American Catholic Press
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Robert F. Taft, S.J.
My deliberately provocative title, “Mass without the Consecration?,” l owe to a high-ranking Catholic prelate who, upon hearing of the epoch-making decree of the Holy See recognizing the validity of the eucharistic sacrifice celebrated according to the original redaction of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, without the words of institution—exclaimed in perplexity: “But how can there be Mass without the consecration?” The answer, of course, is that there cannot be. But that does not solve the problem; it just shifts the question to “What, then, is the consecration, if not the traditional institution narrative which all three Synoptic Gospels2and 1 Cor 11:23-26 attribute to Jesus?”
The October 26, 2001 Agreement
Let us look at what this audacious agreement says, how it came about, and what made its approval possible. The text, entitled “Guidelines for Admission to the Eucharist Between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East,” was promulgated on October 26, 2001 but bears the date of its approval, July 20, 2001. I consider this the most remarkable Catholic magisterial document since Vatican II. The purpose of this mutual agreement is pastoral: to ensure that the faithful of two sister Churches that spring from the same ancient apostolic tradition not be deprived of the Bread of Life through the unavailability of a minister of their own Church. But pastoral in the context of two sister Churches means also common, i.e., mutual: what kind of an agreement can be called an agreement if it is one-sided?
With that context in mind, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity subjected the question to the study of experts. A preparatory document dated May 23, 1998, entitled ‘pastoral and the Catholic Church,” was prepared, proposing that the Catholic Church recognize the validity of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari and giving the reasons why. This extraordinarily well-formulated document was then circulated among Catholic scholars deemed expert in the field. It was sent to twenty-six, I was told, an unusually large number. This was only prudent, considering the enormous significance and audacity of what was being proposed: a decision that would, in effect, overturn the centuries old clichés of Catholic manual theology concerning the eucharistic consecration. I received copy of the working paper from the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, of which I am a consultor for liturgy, accompanied by a letter of May 28, 1998, signed by the then Prefect, His Eminence Achille Cardinal Silvestrini, and Subsecretary Msgr. Claudio Gugerotti.
The document discussed the pastoral and ecumenical context, as well as what it calls the dogmatic question concerning the validity of Addai and Mari, a question, the document reveals, that in three letters from 1994-1997, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had repeatedly insisted needed further investigation. This dogmatic question is the focus of my interest here. The document takes a forthright and courageous stand in favor of recognizing the validity of Addai and Mari, arguing, inter alia, from the apostolicity of the East-Syrian tradition and from Addai and Mari itself; placing its lack of an institution narrative in the context of the history of the Eucharistic Prayer, as well as in relation to the Assyrian eucharistic tradition concerning the institution narrative as reflected in the other two East Syrian anaphoras which do have the institution.
The argumentation, fully au courant theologically
and liturgically, can be summed up as follows:
The final document sums up the doctrinal decision as follows:
In the first place, the Anaphora of Addai and Mari is one of the most ancient Anaphoras, dating back to the time of (See below at notes 10-20. 16 Bulletin / Centro Pro Unione N. 63 / Spring 2002.) the very early Church; it was composed and used with the clear intention of celebrating the Eucharist in full continuity with the Last Supper and according to the intention of the Church; its validity was never officially contested, neither in the Christian East nor in the Christian West.These three paragraphs reflect the progress in Catholic liturgical scholarship and ecumenical thinking that provided the historical and theological basis for such an agreement.
