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Improving Great Thanksgiving Prayers 2

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This post follows my reflection on the Eucharistic Prayer starting page 420 in A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa.

In reflecting on the quality of a Eucharistic Prayer (a Great Thanksgiving), here are some of the things I’m looking out for:

  • Clearly a prayer of thanksgiving – consecrating by the community giving thanks (led by the gathered community’s presider) for the great acts of God
    • following the Jewish Berakah structure (Praise – Proclaim – Petition – Praise)
  • Easily-remembered, consistent responses and acclamations (so preferably poetic and singable) for the gathered community so that they are not focusing on a book (or a projector screen)
  • Inclusive and expansive language
  • A prayer that flows well, keeps to a consistent tone, and has a broad enough theology to cover acceptable interpretations

Let’s look at another Eucharistic Prayer authorised or allowed in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Celebrating the Grace of God (p.436)

Unlike the p420 Eucharistic Prayer, which is a text drawn up by a committee, this prayer is primarily the work of one person, Bishop Brian Carrell. As such, it has a strong Evangelical approach. Having said that, it needed acceptance by the whole Prayer Book committee, and then, of course, being passed by the twice-round process to make it a formulary of our Church (General Synod – episcopal units – back to General Synod…)

The layout means that it is most natural to place the Lord’s Prayer in the 1662 BCP position as the words are not found here. Similarly, the Lamb of God is easier to omit. But, note: the Prayer of Humble Access, well-loved by most Evangelicals, is also not within this layout.

Its history is clearly explained here (especially page 66). It was essentially an appendix when first introduced. In the Prayer Book, it gained a fuller alternative status, and one can move directly to page 436 after the Peace, bypassing the (optional) Offertory prayers (and concomitant theology) without many noticing that this is what is happening.

In your Son you suffered with us and for us,

page 437

has been criticises for tending towards Patripassianism (the teaching that in the sufferings of Jesus, the First Person of the Trinity also suffered). Traditionally, Patripassianism is heretical, but with the writings of Jürgen Moltmann, there has been a new way to look at this understanding.

Like the first prayer, the “preface” (section between “…thanks and praise” and “Holy, Holy, Holy…”) is lengthy, intentionally returning to the Eastern tradition of listing God’s mighty acts, rather than the previous Western practice of celebrating a particular event (“proper preface”) alone.

The first “Therefore” is still reducing our response to God’s actions to saying (or singing) words in:

Therefore with people of every nation, tribe and language,
with the whole Church on earth and in heaven,
joyfully we give you thanks and say:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,

The Benedictus (“Blessed is he who comes…”), disliked by many Evangelicals, is missing, even as an option.

I have already noted that

for you gave your only Son Jesus Christ
once for all on the cross
to be the one perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world,
that all who believe in him might have eternal life.

was moved here from the first prayer, making the flow of this prayer better (and the first prayer less so).

Like the first prayer, this one also has a revised alternative. In the Alternative, “Father” occurs once, “Son” thrice, “Lord” once in the non-responding parts of the text [unchanged from the original].

The very opposite of offertory theology is retained in the Alternative Great Thanksgiving B:

we were far off until you brought us near
and our hands are empty until you fill them.

I have already indicated that the alternative Great Thanksgiving prayers were rushed through the twice-round process once our Church realised that having trial prayers was not possible. This may be part of the reason why the Benedictus is now a requirement in this prayer. More time spent with the undergirding theology of this prayer, might have led to an optional Benedictus such as we find on page 422:

And these words may be added

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

In the first prayer, I suggested that the people’s response move to make a transition from the proclaim to the petition section of the Berakah structure. That alteration eventuated in its alternative. In the prayer that is the focus of this post, this is already the case – so no shifting needed to occur.

The prayer has as an acclamation:

Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come in glory.

This is an adaptation of the Roman Catholic ICEL acclamation that was taken up by many other traditions:

Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.

The Prayer Book Commission here thought “again” could be taken too literally as a return in the manner Christ was here two millennia ago. Altering the wording meant a loss of ecumenical agreement, including shared musical settings. Since then, the Roman Catholic Church has abandoned this acclamation in any case. Roman Catholics now insist that acclamations after the Last Supper story be addressed to Christ.

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”).

The epiclesis, in keeping with the Evangelical stress of this prayer, is not strong:

As we eat this bread and drink this wine,
through the power of your Holy Spirit
feed us with your heavenly food,
renew us in your service,
unite us in Christ,
and bring us to your everlasting kingdom.

cf. the epiclesis in the first prayer:

Send your Holy Spirit
that these gifts of bread and wine which we receive
may be to us the body and blood of Christ,
and that we, filled with the Spirit’s grace and power,
may be renewed for the service of your kingdom.

The revision concludes with an unusual construction and thought:

As we eat this bread and drink this wine,

as we offer you our songs of everlasting praise.

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