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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
While He entrusted these unto His holy disciples, He ordered them saying: This you do in remembrance of Me until I come.
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.