So ecumenical scholarship seeks not confrontation but agreement and understanding. It strives to enter into the other’s point of view, to understand it insofar as possible with sympathy and agreement. It is a contest in reverse, a contest of love, one in which the parties seek to understand and justify not their own point of view, but that of their interlocutor. Such an effort and method, far from being baseless romanticism, is rooted in generally accepted evangelical and Catholic theological principles:
If we bear all these principles in mind, it should be immediately obvious that the Catholic Church could not but seek a positive solution to the perceived problem of the validity of Addai and Mari. From an historical and ecumenical point of view, on what legitimate theological and ecclesiological basis could Rome argue that an apostolic Church whose urancient, principal Anaphora had been in continuous use since time immemorial without ever being condemned by anyone, not by any Father of the Church, nor by any local or provincial synod, nor by Ecumenical Council nor catholicos nor patriarch nor pope—on what basis would one dare to infer, even implicitly, that such an ancient apostolic Church did not and had never had a valid eucharistic sacrifice? This is not mere rhetoric—it is declension: the implications of such a negative verdict would be staggering.
A Missing Institution Narrative?
But already half a century ago in Catholic scholarship, rumblings began to be heard against such arguments, which Alphonse Res, S.J. (1896-1983), labeled an “apriorisme” and “insuffisantes.”7 Contemporary scholarship also completely rejects such an approach, and has no patience with theories based on suppositions of what must or must not have been. Today’s scholar starts with what is, and attempts to explain it—not explain it away. So scholarly opinion tends to respect a text as it is, and presumes that to be its pristine form until the contrary is proven.8 This prejudice in favor of the text is reinforced, in the case of Addai and Mari, by the unanimity of the manuscript tradition: not a single witness to this Anaphora contains the institution account. Had the institution narrative once been part of the text only to be excised at a later date, it is unlikely that there would be not one single manuscript witness to the earlier redaction, nor any other reminiscence of the matter in the literature of the tradition. That silence would hardly have been possible in the light of the importance the classical East Syrian liturgical commentators give to the institution narrative in their eucharistic theology.9
Furthermore, although theories on the origins and evolution of the pristine Anaphora remain in flux, one point of growing agreement among representative scholars, Catholic and non, is that the institution narrative is a later embolism—i.e., interpolation—into the earliest Eucharistic Prayers. For pace Renaudot’s mistaken assertion, not only Addai and Mari but several other early Eucharistic Prayers do, in fact, lack these words.10 Those generally listed include: the 1/2nd century Didache 910l1 and the dependent Apostolic Constitutions (ca. 380) VII, 25: 14;12 the 2/3rd century apociyphal Acts of John 85- 86, 109-110 and Acts of Thomas 27, 49-50, 133, 158;13 the Martyrdom of Polycaip (t167) 14;’ the 4/5th century Papjc Strasbourg Gr. 254;15 the Eucharistic Prayer on two 7/8th century Coptic Ostraca, British Library Nr. 32799 and Nr. 33 O5O; 16and the Ethiopic Anaphora of the Apostles, as Gabriele Winkler has recently demonstrated.17 Furthermore, it seems probable that ca. 150, Justin Martyr’s Eucharistic Prayer did not have them either.18 In addition, Cyrille Vogel lists six eucharistic prayers in the apocrypha without any trace of an institution narrative,19 and at least twenty-one later Syriac anaphoras either lack the words of institution completely (8 anaphoras) or partly (4), or give them in a form considered defective (9)—e.g., in indirect discourse.20
