From One Eucharistic Prayer to Many: <br/>How it Happened and Why
Sep 15, 1996

From One Eucharistic Prayer to Many:
How it Happened and Why

Online Edition – Vol. II, Nos. 4 – 6 : September – November 1996 (Originally published in three parts, but reproduced in full here)

The history of the multiplication of alternatives to the Roman Canon — now known as Eucharistic Prayer I — in the years following Vatican II takes on new significance in the present massive revision of the Roman Missal. This illuminating account will be presented in three parts.


In the 1970 and 1975 Latin editions of the Roman Missal, there are four Eucharistic Prayers (these may be augmented in the third editio typica which is due out this fall). In more recent American editions of the Roman Missal, in addition to the four already mentioned, there are five others included in the appendix: two for Reconciliation and three for Masses with children. Thus for the last twenty-five years, the Roman rite has had the experience of many Eucharistic Prayers.

This was not always so, however. For some 1600 years previously, the Roman rite knew only one Eucharistic Prayer: the Roman canon.

In the average parish today, Eucharistic Prayer II is the one most frequently used, even on Sunday. Eucharistic Prayer III is also used quite often, especially on Sundays and feast days. The fourth Eucharistic prayer is hardly ever used; in part because it is long, in part because in some places in the U.S. it has been unofficially banned because of its frequent use of the word “man”. The first Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman canon, which had been used exclusively in the Roman rite for well over a millennium and a half, nowadays is used almost never. As an Italian liturgical scholar puts it: “its use today is so minimal as to be statistically irrelevant”.1

This is a radical change in the Roman liturgy. Why aren’t more people aware of the enormity of this change? Perhaps since the canon used to be said silently, its contents and merits were known to priests, to be sure, but not to most of the laity. Hence when the Eucharistic Prayer began to be said aloud in the vernacular, with four to choose from — and the Roman canon chosen rarely, if ever — the average layman did not realize that 1600 years of tradition had suddenly vanished like a lost civilization, leaving few traces behind, and those of interest only to archaeologists and tourists.

What happened? Why did it happen? How should we respond to the new situation? These questions are the subject matter of this essay.

Part I – What Happened?

What happened is long in the telling, because the period of liturgical history in question is involved and complex. It is necessary to follow closely the various twists and turns in the path of this development, however, in order to be in a position to understand why things happened the way they did.

1. Sacrosanctum Concilium (December 4, 1963)

Article 37 of the Schema on the Liturgy (in the final document it would be numbered article 50), treats of the Ordo Missae. In the discussions on this text, only one of the Council Fathers, Bishop Wilhelm Duschak, S.V.D. requested a new Eucharistic Prayer either to replace the Roman Canon or to use as an alternate.2

On the other hand, several Fathers in commenting on article 37/50, stressed that the Canon should not be touched. In the voting itself, a number of votes placet iuxta modum expressed the same reservations. The relator responded saying that these concerns were already reflected in the phrase “due care being taken to preserve the substance of the rites” (probe servata eorum substantia), although in fact, the post-conciliar commission would abandon this position. According to Jungmann, it was the relator’s mind that a free hand should be given to the post-conciliar work of reform.3

In any case, neither the Schema nor the final text of Sacrosanctum Concilium make any mention of new Eucharistic Prayers.

2. Private initiatives to revise the Roman Canon or compose new Eucharistic Prayers (1963-1968)

Private initiatives, however, to revise the Roman canon were already being made. Two such initiatives were published in scholarly journals: that of Hans Küng4 in 1963 and Karl Amon5 in 1965.6 Many other newly-composed Eucharistic Prayers followed, some of them published, some of them not. One of the most important elements in this story is the political pressure put on the Holy See by the Church in the Netherlands. Between 1965 and 1966, before the vernacular was permitted for the canon, translations of the canon and texts of new Eucharistic Prayers were already circulating in Holland.7

The Dutch Episcopal conference, in the person of Bishop Jean Bluyssen of Hertogenbosch, president of the national liturgical commission and himself a member of the post-conciliar commission for the carrying out of the liturgical reforms (hereafter referred to as the Consilium), made an official request to the Holy See for permission to use these texts. (Note the pattern: unauthorized experimentation first, pressure for permission later). In the Fall of 1966, there was much coming and going of
messages and emissaries between the Netherlands and Rome in order to resolve the problem. Annibale Bugnini, the chairman of the Consilium, reports what happened:

As a result of Father Bugnini’s visit to the Netherlands, a special committee was set up to examine some anaphoras sent by the [Dutch] liturgical commission. Several meetings made it clear that it would be difficult to obtain approval for these; the Consilium therefore suggested that the Dutch wait for the new Eucharistic Prayers then being composed (Bugnini, p.461, n.7).6

In January of 1967, those in authority agreed that some of the requests of the Dutch Conference had to be granted: among those requests, the translation of the Canon and the study and eventual approval of three new anaphoras. Pope Paul VI appointed a special curial commission to consider whether “it is not appropriate to extend the concessions foreseen for the Netherlands to other countries or even to the entire Church” (Bugnini, p.106).

Not willing to wait for the word from Rome, however, many individuals and groups simply went ahead on their own. The Dutch bishops chose eleven Eucharistic Prayers out of the many in circulation and published them for official use (November 11, 1969). The Flemish-speaking bishops of Belgium did the same, but limited the selection to five (November 1, 1969). A year earlier, the Indonesian bishops had given approval to ten Eucharistic Prayers (October 24, 1968). The Dutch prayers were translated into German8 (1968) and went through many printings (cf. Bugnini, p.465). In France, there were some one hundred Eucharistic Prayers in circulation.9 Bernard Botte complains, in 1968, about the utter anarchy that reigned in French-speaking areas because of the use of unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers.10

While all of these private initiatives were taking place, what was happening at the official level?

