Two Cheers for Eucharistic Prayer II

Something that seems to unite (most) liturgical traditionalist and (some) liturgical progressives is a certain disdain for the Second Eucharistic Prayer (EPII) of the Roman Missal. Of course, as you might expect, this disdain has different sources.

Some progressives dislike it simply because of its over-use: it has become for many priest their default mode, at least partly to save time. But critics complain that its dominance deprives the assembly of the  riches of the other eucharistic prayers, including the two prayers for reconciliation and the four variations of the Eucharistic Prayer for use in Masses for Various Needs (I don’t often hear the Roman Canon included among these desiderata). They see it as part of the liturgical laziness and minimalism that has afflicted the Church both before and after the reforms.

Most traditionalists dislike it because because of its brevity, which, in their view, upsets the proper balance between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (or, in some cases, the proper dominance of the latter over the former). They also dislike it because, partly as a result of its terseness, it is fairly restrained in its expression of the eucharistic sacrifice. It’s there (“we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation”), but it is not reiterated constantly, as it is, for example, in the Roman Canon. They are also suspicious of its origins. An anecdote told by Louis Bouyer in his memoir—in which he and Bernard Botte put the finishing touches on their draft of the prayer in a cafe in Trastevere—gets garbled in transmission, such that I have seen the claim made that they drafted the whole thing on a napkin in about an hour. It is true that, late in life, Bouyer expressed dislike of the prayer, and generally felt that the entire reform process moved too quickly, but he never claimed it was dashed off during a wine-soaked pranzo. Moreover, some feel that the claims for the antiquity of the prayer and its connection to the so-called Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (AT) are spurious, pointing out the notable lack of parallels between the two prayers.

While I think it is undoubtedly true that some celebrants use it too often, I do think there are some things that can be said in its defense.

Regarding its origin and provenance, it is true that as it is most often used—with one of the prefaces from the Roman Missal—the claim that it is the ancient prayer descended from Hippolytus is hard to sustain. Not only is the prayer on which it is based almost certainly not by Hippolytus, and perhaps not as old as originally claimed (fourth-century rather than third), but, as near as I can tell, the only significant parallel after the Sanctus is the anamnesis, which in the Latin is extremely close (the word order is slightly different and the AT’s “panem et cálicem” is changed in to “panem vitae et cálicem salútis,” perhaps reflecting our modern nervousness about speaking simply of “bread” after the institution narrative). The post-institution epiclesis, the phrasing of the institution narrative, and the concluding doxology are all different, not to mention the insertion of a first epiclesis and intercessions. So it is true that, as commonly used, there is really only one short paragraph that can lay claim to the antiquity of its source.

But the matter is somewhat different when we look at the prayer as it was originally framed, with a rather lengthy fixed preface. Here the parallels with the AT are more extensive, though much has been eliminated from the source and various phrases have been reshuffled. Still, something of the “feel” of the AT is retained, something that is lost when it is used with another preface. I recently heard EPII used with its own preface and was struck by how much better it works as a prayer, giving a brief but comprehensive summation of salvation history that makes the experience of hearing it quite different from when it is used with one of the briefer proper prefaces. It does give one a sense of the ancient eucharistic prayers, which leaned heavily into the element of thanksgiving.

As to the question of EPII’s brevity, this could in certain situations be a virtue. Of course, it is not simply a matter of shaving time off the Mass. By one analysis, using EPII saves at most two minutes, which might make a difference at a weekday Mass that people are trying to squeeze into lunch time, but is not really much of a gain. But there is also the issue of how much verbal content an assembly can be expected to absorb. I don’t think this would justify using EPII on a regular basis on Sundays. But it might be the wise pastoral choice if a Mass were going to include another rite that adds more words to the Sunday celebration. If, for example, we wanted to celebrate Baptism or Anointing of the Sick at a Sunday Mass, I would be willing to go with EPII if it would make the congregation more receptive (I don’t think this argument works for the Easter Vigil, since most who come to that are not looking for corners to be cut).

Also with regard to brevity, there is nothing particularly “traditional” about having the congregation listen to a lengthy eucharistic prayer. For well over a thousand years, in both East and West, most of the eucharistic prayer was said in a quiet voice and the assembly was not expected to take in a large block of verbal content. I was initially surprised that the parish of St. John Cantius in Chicago, a flagship of liturgical practice that many consider traditional, appears to have the practice of habitually using EPII on Sundays. But in fact this does reflect a certain sort of traditionalism—the tradition of not spending a lot of time on public recitation of the Canon (in the example linked above it is even more “traditional,” since after the memorial acclamation the priest continues the prayer quietly while the choir sings the Benedictus. I am not sure, however, that this fulfills the adage about “saying the black and doing the red”).