Already in 1928, Anglican liturgical scholar Edward C. Ratciff challenged the notion that Addai and Mari once had the institution narrative,21 and later (1950) argued that the Sanctus was the conclusion to the primitive Anaphoras,22 a possibility raised earlier (1938) by the great German Benedictine orientalist and comparative liturgiologist Hieronymus Engberding, who had proposed that the presanctus of the text behind the Greek Anaphora of St John Chrysostom and the related Syriac Anaphora of the Apostles was once a complete Eucharistic Prayer?23 Other authors like the French Jesuit Louis Ligier, professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and Gregorian University in Rome, resumed and developed this idea. In Ligier’s hypothesis, the institution/anamnesis block in the Anaphora would be a later embolism framed by the general thanksgiving audits common concluding acclamation “In all and for all we hymn you, we bless you, we thank you, and we pray to you, Our God.”24 The Sanctus, in turn, would be a still later enrichment of this structure.25 Gabriele Winkler of Tübingen has carried this research further, proposing that the Sanctus was present from the beginning in such ancient Anaphoras as Urbasil26 and the Syriac (Addai and Mari) and Ethiopic Anaphoras. Neither of the latter two, however, originally had an institution narrative.27 Finally, present expert opinion on the Apostolic Tradition holds that the institution and anamnesis/oblation may have been added to its Anaphora later, not earlier than the 4th century.28 So there is not a single extant pre-Nicene Eucharistic Prayer that one can prove contained the words of institution; and today many scholars maintain that the most primitive, original Eucharistic Prayers were short, self-contained benedictions without institution narrative or epiclesis, comparable to the Didache 10 and the papyrus Strasbourg 254.29
All this shows that scholarship on the Eucharistic Prayer has been rich and intensive for a generation, and even if some remain skeptical of one or another hypothesis or conclusions,30 there is consensus on at least one point: I know of not one single reputable contemporary scholar on the topic, Catholic or non, who would hold it as certain that the words of institution were an integral part of the earliest Eucharistic Prayers over the gifts. Jesuit Cesare Giraudo, one of the major figures in the area by anyone’s criteria, calls it “una questione aperta” whether the original Eucharist included Jesus’ words.31
Anthony Gelston, summing up the contemporary consensus, notes the not inconsiderable evidence that the wording of the Christian Eucharistic Prayer remained far from fixed until at least the beginning of the third century. There is no hint of a tradition that the actual content of Jesus’ thanksgiving at the Last Supper was remembered, transmitted, and repeated at the celebration of the Eucharist. What was done in remembrance of Jesus was the offering of thanks, but not according to a fixed formula.32
Interpreting the Tradition: (Theologia prima—Theologia
Now although it is perfectly obvious, indeed necessary, that doctrine will acquire theological refinements, especially in the heat of dogmatic controversy, it should be equally obvious that such refinements cannot be read back into texts composed long before the problems arose which led to those precisions. To pounce upon ancient anaphoral texts and exploit them tendentiously in today’s theological controversies is an anachronistic procedure devoid of any legitimacy.
If we turn now to the pristine Latin theologia prima as expressed in the ancient Roman Canon Missae, we find a movement which, far from justifying a hylomorphic scholastic theologia secunda, fits better with the pre-scholastic theology of the Latin Fathers. Less smooth and unified in its redactional structure than the Antiochene Anaphoral type, the Roman Canon does not first recite the institution narrative, then elucidate its meaning. Rather, it imbeds Jesus’ words in a series of discrete prayers for the sanctification and acceptance of the oblation (which, theologically, are of course the same thing), Now some of these prayers even before the words of institution speak of the species in terms that can only refer to the Body and Blood of Christ as if the gifts were already consecrated, and, conversely, after the words of institution speak in a way that could seem to imply the gifts are not yet consecrated.
Only the wooden-headed literalist totally innocent of the proleptic and and reflexive nature of liturgical discourse could find anything surprising about this. Such seeming contradictions—and similar apparent contradictions can be found in the Fathers of the Church who comment on the Eucharistic Prayer—result from the fact that before the Middle Ages no one tried to identify a “moment of consecration” apart from the anaphoral prayer over the gifts in its entirety.