3. Study Group 10 of the Consilium and its work on the Ordo Missae (1965)

The Eucharistic Prayer itself was not originally a concern of the Consilium, but rather the revision of the Ordo Missae. This was assigned to Study Group 10. In the process of the work, the question of the Roman canon inevitably arose. Bugnini describes the situation for us:

The Roman Canon was the most sensitive and complex problem of all. On the one hand, respect for this prayer made the group hesitate to touch it; on the other, there were suggestions from experts and requests from pastors for a different and more logical organization of the Eucharistic Prayer. In order to achieve a resolution of the difficulties, it was proposed to experiment with three revised forms of the Roman Canon (Bugnini, p.343).

News of these experiments soon got out, and various people complained to the Holy See. What became evident was that the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing. Bugnini reports that the Secretary of State, Cardinal Cicognani, wrote to the president of the Consilium, Cardinal Lercaro, on October 25, 1965 and again on December 10, 1965, urging extreme caution (Bugnini, p.152, n.30). On March 7, 1966, the Secretary of State communicated this message from Pope Paul VI to the Consilium:

I hasten to tell you of His Holiness’ desire that the Canon itself not be altered, at least for the time being; any possible change must therefore be submitted for explicit approval of the Holy Father, who, for his part, believes he must not introduce any changes into the Canon itself without previous documented and rigorous studies and then, should the occasion arise, only after consulting with the bishops. I am to tell you that, all things considered, it is perhaps better to leave the traditional text unchanged; this, however, does not mean that study of the subject is not to continue (Bugnini, p.152, n.30).

The Holy Father was putting the brakes on, but not discouraging further study. The Consilium, therefore returned to the subject of the Eucharistic Prayer a couple of months later, presenting a new request to Paul VI on May 25, 1966:

If the time comes to reopen the question of composing a new Eucharistic Prayer (in view of the difficulties that mark the present Roman Canon from a pastoral standpoint), study group 10 would be honored to be allowed to work up some models. In that case it would also feel obliged to see to it that any new prayer still displayed the Roman genius, so that the Roman Mass would continue to be faithful to the spirit of the Roman liturgy (Bugnini, p.449).

One month later, on June 20, 1966, Cardinal Lercaro submitted the following request to the Holy Father:

Any projected revision of the text of the Eucharistic Prayer faces numerous and sensitive problems; but then so does the retention of the prayer in its present form present difficulties. Especially if said aloud, the Roman Canon would become burdensome due to its very changelessness and to some elements that are too narrowly local, such as the lists of the saints….

The Canons suggested by various sources tend to be revisions of the text with a view to curtailing the elements just mentioned and relocating other intercessory prayers (Memento, Communicantes, Nobis quoque) so as to make the Eucharistic Prayer more of a single unit that includes the Preface, Sanctus and anamnesis. But revisions are always dangerous, especially when they mean tampering with texts that have so venerable a tradition behind them.

It seems more expedient to leave the traditional text of the Canon untouched and to compose from scratch one or more Eucharistic Prayers that would be added to the traditional Canon and used as alternatives to it, even if only for the purpose of having a greater variety of texts (Bugnini, pp. 449-450).

It is interesting to single out the motives for the proposed change:

1) The Roman Canon would be burdensome if recited out loud, because it is always the same.

2) The lists of saints are too local.

3) The Canon is unsatisfactory from a stylistic viewpoint, and would require considerable reworking in order to appear as a single literary unit.

In spite of these objections to the Roman canon, however, the Consilium made the prudential judgment that it was too dangerous to tamper with the text, and that it was better therefore to provide a few alternatives in order to respond to the defects mentioned, and to provide some variety. As Bugnini reports, “the Pope’s decision was brief and to the point: ‘The present anaphora is to be left unchanged; two or three anaphoras for use at particular specified times are to be composed or looked for.'” (Bugnini, p.450).

If taken at face value, this decision would leave the Roman canon primacy of place, while adding several other Eucharistic prayers to the repertoire in a subsidiary role. (In fact, this is not what happened). The “particular times” are not specified, and the Holy Father left open the possibility of borrowing the new anaphoras from the tradition or composing entirely new prayers.

With this green light from the Holy Father, the Consilium set to work immediately.

Part II – How Did This Happen

Part I of this three part essay, which appeared in the September issue, began the history of the multiplication of alternatives to the Roman Canon (now known as Eucharistic Prayer I). Noting that during its first 1600 years, the Roman rite knew only one Eucharistic Prayer, Father Cassian observes that the multiplication of “options” since the early to mid-1970s has resulted in the virtual disappearance of the Roman Canon. “The average layman did not realize that 1600 years of tradition had suddenly vanished like a lost civilization, leaving few traces behind, and those of interest only to archaeologists and tourists.”

Although the documents of the Second Vatican Council did not mention new Eucharistic prayers, private initiatives to revise the Roman Canon and/or to compose new Eucharistic Prayers were being made as early as 1963 by theologian Hans Küng. Agitation for creating new alternatives to the Roman Canon was intensifying especially in Holland, and new prayers were published by Dutch and Flemish bishops and used without authorization from Rome.

Meanwhile, at the official level, the Consilium (the group responsible for implementing the Council’s decree on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium) and “Study Group 10″ (concerned with revision of the Roman Missal) were also considering alternatives to the traditional Canon. Their rationale: 1. The Roman Canon would be burdensome if recited aloud, because it is always the same; 2. The lists of saints are too local; 3. The Canon is unsatisfactory from a stylistic viewpoint.”

Despite pressure from advocates of alternative prayers, Pope Paul VI objected to changing the Canon. Eventually, however, he was persuaded to permit “two or three” alternatives “for use at particular specified times”, although he insisted that the Roman Canon be left intact. But the pope did not elaborate on “specified times”. So “[w]ith this green light from the Holy Father, the Consilium set to work immediately.”

The accout of what happened to the Roman Canon continues in Part II following.

