Canon, it is «effundetur», in the future (and nothing is said about the body). And the Eastern anaphoræ I know have the present tense (but I have not studied all the 80).

    The 4 quotations of the Lord’s Supper in the NT (and maybe the quotations of the bread of life in John, as it is the case in the Sharrar anaphora) are not real narratives, but transcriptions of nucleic anaphoræ of the first century. Therefore, most of the Eastern anaphoræ have their institution narratives very different from the NT. The verba in the anaphoras are NOT quotations of the NT. The Roman Canon also follows this pattern. It is therefore pointless to look in the NT, and try to correct the anaphoras accordingly. They are parallel traditions, and may not be corrected one by the other.

    The word «transsubstantiation» is recent, while the anaphoræ, Eastern and Western, are old.

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