Revealing overlooked Roman Missal changes

In all the hoopla leading up to the implementation of the new edition of the Roman Missal in the United States, most of the attention has focused on the new principles used to translate its contents from the original Latin to English. Though questions about “dynamic equivalence” or “formal equivalence” are important and interesting, other changes — arguably more important ones — have barely been mentioned. 

Here’s one: There’s a eucharistic prayer in the new Missal that simply wasn’t in the old Sacramentary. 

Here’s another: Three eucharistic prayers that were in the old books are now absent from the new one. Given the Church’s conviction that the eucharistic prayer (or anaphora, as it is also known) is the heart and high point of the entire Mass, these are no small changes. 

Swiss Mass goes universal

The new Missal includes the “Eucharistic Prayer for Use in Masses for Various Needs.” This relatively new prayer never appeared in the Sacramentary, having only been approved for use in the United States since 1995. It is not surprising, then, that it has been used by priests only rarely and most American Catholics don’t even know it exists. Because it’s now in the Missal, many will be hearing it soon for the first time. 

The prayer’s origins go back to a major synod held by all the Catholic dioceses of Switzerland between 1972 and 1975. The Vatican had recently invited national bishops’ conferences around the world to submit newly composed eucharistic prayers for approval for use in their countries. In 1973, the Swiss bishops submitted an anaphora specially composed by the Swiss Liturgical Commission on the occasion of the synod. 

The new prayer was examined and approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and permission for use was given by Pope Paul VI in August 1974. It was used for the first time in Switzerland the following month. 

The prayer is similar in its basic structure and contents to the more familiar ones in use since the reform of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council. Three elements make it unique. First, a strong theme that runs throughout: The people of the Church traveling in pilgrimage together through history to God. 

Second, two of its parts, the preface (the prayer’s opening section) and the intercessions (the prayers for different members of the Church and remembrance of the saints) are variable; that is, there are four different versions of these parts, with variations on the theme of the Church in pilgrimage. In the new Missal, these variations are given the titles “The Church on the Path to Unity,” “God Guides His Church along the Way of Salvation,” “Jesus, the Way to the Father,” and “Jesus, Who Went about Doing Good.” 

Finally, because Switzerland is a multilingual nation — French, German and Italian are all commonly used by its people — the prayer was approved and published in all three of these languages. It was this unique element that likely led to quick interest in use from other Catholic bishops conferences in other countries. 

Before the end of 1974, the bishops of Luxembourg sought and received Vatican permission to use it as well. The next year, the bishops of Austria did the same. Within five years, the prayer was also approved for use in five other countries. Then came translations into other languages and permission for use in Hungary, Poland, and Spain. By 1989, the “Swiss” eucharistic prayer was being used in 27 nations. An English translation was finally approved for use in the United States in 1995. 

Pope John Paul II’s choice to include it in an appendix of the third edition of the Roman Missal in 2002 (introduced in English with the start of Advent 2011) concluded this prayer’s unique journey from a local composition intended for a single nation to universal use throughout the Roman rite. 

“The prayer is especially rich in scriptural allusions,” Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), told Our Sunday Visitor. “This makes it very engaging and gives it vibrancy that’s unique,” he said. 

Msgr. Wadsworth also noted that it expresses in liturgical form Vatican II’s teaching on the Church.  

“Here we have a Eucharistic prayer which expresses the Church’s understanding of itself as the mystery of salvation,” he said. 

At the same time this new eucharistic prayer appears in the Roman Missal, two other eucharistic prayers disappear from American liturgical books, perhaps to slip into obscurity.

Children’s Masses Out

In the fall of 1974, months after Pope Paul first approved the use of the new eucharistic prayer in Switzerland, the Vatican introduced — with the pontiff’s approval — three new ones for use in the Roman rite throughout the world: the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children.  

They were intended for use only in Masses in which the majority of the assembly was made up of children. 

The Vatican congregation responsible for the texts explained the introduction of three prayers rather than a single one by noting that it would be very difficult to offer a single prayer suitable for all the children of the world, due to the many cultural differences. Each national bishops conference was directed to choose one of the three for use in its own country. 

Unprecedented prayers

Like the Swiss anaphora, but for different reasons, these prayers represent a unique moment in the history of the eucharistic liturgy. For one thing, it was the first time a eucharistic prayer was introduced specifically with the unique needs of one particular group within the Church in mind. 

Perhaps more interestingly, the Vatican gave very wide latitude to those translating the prayer into the vernacular languages of different countries, noting that the translation should be adapted “to the manner of speaking with children in each language concerning matters of great importance.” The official Latin version was a model on which such translations should be based. 

These three prayers were issued as a supplement to the Church’s liturgical books. They were printed, along with two new eucharistic prayers on the theme of reconciliation, toward the back of Sacramentaries published in English-speaking nations. 

Msgr. Wadsworth said that these three eucharistic prayers were all included in the appendix to the third Roman Missal when it was first approved in 2002, along with those for Masses for various needs and those on reconciliation.  

Unlike these, though, the anaphoras for Masses with children were removed in a 2008 revision of the Missal. While no official explanation was offered for the change, Msgr. Wadsworth suggested that one reason they don’t appear may be concern that they were sometimes used in regular parish Masses, which would be considered an improper use. 

It is hard to make an objective judgment of how frequently the “Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children” have been used over the past 37 years, but it seems safe to say that “somewhat infrequently” would be not too far off the mark. While many priests completely ignored them, these three prayers were sometimes used for special children’s Masses, especially Catholic grade school Masses and Masses that included the celebration of children’s first holy Communion.

Awaiting retranslation

He noted, though, that they are still fully approved for use in Masses for children in America and elsewhere. In fact, the U.S. bishops’ conference will soon publish a new edition of them that includes the newer version of the words of consecration as they appear in all the other eucharistic prayers of the new Missal. It is likely that they will soon be retranslated in their entirety according to the newer translation principles. How much they will be used, given their absence from the Missal, remains to be seen. 

Given the central place of the eucharistic prayer in Roman Catholic worship, these shifts in the Missal’s contents are significant ones for Catholics in the English-speaking world. What impact they have on American Catholics will only be detectable in years to come. 

Barry Hudock is the author of “The Eucharistic Prayer: A User’s Guide” (Liturgical Press, $16.95).