4. Vagaggini and the summer of 1966

Study group 10, which worked on the Ordo Missae, was now enlarged to respond to the new task at hand. Father Vagaggini, a Benedictine monk and professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum of Sant’Anselmo in Rome, spent the summer of 1966 at the library of Mont-César in Belgium, doing an intense study of the Roman canon, and composing two new Eucharistic Prayers (which are the basis for the present prayers III and IV). The work of Vagaggini was published in book form that same year;11 thus the discussion moved from the restricted circle of the Consilium to the wider public forum, raising the expectations of some and the hackles of others.12

Vagaggini’s proposals were then examined by the entire study group, various periti, and the Fathers of the Consilium. It was decided to act upon Pope Paul’s instructions by adopting two already-existing anaphoras, that of Hippolytus (the inspiration for Eucharistic Prayer II) and the Alexandrian anaphora of St. Basil (which in the end was not accepted because of certain theological difficulties). The new compositions adopted were the two proposed by Vagaggini.

One of the main reasons given for proposing these new anaphoras was the principle of variety. According to Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, longtime secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, “This kind of variety seems needed if the Roman liturgy is to have the greater spiritual and pastoral riches that cannot find full expression in a single type of text” (Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy, p.452).

In the explanations given for these new texts, a certain emphasis was placed upon their length. Of the three new texts which were eventually approved, one is very short (EP II), one of medium length (EP III) and one is rather long since it includes a summary exposition of the entire economy of salvation EP IV).

5. Steps in the process toward official promulgation

In a very schematic way, these are the steps which the texts of the new Eucharistic Prayers went through in order to receive final approval (cf. Bugnini, pp. 460-465):

a. April, 1967: the schema was approved by the presidential council of the Consilium, then by the Fathers. It was sent to the pope on May 3, 1967. (The schema also included nine new prefaces).

b. The Holy Father ordered the schema to be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation of Rites (June, 1967). CDF did not approve the Alexandrian anaphora (literally, “offering”, another name for the Eucharistic prayer) of Saint Basil because of the theological problem of the epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit).

c. July 10, 1967: In view of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops, Pope Paul VI wrote to the Consilium with these instructions: “You are authorized to prepare a booklet [containing the new anaphoras] that is to be given to the Fathers of the coming Synod; all things considered, however, it is advisable that the formula of consecration not be changed.”13

d. The Synod of Bishops was held in October, 1967. Among the liturgical matters under discussion was the question of the new Eucharistic Prayers. A number of “papal queries” were placed before the Fathers for a vote on October 14, 1967, among them the question: “Should three other Eucharistic Prayers, in addition to the Roman Canon, be introduced into the Latin liturgy?” Of the 183 Fathers voting, a large majority said Yes, 22 said No, and 33 said Yes with qualifications (placet iuxta modum).14 The modi were as follows:

1. The Roman Canon should always have the place of honor and be used on Sundays and more solemn feasts.

2. Very precise norms should be set down for the use of each prayer; the choice of prayer should not be left to the celebrant.

3. The new Eucharistic Prayers should be restricted to special, well-prepared groups.

4. Before use of the prayers is allowed, they should be submitted to the episcopal conferences for study, and the faithful should be carefully instructed in advance.

5. There should not be only three further Eucharistic Prayers, but a good many more: these should be taken from the Eastern liturgies. Furthermore, the episcopal conferences should be granted authority to compose others proper to them.

6. The Roman Canon should itself be revised to facilitate its use.

As can be seen, not all the modi followed the same line of argument. Bugnini remarks that the value of the vote was “quite relative” because the Fathers were not voting as actual representatives of their episcopal conferences, but as individual bishops (Bugnini, p.351). In any case, the response of the Synod was largely favorable.

e. The publication of the new Eucharistic Prayers was delayed, however. Bugnini attributes the delay to the “usual interferences.” In addition, the Secretary of State insisted on January 28, 1968, that a suitable instruction be issued along with the new texts.

f. The definitive approval was given on April 27, 1968.

g. The three new Eucharistic Prayers were promulgated by a decree of the Congregation of Rites on May 23, 1968,15 which also determined that the prayers could be used beginning August 15, 1968.

h. On the same day, the document “Norms on the Use of Eucharistic Prayers I-IV” was issued.16 Since these norms are not very well known, it is worthwhile to cite them here.

1) Eucharistic Prayer I, i.e. the Roman Canon, may always be used; its use is particularly suited to days assigned a proper Communicantes or a proper Hanc igitur; to feasts of the apostles and saints mentioned in this Prayer; also to Sundays, unless pastoral reasons call for a different eucharistic prayer.

(This norm, in effect, reduces the use of the Roman canon to a few special occasions).

2) Because of its distinctive features, Eucharistic Prayer II is better suited to weekdays or to special occasions.

(This norm, in effect, expands the use of this Eucharistic Prayer; the most outstanding distinctive feature referred to being its brevity).

3) Eucharistic Prayer III may be used with any of the prefaces; like the Roman Canon, it is to have precedence on Sundays and holydays.
(This norm, in effect, replaces the Roman Canon with Eucharistic Prayer III).

4) Eucharistic Prayer IV has an unchangeable preface…. It may be used whenever a Mass does not have a proper preface; its use is particularly suited to a congregation of people with a more developed knowledge of Scripture.

(This norm, in effect, limits the use of this Eucharistic Prayer to rare occasions: it cannot be used during any of the strong seasons when there is a proper preface, i.e. Advent, Lent, Easter. In addition, the somewhat condescending note about a more educated congregation, if taken seriously, would limit its use even further).

i. A week or so later, on June 2, 1968, the new president of the Consilium, Cardinal Benno Gut, sent a cover letter to the presidents of episcopal conferences17 along with guidelines to assist catechesis on the anaphoras of the Mass.18

j. The Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum was promulgated on Holy Thursday, April 3, 1969, but because of fierce controversy, the editio typica was not issued until Holy Thursday of the following year, March 26, 1970.

