The eucharistic prayers of EOW1

I have already outlined Enriching Our Worship’s rite of Holy Eucharist as a whole.  I turn now to the eucharistic prayers of Enriching our Worship (henceforth, EOW1; see the entire document here and all the volumes in the series here). As I did with the eucharistic liturgy as a whole, I will also highlight the unique features of the EOW1 rite compared with the rites of the 1979 BCP.

  • There are no masculine pronouns for God, and few for Jesus (only when explicitly referring to Jesus in his earthly life)
  • The title Lord is not used, except in the Sursum Corda (Within the 1979 BCP Rite II, Prayer C had the lowest uses of Lord with 4, while Rite I, Prayer II had a total of 14 uses)
  • The EOW1 eucharistic prayers are not clear whether they are addressed to a specific Person of the Holy Trinity or if the terms of address used are only meant to indicate a divine addressee generally. Here are the names used when addressing God, (1) before the Sanctus and then (2) after the Sanctus in each prayer:
    • Prayer 1: (1) You and (2) Gracious God, creator of the universe and giver of life
    • Prayer 2: (1) Holy and gracious God, source of abundant life and (2) Holy and living God
    • Prayer 3: (1) our true and loving God/Holy One of Blessing and (2) Creator of all

Compare these divine addresses to those found in the 1979 BCP, all of which explicitly address the Father:

  Rite I-I Rite I-II Rite II-A Rite II-B Rite II-C Rite II-D
First title before Sanctus “O Lord, holy Father, Almighty everlasting God” “O Lord, holy Father, Almighty everlasting God” “Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth” “Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth” “God of all power, Ruler of the Universe” “Father … God, living and true”
First title after Sanctus “Almighty God, our heavenly Father” “O Lord our God” “Holy and gracious Father” “O God” “Father” “Holy Lord, glorious in power”

A similar point can be made about the terms “Father” and “Son” within the body of the prayers. Within EOW1’s eucharistic prayers:

  • There is no use of the name Father
  • There is no use of the name Son to refer to Jesus; note that Prayer 2 names Jesus son of Mary and Jesus, the holy child of God. For the sake of comparison again, here is the usage in the 1979 BCP of the terms in the eucharistic prayer through the end of the liturgy:
  Rite I-I Rite I-II Rite II-A Rite II-B Rite II-C Rite II-D
Uses of Father 8 7 5 3 3 5
Uses of Son 9 7 4 3 2 3
  • Additionally, the prayers never speak of Jesus as God’s only Son or child; all the eucharistic prayers in the 1979 BCP use this adjective, except Prayer B
  • Recall that the Lord’s Prayer is not listed and thus is not required if the entire EOW1 rite is used

In short, all gendered language for God and all language regarding the inter-Trinitarian relations/procession have been omitted.

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So what is stated in these prayers regarding Trinitarian theology? Here is an outline of the theology that can be surmised from the prayers (quotations are noted parenthetically with the numeral of the eucharistic prayer from which it comes):

  • There is a clearly one God. This God is holy, eternal (though Prayer 2 makes no mention of this latter quality), gracious, living, a source of blessing (3) or abundance (second Postcommunion prayer), and giver of life (a creedal title for the Holy Spirit that is interestingly used in such a way to not tie it to a particular person).
  • There is also Jesus Christ who redeems us (1, 3), is Savior, is God’s eternal Word (1, 3) who has never been silent (3), and is Wisdom (3).
    • The work of Jesus was to triumph over evil, opening the way of freedom and peace (1), to make the sacrifice of his life (2). He is the one who freed us from sin, brought us into your life, reconciled us to you, and restored us to the glory you intend for us (3)
    • The relationship of Jesus to God is that Jesus is God’s eternal Word, made mortal flesh in Jesus (1), the holy child of God (2)
  • There is a (Holy) Spirit who replenishes (1), who moved over the deep and brought all things into being (2), who acts to make bread and wine the Body and Blood of Jesus and to make us Christ’s Body in the world (2), a people of hope, justice, and love (3), and generally part of the Body of Christ.

More could be said, but this provides a fair overview, I trust.

Conclusion

Here are some of the implications of the rite and the eucharistic prayers in particular. The most serious is that the relations between the Persons of the Trinity are almost indiscernible. We are left with a substantial set of questions:

  • If there are (to use the traditional language) three hypostases or Persons who are nonetheless homoousios (of the same substance, meaning that they are all “God” and thus completely distinct from creation), how do we distinguish the hypostases from each other? How is God related to Jesus and the Holy Spirit? From the prayers, it would seem that their distinction comes about by way of their actions, not by their relations to each other or how they come forth from the First Person. But, of course, this runs the risk of either tritheism or modalism. Traditionally, Christians have taken extreme care to maintain that (in some way) all three Persons act even when we speak of just one Person undertaking an act (e.g. if the Father creates, we cannot say that the Holy Spirit does NOT create). This is a primary point of Gregory of Nyssa’s On “Not Three Gods”; unity of operation practically is the definition of common deity.
  • More strikingly, it is not clear if there is a “First Person,” the One traditionally called Father. Is Jesus God? Is the Holy Spirit God? Are we to infer when God is used at the beginning of the eucharistic prayers, that we are referring to the Father? There is also nothing that really precludes a “binitarian” theology in the prayers. Without the language of Father or Unbegotten, we are left with the more generic term God along with Jesus/Word/Wisdom/Child and Holy Spirit. There is nothing that really clarifies if there is a third Person besides Jesus and the Holy Spirit to whom the prayer is addressed, or whether the prayers asserts that there is God who is Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I honestly doubt that this is the intention of the text’s authors. But the problem is the construction doesn’t rule out this interpretation.

