Praying for Other Christian Churches in Our Eucharistic Prayers

A reader recently sent in an excerpt of Fr. Ronald Rolheiser’s open letter to Roman Catholic bishops on the possibility of including invocations for other Christian Churches within our Eucharistic prayers. Fr. Rolheiser’s recommendations are intriguing.

Fr. Rolheiser’s letter begins with a series of reflective questions and an example of how an invocation for other Christian Churches could be incorporated into our Eucharistic prayers:

Could you make an addition to our present Eucharistic Prayers to include an explicit invocation for other Christian Churches and for those who lead them?

For example, could the prayer for the Church and its leadership in our various Eucharistic Canons have these additions: Remember, Lord, your entire Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, together with all who help lead other Christian Churches, and all the clergy.” Might our Eucharistic Prayers have this kind of inclusivity?

Fr. Rolheiser articulates three reasons why we should begin to include other Christian Churches in our Eucharistic prayers:

  • “We should pray explicitly for other Christian Churches during our Eucharist Prayer because Jesus did.”
  • “Its intent should also be to keep us, Roman Catholics, from being content with a family that is fractured, as if we have no need for those who are not with us.”
  • “We are celebrating the Eucharist in situations that require, or at least should require, a keener ecumenical sensitivity.”

Fr. Rolheiser advocates the inclusion of a petition for other Christian Churches in all our Eucharistic Prayers. But at the very least, the thought of an “Ecumenical Eucharistic Prayer” along the lines of the Eucharistic prayers for Reconciliation or Various Needs is an intriguing possibility. For instance, could we have a specific Eucharistic prayer for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? This seems like the most realistic option for beginning to include a petition for other Christian Churches in our Eucharistic prayers.

Below you had find the full text of Fr. Rolheiser’s letter:

Dear Bishops,

I write to you as a loyal son of the Catholic Church, with a particular request: Could you make an addition to our present Eucharistic Prayers to include an explicit invocation for other Christian Churches and for those who lead them?

For example, could the prayer for the Church and its leadership in our various Eucharistic Canons have these additions: Remember, Lord, your entire Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, together with all who help lead other Christian Churches, and all the clergy.” Might our Eucharistic Prayers have this kind of inclusivity?

Why? Why pray for other Churches inside of our Eucharistic Prayer? For three reasons:

First, we should pray explicitly for other Christian Churches during our Eucharist Prayer because Jesus did. In John’s Gospel, Jesus prays explicitly for those who hold the same faith but are separated, for whatever reason, from the community to whom is speaking at that moment. He prays for “other sheep that are not of this fold.” (John 10, 16) Raymond Brown, perhaps the most-respected scholar on John’s Gospel, among others, submits that at the time when John’s Gospel was written (somewhere between the years 90 and 100 AD) there were already divisions within the Church, akin to our denominational divisions today, and that Jesus’ prayer for “other sheep that are not of this fold” is in fact a prayer for other Christians who were separated in theology and worship from the community within which John places this particular saying of Jesus. And Jesus, with a heart for everyone and not just for those who are members of this particular community, prays for those others: “I must lead these too. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock, one shepherd.”

Second, if we, like Jesus, in fact love those who share the same faith with us but from whom we are separated, it should be painful for us that our Eucharistic table is not complete, that some of our family are not at table with us, that our table has empty places. Roman Catholics are not a whole family. Protestants are not a whole family. Evangelicals are not a whole family. Free Christian Churches are not a whole family. Only together do we make a whole family. A Eucharistic Prayer that prays only for ourselves as a community and for our Pope and our Bishops is somehow incomplete, as if we had no need to acknowledge and feel the real absence of so many sincere persons who are not with us as we celebrate the real presence of Christ on our table and experience the intimacy this gives us. It is joyful to celebrate with each other at the Eucharist; but we need, I submit, to acknowledge, and at a central place in our prayer, that we long for, wish well to, and pray for, those who no longer share the family table with us. And such a prayer should not be seen as a concession to our separated brothers and sisters. Its intent should also be to keep us, Roman Catholics, from being content with a family that is fractured, as if we have no need for those who are not with us.

Finally, there is too a practical consideration, sensitivity and hospitality:  More and more, whether it be at funerals, weddings, interdenominational retreats, or other such events that draw other Christians into our Roman Catholic Churches, we are celebrating the Eucharist in situations that require, or at least should require, a keener ecumenical sensitivity. In these situations, personally, as a priest, I find it awkward and not fully-hospitable to pray for our Catholic community, for our Pope, our bishops, and our clergy, without any solicitude for, or mention of, other Christian Churches, their leadership, and their struggles for community in Christ. I think that hospitality asks of us (dare I say, demands of us) a greater ecumenical sensitivity than we have been offering at present. Wouldn’t everyone benefit if we did this? Wouldn’t other Christians, we ourselves as a community of love and hospitality, and the whole Body of Christ (which is wider than our particular historical community), be enriched if we, in this prayer that is so central to us, would pray explicitly for those who share the Christian faith with us, but are separated from us? Wouldn’t this be a gracious gesture of hospitality?

