The “encrypted” title of the International Congress that has opened today at the Pontifical Gregorian University (“The Genesis of the Anaphoral Institutional Narrative in the Light of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari”) makes one immediately think of stuff fit for the extremely specialized. In effect, even in Western theological faculties not everyone would be able to tell what the so called anaphora of Addai and Mari is. Yet, in recent decades, around that most ancient Eucharistic prayer used amongst some Oriental Churches of apostolic origin, debate has kindled between Catholic theologians and liturgists of different orientation in a match full of decisive ecumenical and doctrinal implications for the whole Church, such as to even call to attention Vatican entities. Now, the same see which hosts the Congress and the authoritative interventions entrusted to Jesuit Orientalists of international repute – amongst which, the Syro-Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo and the professors of the Pontifical Oriental Institute George Nedungatt, Cesare Giraudo and Robert Taft – demonstrates the courageous and firm stand made by qualified sections of the Society of Jesus through the mere fact of trying a systematic reflection of the whole question.
The anaphora of Addai and Mari is an ancient Eucharistic prayer which has been documented from time immemorial in the Eucharistic liturgies of the Syro-Oriental Christianity of Mesopotamia. It is one of the most ancient anaphoras still in use: traditionally attributed to Thaddeus of Edessa and Mari, disciples of Jesus (even if the majority of researchers date it to the 3rd century A.D.), it is still used in the liturgies of the Assyrian Churches of the East at the moment of consecration, when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Amongst other characteristics, in its simple and poetic language, the anaphora of Addai and Mari has the peculiarity of not containing the story of the institution, that is the synthetic narration of the Last Supper and the ad litteram repetition of the words with which Jesus transubstantiated the bread and wine into his body and his blood, thus establishing the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
In the West, since the times of Saint Ambrose, the Latin Church has identified those same expressions of Jesus (“Take and eat; this is my body....Take and drink: this is my blood...Do this in memory of me”) as the “words of consecration” to be repeated during the Eucharistic prayers in order to renew in each Mass what had happened in the Last Supper. During the passage of time, the scholastics of the 12th century, having a language bearing a strong Aristotelian tendency, have codified the thesis according to which the words of the institution repeated in the Eucharistic prayer are the essential and indispensable “form of the sacrament”, and alone cause the consecration of the bread and the wine. Such doctrine was taken up again and defined by the Council of Trent, in that historical juncture in which the Church of Rome fought against the theories which denied the dogma of the transubstantiation.
The question of the “validity”, from the Catholic point of view, of the anaphora of Addai and Mari has gained pastoral importance in the 1990s. In Iraq, shocked by the military interventions headed by Western forces, the faithful of the Chaldean Church – in communion with the Bishop of Rome – in their participation to the Eucharistic liturgies of the Assyrian Church of the East – separated from the Catholic Church - had often found their only chance to assure continuity to their own sacramental life. In that context, upon the initiative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, work was started on a guiding document for the reciprocal admission to the Eucharist between the two Churches, the Chaldean and the Assyrian. The text saw the light of day in October 2001 after having received the green light from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which on the 17 January of that same year, after a lengthy and accurate study, had recognized the anaphora of Addai and Mari as a valid prayer for Eucharistic consecration.
The extensive study of the text of the anaphora of Addai and Mari, which intensified in those years upon the input of Vatican entities, has allowed for the confirmation that in it the words of institution used by Jesus, even if not retold in a literal manner, are nonetheless recalled in numerous express references, even if indirect, to the Last Supper, to the body and blood and sacrifice of Christ and to the oblation of the Church. When they pronounced them, the celebrants of the Christian communities of Mesopotamia clearly manifested their intention of obeying Christ's command “Do this in memory of me”, by repeating that which He Himself had done. In the scientific hypothesis of some researchers – which will be discussed at the Congress at the Pontifical Gregorian University – the anaphora of Addai and Mari also represents an expression of the Eucharistic praxis of the Apostolic Church preceding the Eucharistic prayers which contain the retelling of the Last Supper and the words of institution. A sort of “first version” which held within it, in a stage which was still embryonic, the anaphoras that later on would have included as their own constitutive part the ipsissima verba said by Jesus in the Last Supper.
The Vatican pronouncement of 2011 has been received with enthusiasm by theologians and liturgists having a conciliar sensibility. “This is the most important magisterial document after the promulgation of the latest Catholic dogma, that is from 1950 when Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption”, as stated with the usual boldness by Jesuit Robert Taft, professor on the liturgy of the Oriental Churches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute. With such a decision there was the reaffirmation of the Catholic principle that theology manuals in use in the Western Churches could not be used as an instrument of retroactive measurement in order to judge the dogmatic orthodoxy of different liturgical forms and praxis which were simultaneously present in the primitive Church, on the basis of the shared apostolic faith. Moreover, there was also the concrete application of the Second Vatican Council's text by which the Church of Rome recognized in the Assyrian Church of the East and the other oriental Churches – including those with which it is not in full communion – the presence of “true sacraments and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist” (Unitatis redintegratio, no. 15).
The reaction of theological and liturgical quarters with a pre-conciliar sensibility was of a totally different nature. The Thomistic theologian Brunero Gherardini, considered as being close to the positions of traditionalists, in an article published in 2004 in the publication Divinitas, had already made appeal to the Tradition of the Church as defined by the Magisterium to recall that “it is neither given, nor is an Eucharistic celebration done, in the absence of the words with which Christ transubstantiated the bread and wine into his Body and into his Blood”. If today, the Magisterium affirmed the contrary – as the Emeritus professor of the Lateranense deducted - “it would give the impression of putting itself in contradiction with itself”. On such regard, in his argument Gherardini tended towards minimizing the authoritativeness of the 2001 Vatican document, attributing to it an exclusive inspiration and origin to the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, at that time led by Cardinal Walter Kasper.
In reality, in that occasion the validity of the Oriental anaphora was the object of a manifest and meditated consensus which was also certainly not “extorted” by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At that time, the doctrinal congregation of the Vatican was led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Together with the agreement with the Lutherans on the justification by grace, the Vatican pronouncement on the admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East continues to represent a substantial objection to those caricatures which still attribute anti-ecumenical and pre-conciliar impulses to the Pope-theologian.
americancatholicpress.org/ Father_Taft_Mass_Without_the_ Consecration.html