There is actually nothing in the whole of the rite that precludes a subordinationist Trinitarian theology à la Arius, Eusebius of Caesarea, or Neo-Arians like Eunomius. To be sure, a major piece of the argument that Athanasius put forward was that actions like “saving” and “sanctifying” are actions that can only be undertaken by God and not by a creature. But lots of Christians were willing to attribute salvific actions to a Son and a Holy Spirit who are creatures, though obviously unique and divinely-elevated creatures who by grace are given a distinctive place in creation, salvation, and sanctification. Many third- and fourth-century Christians prayed, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and so the Holy Spirit,” when they did not mean that the Son and the Spirit are God or are equal to the Father or are God in the same way that the Father is God.

In short, it is simply not clear what kind of Trinitarian theology is embedded in these eucharistic prayers. Even a reference to Christ as “who was and is and is to come” — this does not preclude a Christ created by God before the rest of creation. The lack of language that clarifies each Person’s relationships to the Others (which, in traditional theology, is bound up with who each Person is — i.e. Jesus is the eternal and Only-begotten Son of the Unbegotten Father, whose union and love is constituted eternally by the Holy Spirit) means that a great deal about the God to whom we are praying is quite unclear. Neither neo-Arian subordinationism, modalism, “binitarianism,” bitheism, or tritheism are necessarily ruled out by the linguistic constructions of EOW1.

At this point, it seems prudent to ask: Are these positions ruled out in the current prayers of the 1979 BCP? The answer must be given in two parts.

  • I noted already a number of times where parts of the 1979 BCP that spoke clearly of the Trinity and their relations were removed (principally, the opening acclamation in ordinary time and optional final blessing, and the absence of Father and Son language). None of the 1979 eucharistic prayers say much about the Holy Spirit, particularly in terms of the Spirit’s relation to the Father and the Son. They all use the Father/Son language, Prayers B and C using it the least.
  • The second part of the answer concerns the wider context. First, the 1979 communion rites presume the use of the Nicene Creed on every Sunday. Add to this that for most of the year, a Trinitarian opening acclamation and blessing is used, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed, and most places also sing the Gloria in excelsis (the Te Deum would do just as well). Within this wider context, then, the 1979 rite as a whole speaks classical Trinitarian theology, regardless of which of the 6 Eucharistic Prayers are used.

Thus, the answer is, “Yes,” these various positions that could be read into the EOW1 rite are excluded by the 1979 rites as a whole.

What makes those Trinitarian errors (neo-Arian subordinationism, modalism, “binitarianism,” bitheism, or tritheism) quite possible interpretations of the EOW1 rite, especially the eucharistic prayers, is the absence of the wider context of the rite that secures classical Trinitarian theology, as is found in the 1979 BCP rites. Perhapa most significantly, Dr. Meyers indicated in her recent presentation that the use of the Nicene Creed is precisely one of the things likely up for debate in Prayer Book revision process. “The Creed was written in the thought world of the fourth century,” she writes, “and it’s a vital ecumenical statement. But for many in our contemporary context, the language is impenetrable and a stumbling block.” The context of this statement came in the section of her talk that focused on Trinitarian theology, a discussion that she framed with the work of Catherine LaCugna (see her well-known book God For Us). The concern expressed by Meyers and by LaCugna is summarized quite well by the patristic scholar Lewis Ayres: in the fourth century, it is thought that there was too much focus “on the unity of God and with being reliant on an alien Platonic metaphysics which serves to present a fully Trinitarian theology” (Nicaea and its Legacy, p. 364).

Much of the approach of scholars like LaCugna, however, has been soundly challenged by scholars such as Lewis Ayres, Michel Rene Barnes, Sarah Coakley, and Khaled Anatolios. They have clearly shown on historical grounds that the concern of the Fathers was with a coherent account of the whole of the Scriptural witness. These debates, in short, were not philosophical but scriptural. They were debates about the exegesis of the Bible, and one of the main questions was how to speak in such a way as to preserve what the Scriptures say and then how to make sure that everyone agreed on the definition of the terms employed. The conclusion was that certain non-Scriptural terms (e.g. homoousios, hypostasis, and Theotokos) were necessary in order to preserve the clearest account of what Scripture says.