In his De officiis ecclesiae I, 15, St. Isidore (ca. 560-†636), bishop of Seville from 600-636, says that the consecration occurs in the canon, which he calls the “sixth prayer” of the “ordo of the mass and prayers by which the sacrifices offered to God are consecrated.33 From the context it is clear that he is referring to the entire section of the Anaphora following the preface that extends from the Sanctus to the Our Father inclusive—the entire text in Appendix I below:
Then [comes] the sixth prayer [of the Eucharist], from which results the formation of the sacrament as an oblation that is offered to God, sanctified through the Holy Spirit; formed into the body and blood of Christ The last of these is the prayer by which our Lord instructed his disciples to pray, saying; “Our Father who art in heaven.” 34
St. Isidore is usually considered the “last of the Latin Fathers,” so right through to the end of the patristic period the view was current in Latin theology,  that the eucharistic consecration was the work of the Holy Spirit;  and that the prayer which effected it was the Canon or Anaphora without further specifying one of its component parts as the “form” of the sacrament or the “moment of consecration.” St. Fulgentius of Ruspe (ca. 468-t533) 35 and numerous other pre-scholastic Latin authors teach the same doctrine. 36
Nor is this view substantially different from that of the early medieval Latin commentators. Peter Lombard (ca. 1095-ti 160), speaking of the Supplices (Roman Canon §6 in Appendix I below), says in his Sentences 1V, 13: “It is called ‘Missa’ that the heavenly messenger might come to consecrate the life-giving body, according to the expression of the priest: ‘Almighty God, bid that this be borne by the hand of your holy angel to your altar on high...” 37
Even more explicitly, shortly after A.D. 1215, John Teutonicus’ comment on the same prayer says: “Bid,’ that is: make. ‘Be borne,’ that is: be transubstantiated Or: ‘be borne,’ that is, be assumed, that is: be changed..” The inclusion of this text in the Glossa or dinaria ad Decretum Gratiani, shows how common and acceptable such a view must have been. Note, please, that these authoritative medieval Latin commentators are speaking about a consecratory prayer said after the words of institution in the Roman Canon (Appendix I below, §6).38
In modern times no less an authority on the Roman Eucharist than the great Joseph A. Jungmann, S.J., sums up the original tradition of the undivided Church as follows: “In general Christian antiquity, even until way into the Middle Ages, manifested no particular interest regarding the determination of the precise moment of the consecration. Often reference was made merely to the entire Eucharistic Prayer.”39
Already in the 17th century, the famous Bossuet (1627-1704) raised his voice in favor of a similar sanity. He says:
The intent of liturgies, and, in general, of consecratoty prayers, is not to focus our attention on precise moments, but to have us attend to the action in its entirety and to its complete effect. It is to render more what is being done that the Church speaks at each moment as though it were accomplishing the entire action then and there, without asking whether the action has already been accomplished or is perhaps still to be accomplished.40
Dom Charles Chardor, O.S.B., in his Histoire des sacrements (Paris 1745), expressed a similarly balanced view:
Despite this diversity [over the form or moment of consecration] there was formerly no dispute over this subject. The Greeks and Latins were convinced that the species [of bread and wine] were changed into the body and blood of our Savior in virtue of the words of the Canon of the Mass, without examining the precise moment at which this change occurred, nor just which of the words [of the Anaphora] effected it as over against other [words]. One side said the change was effected by the prayer and invocation of the priest; the others said that it was the result of the words of Our Lord when he instituted this August sacrament. And they in no way believed that these different ways of expressing themselves were opposed to each other (and indeed they are not, as would be easy to show). But we shall leave that to the theologians to treat...41
Later Scholasticism vs. the Earlier Tradition
...that new opinion proposed by schismatic men which teaches that the form by which this lifegiving...sacrament is accomplished consists not in the words of Jesus Christ alone which both Latin and Greek priests use in the consecration, but that for the perfect and complete consecration, there should be added that formula of prayers which among us [Latin's] precede the above-mentioned words [of Jesus], but in your [Byzantine] liturgy follow them...43
I will leave to the dogmaticians what “theological note” they wish to assign this exclusively Latin teaching, construed in its narrowest popular understanding that the verba Domini, they alone, and nothing else, are the so-called “words of consecration” of the mass. Suffice it to say that what His Holiness is pleased to call a”new opinion” was taught explicitly from the 4th century saints and Fathers of the undivided Church like St. Cyril/John II of Jerusalem (post 380),44 St. John Chiysostom (ca. 340/50- †407),45 and St. John Damascene (ca. 65O/75-†753/4)46 in the East, along with St. Isidore of Seville (ca. 560-t636) in the West.47 Since all these sainted gentlemen are venerated in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, to be consistent we must apply here the old adage “let the rule of prayer determine the rule of faith (lex orandi legem statuat credendi).”
