Something that increasingly troubles me is our failure to fully utilize the treasury of Eucharistic prayers that are approved for usage in the Roman Rite. Nine times out of ten when I attend Mass the Eucharistic prayer chosen by the priest and prayed with the people is EP 2. This is ironic given the complaints leveled around the time of the Second Vatican Council concerning the poverty in Eucharistic praying. The poverty stemmed from the fact that the Roman Canon had been the sole Eucharistic prayer in the Roman Rite for over 1500 years.
Despite the concerns around the Second Vatican Council about the reliance on only one Eucharistic prayer, today EP2 seems to have become the dominant—if not in some areas the sole—Eucharistic prayer since its promulgation. For this reason one can argue that the Eucharistic praying of the Church was and still is today impoverished. The travesty today is that we are the ones who are making a conscious decision to not fully utilize the options available in the Roman Rite.
In thinking about this problem, I turned to Annibale Bugnini’s reflection on the Second Vatican Council and the work of the Consilium in The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975. While one can fault the historical scholarship of the time concerning early Eucharistic praying in the Roman Church (at the time they believed Apostolic Tradition was Roman), the “rediscovery” of euchological pluralism in the early church is undeniable. Bugnini writes:
“Once euchological pluralism and rubrical flexibility had been rediscovered after centuries of fixism, it was unthinkable that a monolithic approach to the Eucharistic Prayer should long endure…This was true first and foremost on historical grounds: the exclusive place given to a single Eucharistic Prayer was not original” (448).
A quick survey of the Eastern and Western non-Roman rites makes this point obvious. Only the Roman Rite, it appears, had one Eucharistic prayer. Perhaps because of this, it utilized variable prefaces. Therefore in the mind of Bugnini and others, “the decision to add other Eucharistic prayers to the Roman liturgy was not an ‘intolerable audacity’ but a return to authentic tradition and a rejection of the deplorable impoverishment that had been a typical result of centuries of liturgical decadence” (449).
The historical argument for a multiplicity of Eucharistic prayers, which as I have said above has been critiqued in regards to the Roman Rite, is not the only argument that Bugnini and the Consilium employed. Nor in my opinion is it the most important. The critique of the exclusive usage of the Roman Canon was a pastoral one. Bugnini speaks of a “principle of variety” in which
“it seems proper that while respecting the laws that every anaphora must obey, the new anaphoras should also have their own spiritual, pastoral, and stylistic characteristics that would distinguish them both from one another and from the Roman Canon. This kind of variety seems needed if the Roman liturgy is to have the greater spiritual and pastoral riches that cannot find full expression in a single type of text” (452).
The reason for the introduction of new Eucharistic prayers into the Roman Rite was to provide new spiritual, pastoral, and stylistic perspectives. That they are meant to be complementary is attested to by the fact that “as far as possible, therefore, concepts, words, and phrases from the Roman Canon have been avoided in the three new anaphoras, and things found in one of the three have not been repeated in the other two” (452). The three new core Eucharistic prayers introduced into the Roman Rite by the Consilium were meant to provide the Roman Church with new ways of praying euchologically. They provided new perspectives, new emphases, and necessary correctives which were not in the Roman Canon and which could not be contained in a single newly composed Eucharistic prayer.
If Bugnini is correct, and I think he is, the failure to regularly use all of the four main Eucharistic prayers of the Roman Rite leads to a deficiency in Eucharistic praying. The exclusive use of any one Eucharistic prayer is categorically denied by the vision of the Consilium. Similarly, the exclusion of any Eucharistic prayer is equally as intolerable. For this reason, the near exclusive usage of EP2 in some places is a rejection of a fundamental principle of the reform of the liturgy after the Council. So too is the almost absolute exclusion of the Roman Canon. This may come as a surprise to some people who envision themselves as supporters of the Council and subsequent liturgical reforms.
