[For the next four days, I will be reprinting in its full length a Facebook post from a Dominican novice, Anthony J. J. Mathison. I’ve done some minor detail work — replacing straight quotation marks with “smart quotes”, justification of the margins, inclusion of links, etc. — broken it into four subtitled sections because of the length (over 5,300 words), and broken long paragraphs into two or three for easier reading. In all other respects, the essay is just as it appeared in Facebook. I’ll reserve my own comments until Friday; I’ll also turn the combox off until the final post.]
The “Organic Development”
More sophisticated critics of the reform rest most of their arguments on the question of the “organic development” of the Roman Liturgy. Their contention, more or less, is that the changes made by Ven. Paul VI were too abrupt, drastic, and different from the EF to be justified. They quote both Ven. Pius XII in this matter (see above) as well as Vatican II itself, which mandated that no changes be made unless it is for the good of the Church and that such changes come organically from forms that already exist.
While it is quite true that liturgy is an organic thing (in that it grows under the guidance of the Church), there is false understanding running around lately that suggests that the organic development aspect is far more “powerful” or authoritative than it really is. Let us remember that not everything that develops organically is good. Barnacles, parasites, pathogen-borne illnesses, and genetic deviations are all natural organic developments; yet they often cause malaise or even death in the organisms to whom they attach themselves.
Vatican II understood this and openly noted that many things that had “organically developed” in the Roman Rite were simply unnecessary and even detrimental. That was a decision of the Church solemnly convened in Ecumenical Council; we must remind ourselves of this. We must also remember that the judge of what is “organic” (not to mention the interpretation and implementation of Ecumenical Councils in general) is the Magisterium: the Pope and the Bishops. Theologians and liturgists can assist the Magisterium in its work, but the latter alone has both the authority and prerogative to determine how the reforms are carried out.
Despite this, these same critics (many of them theologians and liturgists, sadly) continue their objections by pointing out what appear to be two glaring “inorganic” developments: more than one anaphora, and the new offertory prayers. Indeed, these two changes are the only ones that lacked prior Roman liturgical antecedents. In the Church’s wisdom however, she decided that their addition was both needed and laudatory. I will begin showing this by talking a little about the original Roman Canon and the new Eucharistic Prayers.
The Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) is, obviously, the most cherished and well-suited anaphora of the Roman Rite. It is my personal favorite, and I believe it should have pride-of-place among all Roman anaphoras. Its ancient character is why it was painstakingly defended and preserved during the liturgical reforms; indeed, very few members of the Consilium seriously considered tampering with this venerable anaphora.
That being said, the Roman Canon is a confusing amalgamation of various Coptic, Antiochene, and Roman prayers (among others) that were implemented into the Roman Liturgy during the period after St. Hippolytus to St. Gregory the Great. Aside from the attempts to mystically explain the disjointed nature of the anaphora in the Middle Ages, it was the almost unanimous opinion of liturgical scholars that the Roman Canon had severe issues with liturgical flow and cohesiveness. That is an inescapable reality, even for those who love the Roman Canon (like myself).
Here in passing we might also note that the very disjointed nature of the Roman Canon is, again, the product of quite “inorganic” developments during the documentary darkness of the 4th and 5th centuries. It is obvious that non-Roman prayers were truncated and even (if you will) mutilated to fit into the nascent Roman Canon, and that this venerable prayer is, itself, a testimony against those who use objections to the OF regarding its “organic continuity”. But I digress.
Eucharistic Prayers (Anaphoras) II, III & IV
To deal with the liturgical problems of the Roman Canon, the Church composed new anaphoras for the Roman Rite. They did not however pull these compositions out of the air; on the contrary, they were based on the now well-understood principles of Christian euchologies deriving from ancient times. To demonstrate this, I will comment on the three other most commonly used anaphoras: II through IV.
Eucharistic Prayer II is based/rooted in the anaphora of Antipope St. Hippolytus of Rome, who gives us some of the earliest prayers of the Roman Rite and the Early Church in general. It is however not completely identical with St. Hippolytus’ prayer, but it can be identified with him loosely (a lá the Eastern customs). It is very short and best suited for ferial day Masses.
Eucharistic Prayer III is a reformulation of the Roman Canon in view of making it flow more smoothly. Nevertheless, it incorporates a tiny amount of non-Roman flavors so as to emphasize theological truths absent in the traditional Roman Canon (e.g., the role of the Holy Spirit). By being rooted deeply in the Roman Canon, it contains deeply “sacrificial” terminology and themes.
Finally, Eucharistic Prayer IV could well be called the “Roman Anaphora of St. Basil”. The anaphora of St. Basil, originally an Antiochene-based formula, was very popular in the Early Church. It was adopted by the Byzantines and Copts for example, but was then altered to fit their tastes. Thus there is a “Byzantine Anaphora of St. Basil” and an “Alexandrian Anaphora of St. Basil”. In keeping with the wishes of the Consilium, the Alexandrian anaphora of St. Basil was chosen to be a template, of sorts, for the third new Eucharistic Prayer of the reformed Roman Rite. It was, however, greatly Latinized in order to suit the unique genius of the Roman tradition and, therefore, maintains both its Cappadocian, Antiochene core but with a deeply Roman identity.
Thus the “new” Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite are, in fact, not truly new. They draw on some of the richest and most ancient traditions of both the Roman and non-Roman Eucharistic traditions.
The “New” Offertory Prayers
Moving on to the new offertory prayers, we should note that they are based almost entirely on the Jewish table blessing prayers used in the synagogue. What, indeed, could be more “traditional” than this? Our Lord Himself likely prayed these prayers at the Last Supper before instituting the Holy Eucharist. They refer, very simply, to the bread and wine as the elements that they are, pre-consecration. The “new” prayers allow the celebrant to offer the elements to God via a benediction-based formula (much like the Jewish berachot).
This is important because the old offertory prayers were somewhat problematic. They consistently and confusingly referred to the bread and wine as if they were already quasi-consecrated. While it is true that in some liturgies (for example, the Byzantine) the unconsecrated gifts are spoken of as Christ occasionally (and in a clearly mystical way), the medieval Roman offertory prayers of the old rite went far beyond the pale in their consistent reference to the bread and wine as a “sacrifice”. This was noted even in the Middle Ages and was problematic for many theologians (as Fr. Jungmann showed in his final book). Furthermore, there was no offertory prayer in the ancient Roman Rite from the beginning. Only the “secret” prayer was prayed over the offerings, and it never referred to them as Christ.
This problem has been corrected in OF since the “new” offertory prayers recognize clearly that the pre-consecrated gifts are merely bread and wine. Meanwhile, the main offertory prayer, as in the ancient Roman Rite, is given the place of prominence (even to the point of being prayed aloud!) as the “Prayer Over the Gifts” — a direct liturgical development from the old “secret” prayer.
© 2014 Anthony J. J. Mathison. Reprinted by permission.