6. Problems after official promulgation of the new Eucharistic Prayers

One might have expected that the official publication of the new Missal with three new Eucharistic Prayers in addition to the Roman Canon would have put an end to unbridled experimentation. “It was hoped that the publication of the new Eucharistic Prayers would eliminate or at least lessen the problem [of the many private compositions in circulation],” writes Bugnini. “This did not happen” (Bugnini, p.465). The genie had been let out of the bottle, and would simply not go back in. Certain episcopal conferences blatantly ignored remonstrances from Rome. Signals were unclear, however, since the Congregation for Divine Worship gave permission for quite a number of Eucharistic Prayers for special groups and special occasions.19

On May 27, 1971, Divine Worship explained the problem to Pope Paul VI, suggesting that the issue needed to be more carefully studied:

“We hear that the Liturgical Institute of Paris has collected and studied over two hundred Eucharistic Prayers… If the Holy Father agrees, the Congregation would like to undertake a systematic collection of all the existing material and study it…so that it may have a clear grasp of the dimensions of the problem and be able to tackle it with greater clarity and on a solid basis” (Bugnini, p.467).

On June 22, 1971, a reply came from the Secretary of State:

“Given the extent of the indiscriminate use of unapproved Eucharistic Prayers, the Holy Father wishes that a careful study be made of the problem in all its aspects, in order to find a solution that will remedy this serious situation of undisciplined liturgical practice” (Bugnini, p.467).

Thus a special study group was appointed on September 17, 1971 to look into the matter.

7. Work of the special Study Group

From October 1971 to March 1972, this special Study Group met several times, producing a working document of some one hundred pages analyzing the problem and proposing solutions. At the third meeting, January 25-26, 1972, the group, comprised of 17 members, voted on four questions (cf. Bugnini, pp. 467-469):

1) Should the number of Eucharistic Prayers in the Roman Missal be increased?

Yes: 10 No: 3 Yes, iuxta modum: 4

2) Should a larger number of Eucharistic Prayers be allowed in regions in which the episcopal conferences think it advisable?

Yes: 12; No: 0 Yes, iuxta modum: 5

3) Is the solution proposed in n. 39a of the schema acceptable? (i.e. that the Congregation for Divine Worship should prepare models of its own)

Yes: 8 No: 8 Yes, iuxta modum: 1

4) Is the solution proposed in n. 29b acceptable? (i.e. that the Congregation for Divine Worship should prepare guidelines for the episcopal conferences to use in making their own judgments)

Yes: 8 No: 5 Yes, iuxta modum: 4

The clear consensus of the group was that more Eucharistic Prayers should be allowed. There was no clear agreement, however, about the role of the Congregation for Divine Worship in guiding or directing the composition of these prayers.

Some of the consultors of the Congregation, who had not been polled on these questions, but who felt very strongly about them, published their own findings, coming to quite opposite conclusions, namely that it was inopportune to compose new Eucharistic Prayers in addition to the ones already in the Roman Missal. This published report aroused alarm in various quarters, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and much controversy ensued. The Secretary of State was obliged to intervene, to diplomatically rebuke the Congregation for Divine Worship, and to do some damage control. Pope Paul VI, on February 28, 1972, in an audience with Bugnini (whom he had ordained a bishop on February 13, 1972) also issued a kind of rebuke: “I once again strongly urge the Congregation for Divine Worship to try to control the tendency to multiply Eucharistic Prayers,” adding a number of clarifications:

* Other Congregations competent in the matter were to be consulted in these matters (translation: Divine Worship shouldn’t be acting on its own);

* Liturgical uniformity should be stressed;

* Arbitrary experiments should cease;

* Episcopal conferences do not have the authority to introduce new Eucharistic Prayers unless they have received permission from the Holy See (Bugnini, pp. 470-471).

At a plenary meeting of the special Study Group, March 7-11, 1972, the Secretariat of State asked that the members be brought up to date concerning the recent communications sent by him to the Congregation for Divine Worship, lest the Fathers “in ignorance of the real thinking of his Holiness, proceed along the path traced out by the periti, although this is not fully in conformity with the directives given to them… (Bugnini, p.471, n.31)”

8. Signals missed or ignored

Thus, negative signals were being sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Study Group, but apparently these signals were not understood. On the contrary, work proceeded full steam ahead and in a plenary meeting of the entire Congregation for Divine Worship, the schema for the Eucharistic Prayers was examined and the matter was put to a vote (Bugnini, pp. 471-472):

1) In view of the present situation regarding the development and use of Eucharistic Prayers, should competent authority takes some steps to increase the number of these prayers?

Yes: 13 No: 0 Yes, iuxta modum: 3

2) Is it enough that the Holy See should prepare some new Eucharistic Prayers?

Yes: 2 No: 12 Yes, iuxta modum: 2

3) Is it enough that the Holy See should provide some models to be adapted by the episcopal conferences?

Yes: 0 No: 16 Yes, iuxta modum: 0

4) Should the episcopal conferences be able to compose new Eucharistic Prayers that satisfy criteria set down by the Holy See and are then submitted to the latter?

Yes: 11 No: 3 Yes, iuxta modum: 2

5) Are the guidelines set down in Chapter VI for preparing and evaluating Eucharistic Prayers acceptable?

Yes: 9 No: 2 Yes, iuxta modum: 5

The progressive tendency of the group is clear. More Eucharistic Prayers are called for; the Holy See is neither to prepare these prayers nor provide models for them; instead Episcopal conferences should be able to compose new prayers on their own authority.

The Cardinal Prefect’s report to the Secretariat of State, April 12, 1972, was more balanced and modest in tone, but still included the suggestion that episcopal conferences “in extraordinary circumstances, and then case by case” should be given permission to prepare new Eucharistic Prayers. The suggestion was tempered, however, by the proviso that the conference must first request authorization, then prepare the text, which must be submitted to the competent agencies of the Holy See (Bugnini, p.472). Pope Paul VI granted an audience to the Cardinal Prefect on April 20th, issuing a written response a month later, on May 23, 1972, in which he forbade publicity about the discussion in progress, but gave authorization for a draft text to be prepared of an Instruction on Eucharistic Prayers.

