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Liturgy: Eucharistic Prayer for the Celebrant(s) Alone?

7/8/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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ROME, JULY 8, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: In an earlier reply you mentioned that only the priest should say or sing the final doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer. This leads to a further question -- one perhaps not so much of liturgy in the narrow sense as of theology of the sacraments: Why has the Eucharistic Prayer always been reserved to the celebrant/concelebrants? It is worded in first person plural, and so it might seem appropriate for everyone to join in, as in the Credo? -- G.G., Emmitsburg, Maryland

A: From the historical perspective, the fact that this prayer has always been reserved to the priest is confirmed by solid evidence and so it appears to be a constant tradition of the Church.

There is some fragmentary evidence form earliest times but the clearest witness to this practice is St. Justin Martyr who around the year 150 wrote a description of the Mass in which the "president of the assembly" is described as making a lengthy prayer of thanksgiving ("Eucharist" in Greek) over the gifts of bread and wine.

Although the prayer is not yet a fixed text it is clear that only the "president" says it while the people say "Amen" at the end.

To attempt to explain the motives for this reservation I will begin by using another ancient text: the Anaphora of St. Hippolytus of Rome, composed around 220.

This is the earliest known written text for a Eucharistic Prayer and forms the basis for the present Roman Missal's Second Eucharistic Prayer.

The final doxology of this prayer has a variation, not incorporated in the modern text, but which can enlighten us. It says: "Through ... Jesus Christ, through whom be to you (the Father) glory and honor, with the Holy Spirit in the holy Church both now and forever and ever. Amen."

The incision which interests us is the expression "in the holy Church." This expression shows that the honor and glory offered to God through Christ and with the Holy Spirit can only be fully achieved in the Church.

This ecclesial dimension helps us grasp the reason why the Eucharistic Prayer is reserved to the priest.

The celebrant, in saying the Eucharistic Prayer, is acting at the same time in the person of the Church and in the person of Christ.

In acting in the person of the Church he does not simply represent the actual assembly, but the entire Church.

In acting in the person of Christ the priest makes it possible for the present assembly to exercise the common priesthood of the faithful and thus to unite themselves in heart and mind to Christ, as he offers his perfect sacrifice to the Father and who allows us to share in this sacrifice.

This common priesthood of the faithful is a true priesthood, and no mere metaphor. This is why the priest says "Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice (literally, "my sacrifice and yours" -- "meum ac vestrum") be acceptable to God ..."

Yet this priesthood cannot be genuinely exercised except in communion with the ministerial priesthood acting in the person of Christ and the Church. And indeed, one of the primary purposes of the ministerial priesthood is to facilitate the exercise of the common priesthood.

Without this communion the liturgy ceases, in a way, to be an act of the Church, for the concrete assembly is a manifestation of the Church, but is not the Church itself.

Thus the priest, in saying the Eucharistic Prayer alone, but in always using the first person plural, expresses this double aspect of acting in the person of Christ and of the Church. Through the priest's acting in the person of Christ, in a way Christ himself acts in the person of the Church in saying the Eucharistic Prayer.

In other words, Christ himself, as head of his body, the Church, says the Eucharistic Prayer, and says it in first person plural because while, on the one hand, only he can offer the Eucharist, he associates his whole body -- all the faithful -- with him in doing so.

Another consequence of this communion in the whole Church is that we are all engaged in every Mass said anywhere.

This can be seen in some elements of the prayer itself. For example, the intercessions of the first two Eucharistic Prayers contain the expression "una cum" -- "together with N. our Pope and N. our Bishop" (although the same Latin expression is translated differently in the two prayers).

This "together with" is not just a praying-for but a praying-with by which we are united through the celebrating priest to the bishop and through him to the Pope and the universal Church.

From these theological reflections, we can see that if the particular assembly were to join in saying the ...

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