As for the Decretum pro Armeniis, it certainly does not recommend itself by the fact that it also proclaims the traditio instrumentorum to be the sacramental matter of holy orders (Dz §1326), a teaching not only no longer held today (Dz §§3858- 3860), but one that even in its own day was flatly false, contradicting the clear facts of liturgical history. More important, it also departed from and contradicted age-old Catholic teaching, which had never impugned the validity of ordination rites of Churches with no traditio instrumentorum like that of the Latins. So one must either reject that decree; or, if your theory of magisterium obliges you to squirm to salvage it by arguing that it envisaged only the medieval Latin ordination rite in which the traditio had assumed a significant place, then intellectual honesty would require saying the same for its teaching on the words of institution. For the decree assigns them an exclusive importance they had assumed only in the Latin West. More significant for me is the fact that the decree sanctions a culturally and temporally conditioned medieval, scholastic theology of the sacraments that can in no wise claim to be traditional to the teaching of the undivided Church. Here we are talking not about magisterial teaching but the undeniable facts of history available to anyone able to read Latin and Greek.
The Entire Eucharistic Prayer as Formula of Consecration
The most recent study by Dom Burkhard Neunheuser, O.S.B., monk of Maria Laach and professor emeritus of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute Sant’Anselmo in Rome, furnishes not only the most explicit and emphatic justification of this return to the original tradition of the undivided Church, but does so with full respect for traditional Catholic teaching on the centrality of the words of institution within the anaphoral context.50 As Neunheuser is careful to point out, this renewal is already found reflected in official Catholic texts in the aftermath of Vatican II. The November 18, 1969 Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani §54, concerning the reformed Roman Missal, says of the eucharistic prayer: “Now begins the summit and center of the whole celebration, namely the Eucharistic Prayer itself; that is, the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification...”51 “Sanctification” of course means in this context “eucharistic consecration.” And although Paul VI continues to use the outdated scholastic terminology of matter and form of the sacrament in his June 18, 1968 Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani recognitio, he does so in a broad, non-scholastic context: the “matter?’ of the sacrament is the imposition of hands;52 “the form consists in the words of the very prayer of consecration,”53 and not some isolated formula within it This broader vision is also reflected in how the new Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Anaphora: “with the Eucharistic Prayer, the prayer, namely, of thanksgiving and consecration, we come to the heart and culmination of the celebration.”54
This renewal found ecumenical agreement in Part I no.6 of the July
1982 Munich Statement of the Orthodox-Catholic Joint Commission for
Theological Dialogue: “...the Eucharistic mystery is accomplished
in the prayer which joins together the words by which the word made
flesh instituted the sacrament and the epiclesis in which the Church,
moved by faith, entreats the Father, through the Son, to send the
Spirit. . . ”55
This view that the prayer of consecration is the entire core of the Anaphora, not just some segment of it set apart as an isolated “formula,” is, I think, more faithful to the earlier common tradition of the undivided Church. Several patristic texts lend themselves to this interpretation, using the term “epiclesis” for the whole prayer over the gifts. Among the earliest 2 century witnesses to the Eucharist in the period following the New Testament; Justin’s, Apology, 65-67, written ca. AD 150, testifies to a prayer over the gifts. After that prayer, the gifts were no longer “ordinary food or ordinary drink but... flesh and blood of that same Jesus who was made flesh” (I, 66).57 From the same period (ca. 185), Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 1V, 18.5, calls this consecration prayer “the invocation (ten epiklesin) of God.”58 And although Cyril/John II of Jerusalem, Mystagogic Catechesis (post 380)3, 3 and 5, 7, also uses the term epiclesis in its present; restricted sense,59 in another passage, Mystagogic Catechesis 1, 7, the word is usually interpreted as referring to the entire Anaphora: “Before the holy epiclesis of the adorable Trinity the bread and wine of the Eucharist was ordinary bread and wine, whereas after the epiclesis the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ.”60 That; in my view, should suffice for a common profession of our faith in the eucharistic consecration. The rest can be left to theology.