While many liturgical problems today are hard to surmount because of bureaucratic barriers, the solution to correcting the deficiency in our Eucharistic praying today is quite simple and easily within the reach of the ordinary parish priest. Just as the Council stated that “the treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, §51), the Consilium called for the more lavish usage of Eucharistic praying so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of the Eucharist. The clergy and the faithful need to become more aware of the richness of the reformed rite.
The practical question we are left with is: When should each Eucharistic prayer be used? Turning to the Eucharistic prayers for reconciliation, various needs, and those with children, the answers should be apparent. However, a more conscious attempt to use these Eucharistic prayers is needed. For the main Eucharistic prayers (RC, EP2, EP3, and EP4), the work of the Consilium can be our guide.
When to use EP2? According to Bugnini, the aim behind the composition of EP2 “was to produce an anaphora that is short and very simple in its ideas” (456). For this reason, EP2 seems to lend itself well to daily Mass, Masses which are under a time constraint, and Masses which warrant an ease of accessibility. While its usage to shorten the time of Mass appears to be a factor which weighed into its composition by the Consilium, the usage of EP2 to shorten Mass time should be thought through judiciously. Additionally, EP2 utilizes changeable embolisms for Masses for the dead, marriages, and so on. This makes it a suitable Eucharistic prayer for such occasions.
When to use EP3? Again, Bugnini gives us a reason for its composition:
“The intent here was to compose an anaphora of medium length that would be clear in its structure and in which the transitions from section to section would be immediately perceptible. In addition, as I said above, it could be used with any of the traditional Roman prefaces or any new preface and would be compatible with them in its overall style” (456).
EP3 seems to be suitable to both daily Mass and Sunday Mass. Its composition also makes it rather Roman in form. Similarly, it strongly and clearly affirms the sacrificial character of the offering. It is also more cosmic with references like “from the rising of the sun to its setting” and its opening up in the intercessions to “all [God’s] children scattered throughout the world.” To me this gives EP3 a more Lenten and eschatological feel. Like EP2, its changeable embolisms make it an option for special liturgies.
When to use EP4? This anaphora is a poetic masterpiece in my opinion. Bugnini writes that
“the aim here was to produce an anaphora that, while remaining in the Roman tradition, would have room to develop the total picture of the economy of salvation on a much broader scale than in the other anaphoras. Of the three new Eucharistic Prayers, it is the one that approaches most closely the Antiochene type” (458)
EP4 is most appropriate at Sunday Masses. Its beautiful articulation of salvation history is especially suited to Masses which celebrate a key event in that history. Because EP4 has an invariable preface, it may only be used when no other preface is called for – e.g. Ordinary Time.
When to use the RC? The usage of the RC is most proper on any Sunday or feast day throughout the year. Due to its length, it would seem wise to refrain from using it on weekdays, at least in its longer form. Perhaps I resonate too much with Baumstark’s principle that the most ancient usages are preserved at the most solemn times, and wish to make this principle a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I think the retention of the RC at the most solemn times of the liturgical year is in keeping with the tradition of the Roman Rite.
However, a case can be made that its lack of pneumatology should in fact exclude it from usage at the most solemn times of the year. Despite this critique of the RC, I think our usage of EP2, EP3, and EP4 with their robust pneumatologies will re-contextualize the RC within an explicit tradition of pneumatological praying, thus in my opinion making the pneumatological concerns about the usage of the RC at the most solemn times of the year a non-issue.
What is most important is that we utilize the diversity inherent in the Roman Rite as it stands today. Calls for greater diversity and inculturation of the Roman Rite make little sense when the current richness of the Roman Rite is not being fully utilized. If we want to take seriously the reforms of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, this should be apparent at the heart of our worship, i.e. the Eucharistic prayer.
It is time that we open up the treasury of Eucharistic prayers and begin exploring them more deeply. This means making a concerted effort to use all of the Eucharistic prayers available to us. A failure to do so not only denies a key part of the reform, but really denies the whole spirit of the reform. Most importantly, however, the usage of a multiplicity of Eucharistic prayers allows even more ways for the Church at prayer to touch the hearts of the faithful.