Lectionary-Based Eucharistic Prayers

Should the Eucharistic Prayer echo the themes of the lectionary readings?

Here’s an ecumenical response. An Anglican priest and a Methodist pastor have teamed up to craft Eucharistic Prayers tied in to the Scripture readings for every Sunday of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary. (The RCL overlaps for the most part with the reformed Roman Catholic lectionary.)

Wells KocherEucharistic Prayers (Eerdmans, 2016) is the result.

This collection is by Sam Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, former dean of Duke University Chapel, and Visiting Professor Christian Ethics at King’s College, and Abigail Kocher, pastor of congregational life at Oak Ridge United Methodist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.

This project recalls, in some ways, the original texts of the lectionary-based Opening Prayers of the ICEL 1998 Sacramentary. Before we dip into Wells’s and Kocher’s work on Eucharistic Prayers, let’s take a look at what ICEL had offered to the Catholic Church for tomorrow’s Opening Prayer. The readings for tomorrow in the reformed Roman lectionary, and also in  the widely-used ecumenical Revised Common Lectionary, are Genesis 12:1-41 (the call of Abraham), but for the Gospel the RCL gives either the Roman option, Matthew 17:1-9 (the Transfiguration), or John 3:1-17, Jesus and Nicodemus, on which the EP below is based.

First, here’s ICEL for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A:

Holy God,
from the dazzling cloud
you revealed Jesus in glory
as your beloved Son.
During these forty days
enlighten your Church with the bright glory of your presence.
Inspire us by your word
and so transform us into the image of the risen Lord,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
holy and mighty God for ever and ever.

On to the lectionary-based Eucharistic Prayers. What do you think of this sample? It’s what Wells and Kocher offer for tomorrow.It raises similar questions as the ICEL collects – is it a gain for the prayers to be tied to the Scripture readings?

*               *               *               *               *

.The Lord be with you.
.And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
.We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
.It is right to give our thanks and praise.

.Blessings and thanks belong to you, promising God.
.You made the sands of the desert and the stars in the sky,
.  and in Abraham you called a people to be a great nation
.    in whom all the families of the earth would find a blessing.
.In Jesus you raised up a new Abraham
.    to be a blessing to all the people.
.In his death and resurrection, sin died and eternal life was born.
.And so we look forward to the fulfillment of your promise,
.    rejoicing with you, with angels and archangels
.    and with all the company of heaven, singing your unending praise.

Holy, Holy, Holy…

.Faithful God, in Jesus you fulfilled all righteousness.
.In him you turn our duty into joy and our sorrow into dancing.
.You give us new birth through water and the Spirit.
.Send down your Holy Spirit now,
.  that your people may become a blessing to you and the world,
. and that the bread of sustenance and wine of celebration
.    may become for us the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ;
.who, at supper with his disciples, took bread, gave you thanks,
.  broke the bread and gave it to them, saying,
.    “Take, eat: this is my body which is given for you;
.    do this in remembrance of me.”
.After supper he took the cup.
.Again he gave you thanks, and gave it to his disciples saying,
.    “Drink this, all of you: this is my blood of the new covenant,
.    which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
.Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

.Great is the mystery of faith.
.Christ has died; Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

.Generous God, you loved the world so much that you gave your only Son;
.  look now upon the places where your people are perishing,
.    where they are condemned,
.     where they are being born
.     under the shadow of destruction and despair.
.Infuse your church with Spirit and truth,
.  walk with your beloved people the Jews
.    as they seek security, companionship, and freedom in the world,
.     and fill your saints with the hope of eternal life,
.     that all my come to praise your name,
.     and every grain of sand and star in the sky
.     be stirred with the wonders of your grace,
.     ever one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
.     now and forever. Amen.


From Eucharistic Prayers by Samuel Wells and Abigail Kocher, 126-127 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans, 2016)


  1. Should the Eucharistic Prayer echo the themes of the lectionary readings?

    If you’re asking: No.

    Why? Well: ritual for one thing. I understand there was a history of somewhat improvised anaphora, but having experienced that in my lifetime, I can very easily understand why it was a practice that died or was subjected to a mercy-killing.

