Something that seems to unite (most) liturgical traditionalist and (some) liturgical progressives is a certain disdain for the Second Eucharistic Prayer (EPII) of the Roman Missal. Of course, as you might expect, this disdain has different sources.
Some progressives dislike it simply because of its over-use: it has become for many priest their default mode, at least partly to save time. But critics complain that its dominance deprives the assembly of the riches of the other eucharistic prayers, including the two prayers for reconciliation and the four variations of the Eucharistic Prayer for use in Masses for Various Needs (I don’t often hear the Roman Canon included among these desiderata). They see it as part of the liturgical laziness and minimalism that has afflicted the Church both before and after the reforms.
Most traditionalists dislike it because because of its brevity, which, in their view, upsets the proper balance between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (or, in some cases, the proper dominance of the latter over the former). They also dislike it because, partly as a result of its terseness, it is fairly restrained in its expression of the eucharistic sacrifice. It’s there (“we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation”), but it is not reiterated constantly, as it is, for example, in the Roman Canon. They are also suspicious of its origins. An anecdote told by Louis Bouyer in his memoir—in which he and Bernard Botte put the finishing touches on their draft of the prayer in a cafe in Trastevere—gets garbled in transmission, such that I have seen the claim made that they drafted the whole thing on a napkin in about an hour. It is true that, late in life, Bouyer expressed dislike of the prayer, and generally felt that the entire reform process moved too quickly, but he never claimed it was dashed off during a wine-soaked pranzo. Moreover, some feel that the claims for the antiquity of the prayer and its connection to the so-called Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (AT) are spurious, pointing out the notable lack of parallels between the two prayers.
While I think it is undoubtedly true that some celebrants use it too often, I do think there are some things that can be said in its defense.
Regarding its origin and provenance, it is true that as it is most often used—with one of the prefaces from the Roman Missal—the claim that it is the ancient prayer descended from Hippolytus is hard to sustain. Not only is the prayer on which it is based almost certainly not by Hippolytus, and perhaps not as old as originally claimed (fourth-century rather than third), but, as near as I can tell, the only significant parallel after the Sanctus is the anamnesis, which in the Latin is extremely close (the word order is slightly different and the AT’s “panem et cálicem” is changed in to “panem vitae et cálicem salútis,” perhaps reflecting our modern nervousness about speaking simply of “bread” after the institution narrative). The post-institution epiclesis, the phrasing of the institution narrative, and the concluding doxology are all different, not to mention the insertion of a first epiclesis and intercessions. So it is true that, as commonly used, there is really only one short paragraph that can lay claim to the antiquity of its source.
But the matter is somewhat different when we look at the prayer as it was originally framed, with a rather lengthy fixed preface. Here the parallels with the AT are more extensive, though much has been eliminated from the source and various phrases have been reshuffled. Still, something of the “feel” of the AT is retained, something that is lost when it is used with another preface. I recently heard EPII used with its own preface and was struck by how much better it works as a prayer, giving a brief but comprehensive summation of salvation history that makes the experience of hearing it quite different from when it is used with one of the briefer proper prefaces. It does give one a sense of the ancient eucharistic prayers, which leaned heavily into the element of thanksgiving.
As to the question of EPII’s brevity, this could in certain situations be a virtue. Of course, it is not simply a matter of shaving time off the Mass. By one analysis, using EPII saves at most two minutes, which might make a difference at a weekday Mass that people are trying to squeeze into lunch time, but is not really much of a gain. But there is also the issue of how much verbal content an assembly can be expected to absorb. I don’t think this would justify using EPII on a regular basis on Sundays. But it might be the wise pastoral choice if a Mass were going to include another rite that adds more words to the Sunday celebration. If, for example, we wanted to celebrate Baptism or Anointing of the Sick at a Sunday Mass, I would be willing to go with EPII if it would make the congregation more receptive (I don’t think this argument works for the Easter Vigil, since most who come to that are not looking for corners to be cut).
Also with regard to brevity, there is nothing particularly “traditional” about having the congregation listen to a lengthy eucharistic prayer. For well over a thousand years, in both East and West, most of the eucharistic prayer was said in a quiet voice and the assembly was not expected to take in a large block of verbal content. I was initially surprised that the parish of St. John Cantius in Chicago, a flagship of liturgical practice that many consider traditional, appears to have the practice of habitually using EPII on Sundays. But in fact this does reflect a certain sort of traditionalism—the tradition of not spending a lot of time on public recitation of the Canon (in the example linked above it is even more “traditional,” since after the memorial acclamation the priest continues the prayer quietly while the choir sings the Benedictus. I am not sure, however, that this fulfills the adage about “saying the black and doing the red”).
Don’t get me wrong. I like the assembly hearing hearing the whole Eucharistic prayer, though this may be because this is what I am used to (I can imagine an alternate-history revision of the Mass in which only the Quam oblatiónem, Qu prídie, and Unde et mémores were said aloud). But it is also possible that the popularity of EPII reflects a kind of primal ritual instinct that less-is-more at this point in the Mass. We should at least be willing to ask the question of whether there might not be positive reasons for EPII’s popularity, something more than liturgical laziness and minimalism.
Which is all to say that I am willing to offer, if not three, at least two cheers for Eucharistic Prayer II.