Issues of Anaphorae

The subject of Eucharistic Prayers or “”Anaphorae” is one of the core pieces of Liturgical study.  It is often considered the apex of the liturgy, for when it is finished one can be certain that bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  Taken by itself it is nothing (for one cannot just take bread and wine, plug in whatever anaphora they wish, and magically transform the offerings), but there can be no Eucharistic Liturgy without it.  It should come as no surprise that such an integral part of the Eucharist has been the subject of much controversy when people try to break down what a “valid” anaphora constitutes.

The general structure of most of them all follows a common pattern:  a “Preface”, the Seraphic Hymn (“Holy,Holy, Holy…”), “lead-up” prayers, recounting the events of the Last Supper, the “Words of Institution”, and then an Epiclesis (the last two are essentially the climax of the event).  If all anaphorae followed this pattern there would be no controversy, but they do not.  The Roman Canon lacks a very clear “explicit” epiclesis, at least three anaphorae (as far as this author is aware) lack the “words of institution”, the Anaphora of Addai and Mari hardly follows this outlined pattern at all, and the Anaphora St. Basil is so long-winded that it does not really “climax” at either the institution narrative or the epiclesis – it just ends.

Certain theologians and their schools of thought have brought into question whether an anaphora that lacks any of these elements can still be “valid”.  Russian Orthodox in the 19th century were almost unanimous that the epiclesis was necessary but differed on the necessity of the institution narrative.  To accept this line of thinking one must reject the Roman Mass as insufficient, as many Orthodox have.  The “Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great” is by far the best one used by “Western Rite Orthodox” since it is almost entirely the Roman Mass with one notable exception: an epiclesis anachronistically inserted.

And we beseech thee, O Lord, to send down thy Holy Spirit upon these offerings, that he would make this bread the precious Body of thy Christ, and that which is in this Cup the precious Blood of thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ, transmuting them by thy Holy Spirit…

R. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Since the last change to this Roman Canon occurred under Gregory the Great (nearly at the cost of his life), there is no question that the Canon is both ancient and relatively unchanged.  It’s lack of an explicit epiclesis is simply testament to the fact that it existed before people began to think of such things.  If the Canon was valid back when both “Eternal Rome” and “Holy Orthodoxy” were united, then it should realistically present no problem for the Byzantine Orthodox.

On the flip side, there is the line of the Western ultra-scholastics who insisted on the absolute necessity of the “words of institution”.  Their line of thought dominated in the Roman patriarchate for centuries with some unfortunate results:  an arrogant and destructive tendency to deconstruct and attempt to deduce everything imaginable, a shift towards liturgical minimalism, rejection of ancient and venerable Eastern practices that did not mix well with their outlook, and the forced insertion of the “institution words” into the Addai and Mari anaphora used by the Chaldean and Malabar Christians.  Their many arguments against the Eastern anaphorae fall apart on even a cursory inspection.

Anaphora of Addai and Mari (excerpt: after the Seraphic Hymn and before the Epiclesis)

The Post-Sanctus (or second Gehanta):
And with these heavenly hosts we give thanks to thee, o my Lord, even we thy servants weak and frail and miserable, for that thou hast given us great grace past recompense in that thou didst put on our manhood that thou mightest quicken it by thy godhead, and hast exalted our low estate and restored our fall and raised our mortality and forgiven our trespasses and justified our sinfulness and enlightened our knowledge and, o our Lord and our God, hast condemned our enemies and granted victory to the weakness of our frail nature in the overflowing mercies of thy grace.
The Oblation (or third Gehanta):
Do thou, o my Lord, in thy many and unspeakable mercies make a good and acceptable memorial for all the just and righteous fathers who have been well-pleasing in thy sight, in the commemoration of the body and blood of thy Christ which we offer unto thee on thy pure and holy altar as thou hast taught us, and grant us thy tranquillity and thy peace all the days of the world.
Yea, o our Lord and our God, grant us thy tranquillity and thy peace all the days of the world that all the inhabitants of the earth may know thee that thou art the only true God the Father and that thou hast sent our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son and thy beloved. And he our Lord and our God came and in his life giving gospel taught us all the purity and holiness of the prophets and the apostles and the martyrs and the confessors and the bishops and the doctors and the presbyters and the deacons and all the children of the holy catholic church, even them that have been signed with the living sign of holy baptism.
The Anamnesis:
And we also, o my Lord, thy weak and frail and miserable servants who are gathered together in thy name, both stand before thee at this time and have received the example which is from thee delivered unto us, rejoicing and praising and exalting and commemorating and celebrating this great and fearful and holy and lifegiving and divine mystery of the passion and the death and the burial and the resurrection of our Lord our Saviour Jesus Christ.

First, there is the challenge that the Nestorians “removed” the institution narrative from a liturgy that always had it.  The lack of documented evidence of this is enough to discredit it even before one adds that the Nestorians had no motivation to do so.  There is nothing in the institution narrative that would contradict Nestorian theology.  This challenge to Addai and Mari, put forth regrettably by even great men like Adrian Fortescue, can simply be discarded.

Second, there is the challenge that the words of institution were always said but never written down, for… reasons and then over time people forgot about them because they were not written down.  This unfounded speculation collapses under the weight of much contradiction, as many very old texts of other anaphorae (such as the one found in the Coptic Sacramentary of Serapion) do contain the institution words.  Furthermore, this begs the question of why – if these words were so important – they never were written down or why anyone would forget them.

Finally, Addai and Mari is hardly the only anaphora to lack the words.  There are also the defunct Western Anaphora of St. Sixtus II and the West Syriac Anaphora of Dionysius.  Both of these differ from Addai and Mari in that they have a more conventional structure, but they both lack the explicit institution words.  In other words, the much-maligned East Syriac anaphora does not stand alone.