    Another thing that may seem counterintuitive: trying to reinforce the lections has the effect of diluting (well, not quite the right word – it’s more about losing potency/vibrancy, perhaps) them of their power in their place. This is something that I’ve only come to realize with decades of hindsight, having been an enthusiastic reinforcement practitioner in my time, as it were. Trying to make all the songs “fit the theme”, trying to pre-preach mini-homilettes before each reading, et cet., has a strange effect of forcing the lections into a weave, which kinda tames them. I think we’d be better off laying off the hammer of reinforcement.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur:
      Seasonal Prefaces and collects, well crafted, are a treasure of the traditions.

      But the overly didactic, classroom or lecture-hall misunderstanding of the Liturgy of the Word has too often and widely led to malpractice by priest-presiders and others preparing/executing the liturgy. Turning the day’s gospel reading (or up to all three readings) into highly specified “points” (no matter how gently identified as “themes”) to be repeatedly reiterated robs the Mass of ritual efficacy. This is a misunderstanding of how ritual actually functions. Clerics and/or other ministers (e.g. music) *think* that ritual is about “expressing meaning” and then trying to get everybody, all together at the same time, to think the same *ideas* (“the theme”). However well intended, these are all exercises of control (by agents with the power–priests, deacons, and a range of other ministers–in each situation).

      Alienated (whether due to poor “thematizing,” preaching, ideologies), a certain percentage of Roman Catholics have given up on Sunday Mass or, alternatively, are attracted to celebrations of the Extraordinary Form. Now, I am no fan of the latter (and statistical data show the overwhelming majority of US Catholics aren’t either), but one reason many (and notably younger) of its devotees prefer the 1962 Mass is its ministers’ ritual-practice of it, allowing symbols–including words–and silence to shape them in their act of worship.

      I love the current Lectionary (whether Roman, or Revised Common), however (inevitably) imperfect. Twenty-five years as a priest and twenty-one as a professor (teacher, researcher, author) convince me that the Liturgy of the Word is at the heart of the liturgy’s reform/renewal. But its form and function are *liturgical*, multiply symbolic. One of my seminary professors wisely taught: Prepare your homily from an image, not an idea. One thereby gives room for the Spirit to breathe whatever “word” may resonate in each member.

      1. @Bruce Morrill:
        Yes, there are prefaces and collects that “align” more obviously with a given Sunday than others (solemnities and feasts are more typical in that regard, so the issue really for discussion is Sundays), but many less so. I don’t see virtue in trying to make every celebration so, and to make the EPs so.

        (Moreover, I don’t see the appetite for this among priests at large. It is a rare *parish* priest who rotates diligently and with acumen among the several approved EPs – where I live, most priests stick to III or II for Sundays, with I sometimes too. I miss IV – I think I’ve heard it but once in the past 5+ years. Occasionally, an enterprising priest will lead one of the EP for VO&N. Throwing more choices at the priests re EPs appears to be a solution in desperate search of a problem.)

        And I certainly don’t see how this really does what it’s thought to do. I fully agree with your comments. A lot of ritual prayer becomes part of us by percolation at a different level than a linear rational conceptual sense. Having no change in it risks ossification, but too much variation fights the percolation. I think of the words of the liturgy as aural ikons, in the sense of a dimension where the natural and supernatural meet, where we look/hear “through” if our eyes/ears are open.

    2. @Karl Liam Saur:

      Should the Eucharistic Prayer echo the themes of the lectionary readings?

      If you’re asking: No.

      Why? Well: ritual for one thing. I understand there was a history of somewhat improvised anaphora, but having experienced that in my lifetime, I can very easily understand why it was a practice that died or was subjected to a mercy-killing.

      Have to disagree somewhat with this. There is some merit in celebrating the season or the day.

      Something that people have still not grasped is that the choice of Penitential Act should be made in the light of the readings that are to follow. Likewise, the choice of EP needs at least to recognize that the Liturgy of the Word that preceded is giving us yet another facet of Christ to which to respond.

      Gelineau was very fond of pointing out that the presider’s ability to improvise the EP on the basic structure that everyone knew was a way of measuring how good a presider he was. If he stuck to a text, on the other hand, he was rated as a lousy presider. I think that the way this improvisation took place in the early centuries was rather different from what happened in the 20th century after Vatican II. Something about being imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, rather than trying to make a point. If we had been able to put those mistakes on one side and focus on forming presiders in the liturgy, rather than forcing them into a textual straitjacket because they didn’t do it very well as they were starting off, things could be rather different today.

