Q: Fr Paul, I always enjoy the questions and your studied, professional and compassionate guidance, my friend. A recent post brought up a question and ritual and/or rubric difference (maybe?) between the Roman rite and so-called Eastern rites, especially when it comes to the the theology of the “eucharistic prayer”. First, I was surprised at the question of the Priest praying over the elements the “words of institution”. This has been done by roman rite priests for ever or maybe I’m old. LOL. I was not aware it was not a rubric anymore or “the priest may do”. Honestly it’s preferable to the priest smiling and waving the elements at us as he says the “words”. Again, showing my age. To my question. The eastern rites (and that is most I know) emphasize the entire prayer, especially the epiclesis or calling down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts to “change” them and then blessing the gifts by the sign of the cross and pointing, but not touching them, as the words of institution are sung. (When there is a deacon he is actually pointing with his stole). So in the roman rite if there is not a praying/speaking the words directly over the gifts are we then not essentially praying as the eastern churches? If this is the case so many other understandings of the sacraments in the roman rite come up. But too much for the post. If you have written about this in one of your books I’m ready for the link to order. Thanks again.
A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal assigns titles to the various sections of a eucharistic prayer. These include one called “The Institution narrative and Consecration.” The Roman Rite considers that the consecration happens when the priest repeats the words of Jesus Christ instituting the eucharist. You can tell by the vocabulary of the eucharistic prayer, as well as the gestures that accompany these words.
I share your understanding that the Eastern Rites consider the entire prayer consecratory, and if they had to point to a moment of consecration, they’d name the epiclesis.
I’ve treated some of this in my book At the Supper of the Lamb when I offer a commentary on Eucharistic Prayer IV. The Roman Canon had no explicit epiclesis. All the new eucharistic prayers have a clear one, but in a different place than those in the Eastern Rites. In general, the Eastern Rites consider the institution narrative as part of the thanksgiving, followed by an epiclesis. Having recalled what Jesus did at the Last Supper, the priest essentially asks that the Holy Spirit effect the same mystery today.
But the Roman tradition—probably because of the absence of an explicit epiclesis—formed around the belief that the words of Jesus were the words of consecration. Those who revised the Order of Mass wanted to include an epiclesis in every eucharistic prayer, but they thought it didn’t make sense to ask the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ after the consecration had already taken place. So we have the epiclesis earlier in these prayers than the East does.
We pray a bit differently, East and West, but the results are the same. Something wondrous. The real presence of Christ among us, who comes as food and drink.