"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Sunday 25 January 2015


The Roman Canon as one of the most venerable witnesses of the oldest tradition of the eucharistic prayer, at least contemporary in its totality with the most archaic forms of the Alexandrian eucharist.   There is every reason to think that the succession of these prayers and their content with many key expressions go straight back to the assuredly very ancient time at which the Eucharist at Rome as everywhere else was definitively connected with the service of readings and prayers.   This is to say that Hyppolytus, far from being its originator - a man who still wished to ignore this connection, must have propagated his own rite in Rome, if he ever did so, only in a vain attempt to dislodge a rite which must have been very like the one that has come down to us and which we still use, with the exception that the language was still Greek and not Latin.

This is how Louis Bouyer ends his chapter on the Roman canon. To read the full argument you will have to read the book, "Eucharist", by Louis Bouyer, published by the University of Notre Dame.  Because he says much about the Roman canon, you will have to largely rely on my commentary, with enough quotations to demonstate the my source is the great man himself rather than my own imagination. However,  quotations from the Mass text are taken from the modern English text rather than from the book, so that readers can relate what is said to their own experience.   As in the other articles of this series, quotations are in yellow, and my commentary is in white.

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

This form of the introductory dialogue, whose first two verses and their responses are so purely Semitic, and which are found in this precise way only in Hippolytus and the Egyptian liturgy (the latter has the word "all" instead of "you"), must be considered the most primitive form that has come down to us.   Yet, it is quite meaningful that the third verse gives us the form "to the Lord our God" and not solely "to the Lord" as in Hippolytus.   We have recalled that the latter formula seem to be a survival of the primitive Eucharist which, according to the happy formula of Dom Gregory Dix, was still a private meal of the Christians through which they were completing the public Synagogue service which they still attended with the Jews.   In accordance with the Jewish use, it was suited to a meal of a small group which was less than the number required for a Synagogue congregation (the rabbis say ten).   On the other hand, the Roman formula is the one prescribed since Jewish days for an assembly equivalent to that of a synagogue.   That it was preferred is perhaps the indication that the joining of the sacred meal to the service of readings and prayers came about rather early at Rome so that the original meaning of the use of one formula rather than another was still known.

For the beginning of the eucharist, we shall quote the text of the "preface" reserved today for the Easter season:

(old version)

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ, our Lord.   We praise you with greater joy than ever at this Easter season when Christ became our paschal sacrifice'He is the true Lamb who took away the sins of the world.   By dying he destroyed our death; by rising he restored our life.And so, with all the choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise: Holy...
The preface, as we are accustomed to call it in the Roman liturgy, remains variable as we know, like the Communicantes to a certain extent, and the  Hanc Igitur itself has long displayed this trait.   [The preface is really a variable part of the eucharistic prayer.] We must say that the variability, which have been preserved integrally down to our own day in the preface (we still have a few vestiges in the Communicantes and in some Hanc Igiturs most of which have fallen into disuse), is merely a survival of the ancient improvisation....   If we remove the phrase "We praise you with greater joy..." ( which further more give the effect of an addition) from the preface just quoted, it could be perfectly appicable originally to any Sunday celebration, before having been reserved to the Easter season.

There follows a highly detailed commentary on this wonderful eucharistic prayer with its roots in Jewish prayer.  I can only urge you to get  "Eucharist" and read it for yourself.

Meanwhile, we shall have to make do with my commentary, taken from my book "The Royal Road to Joy".

The Roman Canon is focused on heaven, where Christ is,   This is a particularly Christian orientation.  As in the Letter to the Hebrews, we approach the heavenly Jerusalem; as in the Apocalypse, we see a door by which we can enter heaven. Later, in the words of Hebrews, we share pass through the veil, which is the flesh of Christ, into the presence of the Father.  The Roman Canon looks ever upwards: there is no reference to the Holy Spirit coming down to transform the bread and wine, no remembering of the Second Coming. In the recitation of the words of institution, Jesus 'looking up to heaven' takes the bread, and, later, in a prayer that might well be one of the oldest in any liturgy, God is asked that his angel may take the bread and wine up to the heavenly altar so that we may receive his body and blood from this altar.

