Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sacrifice and Eucharistic Prayers

At the outset, let me make the preliminary statement that, as a general rule, I am not in favor of Eucharistic Prayers in the Lutheran tradition - at least not the American Lutheran tradition.  This is because the Eucharistic Prayer has been replaced by the General Prayer in our Common Service, which is rather beautiful in its own right and, in my opinion, an example of the natural evolution inherent to the Liturgy.  That being said, perhaps some regions never abandoned the practice of Eucharistic prayers.  Perhaps some pastors have good reason for utilizing the practice as a matter of confession, conscience, or for some other pastoral reason.  Who am I to judge such things? 

One Eucharistic Prayer that is currently used by a Lutheran parish recently came to my attention.  I personally find no theological problem with this prayer.  However, it seems that a plethora of Lutheran pastors find the prayer to be highly problematic.  One of the primary objections seems to be that it uses sacrificial terminology.  However, the Eucharistic Prayer of the Eastern Rite is lauded by our Confessions, particularly where it speaks in sacrificial terms:
The Greek canon says also many things concerning the offering, but it shows plainly that it is not speaking properly of the body and blood of the Lord, but of the whole service, of prayers and thanksgivings. For it says thus: ((greek)). When this is rightly understood, it gives no offense. For it prays that we be made worthy to offer prayers and supplications and bloodless sacrifices for the people. For he calls even prayers bloodless sacrifices. Just as also a little afterward: [((greek)), We offer, he says, this reasonable and bloodless service. For they explain this inaptly who would rather interpret this of a reasonable sacrifice, and transfer it to the very body of Christ, although the canon speaks of the entire worship, and in opposition to the opus operatum Paul has spoken of logike latreia (Rom 12:1) [reasonable service], namely, of the worship of the mind, of fear, of faith, of prayer, of thanksgiving, etc.
The Lutheran Church has never rejected the notion that the Mass is a eucharistic sacrifice; that is, one of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  Rather, she rejects the papal teaching that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice, or one that merits forgiveness or reconciliation on account of our offerings or actions.  The Lutheran Church confesses that Christ's one-time sacrifice on Calvary made complete satisfaction for all sins and that the benefits of this satisfaction are communicated to us in the Divine Service.  The Lutheran parish's Eucharistic Prayer in question only references "our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving" as a sacrifice that comes from man; in contrast, the propitiatory sacrifice it references is denoted as the following: "Almighty God, our heavenly Father, from Your tender mercy You gave Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption. By the one oblation of Himself, once offered, He made there a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world."  That hardly seems to be the papist error to me.

As such, I want to reproduce here the full Eucharistic Prayer in question to solicit further commentary.  I am not looking for opinions concerning whether or not Eucharistic Prayers are a wise practice or appropriate for the Lutheran tradition (though such comments are certainly welcome); rather, I would like to know if this prayer is theologically orthodox.  I contend that it is:

P: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, from Your tender mercy You gave Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption. By the one oblation of Himself, once offered, He made there a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. And in His Holy Gospel, He instituted and commanded us to celebrate a perpetual remembrance of His precious death until He comes again.
The Pastor then chants:
For our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” The Pastor genuflects, then elevates the Host, after which he genuflects a second time.
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” The Pastor genuflects, then elevates the Cup, after which he genuflects a second time.

Therefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of Your dearly beloved Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, we Your humble servants celebrate and make here, before Your divine majesty, with these Your holy gifts, the commemoration Your Son has willed us to make. Remembering His blessed Passion, mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension, we give You most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits which He has procured for us.
And of Your almighty goodness we most humbly beseech You, O merciful Father, to hear us. And send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon Your gifts of bread and wine, and bless them and hallow them; and show that this bread is the precious Body of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ; and this cup is the precious Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, which was shed for the life of the world.
Earnestly desiring Your fatherly goodness, mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving: we most humbly beseech You to grant that, by the merits and death of Your Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in His Blood, we and Your whole Church may obtain remission of our sins and all other benefits of His Passion.
And here we offer and present to You, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto You. We humbly beseech You that all who partake of this Holy Communion may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of Your Son Jesus Christ, and be filled with Your grace and heavenly benediction, and being made one body with Him, may dwell in Him, even as He dwells in them.
And although we are unworthy, because of our many sins, to offer You any sacrifice; yet we beseech You to accept this our bounden duty and service. And command that our prayers and supplications, by the ministry of Your holy angels, may be brought to Your holy tabernacle before the sight of Your divine majesty, not weighing our merits but pardoning our offenses through Christ our Lord. Amen.


  1. OK I'll give it an attempt: 1) per Luther Reed in "Lutheran Liturgy" a Thanksgiving (Eucharistic) Prayer is desirable to correct the impression that the Words of Institution "consecrate" the elements (p355). Since I remain a Lutheran, then such a prayer is wrong.
    2) Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee's prayer is full of praise for God and yet he is rejected. The Publican says only "God have mercy on me". He is accepted. So it is quite possible for praise to be at best inappropriate.
    3) A prayer such as this with its long list of statements is obviously not meant for God who knows all that but for the people hearing it. Matthew 7. 4) In Eastern Orthodox theology the pastor must ask the Holy Spirit to create the Lord's Supper in the prayer. This contradicts the Lutheran understanding that it is Christ's Supper and the pastor only "continues" it through time according to His direction. Thus the call on the Holy Spirit is a direct statement of false theology.