This point about Scripture directs us to a related and just as critical: the place of Scripture as revelation when it comes to our speech about God. Khaled Anatolios suggests the reasoning of the fourth-century Fathers like Athanasius and the Cappadocians works from “the fundamental conviction that the Scriptures are really revelatory of God.” This aspect of the Scriptures’ character is interpreted by someone like Athanasius to mean that this revelation occurs in part “by the mutual interrelatedness of biblical texts.” In Athanasius’s logic, then, “the scriptural naming of God must mirror, in a way accommodated to human understanding, the being of God” (Retrieving Nicaea, p. 111). In my reading, EOW1 rejects such an interpretation, despite protestations to the contrary. Dr. Meyers indicates that the intention in the new rites is to “return to ‘more concrete images of the Bible and the liturgy.’” What we see instead is an erasure of the most used scriptural terms that the tradition has understood as absolutely central. What we also can see is (seemingly) little attention to the arguments throughout the tradition (from the Cappadocians, Augustine, and Aquinas, to name a few) who carefully defended why “Father” and “Son” are proper names that come to us by way of revelation from the Word incarnate. How God acts in history — the Father “sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17) — reveals the nature and identity of God: a Father who has always been giving his Son away, this Son who in turn ever gives himself back to the Father with their mutual loved constituted in the person of the Holy Spirit.

The reason that the Episcopal Church must find a different way to address the feminist concerns I outlined in my first post is that, despite the claim of SCLM’s principle that “the truth of the Gospel which proclaims Jesus as the Son of God the Father and as Lord is essential,” the EOW1 rite as a whole, speaks a fundamentally contrary word. EOW1 speaks a de facto different Trinitarian theology. Let me be clear: I do not wish to imply in any way that the SCLM is trying to introduce a new Trinitarian theology. Rather, I want to suggest that the Trinitarian implications of their revisions take a back seat to the stated goal of removing gendered language for God. My reading is that they have not considered carefully enough the wide-reaching implications of these revisions in Trinitarian theology, Christology, soteriology, and beyond.

We also must not forget that the wider cultural and theological context in which these liturgies would be celebrated — one that Derek Olsen has just recently outlined with brevity and theological precision (read it here) — is one that exhibits profound ignorance of basic Christian theology. In fact, most people’s working assumptions about God resemble none of the monotheistic religions. A theologically hazy liturgy for people who are functionally Moralistic Therapeutic Deists is a recipe for something other than Christian worship. If we remove the so-called “stumbling blocks” of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and at the same time replace the Christian grammar and vocabulary entrusted to us, what do we have in its place? The answer to the stumbling blocks of the Creedal language, the difficult teachings of Jesus, the theology in the Epistles, the sacramental theology of the Prayer Book (we could go on) is solid and sustained catechesis, in the context of public worship and outside it.

The very existence of this resource also raises further questions about the very act of making liturgical choices between different options. This matter was raised in earnest by the 1979 BCP, which in providing a host of options gave the parish priest a whole series of liturgical choices to make without providing any criteria by which one is to choose between these options. EOW1 pushes this to a whole new level. What are laudable or suspect reasons for choosing to incorporate some, all, or none of the aspects of this resource into public worship? As I’ve already noted, the way the EOW liturgies are defended in the collections of essays usually assumes that EOW1’s revisions are imperative ones. And yet, every priest and bishop is left to make this decision without any reference to other parishes or bishops, inside or outside the Episcopal Church. Until we address the theological and ecclesiological issues embedded in the practice of individually choosing this or that rite based on our own constructed criteria, we need to carefully consider this approach to liturgical revision.

For “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24). Language like “Wisdom” and “Word” for Jesus, and the maternal imagery in Scripture, need not be cut off from our public liturgy. But it cannot increase at the expense of the terms by which Jesus invites us to join him in calling God “Our Father.” Jesus “issues an invitation which we can of course refuse, but whose terms we cannot define: they are defined by the persons of the Trinity themselves” (B. Marshall, Trinity and Truth, p 15).

Questions to Consider

  • The Preface to the first American BCP states, “… this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require.” Does what we see in EOW1 signal a departure from this doctrine, discipline, and worship. If so, in what respects?
  • Bishop Frank Griswold, chair of the SCLM at the time EOW1 was written, writes the following in the Preface: “At all points along the way in the process of selection and development of texts the question has been asked: Is this text consistent with the Trinitarian and Christological formulations which we, as Anglicans, regard as normative and the ground of our common prayer?” Does what we see in EOW1 signal a departure from these conciliar formulations?
  • It is also worth asking whether such changes would render null our agreed statements with other Christian families, most notably with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, and the Oriental Orthodox Churches (think especially of the recent statement on Christology). Does this matter to the Episcopal Church?
  • Are the theologies in EOW1 and those of the Nicene Creed in tension? If, as is proposed, the Nicene Creed is removed, the Creed will not be able to serve as a hermeneutical lens. In light of what Prof. Meyers said in her lecture about the need to “return to ‘more concrete images of the Bible and the liturgy’ in place of the arcane philosophical language of the fourth-century creeds,” does this place Scripture and the Creed in a relationship of antagonism?

About The Author

Fr. Matthew S.C. Olver (PhD, Marquette) is assistant professor of liturgics and pastoral theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary and a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. Fr. Olver’s research interests include liturgical theology, the place of Scripture in early liturgical composition, ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and ecumenism.

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