      Having said all that, I’m not sure that providing pre-packaged EPs for each Sunday and feastday is the answer.

  2. “promising God” is a mistake (language)

    “sin died” is a mistake (theology)

    “the Jews… as they seek security” is also a mistake (political messaging)

    I’m not opposed to this idea in principle at all. The problem is that when people try to come up with texts in practice it is very easy to put a foot wrong, or in one’s mouth.

  3. I believe that there is a problem with the assembly’s appropriation of the Eucharistic Prayer in general. Most people see it as a setting for the institution narrative (or the Words of Consecration).

    While there is room for more variety (not forgetting that we already have multiple Eucharistic Prayers and a vast number of variable prefaces, such as the Gospel specific one for the Sundays of Lent cycle A), perhaps we need to work better on helping our assemblies to appropriate the spiritual riches that are already in the Missal. Then when we are in a better place there, move on to offer more variety.

    However, IMHO many people in the pews wouldn’t notice if you used a new Eucharistic Prayer just so long as it had the Sanctus, Institution Narrative, etc. in the right places, the priest did the same gestures and the bells rang at the same time.

  4. I have bought this book and have tried it on a few occasions. I think there is just too much variable material, too much distraction at a point where focus needs to be fostered. I would want to say ‘less is more’ – perhaps just gospel related extended prefaces. I have used some of the final sections of the prayers as a presidential post-communion prayer which I thought worked well, although I don’t think the example you use would work in this way.
    In my church, the Church of England, before the RCL we had a thematic lectionary which had the effect of encouraging those planning and leading worship to relate everything to the theme, hymns, prayers etc. It was just too much, this is my judgement of this project.

  5. As an organist, I view this somewhat along the lines of what I do with a hymn on Sundays (I am speaking here of “traditional” strophic hymns). While I will vary the introduction of a familiar hymn, and on one or two (usually one) stanza I will improvise or find a written-out varied accompaniment, the hymn itself needs to stay largely intact and recognizable for the support and empowerment of the assembly to own their song.

    Even with the select variety of Eucharistic Prayers we have, there are enough basics in the language and structure so that – even though only the presiding minister prays them – they are also “owned” by the assembly due to (as others have noted) the ritual. The familiarity of these prayers over the course of time makes them “by heart” prayers for the assembly. We have the varied introductions in the prefaces, and can do different musical settings of the acclamations – all without touching the essential familiarity of the EP itself.

    To do this week-by-week variance (even with structural similarities, the language is substantively different) only reinforces that it is the presiding minister who owns and offers this prayer & we get to listen in.

    If there’s to be a project of bringing other texts into greater resonance with the Lectionary pericopes, let it be the proper texts, including the antiphons as well as the collects. As the 1998 ICEL Sacramentary did.

  6. For myself, I’d prefer variable prefaces that hearken back to the lectionay selections for the day. But whole EP’s seem a bit much. That said, in my rite, I am pretty deliberate about choosing all the EP’s at my disposal throughout the year, but I definately use (approved) lectionary-connected prefaces in Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.

  7. I was provoked into responding to this post with words from the Litany: ‘Good Lord deliver us.’

    A proposal such as this upsets the balance between what is (relatively) unchanging and what changes in the celebration of Mass. The Roman tradition over several centuries developed variable prefaces and a more or less single Canon.

    It is true that the ancient liturgies of Gaul and Spain had a greater degree of variability in the anaphora, a system which has survived in the so called ‘Mozarabic’ Rite of Mass. But these are not, by and large, ‘lived’ traditions in our time for most of the faithful. I can’t imagine the bulk of a missal for the faithful which would be required !

    I was very much pro the attempt of the ICEL collects to take the Scriptures of the day into prayer. But my sense is that the Anaphora is a different matter. The modern Roman system of a greater number of variable prefaces fits well both our tradition and a sense of what is appropriate nowadays.

    I don’t find the single text you have cited to be anything like sufficient for an anaphora for the Catholic tradition, but I guess that’s not surprising, given the source. Many years ago a Catholic USA source (I can’t remember who) produced sets of anaphoras for different sundays which were equally inadequate.


  8. It has no Anamnesis. What precisely is this prayer doing? And phrases like “Promising God,” “Faithful God,” and “Generous God” make God sound like He could step out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. These catchy phrases also help to avoid the use of “traditional” language for God which is seen as oppressive. It creates a milquetoast God leading to more and more such nonsense.