What would we be compromising by doing this? What are we protecting by not doing it?  Would we not be more sensitive to the Gospel and Jesus’ words and actions by doing this?

So this is my straightforward plea: Please add an explicit invocation within each of our Eucharistic Prayers that prays for other Christian Churches and their leadership.  You will be on safe ground. Jesus did this.

I offer this suggestion in all respect, as a loyal son of the Church.

 

 

 

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12 comments

  1. I applaud Fr. Rolheiser’s proposal. It reflects real world sensibilities. The church is obviously divided which for many poses a serious obstacle. Jesus clearly prayed that all his followers be united so that the world would know that He was The One sent by God for our salvation. Sadly, among the hierarchy and clerics in general the notion of Roman Catholicism as the one true church persists in a way that fails to honor the teaching of Christ on unity. Today’s Catholics are learning to live with a diversity of understandings and practices as they relate to church and churches. One of our most faithful members, widow of a deacon and mother of a priest, asked what I thought about one of her grandsons deciding to join a Lutheran church where they plan to baptize their young child. Though this boys parents and siblings are faithful Catholics, he has persitently described himself as agnostic. In this context, I told the woman that this sounded like a step in the right direction and that she should consider ways to be supportive. I think it would also be a step in the right direction for church leaders to determine prayer texts that seek God’s grace for all who are pastors, ministers, etc of God’s divided flock.

  2. As one off the regular non-Roman clergy hanging out here, I may have mentioned that at my younger brother’s recent funeral Mass, my role in participating (my brother’s request, as I in his words, “presided” at our father’s funeral Mass in 2001 by preaching and distributing (and receiving) the Eucharist with the celebrant) was that of a lay person: a 5-7 minute “eulogy” before Mass from the floor level, which I used as a homily on Romans 6 and my brother’s standing before God as one Baptized, and reading the First and Second Lesson. I elected not to vest, but rather to wear a clerical and black suit, as I was told not to be near the altar at any time during the Mass. Yes, I was told that as the instructions specifically for this Mass from the Chancery.

    Of course, none of the 30 or so Lutheran family members present communed. This reception was VERY different from 12 years previously in the same archdiocese.

    So, would a petition in the Eucharistic Prayer (#1 used) that includes me (are ecclesiastical communities included in the petition?) have helped? Not much.

  3. My issue with the inclusion of the invocation to pray for other Christian “churches,” as Fr. Rolheiser puts it, is that we have in place in the Mass ritual that lends itself to such a petition- The general intercessions. Also UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO and if memory serves me right Avery Dulles, in his “Models of the Church,” describes the differences between “churches” and “ecclesial communities” which means, atleast by Dulles’ definitions (which I cannot recall at this moment an apologize for it) we would exclude certain denominations from our prayer of unity. It raises ecclesiological and ecumenical questions.

    What I hear in the overall context of the Eucharistic prayers for Reconciliation is a striving to heal that which separates us from each other and God. I find that to be approate especially since we can pray for unity during the General Intercessions. Focusing on the Eucharistic Prayer I think could lead to failing to see the Mass as a whole.

  4. I see this proposal as a call for a contemporary expression of what is already present in the church’s long tradition of celebrating the Eucharist and its Eucharistic theology. It would merely be a matter of emphasizing one aspect of what is already strongly present in our current Eucharistic prayers (and Eucharistic prayers throughout the ages). To produce such a prayer would emphasize our dissatisfaction with the status quo of disunity and our sense of urgency in restoring unity.

  5. Recent results of the Pew Research Center indicate a sharp decline in the number of Americans affiliated with Christianity. We better start praying for each other. Sectarian divisions speak loudly about the un-christian nature of Christianity…”see how they love one another.” The relative closeness of Roman Catholics, German Catholics (Lutherans), and English Catholics (Episcopalians/Anglicans) would be a logical starting point. The recent Popes, in my memory, have certainly had no problem in praying with the leadership of these ecclesial communities.

  6. Perhaps an Episcopalian reader of this blog (of a certain age!) could corroborate or correct my memory on this: at the same time I was working on the Roman side of the matter, I seem to remember people involved in ICET (International Consultation on Ecumenical Texts), later became ECCT (Ecumenical Consultation on Common Texts), editing Roman Eucharistic Prayer IV (which was itself an adaptation of the Byzantine Anaphora of Saint Basil) into a “Common Eucharistic Prayer.” The Episcopal Church’s Prayer Book Revision proposed this (and it was accepted) as Eucharistic Prayer D, BCP 1979, pp 372-375.

