Saturday, August 13, 2005

Modern Lutheran "Eucharistic Prayers" (sort of)

As Chris Jones has pointed out, my account of the Eucharistic prayer in the post below was very, very oversimplified. (I've slightly remedied that in an updated version.) By the Reformation, the prayers in the canon (“official rule”) in the Roman Catholic liturgy between the Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy”) and the Words of Institution, at which the consecration of the elements takes place, were quite long, and focused on the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead. (The full text and actions of the Tridentine Mass, which is post-Luther, but gives you the idea, is here, a walk-through starting with the Preface, i.e. beginning at “The Lord be with you,” is here.)

When Luther reformed the liturgy, he retained the Preface, Sanctus, and Benedictus (“Blessed is He who comes . . .") but eliminated the canon of the Mass entirely, leaving only the Words of Institution.

Later Lutheran hymnals have, however, restored something in the place of the Canon, although of course, very different in content. Here are three from Lutheran Worship (the LCMS's current hymnal):

That in Divine Service III (roughly designed on the pattern of Luther’s 1526 German Mass), is an admonition, not a prayer:

I exhort you in Christ that you give attention to the Testament of Christ in true faith, and above all to take to heart the words with which Christ presents His body and blood to us in forgiveness; that you take note of and give thanks for the boundless love that He showed us when He saved us from the wrath of God, sin, death, and hell by His blood; and that you then externally receive the bread and wine, that is, His body and blood, as a guarantee and pledge. Let us then in His name, according to His command, and with His own words administer and receive the testament.

Then follows the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution, Sanctus, and distribution.

Divine Service I is basically a slight modernization of the liturgy of the LCMS’s famous “red hymnal," The Lutheran Hymnal (famous because every old Missouri Synod Lutheran grew up on it. For converts like me it’s just folklore):

Lord of heaven and earth, we praise and thank you for having had mercy on those whom you created, sending your only begotten Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior. With repentant joy we receive the salvation accomplish for us by the all-availing sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross.

Gathered in the name and remembrance of Jesus, we beg you, O Lord, to forgive, renew, and strengthen us with your Word and Spirit. Grant us faithfully to eat His body and drink His blood as He bids us to do in His testament. Hear us as we pray in His name and as He has taught us.

Then follows the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution, Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”), and distribution.

Finally Divine Service II is the most recent and strongly influenced by the rediscovery of the ancient ante-Nicene liturgies, as well as Vatican II's modernization of language (“and with your spirit” turns to “and also with you,” etc.) The influence of the scholarly re-discovery of the ante-Nicene language and spirit is especially strong in the "Eucharistic prayer":

Blessed are you, Lord of heaven and earth, for you have had mercy on us children of men and given your only-begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. We give you thanks for the redemption you have prepared for us through Jesus Christ. Send your Holy Spirit into our hearts that He may establish in us a living faith and prepare us joyfully to remember our Redeemer and receive Him who comes to us in His body and blood.

Then follows the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution, Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”), and distribution.

Perhaps it is because this last prayer is what is used in Faith Lutheran, but I find it much superior to the other two, in the lack of defensiveness (it is no longer has the air of a clenched-teeth “Make sure they understand it in a Lutheran way!”), in the accent on the church being in the presence of the Christ, and in the emphasis on joyful liberation from bondage (eternal life, redemption, Redeemer). The call for the Holy Spirit to descend not on the elements, but on the church to prepare and unify her and bring fitly her into the presence of God is a conscious reflection of Hippolytus's prayer, which after the words of institution concludes (Dix's translation, Shape of the Liturgy, p. 158):

Now therefore doing the 'anamnesis' [remembrance] of His death and resurrection, we offer to Thee the bread and cup, making eucharist/thanksgiving to Thee because Thou hast made us worthy to stand before Thee and minister as priests to Thee. And we pray Thee that Thou wouldst grant to all who partake to be made one, that they may be fulfilled with the Holy Spirit for the confirmation of their faith in truth; that we may praise and glorify Thee through Thy Servant Jesus Christ, through Whom honour and glory be unto Thee with the Holy Spirit in Thy holy church, now and forever and world without end.

Originally posted at Here We Stand

UPDATE I: As Bill Tighe (see the comments thread at Here We Stand) points out the prayer in one Divine Service II was first composed for the 1942 Church of Sweden liturgy.

UPDATE II: As Chris Jones points out, the extant texts of Hippolytus's prayer actually have an epiclesis, calling on the Holy Spirit to descend on the elements and transform them into the body and blood of Christ. Dix argued that this was an interpollation, added in the fourth century after such a theology became de rigeur, due to the influence of Cyril of Jerusalem and Syria generally. Other dispute this and contend rather that only the African (Tunisia, Algeria) liturgies didn't have an epiclesis. For my part, I can't see why if the ante-Nicene liturgy did have an epiclesis the Roman church, notoriously conservative in liturgy, would not have kept it in full vigor, as the true moment of consecration. Dix's hypothesis, that they added an epiclesis in vestigial form in the fourth century as a concession to fashion, but didn't like it and so stubbornly held to their Roman-African emphasis on the words of institution as the moment of consecration, seems much more plausible. But it seems to be a point on which scholarship is divided.