“Institution” in the Anaphora of Sixtus II

When he was prepared for the redemptive passion, in the bread which by Him was blessed + + +, broken and divided unto His holy apostles, He gave us His propitiatory Body for life eternal.

Likewise, also in the cup which by Him was signed, sanctified + + + and and given to His holy apostles, He gave us His propitiatory Blood for life eternal.

And with these He added this admonition, saying: So often as You partake of these, make remembrance of My death, My burial and My resurrection until I come.

Consecration in the Anaphora of Dionysius

Holy is the Father, Who begets and is not begotten, holy is the Son Who is begotten and is not begetter, and holy is the Holy Spirit Who proceeds from the Father and takes of the Son, the one true God Who redeemed us by His mercies and compassion.

When He prepared for the redemptive passion, he took bread and blessed + + and sanctified + and broke, and called it His Holy Body for eternal life for those who receive it.
People: Amen.

And also the cup blended of wine and water, He blessed + + and sanctified + and completed as His Precious Blood of eternal life for those who receive it.
People: Amen.

While He entrusted these unto His holy disciples, He ordered them saying: This you do in remembrance of Me until I come.
People: Your death, our Lord, we commemorate, Your resurrection we confess and Your second coming we wait for. May Your mercy be upon us all.

Fortunately, more recent and complete scholarship (mostly taken by Robert Taft) has worked to sweep aside these misconceptions and wrong ideas about the absolute necessity of “the words”.  Nowadays, the Catholic Communion is more likely to be the accepting one when it comes to the praxis of the other apostolic churches (Byzantines, Eastern Catholics, Miaphysites, and Assyrians).  The acknowledgement by some that one cannot blindly apply scholastic thought into fields that both predated it and were never meant for it is certainly a step in the right direction.

There one final thing to note.  Part of what makes the West Syriac church and its liturgy a difficult topic to cover is the sheer number of anphorae it uses.  The Maronites retain over twenty while the Syrian Catholic Church was allowed to keep only seven; the first entered union with Rome when scholasticism was new while the second did so when it had gone much further than Aquinas or Anselm could ever have anticipated.  The Syriac Jacobite church has over eighty anaphorae comprising of ancient texts, Patrisic anaphorae, adaptions of Byzantine/Coptic/Armenian ones, and ones written long after Chalcedon (many of this group are considered invalid by both Roman Catholics and Byzantine Orthodox).  The sheer scope is overwhelming and a daunting task to any who wish to study it.


6 thoughts on “Issues of Anaphorae

  1. One more time, an insightful comment on a most important but generally badly addressed matter. It is a pity that most sudies used to deal only with the validity of a given anaphora, instead of just recieving it from Tradition and study them in deep.

    On the Addai and Mari anaphora, I strongly recommend you this site. It is written mostly in Italian, but some of the bibliografy found there is in English. Its author is an Italian (and more or less Bugninian) liturgist, who is one of the leading experts on that very anaphora:

    I still remember when I asked an Assyrian monk about this very matter, and he replied me: “What does the absence of Institutuon Narrative matter, if the consecration comes from the Epiclesis?” This is true in the Assyrian tradition, as well as the highlighting of the Institutuon Narrative is in the Roman tradition. So I don’t know how a man who says that the Roman Canon “seems more like a loosely joined collection of prayers. (…) if the disjointed nature of this anaphora weren’t bad enough”, as I have read today, can call himself “Orthodox”.


  2. On the other hand, your post deals also with some secondary, though interesting, topics. It reminds me to how the postconciliar reforms were an exercise of both orientalization and ultra-latinization of the old Roman anaphora. Let me explain this:

    1) On the one hand, the addition of three new anaphoras in 1968 wanted to make the Roman liturgy more akin to the oriental ones, as the exclusivity of the Canon was seen as an excentricity. The inclusion of Epicleses in these new Eucharistic Prayers was part of the same operation.

    2) On the other hand, the year before (1967) almost all the signs of the cross in the Canon were stripped from it: though this was due partially to the aim of simplification, it was also the final step on the way of liturgical minimalism which, sadly, followed the centuries after the declaration that the Institution Narrative, and nothing else, was the form of the sacrament. The fact that the only sign which remained rested at the very beginning of the Canon, and not in the Quam oblationem, where it would be expected if the only factor be an epicleptic one, makes me suppose that the true meaning of that stripping was just to get rid of those marks that still pointed to the consecratory nature of the entire anaphora (especially those after the Consecration Words).

    I hope my dissertation wasn’t too dull or unnecessary.

    K. e.


    • Not at all. I always appreciate your comments.

      If you want an idea of how the “Good Old Days”, the Liturgical Movement, and the new mass were viewed by Eastern Catholics, then I would recommend “What Happened to the Liturgical Reform?” by Archmandrite Serge Keleher (UGCC). It’s a part of a larger book on liturgical issues.


      • Thank you for the suggestion! I have found it on Google Books, and it sounds quite interesting – but sadly many of its pages are occulted, so it is somewhat difficult to read. Do you know if there is a transcription of it anywhere?


  3. Of what I could read of the article, many of those things he (and you and me) see as abuses and aberrations are praised and presented as truly traditional features of Catholic worship by Tradistanis.


  4. I read the same thing. I went ahead and bought a used copy of the book and am waiting for it to arrive.

    What makes that particular section so fascinating is that Keleher was clearly very knowledgeable with regards to the West (which is something many Oriental experts tend to ignore). He was also stationed in Ireland and – based on the articles – had seen the praxis of the American church. He would have seen some of the worst examples of preconciliar Low-Mass rot.


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