The Sacrificial Emphasis in Eucharistic Prayer 2

by Art Sippo

One of the Integrist complaints concerning the Revised Roman Rite of Pope Paul VI (ie., the Pauline Rite) is that it has decreased the number of overt references within the text of the Mass to the nature of the Mass as a sacrifice specifically in Eucharistic Prayer 2 (EP2). Since EP2 is the shortest of the Eucharistic Prayers, it is the one most often used even on Sundays. Many radical Integrists are even questioning the validity of the Mass when EP2 is used. They claim that there is no overt sacrificial terminology in EP2 and that it does not support the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. They have even gone so far as to call it a “protestant” corruption of the Mass. This brief essay hopes to respond to these charges and briefly show that EP2 is sufficiently Catholic in content to reflect the Church’s immemorial understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrifice and as the transubstantiated Body and Blood of Christ.

1) When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he did so in the context of a Jewish Passover meal or Seder. The Seder in Our Lord’s time was a sacrificial meal since in that meal the participants consumed a lamb that was a sacrificial victim the blood of which was offered to God in the Temple in Jerusalem. Furthermore, many experts consider the Seder to be an example of a Todah sacrifice, which in Old Testament times was often made to God in thanks for God’s providence or in anticipation of deliverance from some threat. The Todah sacrifice was the only one in which the lay people who commissioned the sacrifice were permitted – in fact required – to partake of the flesh of the sacrificial victim. The word ‘todah’ in Hebrew means ‘thanksgiving.’ The Greek equivalent is ‘eucharistia.’ By its very nature therefore the Last Supper and the Mass, which is derived from it, represents a sacrificial meal, not merely a sacrifice. Overemphasis on the sacrificial aspect to the neglect of the meal aspect therefore detracts from what Our Lord was actually doing. While the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist as Jesus instituted it is clear for any unbiased person to see, he did not use any of the overtly sacrificial terminology that the Integrists think is lacking in EP2. In fact there is more sacrificial language in the Mass using EP2 than in what is preserved of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper or in the traditional Jewish Seder liturgy.

2) Every Christian sacrament is composed of matter and form. The matter of the Eucharist in the Latin rite is grape wine and unleavened wheat bread. The form in the Latin Rite consists solely in the words of institution. There are several different compositions for the words of institution in the Latin Rite, but the least common denominators among them are the words “This is my Body” and “This is the cup of my Blood.” These words recited by a priest over the appropriate matter with the intention of confecting the sacrament are sufficient in themselves to validly confect the Holy Eucharist. The overtly sacramental terminology that the Integrists are concerned about is not required to validly confect the Mass. The use of such terminology is only licit in the Mass when it appears in an approved liturgical usage. As such, the presence or absence of such terminology does not in and of itself affect either the liciety or validity of a Mass.

3) Regardless of which Eucharistic Prayer is used, every Mass in the Pauline Rite includes the following prayers which contain explicit references to offering sacrifice:{Presentation of the Gifts / Preparation of the Altar:}Priest: Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life. All: Blessed be God for ever. The deacon (or the priest) pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly: By uniting this water and wine we ask to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity. Priest: Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink. All: Blessed be God for ever. The priest bows and says quietly: Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts.{Suscipiat} Priest: Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father. All: May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all the Church.

4) In EP2, the ancient liturgical prayer of Epiclesis was restored. It had been part of many liturgies since the First Council of Constantinople in order to emphasize the divinity of the Holy Spirit but dropped out of western usage sometime in the first Christian Millennium. By the time of the Leonnine Sacramentary in the 8th Century the Roman liturgy clearly did not have an Epiclesis, but it has remained part of the liturgies of the East to this very day. The Epiclesis states: Priest: Let your Holy Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. This is a clear reference to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. There is no corresponding prayer in the old Tridentine Rite. On this point, EP2 actually has a prayer re-affirming the orthodox Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist that the Roman Canon does not have.

5) The words of institution in and of themselves are inherently sacrificial despite Protestant sophisms to the contrary. They begin by offering the Body of Christ, which was to be ‘given up’ in sacrifice. After that, the blood of Christ is offered, which was ‘shed’ by his sacrificial death for us. This shedding of blood was used to seal a new covenant with God just as the blood of the Passover Lamb initiated the Mosaic covenant in Egypt and the blood of oxen sealed that covenant on Sinai in Exodus 24:8. There are also overt references to sacrificial offering and transubstantiation in the prayers that conclude this section of the liturgy. It is these elements of EP2 that led to it being rejected by Protestant denominations as being “too Catholic” for them to use. In EP2 these are the official the words of institution (in bold) with the prayers that immediately follow them: Priest: Take this all of you and eat it; this is my body which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all men so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me. In memory of his death and resurrection, we offer you, Father, this life giving bread, this saving cup. We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you. May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.

So in conclusion, the Pauline Rite when using EP2 is overtly and unmistakably Catholic in its doctrinal presuppositions supporting the dogmas of Eucharistic Sacrifice and transubstantiation. The Integrist claims that EP2 is a ‘protestant’ corruption of the Mass are false.

Art Sippo
The Catholic Legate