co-authored by Fr. Anthony Ruff and Nathan Chase

Today’s Question: The Centrality of the Eucharistic Prayer

Pray Tell recently received a Non Solum question from a reader expressing concern over the tendency in some communities to devalue the Eucharistic prayer (the central ritual element of the Mass) in favor of the reception of Communion. One hears of Catholics today seeing no loss when Mass is replaced by a Word and Communion service – one gets Communion, so what’s the difference?

Is there anything parish liturgists can do, the readers asks, to correct this imbalance? Or is it only the priest who can change this? And is change really possible?

This problem has deep roots in the Scholastic era of the Middle Ages, and before. Reception of Communion had become infrequent, and theological reflection became obsessed with defining the nature of the Real Presence, with resulting undue interest in the moment of consecration. Latin liturgical language, silent canon (Eucharistic prayer), elevations, ringing of bells, and the like, all served to separate the eucharistic Real Presence from Christ’s abiding presence to the Church, the words of institution from their larger context of the recital of God’s redeeming act in Christ in the preface and canon, and the reception of Communion from the assembly’s sharing in the offering of the Eucharistic Prayer.

The liturgical reforms sought to re-balance things. As Nathan Mitchell shows in Cult and Controversy, the Eucharistic prayer, as the central part of the Mass, is meant to lead to the reception of Communion. But the effects of centuries-long practices and ways of thinking continue to work their damage. What has worked, in your view, to re-establish balance? What work remains to be done? What things can be done, concretely, to reinforce a richer and more balanced view of the Eucharistic mystery?

Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!