This draft text was prepared during the summer months, and was sent to the study group on September 8, 1972. Bugnini reports that “the group held its fourth and final meeting on September 25-26, in a somewhat “disheartened” atmosphere” (Bugnini, p.473). Although they were disappointed that their suggestions had not been well received, they persisted in their recommendation that episcopal conferences be given permission, under certain conditions, to compose new Eucharistic Prayers. On November 17, 1972, the Secretary of State sent the draft Instruction to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The response of CDF was in the negative. Bugnini says why:

In the meantime, others made their voices heard in opposition to approval of new Eucharistic Prayers: a group of theologians on the International Theological Commission (October 11), a French archbishop, and those consultors of the Congregation for Divine Worship who had cast a negative vote at the study sessions. All these put pressure on the Supreme Pastor… (Bugnini, p.474, n.32).

 9. “No” From Pope: “A Cold Shower”

On January 11, 1973, the Secretary of State communicated CDF’s response to Divine Worship: “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given a negative answer regarding the timeliness of granting the episcopal conferences permission to redact new anaphoras. Its prohibition must be accepted” (Bugnini, p.474).

The letter of the Secretary of State also included the following directives which would later appear in the Instruction on Eucharistic Prayers put out by the Congregation for Divine Worship:

* Episcopal Conferences must put an end to experimental Eucharistic Prayers.

* The Holy See does not unqualifiedly exclude the possibility of approving a new anaphora, but its preparation and promulgation must be agreed on in advance with the Holy See.

* The Roman Missal gives plenty of room for adaptation already.20

Bugnini’s reaction demonstrates that the Study Group was working on quite a different wave length than the Holy See. He confesses: “This reply came like a cold shower after a year and a half of hard and intelligent work” (Bugnini, p.474). He had an audience with Pope Paul on December 21, 1972, in which he explained the position of Divine Worship: the Church was faced “with a widespread phenomenon which, it seems, cannot be handled by simply prohibiting it or by ignoring it, but only by channeling it so that the Holy See can still be in control.” The Pope then stated his decision: “No to any further experiments. The Holy See reserves to itself (emphasis in original) the authority to prepare new Eucharistic Prayers in particular cases” (Bugnini, p.475, n.33).

The Congregation for Divine Worship then dutifully drafted the Instruction in the form of a circular letter on January 20, 1973. The Secretary of State responded on January 31, 1973, saying: “The substance of the letter is fine, but it needs to be milder in form, and the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the decision should also be given” (Bugnini, p.474).

The result of all this was a very modest document, Eucharistiae participationem,21 published on April 27, 1973. After laying out the situation concerning privately composed Eucharistic prayers and their abusive nature, the circular letter says:

“After all the factors have been fully weighed, the decision is that at this time it is not advisable to grant to the conferences of bishops a general permission to compose or approve new eucharistic prayers. On the contrary, it is judged that the wiser course is to counsel a more complete catechesis on the real nature of the eucharistic prayer…”22

The Congregation for Divine Worship had been severely chastened.

Part II of Father Folsom’s essay on the history of the multiplication of Eucharistic Prayers in the years following the Second Vatican Council gave a summary of the steps in the process toward official promulgation of the Eucharistic Prayers, and the continued push for further alternatives and innovations.

10. Special Eucharistic Prayers

While the door had certainly been drawn to, it had not been slammed shut, since the circular letter included the following proviso:

Moved by a pastoral love for unity, the Apostolic See reserves to itself the right to regulate a matter so important as the discipline of the eucharistic prayers. The Apostolic See will not refuse to consider lawful needs within the Roman Rite and will accord every consideration to the petitions submitted by the conferences of bishops for the possible composition in special circumstances of a new eucharistic prayer and its introduction into the liturgy. The Apostolic See will set forth the norms to be observed in each case. 23

Since the door remained partly ajar, people made bold to knock. The Congregation for Divine Worship was the first to take the initiative, and within a matter of days, asked the Pope on May 3, 1973, “for permission to prepare one or two formularies for Masses with children, and he granted it” (Bugnini, p.478).

A request soon came for special anaphoras for the 1975 Holy Year; permission was granted on October 29, 1973. In order to prepare these texts, another study group was set up. In its first meeting, November 13-15, 1973, it was decided to composed three Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with children and two for the Holy Year. 24

Draft texts went back and forth between the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Secretariat of State (cf. Bugnini, pp. 479-482).

The decision came from the Holy Father on October 26, 1974, to the effect that three texts for children and two for the Holy Year were authorized for experiment for a period of three years, that is, until the end of 1977, but they were not to be published officially or included in the Roman Missal. In addition, the Congregation for Divine Worship was to send a letter to the presidents of the episcopal conferences indicating that each conference could choose one prayer from each category. 25  (At the end of 1977 the permission was extended to 1980 and then indefinitely). 26

11. Swiss Synod, Netherlands, Brazil

At the same time as the Congregation for Divine Worship was working on these texts, various episcopal conferences were also making their requests. Switzerland, on the occasion of its synod, received permission on February 13, 1974 for one Eucharistic Prayer with four thematic variations (as a result it actually seems like four different prayers).

The Netherlands received permission on August 16, 1974 for a new Eucharistic Prayer on the occasion of a Pastoral Colloquium held November 1, 1974.

Brazil also received permission for a new anaphora on November 11, 1974 for its National Eucharistic Congress. Certain other requests were turned down, however (cf. Bugnini, p.477).

12. Pressure for More Options Continues

Because matters still remained unsettled, and unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers continued to be used, the Secretariat of State on April 22, 1975, sent some directives and guidelines to the Congregation for Divine Worship in order to deal more effectively with these problems. These directives were rather restrictive, insisting that proper procedure be followed, and stressing that “only the four anaphoras contained in the Missal are to be regarded as official and definitive” (Bugnini, p.483).