The Words of Institution as Consecratory
That more narrow view is not the authentic tradition of the Fathers of the Church. St. John Chrysostom(ca. 340/50-†407), for instance, attributes consecratoiy efficacy both to the words of institution and to the epiclesis. Chrysostom states in at least seven different homilies that what happens in the Eucharist happens by the power of the Holy Spirit,65 a teaching common to both the Greek and Latin Churches. In at least one instance it is clear Chrysostom is talking about the epiclesis. But in his Homily on the Betrayal of Judas (De proditione Judae hom. 1/2, 6), he attributes the consecration to Christ in the words of institution:
It is not man who causes what is present to become the body and blood of Christ, but Christ himself who was crucified for us. The priest is the representative when he pronounces those words, but the power and the grace are those of the Lord. “This is my body,” he says. This word changes the things that lie before us; and just as that sentence, “increase and multiply,” once spoken, extends through all time and gives to our nature the power to reproduce itself likewise that saying, “This is my body,” once uttered, from that time to the present day, and even until Christ’s coming, makes the sacrifice complete at every table in the churches.66
Note that Chrysostom assigns consecratory power not to the priest’s liturgical repetition of Jesus’ words now, but to the historical institution itself i.e., to the original utterance of Jesus whose force extends to all subsequent eucharistic celebrations.67
In the 8th century St. John Damascene, “last of the Greek Fathers” (ca. 675-753/4), teaches the exact same doctrine in his De fide orthodoxa 86 (IV, 13): “God said ‘This is my body’ and ‘This is my blood,’ and ‘do this in memory of me.’ And by his all- powerful command it is done until he comes. For that is what he said, until he should come, and the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit becomes, through the invocation [i.e., epiclesis], the rain to this new tillage.”68 This is the classic Eastern Orthodox teaching: the power of consecration comes from the words of Christ, the divine mandate that guarantees the eucharistic conversion for all time.69
But this is no different from the position of Ambrose (339- 397), who obviously attributes the efficacy of Jesus’ words not to the prayer of the priest,70 but to the indefectible effectiveness of the Word of God, as is perfectly clear in his De sacramentis IV, 4.14-17:
14...to produce the venerable sacrament, the priest does not use his own words but the words of Christ So it is the word of Christ which produces this sacrament. 15. Which word of Christ? The one by which all things were made. The Lord commanded and the heavens were made, the Lord commanded and the earth was made, the Lord commanded and the seas were made, the Lord commanded and all creatures were brought into being. You see, then, how effective the word of Christ is. If then there is such power in the word of the Lord Jesus that things which were not brgan to be, how much more effective must they be in changing what already exists into something else!... 17. Hear, then, how the word of Christ is accustomed to change all creatures and to change, when it will, the laws of nature...71
This is exactly what Chrysostom says on other occasions: in the liturgy the same Jesus accomplishes the same Eucharist, the same marvels, in the liturgy as at the Last Supper. 72 For instance, his Homily 2 on II Timothy, afirms:
The gifts which God bestows are not such as to be the effects of the virtue of the priest. All is from grace. His [the priest] part is but to open his mouth, while God works all. He [the priest] only completes the sign (symbolon). The offering is the same whoever offers it, Paul or Peter. It is the same one Christ gave to his disciples, and which priests now accomplish. The latter is in no way inferior to the former, because the same one who sanctified the one, sanctifies the other too. For just as the words which God spoke are the same as the ones the priest pronounces now, so is the offering the same, just like the baptism which he gave.73
That is the approach I have taken here with regard to Church, magisterium, and dogma, reasoning as follows:
The above four points are not theory but demonstrable historical facts. From them, I would argue further:
1. THE ROMAN CANON MISSAE (mid-4th c.)