Eucharistic Prayer II
This article is reprinted from the Questions Answered column in the 14 June 2018 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review,
with the kind permission of the editor, Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ.
It is my impression that when we celebrate the Eucharist in my diocese at community Mass, Eucharistic Prayer 2 predominates.
What might underlie this preference?
What merit is there to criticisms about the historicity, and theological insufficiencies, of Eucharistic Prayer 2?
You are right that Eucharistic Prayer 2 is commonly used most of the time in many parish settings today.
In fact, there was an incident when I was giving a parish mission a few years ago, and I used Eucharistic Prayer 1, or the Roman Canon, on Sunday, and after Mass, a parishioner accused me of making up the Eucharistic Prayer.
He said he had never heard of the version that I used.
The Roman Canon was used exclusively in the Roman Rite as the one Eucharistic prayer for at least 1600 years.
Yet, because some other rites had multiple Eucharistic prayers, when the reform initiated by Vatican II got into full swing, many liturgists believed that this was inappropriate for various reasons.
Some have said that about many things which develop in history, the Roman Canon was a hodgepodge of accretions, without a central unifying point, much as people add rooms onto their house, and often do not respect the original style. This seems to me to be a gross exaggeration, but it was a consideration.
There was also concern that there was not an evident epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit on the gifts).
It was also maintained that when the Eucharistic Prayer began to be said out loud in the vernacular, the defects would be plain, and it would be too long for ordinary usage.
Compounding this development, a number of bishop's conferences after Vatican II began to experiment by approving as many as 20 to 30 Eucharistic prayers, without the reception, or approval, of the Holy See.
Paul VI, and even the liberal liturgists, like Annibale Bugnini, who was the head of the commission which produced the Missal of Paul VI, were quite concerned over this development.
The history which produced Eucharistic Prayer 2 is long and complex, and I cannot go into it all here.
Suffice it to say that the solution to the above problems by the commission was to have about four main prayers, of varying length, which were suitable for different types of celebrations.
Eucharist Prayer 2 would be the shortest, and suitable for daily celebration when there was no saint.
Liturgical historians were doing a lot of research at this time into past rites, and one of the earliest was the so-called "Canon of Hippolytus."
Hippolytus (mid-third century) was actually an anti-pope in the early Church, who was excommunicated, but died a martyr's death in the salt mines of Sardinia, with the real pope.
He compiled a number of early Church sources, including what modern scholars believed is the earliest Eucharistic Prayer in the Roman Church, although whether this was ever used at Mass is greatly disputed now. Nevertheless, at the time of the composition of the revised Roman Missal in the late 60s, this text was considered an example of an early Roman Mass.
It was very short, without Sanctus or epiclesis, but basically consisted of the words of institution of Christ.
It was, therefore, used as a model for Eucharistic Prayer 2 with many adaptations.
The final version of this prayer was composed in one evening.
Louis Bouyer, who was a member of the commission to produce the reformed liturgy, had a lot to do with this process, and he relates the following in his just-published memoirs: "Dom Botte and I were commissioned to patch up its text (Hippolytus' Eucharistic Prayer) with a view to inserting these elements (Sanctus and intercessions) — by the next morning!
[ … ]
Still, I cannot reread the improbable composition without recalling the Trastevere café terrace, where we had to put the finishing touches to our assignment in order to show up with it at the Bronze Gate by the time our masters had set!" (Louis Bouyer, The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer, 2014, 221-222)
The fact that this Eucharistic Prayer is based on a questionable source, and basically had the critical elements resolved by two people in one evening in a restaurant, demonstrates, perhaps, why those who know something of this history have some problems with its fittingness.
The additional fact that this may be the most commonly used prayer, makes this more difficult.
As to why people use this prayer so much, my personal opinion is just because it is so short.
There are so many extra things added to the usual parish Sunday Mass, not to mention some quite lengthy homilies.
This is perhaps what leads many priests to take the path of least resistance, and commonly choose the shortest Eucharistic prayer.
Article written 14 June 2018
Copyright © Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.
CNP Editor's Note:
The General Instruction on the Roman Missal in #365 suggests these uses for the four main Eucharistic Prayers:
- Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon) may always be used.
It is particularly appropriate on days with a specific Communicantes text [e.g. Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost] and on celebration of the Apostles and Saints mentioned in the Prayer itself [e.g.Peter, Paul, Andrew, James … Linus, Cletus, Clement … Stephen, Matthias, Agatha, Lucy … ].
It is also suitable for use on Sundays, along with Eucharistic Prayer III.
- Eucharistic Prayer II is useful on weekdays.
- Eucharistic Prayer III is preferred on Sundays and festive days.
- Eucharistic Prayer IV has a mandatory Preface; it may be used when a Mass has no Preface of its own or on Sundays in Ordinary Time.