Bugnini interprets the matter thus: “The intention was that the Congregation should adhere strictly to the juridical procedure of the Roman Curia. There were those, however, who saw the action as a way of preventing possible concessions of further Eucharistic Prayers” (Bugnini, p.484).

Special requests continued to come in from Belgium and the Netherlands in order to obtain official approval for the experimental anaphoras which had been in use since 1969 (cf. Bugnini, pp. 484-485). These requests received a decidedly negative reaction at the ordinary joint meeting of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Bugnini personally, however, lobbied the Holy Father to make some sort of positive gesture even if the entire request could not be granted: namely, that Belgium be allowed one of the five anaphoras requested, and that the Netherlands be allowed continued use of the Eucharistic Prayer that had already been approved for the Dutch Pastoral Colloquium the year before. Pope Paul VI followed Bugnini’s lead, and permission was granted on July 8, 1975.27

Part III – Why Did This Happen?

The historical description of what happened in order to move from a monolithic and millennial tradition of a single Eucharistic Prayer to a new situation of many different prayers, is long and complex in its many stages. Nevertheless, what happened is something verifiable and concrete. An analysis of why this happened, on the other hand is, of its very nature, more speculative. I would like to propose six basic reasons.

1. Advances in liturgical studies

The first reason is quite straightforward. Decades of scholarly research in the area of the anaphora, both eastern and western, had resulted in a considerable corpus of primary texts and a corresponding body of secondary literature.

The most notable example of this advancement in liturgical studies is the edition by Anton Hänggi and Irmgard Pahl of Prex Eucharistica, an anthology of anaphoras and anaphora-type prayers from the Jewish liturgy, the New Testament, ancient texts of the early patristic period, oriental anaphoras of the various eastern liturgical families and western anaphoras of both the Roman and non-Roman western rites. 28  This volume was published in 1968. The texts, therefore, of ancient anaphoras, were readily available.

2. Dissatisfaction with the Roman Canon and architectural functionalism

A second reason for the change from one Eucharistic Prayer to many was dissatisfaction, on the part of some liturgical scholars, with the Roman canon. I would like to argue that there is a connection between this dissatisfaction and 20th-century architectural functionalism.

The man who best illustrates this theory is Cipriano Vagaggini. In Vagaggini’s book on the Roman canon, prepared for Study Group 10 of the Consilium (the group responsible for implementing the Council’s reform), the basic argument in favor of change is that the Roman canon is marred by serious defects of structure and theology. (He does treat the merits of the Roman canon as well, but that section is much shorter.)

Vagaggini summarizes his argument in these words:

The defects are undeniable and of no small importance. The present Roman canon sins in a number of ways against those requirements of good liturgical composition and sound liturgical sense that were emphasized by the Second Vatican Council. 29

The structural defects show themselves in the disorderliness of the Canon, according to Vagaggini. It gives the impression of an agglomeration of features with no apparent unity, there is a lack of logical connection of ideas, and the various prayers of intercession are arranged in an unsatisfactory way.

Official documents published by the Consilium in order to justify the change, repeat this same line of argument. For example, the guidelines issued on June 2, 1968 to assist catechesis on the anaphoras of the Mass say:

In the existing Roman Canon its unity and the logical sequence of its ideas are not immediately or readily perceptible. It leaves the impression of a series of discrete, merely juxtaposed prayers; it requires a degree of reflection for a grasp of their unity. 30

The three new anaphoras on the other hand, the guidelines continue, are characterized by continuity of thought and clarity of structure. [The guidelines also stated that all Christian churches “the Roman rite excepted” use “a great variety” of anaphoras-Ed.]

Not only is the Roman Canon marred by structural defects, according to Vagaggini, but there are a number of theological defects as well. The most grievous of these theological problems is the number and disorder of epicletic-type prayers in the canon and the lack of a theology of the part played by the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist.

Liturgical historian Josef Jungmann counters this critique of Vagaggini’s by pointing out that Vagaggini is a systematic theologian who wanted to impose a certain preconceived theological structure on the Eucharistic Prayer. Since Vagaggini had a particularly keen interest in the pneumatological dimension of the liturgy, his new Eucharistic Prayers (III and IV) give a decided emphasis to the Holy Spirit.

Jungmann refers to Vagaggini’s famous book, Il senso teologico della liturgia to reinforce his argument. What we have here, says Jungmann, is the personal theology of the author (emphasis added), not the universal theology of the Church.31 In addition, it must be noted that while Vagaggini’s pneumatological preoccupation is in itself praiseworthy, it is anachronistic to blame an ancient text for lack of clarity in this area, especially when the Roman canon was composed quite outside of the ambit of fourth-century doctrinal controversies over the nature and role of the Holy Spirit.

Whether speaking of structure or of theology, the main argument seems to be that the Roman canon is untidy. In the course of its development it spread out from the original core text, the way an old country house develops from the original building:32 a wing is added on here, an extra story is built there, a door is cut in the wall where a window used to be, other windows are walled up and new stairwells are necessary because of certain additions, while others are rendered useless. Decorative trim is added “just because”. Fine woodwork and stonework appear in the most hidden and out-of-the-way places. Each part of an old building has its own history, and old rambling houses like this are truly wonderful: but they are not neat. Furthermore, they were not originally equipped with modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity, and so we moderns sometimes find such houses inconvenient.

Modern houses, on the other hand, are usually functional and efficient, but often built of cheap materials, and very frequently unattractive to the eye. If this applies to homes, it applies all the more to public buildings, which in this century have achieved new heights of ugliness.

The liturgical reformers objected to the architectural untidiness of the Roman Canon and wanted to replace it with something more streamlined and functional.

It would take someone versed in the history and theory of architecture to draw out all the implications of what I am suggesting (or to refute this intuition, as the case may be). But I wonder if perhaps the reaction against the untidiness of the Roman canon is not perhaps linked with the modern spirit of architectural functionalism.