The canon is in two parts, before and after the words of institution.   The first part asks God to bless our gifts and is then dedicated to prayers for the living. A list of saints is given both before and after the anamnesis of the Last Supper, but there is a subtle difference between them.   The list before the words of institution notes the fact that this assembly is the Church of the apostles and martyrs and thus can benefit from their prayers.   The words of institution seem to be a launching pad for heaven because, in the second part which begins with Christ's journey upward through death, resurrection and ascension to the Father's presence, there is the request that our offerings, the bread and wine, may be carried into the Father's presence by an angel, as we have already indicated, there are prayers for "those who have gone before us," and this is immediately followed by another list of saints, but the accent here is on actually sharing in their fellowship.  The climax of the whole prayer, that which sums up everything that has been said, is the doxology, "Through him, with him, and in him, O God, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, for ever and ever."   I suggest that in this doxology, in this upward movement towards the Father, the consecratory role of the Holy Spirit is implicitly stated in a way that is in keeping with the whole canon.

We now continue with the word  of Fr Louis Bouyer.

Along the way, the Consilium naturally came across those pseudo-critical interpretations of the Roman canon which tended either to cast it aside all together or to refashion it fancifully...and the Consilium rightly refused to involve itself in such dead-end solutions.   On the other hand, it devoted itself to resoring to the initial act of thanksgiving in the Prefaces, all its fulness and substantial richness.  It was therefore resolved to discard the common preface which, as we have said, is merely a framework emptied of its essential content: the theme of thanksgiving.   For it, the Consilium has substituted either other proper prefaces added to those already in use or a variety of common prefaces, all of which contain an explicit glorification of the work of creation and the history of salvation.   These prefaces have brought back into use, with at times some modifications and adaptations, everything that is most substantial in the treasury of the old sacramentaries. And possibly the new compositions that have been added will not appear unworthy beside their ancient neighbours.....

If we add to this necessary reform the new (or ancient!) Communicantes and Hanc Igiturs which will re-establish in the Roman canon, along with the fulness of the commemoration of the magnalia Dei, a newly diversified expression of the Church presenting to the Father the unique sacrifice of the eternal Son, there is reason to hope that we shall again grasp all of the imperishable beauty of the jewel of the eucharistic tradition of the West that is the Roman Canon.   Moreover, alongside this restoration of the Roman canon, we must rejoice in the intention to enrich the modern Latin liturgy with complementary examples from the riches of Catholic Tradition.   At the same time, the goal has been to revive among the faithful the plenary sense of the eucharist, by proposing to them  formularies that are as explicit and as directly accessible as possible in their structure and their language.

If you have read the whole series on the eucharistic prayers, you will see how traditional they are.

One thing you may notice is the way Father Bouyer makes comparisons between Roman and Egyptian  rites.  He even suggests that many of the converts in apostolic Rome were Jews from Alexandria!  Perhaps because of sea routes, but there was a constant mutual influence between Rome and Alexandria, beginning with St Mark who is connected with both cities; and, of course, monasticism came from Egypt. We had a post on Celtic spirituality which expresses an Orthodox myth that, somehow or other, the Celtic church was different from Rome, more Eastern in type, because of its close connection with Egypt.   May I suggest that there was a close connection between western Christianity and Egypt, closer in the early years than with Constantinople. In this, the Celtic church is an obvious but not unique example.

   Great care was taken by the post-Vatican II Consilium, at least by the liturgists,  to be as faithful to Catholic Tradition.   In fact the whole project was to bring the ordinary Catholic faithful into contact with a living tradition that is wider and deeper than that which was possible before the Council.  Great pains were taken to bring into use texts that been dropped during the course of history, to restore the different aspects of the liturgy that had become petrified or smothered with liturgical weeds.   There was constant use of what Pope Benedict later called the "hermeneutic of continuity", reaching back to discover discontinuities in order to heal them by digging deeper or putting them in a wider context.   Bouyer and company used the hermeneutic of continuity, not only to form a liturgy in continuation with the past, but in an effort to seek continuity across the different strands of eucharistic Tradition in the contemporary world.   For these reasons, against the charges of the so-called conservatives, I wish to assert that the post-Vatican II rite is a truly Catholic, truly traditional project, at least at the level of texts. 

Nevertheless, we know that something went wrong.   It wasn't the new texts which reflect their concerns; but something happened which made the ressourcement theologians like de Lubac, von Balthazar, Ratzinger and Bouyer, all of whom were advocates of liturgical change, to be thoroughly dissatisfied with the results.   Also, where goes the reform of the reform?  All this and more, next week.

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