    The revision 1) adopted inclusive language 2) moved the pre-institution epiclesis to the traditional Byzantine position 3) made the intercession for the Church a direct petition for Christian unity: “Remember, Lord, your one holy catholic and apostolic Church, redeemed by the blood of your Christ. Reveal its unity, guard its faith, and preserve it in peace.” 4) Greatly expanded beyond (at that time anyway) common non-Roman practice the intercessions to include the departed and the naming of the saints.

    Perhaps some readers will know whether or not my memory of this process is accurate. I also know that the old ICEL’s Eucharistic Prayer A, whose Preface begins, “Blessed are you, strong and faithful God; all your works, the heights, the depths, echo the silent music of your praise,” whose approval by (I think) the Australian Conference of Bishops so infuriated that Joy-of-the-Gospel Churchman of happy memory, Medina-Estevez, is one of the Great Thanksgivings in the Presbyterian Book of Divine Worship.

  7. # 5-Yes, “Eucharistic Prayer D” in the 1979 Common Prayer Book is the result of the process you describe.
    Also it is a practice by some in the Anglican world to commemorate:
    “The Bishop of Rome, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.” ( Not that Canterbury is on the same par, but it expresses our actual communion and as well as our aspiring communion)
    Mark Miller

  8. It seems kind of scrambled to pray for “The Church” and then later, in the same sentence for “other Christian Churches” – – Why not embed a reminder that all baptized in water and the name of the Trinity are the Church? And why not move from the whole Church in general first, to those who serve within the Body secondarily?

    Remember, Lord, your entire Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity. Remember all who strive to lead others in the way of Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit. Remember all your faithful people, and those dedicated to their service: N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, and all the clergy.

    1. @Alan Hommerding:
      I like Alan Hommerding’s friendly amendment to Father Rolheiser’s suggestions. The existing phrasing in Eucharistic Prayers (“the entire people you have gained for your own,” “your Church spread throughout the world”) does imply that the offering of the Body and Blood of Jesus to the Father is made by the entire body of believers—Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants included. There’s a prayer for the pope because Catholics deem him the spiritual leader of all believers (I believe); the details of his actual relationship with Christians of the Reformation can be considered too mundane (not to mention embarrassing) to appear in a Eucharistic Prayer.
      The big question then is why, if Anglicans and Protestants have had a part in the offering that takes place before the Our Father, they should have no part in the distribution that takes place afterward. I’ve been waiting for several decades for a credible answer to that question.

  9. Years ago when a priest who teaches at a nearby seminary would say Mass at our church he would include (similar to Mark Miller’s comment above) the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Eucharistic prayer as representatives of separated Christians in the East and West, respectively. It sounded nice enough at the time. My main concern, looking back at it, would be the unintended ecumenical consequences. Does mentioning only one Orthodox patriarch offend any others? Do we have a clear idea about which Protestants we’d be including and if might offend them?

    I imagine that trying to change/add a Eucharistic prayer would open a can of worms we may wish remained closed, though.

  10. Before seeing Fr Rollheiser’s article in our local paper, I had been thinking of something similar but, as others have commented, not in the Eucharistic Prayer. Perhaps there should be a mandatory prayer of the faithful each week for a different church or group of churches and this after the prayer for the Pope etc. Given the number of different traditions it might take some to go round them all but it would be valuable and would remind the folk in the pews that it is important to pray for the other Christians through out the year not only on Good Friday.
    Putting it in the EP could have the issues mentioned in other comments and it would be a bit like the diptychs of old which indicated who was in communion with a particular church so problematic.
    I have been to Anglican eucharists where the pope was prayed for as well as the archbishop of Canterbury and to RC masses where the same occurred. These were not however normal Sunday eucharists.

  11. Xavier Rindfleisch I also know that the old ICEL’s Eucharistic Prayer A, whose Preface begins, “Blessed are you, strong and faithful God; all your works, the heights, the depths, echo the silent music of your praise,” whose approval by (I think) the Australian Conference of Bishops so infuriated that Joy-of-the-Gospel Churchman of happy memory, Medina-Estevez, is one of the Great Thanksgivings in the Presbyterian Book of Divine Worship.

    I believe one phrase that particularly infuriated Medina-Estevez was “As a mother tenderly gathers her children, you….”

    Some readers of this blog may not be aware that EP A was actually written by Nathan Mitchell. It was a splendid piece of work. I produced a music setting (which of course was never formally published) incorporating many additional acclamations which was used experimentally with considerable success in the early 1980s.

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