3. The Zeitgeist of the Late Sixties

A third reason for the changes can be found in the secular and theological Zeitgeist — the spirit of the times — of the late sixties. In the secular order, this time period was marked by a massive and sometimes anarchic rejection of structure and authority.

The Second Vatican Council happened to coincide with a period in western history marked by a profound and revolutionary upheaval in societal thought and mores. When the Council optimistically opened the windows of the Church to the world, this was the wind that blew in.

Within the Church, the theological structure existing immediately prior to the Council, which in its general presentation had perhaps had been overly defensive and overly synthesized, collapsed very quickly, being replaced by a new wave of theological experimentation and progressivism.

From a political point of view, it seems to be no accident that the enormous number of unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers in circulation came primarily from France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the countries which formed the backbone of the northern European progressive alliance in the Council. The Consilium clearly favored this progressive approach.

The combination of secular and theological forces in the late sixties had no little effect on the liturgy. The liturgical anarchy that ensued left traces which are still in evidence today. How many times have official documents quoted — to no avail — the text of Sacrosanctum Concilium 22:

Regulation of the liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, accordingly as the law determines, on the bishop… Therefore, no other person, not even if he is a priest, may on his own add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy.

The complete disregard of authority is one of the salient characteristics of the Zeitgeist of the late 1960s.

4. Theological Shift to the “Horizontal”

Part of the post-conciliar theological shift was a new stress on this-worldly realities, which often resulted in a style of prayer which was decidedly horizontal and man-centered. The hieratic, sacral and transcendent emphasis of the Roman canon, in contrast, was viewed as out of date and theologically incorrect. This is a fourth reason for the change from one Eucharistic Prayer to many.

5. The Vernacular and Variety

It was often posited that as long as the Roman canon was said in the original Latin, no one was very much aware of its flaws — the presupposition being that the average priest’s knowledge of Latin was not sufficient to discern such things. This is one of Vagaggini’s arguments:

For example, suppose the canon were said out loud in the vernacular today, in keeping with the spirit of the liturgy and as a means of giving full spiritual benefit to the people…. We would soon realize just how serious are the liturgical and pastoral problems arising from the text. If only a few priest so far are aware of these issues, it is because many have had their awareness blunted by routine and a more or less mechanical recitation (even if in a general spirit of devotion) of a text in a dead language. And this routine conceals the problems fairly effectively. But how much longer can this state of affairs continue? 33

Not only would the saying of the canon in the vernacular reveal its flaws, according to this school of thought, but it would also become repetitious and monotonous. This line of thought is reflected in the proposal that Cardinal Lercaro, the president of the Consilium, submitted to Pope Paul VI on June 20, 1966:

Especially if said aloud, the Roman Canon would become burdensome due to its very changelessness and to some elements that are too narrowly local, such as the lists of the saints…. (Bugnini, p.449).

Alternative prayers were proposed, therefore, for the sake of variety.

The argument about variety is not foolproof, however. While it is true that a certain amount of variety helps to retain the interest of the listener, too much variety can be destructive of one of the basic norms of any ritual action: its repeatability. This anthropological principle — the role of memory — is played out in actual practice: Eucharistic Prayer II and III are used so often that most people have them memorized.

A personal anecdote can illustrate the point nicely. When I was first learning Italian, I would usually chose Eucharistic Prayer II because it was the shortest and the easiest for a foreigner to “get through.” When I would stumble on a word or phrase, the old woman who served as sacristan, sitting in the first pew, would pipe out the correction loud and clear, from memory. The point is that, even in terms of the Eucharistic Prayers, priests (and people) tend to choose sameness over variety.

6. A New Formalism

A sixth reason for the change from one Eucharistic Prayer to many is a very simple shift from old-rite formalism to new-rite formalism.

By formalism I mean the desire to observe the prescribed rituals, but to get them done as quickly as possible so as to move on to more important things. According to this spirit (which is legion), the supreme criterion is brevity. And the shortest Eucharistic Prayer is II.

These six reasons do not pretend to be exhaustive. Such as they are, however, perhaps they can serve as a stimulus for discussion.

Summary Proposal

After having studied how we got from one Eucharistic Prayer to many, and after offering some reasons as to why things happened the way they did, it is now time to pose the question: how should we respond to the situation? These comments of mine are now addressed specifically to priests.

My proposal is not radical. Once the other modern houses have been built around the old homestead, you cannot just tear them down. In addition, modern houses have their own merits and conveniences. Rather, I would like to propose a re-discovery of the beauty of the Roman canon and of the transcendence and holiness of God it communicates. One could recommend that priests read and study in this area, but practically speaking, most priests have little time for extra study.

Hence the following modest proposal instead: Why not use the Roman canon more frequently, and come to love it by using it? How much more time does it add to the Mass: three or four minutes perhaps? If the Roman canon were once again to have pride of place, then the other Eucharistic Prayers could be used as supplementary or auxiliary anaphoras, for the sake of variety, according to pastoral need.

1 Enrico Mazza, The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1986), p.xxxi.

2 For a later historical survey which mentions this intervention, cf. Notitiae 8 (1972), p.132. Bishop Duschak proposed this idea first outside the Council hall in a press conference on November 5, 1962. For more information, cf. G. Caprile, Il Concilio Vaticano II, vol 2: Il primo periodo 1962-1963 (Roma 1968), p.114.

3 Josef Jungmann, “Um die Reform des römischen Kanons: eine kritische Stellungnahme zu C. Vagagginis Entwürfen“, Liturgisches Jahrbuch 17 (1967) 2.

4 Hans Küng, “Das Eucharistiegebet: Konzil und Erneuerung der römischen Liturgie“, Wort und Wahrheit 18 (1963) 102-107.

5 Karl Amon, “Gratias Agere: Zur Reform des Messcanons“, Liturgisches Jahrbuch 15 (1965) 79-98.

6 Both texts are conveniently cited in Cipriano Vagaggini, The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1967), pp.76-83.