    Is that enough for now. :)

    1. Arthur,

      Thank you for the reply. I'm not quite sure what you mean by point 1). You seem to be saying that the connotations that some people apply to Eucharistic Prayers are in error, hence we shouldn't use them (correct me if I'm wrong). There may be some merit to this (though I would argue that the same point could be raised against the entire Divine Liturgy), but I don't see what that has do do with the words and theology of the prayer itself.

      With regard to point 2), as I argued in the post, the General Prayer of our Common Service has largely taken on the role of the Eucharistic Prayer. To strike down the Eucharistic Prayer on the grounds you seem to be arguing, we would also have to strike down the General Prayer.

      I can certainly agree, to an extent, with your point 3). However, as I argue in the preceding paragraph, the General Prayer is also quite lengthy - in fact, I think it is longer than the Eucharistic Prayer in question. So I'm still not sure I see your point.

      Finally, with regard to number 4), what the Easterners do or do not believe should not impact our theology any more than the Papists' beliefs. The Easterners and Papists also believe that the Sacrament of the Altar is a sacrifice made on some level by man. Does that warrant discontinuing the use of the Sacrament? Such foolish questions don't even warrant answering. In that light, I still don't see any theological grounds for knocking the Eucharistic Prayer in question.

    2. Arthur is a Gnesio-Lutheran. There is nothing wrong with an evangelical Eucharistic Prayer such as the one quoted above or the Eucharistic Prayers in the Lutheran Book of Worship. The simplest argument for a Eucharistic Prayer is the fact that Jesus "gave thanks" at the Last Supper. Giving thanks, taking, breaking, the Verba, the distributing, and the command "do this in the remembrance" are all part of our Lord's institution. We know from the earliest liturgical sources that bishop/presider prayed a Eucharistic Prayer over the elements of bread and wine. Quite frankly, Luther's liturgies and many subsequent Lutheran liturgies (including the Common Service) are impoverished--not invalid, but impoverished nonetheless, because of the omission of a Eucharistic Prayer. With so much liturgical research and with the crafting of evangelical prayers in which one cannot detect the slightest trace of propitiatory sacrifice, works righteousness, or 'ex opere operato,' I find the the debate over whether or not Lutherans should have Eucharistic Prayer rather ludicrous.

    3. One could argue, of course, that the "giving of thanks" is adequately met in the Vere Dignum. So I think it's a bit disingenuous to argue that the Common Service Tradition is lacking - especially in light of Pope St. Gregory the Great's dictum to the effect that the Blessed Apostles themselves only used the Lord's own words in the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, i.e. the Pater Noster. I personally find this to be a most beneficial (and apparently apostolic) practice, but I certainly don't knock anyone for using Eucharistic Prayers. I just think it's a bit misleading to argue that Sacred Scripture endorses elongated Eucharistic Prayer as the "giving of thanks" over and against, say, the Vere Dignum, or the Blessed Reformer's Exhortation (which also includes a "giving of thanks"). All serve the same essential purpose; that is, the making of eucharist.

  2. "...send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon Your gifts of bread and wine, and bless them and hallow them; and show that this bread is the precious Body of our Lord". The Holy Spirit comes to us through Christ's outward word of institution not through human prayers cleverly sandwiched around the almighty, efficacious Word of God.

    Daniel Gorman

    1. Thanks for the comment on this post, Mr. Gorman.

      I of course agree that human prayers do not effect the Sacrament. Christ's holy and efficacious Word does that all by Itself. But it seems to me that the prayer is asking God to show us that the already-consecrated bread and wine is the Body and Blood of Christ.

    2. There is nothing wrong with praying for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, should such prayers be made between the consecration of the element and the reception? Should we interrupt the pure gospel of the Sacrament for an application of law and human works?

      In reading the four scriptural accounts of the supper, I see Christ giving thanks before the consecration but no prayer between consecration and reception and no invocation of the Holy Spirit at all. Shouldn't our liturgy agree with Christ's institution: "This do"?

      Daniel Gorman

    3. By the same token, then, Mr. Gorman, we should do away with the Pax Domini and Agnus Dei as well. So too we should commune in silence.

      Obviously, I am being facetious and don't think that's a good argument. I certainly see the merit in your assertions and lean toward them myself, but I don't think they can be used to condemn the piety and practice of another without also condemning our own practice of having other texts after the Verba.

    4. Not necessarily silent. But perhaps our minds should stay focused on the gospel during the time between the Verba and the reception.

      This discussion has caused me to rethink the Common Service of 1888 which I have always considered the gold standard of the communion liturgies. The Pax Domini is gospel. The Agnus Dei is gospel and prayer. The prayer parts are of a very passive, beggarly, type. But, technical speaking, they are law and not the pure gospel.

      And what about the communion hymns we sing while we wait to receive the body and blood of Christ? Are they about us or about what God does for us?

      I will continue to take communion at divine services that include prayers after consecration; however, I'm no longer going to participate in those prayers. Thank you so much for another thought provoking topic!

      Daniel Gorman