    1. @John Kohanski:

      “make God sound like He could step out of a Thomas Kinkade painting.”

      Kudos for that apt phrase. I suspect Flannery O’Connor would approve it.

  9. Everyone here knows my favorite eucharistic prayer — I won’t go there. Still, the visceral offering and subsequent celebration of the hostia, the “Victim”, remains the reason why the canon missae holds such a towering and captivating importance in my mind.

    I like the prayer above very much, and can’t wait to borrow the book and read the other composed eucharistic prayers. Still, the aforementioned prayer, while pan-western Christian inclusive, is not fully Catholic because it does not celebrate the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the God the Son, a living sacrifice for the quick and the dead. Perhaps unde et memores, the anamnesis of the Roman Canon in a new contemporary translation, could be an bracketed insertion so Catholics may celebrate these proposed eucharistic prayers.

    I have a desire to be accepting and open to the contributions of Reformation traditions in Catholic liturgical prayer. In order to participate in ecumenical eucharistic prayer, we might have to augment the prayers to preserve our theology. Is this a Fortress Trent mentality? Maybe, but what would be other options?

  10. Let me hasten to add that the anamnesis of any one of the approved eucharistic prayers of the Church could be inserted into any ecumenical eucharistic prayer. The challenge here is to seamlessly integrate the Catholic prayer with pan-“western” Christian prayer. A formidable task, but one which will bear fruit in due season.

  11. I suspect that the acclamation “Christ has died; Christ has risen, Christ will come again” is meant to do the work of the anamnesis. Rather than the presider saying “We remember his death and resurrection and look forward to his coming” the congregation actually engages in an act of memorial.

    Traditional Eucharistic Prayers in both East and West go from the action of remembering to the action of offering. So in the Roman Canon you have:

    Therefore, O Lord,
    as we celebrate the memorial
    of the blessed Passion,
    the Resurrection from the dead,
    and the glorious Ascension into heaven
    of Christ, your Son, our Lord,
    we, your servants and your holy people,
    to your glorious majesty
    from the gifts that you have given us,
    this pure victim,
    this holy victim,
    this spotless victim,
    the holy Bread of eternal life
    and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.

    And in the Anaphora of John Chrysostom you have:

    Remembering, therefore,
    this saving commandment
    and all that has been done for our sake:
    the Cross,
    the tomb,
    the Resurrection on the third day,
    the Ascension into heaven,
    the enthronement at the right hand,
    and the second and glorious coming again.
    Your own of Your own we offer to You,
    in all and for all.

    It is really the language of sacrifice that is missing from this prayer. Of course, the issue of “offering-language” in the Eucharist has been a neuralgic one among Anglicans from the outset, and I guess the same is true of Methodists.

    By coincidence, just yesterday I ran into one of the authors of this volume (though we didn’t discuss eucharistic prayers).

  12. I have to say I’m unimpressed by this otherwise well-meaning product. The Eucharistic Prayer is, by nature, focused on the Paschal Mystery. If that has a locus in the liturgical year, it would be Triduum and Easter. That is as it should be. MR2’s effort at Opening Collects: a better thought torpedoed by people who didn’t understand liturgy.

    We could have better prefaces, or better-translated ones. What I heard this past weekend was particularly atrocious, especially coming from our retired clergy who, admittedly, do not prepare past marking the book for use on most Sundays.

    By the way, that acclamation cited in #16, ““Christ has died; Christ has risen, Christ will come again” is credal more than anamnetic.

    1. @Todd Flowerday:
      This is why I’ve long felt that CHD is MORE appropriate as “the Mystery of Faith” than what we have now, specifically Acclamation C…”Save us, Savior” Aside from three “s”‘s in a row – musically awful – it has a petitionary aspect to it. Let us proclam – state – the mystery of faith… CHD does it perfectly, and does not change address from the Father to the Son.

      I agree that we could look to add more Eucharistic Prayers. The EPMVNO are (is) a beautiful, recent addition. Better though, would be to enrich the ones we have, which Sacramentary 98 attempted to do. Included were seasonal inserts for at least EP III, perhaps the others as well. It was the intent to offer more interpolations in the Children’s EP III, but we only received Easter.

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