7 I am following the story as given by Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948-1975 (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1990), pp.105-107. Since I rely heavily on Bugnini’s account of this period and quote him frequently, all citations of his work will henceforth appear in the body of the text.

8 Cf. A. Schilling, Fürbitten und Kanongebete der Holländischen Kirche, Essen 1968.

9 Philippe Béguerie, “La Prière Eucharistique“, Notitiae 20 (1984) 196.

10 Bernard Botte, “Où en est la réforme du Canon de la Messe?“, Les Questions Liturgiques et Paroissiales 49 (1968) 138-141.

11 Il canone della messa e la riforma liturgica, Torino-Leumann: Elle di Ci, 1966. For the English translation, cf. note 6.

12 For a measured critique of Vagaggini’s proposals, cf. J. Jungmann, “Um die Reform des römischen Kanons: eine kritische Stellungnahme zu C. Vagagginis Entwürfen“, Liturgisches Jahrbuch 17 (1967) 1-17. Jungmann’s conclusion: “Thus, when the question of a new canon is posed — and this should not be sought in the first place in a totally new composition, or in the (admittedly not impossible) borrowing of a foreign anaphora, but in a way that the timeless and worthy elements of our own tradition are not abandoned but are purified and further developed — then, for the reasons given, one will not find in Vagaggini’s work the desired solution. We cannot follow the path to a foreign liturgy without carefully examining and fostering our own inheritance. Vagaggini’s book — in spite of everything — is an important piece of work. It can make this contribution: the clarification of this or that point, and it is also useful to strengthen courage for a true reform. But as a concrete suggestion, his two proposals should not even be considered (p.17).

13 The Consilium was not satisfied with the Pope’s response, but explained the reasons for the proposed changes and asked that “at least the new Eucharistic Prayers have the text that it had approved.” Permission was granted on October 12, 1967. Later, those changes would be introduced into the Roman canon as well. Cf. Bugnini, p.462.

14 There is an error here in Bugnini’s text, as the numbers do not add up. The text says: “Of the 183 Fathers voting 173 said yes, 22 no, and 33 yes with qualifications.” That would make 228 in all.

15 Prece eucharistica: Notitiae 4 (1968) 156. For the English text cf. International Commission on English in the Liturgy, Documents on the Liturgy: 1963-1979 (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1982), #241, pp.608-609. (Hereafter cited as DOL).

16 Notitiae 4 (1968) 157-160; DOL #242, pp.609-612.

17 “La publication“, Notitiae 4 (1968) 146-148; DOL #243, pp.612-613.

18 “Au cours des derniers mois,” Notitiae 4 (1968) 148-155; DOL #244, pp.614-619.

19 Cf. Bugnini, p.466 for a list of these concessions.

20 For the complete text, see Bugnini, p.474.

21 “Eucharistiae participationem“, Notitiae 9 (1973) 192-201; cf. DOL #248, pp.623-629.

22 DOL, pp.624-625.

23 DOL, p.625.

24 For information about the composition of these texts, cf. Bugnini, pp.478-479.

25 Decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship approving new Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children and Reconciliation, November 1, 1974: “Postquam de Precibus“, Notitiae 11 (1975) 4-6; DOL, #249, pp.629-630. The Instruction “Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children and for Masses of Reconciliation” was published the same day: Notitiae 11 (1975) 7-12; DOL #250, pp.630-634.

26 Cf. Bugnini, p.482, n.50. For the official texts, cf. Notitiae 13 (1977) 555-556 (DOL, #251, pp.634-635) and Notitiae 17 (1981) 23. The Latin text of the two reconciliation anaphoras was not published until 1983, on the occasion of the special Jubilee Year of the Redemption: Notitiae 19 (1983) 270-279.

27 The very next day, July 9, 1975, the Congregation for Divine Worship was suppressed and Archbishop Bugnini was relieved of his position. Of course, post hoc does not necessarily mean propter hoc.

28 Anton Hänggi – Irmgard Pahl, Prex Eucharistica: Textus e Variis Liturgiis Antiquioribus Selecti, Fribourg: Éditions Universitaires, 21968. The other collaborators for the volume were Louis Ligier, Joseph Jungmann, Alphonse Raes, Leo Eizenhöfer and Jordi Pinell.

29 Vagaggini, p.90.

30 “Au cours des derniers mois,” Notitiae 4 (1968) 148-155; DOL #244, pp.614-619. The text cited is on p.617.

31 Es ist nicht nur der ökumenische Zug unserer Zeit, der sich der Denkweise orientalischer Theologie anzunähern bestrebt ist, sondern darüber hinaus — man muss nur Vagagginis Darstellung liturgischer Grundbegriffe vor Augen haben — auch ein gutes Stück persönlicher Theologie des Verfassers.” Josef Jungmann, “Um die Reform des römischen Kanons: eine kritische Stellungnahme zu C. Vagagginis Entwürfen“, Liturgisches Jahrbuch 17 (1967) 11.

32 Bernard Botte reports a commonplace opinion in circulation in 1968 about the Roman canon: “On le comparait à un vieil édifice qui, au cours des âges, s’était surchargé d’ornement superflus qui en avaient détruit l’harmonie. La comparaison est boiteuse.” Bernard Botte, “Où en est la réforme du Canon de la Messe?“, Les Questions Liturgiques et Paroissiales 49 (1968) 139.

33 Vagaggini, p.22.

Father Cassian Folsom, OSB

Father Cassian Folsom, O.S.B., is a scholar of sacred music and liturgy, a cancer survivor, and the founder and prior emeritus of the Monks of Norcia. Born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1955, Fr. Cassian studied music before joining the monastic community of Saint Meinrad in 1974. He founded his monastic community in Rome in 1998 and transferred it to Norcia in the year 2000. Over the last 15 years, the Monastery di San Benedetto has grown, attracting new vocations and pilgrims from around the world. He recently retired as prior but continues to serve the community and teach liturgy at the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm in Rome.