The liturgical reform emphasizes that the Eucharistic Prayer as a whole is the high point of the liturgy (culminating in the communal sharing in Holy Communion). What some still call the “consecration” is called the “Institution Narrative and Consecration” in the GIRM. It is best seen as an integral part of a prayer which is consecratory as a whole.
I observe various ways priests celebrate the Institution Narrative. For example:
The Well-Intentioned Populist eyeballs the congregation. But the Eucharistic Prayer, though it certainly involves the congregation through their baptism into Christ’s priesthood, is not addressed to the congregation, it is addressed to the Father. To act out the Institution Narrative – “I’ll be Jesus and you all be the disciples” – is to misunderstand this prayer. The priest’s role is to draw the people into his (and ultimately, Jesus’) offering to the Father. The people are not addressees, they are co-actors. Mass facing the people is not at odds with this dynamic, and in fact it probably better serves it for the people of our day. Father, just dial back your extroverted personality a bit. And think about whether your misplaced creativity isn’t maybe fueling the fires of some of today’s traditionalism. To which we now turn.
The Holier-Than-Thou Traditionalist senses that some things have gone south in the implementation of the reform (to understate his sometimes polemical position) but overreacts. He wants the liturgy to be more reverent and serious, which is laudable. But he’s finding his solution in the wrong places. By using a markedly different tone of voice, he rips the Institution Narrative from its larger context and gives the impression that only the magic words (‘hocus pocus’) matter. By staring only at the host, as if to shut out everyone and everything around him, he gives the impression that Christ’s presence is localized there and does not involve the rest of the congregation (not to say all of redeemed creation). He should check out the meaning in Latin of ‘ostendit’ vs. ‘elevat’ and show rather than elevate the host. All of this would require him to accept inwardly the spirit of the liturgical reform and to learn from the writings of the reformers who gave it to us.
There is a better way, the Third Way, which the reformed liturgical books allow and suggest. The priest ‘bows slightly,’ as the Missal states, with humble (i.e. understated) reverence. The rubric preserves the objectivity and directionality of this action, without furthering the worst of medieval sacramental misunderstandings which the reforms sought to correct. The showing of the host does not treat it as an isolated relic, but as a strong sign of Christ’s presence among his people. The priest’s manner neither manipulates nor ignores the people.
This is the way of reconciliation, unity, and peace – something the church could use right now, and something the liturgy is very much about at all times.
Thanks to Fr. Michael Peterson, OSB, celebrant, and Br. Simon-Hoa Phan, OSB, video technician.