Don’t get me wrong. I like the assembly hearing hearing the whole Eucharistic prayer, though this may be because this is what I am used to (I can imagine an alternate-history revision of the Mass in which only the Quam oblatiónem, Qu prídie, and Unde et mémores were said aloud). But it is also possible that the popularity of EPII reflects a kind of primal ritual instinct that less-is-more at this point in the Mass. We should at least be willing to ask the question of whether there might not be positive reasons for EPII’s popularity, something more than liturgical laziness and minimalism.

Which is all to say that I am willing to offer, if not three, at least two cheers for Eucharistic Prayer II.






21 responses to “Two Cheers for Eucharistic Prayer II”

  1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
    Anthony Ruff, OSB

    Why do Catholic priests use Eucharistic Prayer 2 so often? Because no one has written an even shorter Eucharistic Prayer yet. 🙂

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      I can imagine metrics that might be popular with people in the pews, such as:

      1. The length of the homily cannot be longer than the length of the post-Sanctus Eucharistic Prayer chosen.

      2. The length of any fund-raising (or other appeals or announcements tout court) cannot be longer than … 1/10th of the length of the post-Sanctus Eucharistic Prayer chosen.

      “But it might be the wise pastoral choice if a Mass were going to include another rite that adds more words to the Sunday celebration. ”

      That might be practical but unwise. There are many other places words could be “saved” (choice of music (not just hymns/propers, but choosing settings of the Ordinary that don’t require refrains or unnecessary repetitions); homily; omitting announcements), and not create an impression that sacraments are competing in time terms.

    2. Lee Bacchi Avatar
      Lee Bacchi

      I always use EPII because, being a shorter text, there are less translation problems, syntax, and vocabulary difficulties than with the longer EPs currently in the Roman Missal

  2. Allan McDonald Avatar
    Allan McDonald

    The Ordinariate’s Missal only has two options for the Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman Canon and Eucharistic Prayer II. It recommends #2 be used for daily Mass or for pastoral reasons on a Sunday.
    In terms of the EF Missa Cantata, the priest normally recites the Sanctus quietly but quickly as the schola chants it and then immediately launches into the Roman Canon. I am able to get to the Hanc Igitur by the time the schola ends the Sanctus and sometimes before necessitating a pause before I pray the Hanc Igitur which is accompanied by the bells—this definitely shortens the Eucharistic Prayer for the Congregation. Since the priest is praying the Canon while the Sanctus is sung, I suspect this is the reason why the congregation kneels for the Sanctus.
    As a disclaimer, I frequently use Eucharistic Prayer II in my parish on Sundays and mostly for week day Masses and yes, if there were a shorter one, I would use that one too—I’m old.

  3. Joshua Vas Avatar
    Joshua Vas

    Length of time certainly has to do with it. This was recognized by several of those who offered proposals for the reform of the Canon, once it was prayed out loud. A silent prayer can be prayed at a much faster pace, without loss of reverence, than a prayer spoken out loud. Your point on the difficulty of absorption by listeners is often overlooked, but one that I think comes only through experience. I often default to Reconciliation I for this reason.

    ALL the ancient traditions have had different ways of dealing with this. The Roman way was to make the whole thing silent (and interestingly, this was a permissible option until 2002!). The Eastern practice has been to overlay portions with litanies and hymns that can engage the worshippers. Long prayers spoken only by a leader is a hallmark mainly of certain Reformed and Presbyterian traditions. I’m sure Paul Inwood will be along to champion the use of more frequent acclamations as another solution. 🙂 (I disagree, at least for the average weekday crowd – but it all boils down to the same difficulty in listening to a lengthy text).

    As a matter of fact, a perfectly adequate brief Prayer could have been composed using the motifs and imagery of the Canon. It was really the universality and influence of the Apostolic Tradition across so many traditions that made it desirable, along with its perceived antiquity. I think that sometimes the Roman tradition is unfairly devalued in favour of Eastern ones.

    The Prayer of the Apostolic Tradition also commends itself to those who feel that a first step to overcoming ecumenical controversies is to pray together – for which purpose, an ancient acceptable text without any later controversial theological elements, is well suited.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      More frequent acclamations will increase length, and unless they are Amen or some variation on Have Mercy on Us, they would encourage the canon as a dialogical script – which will keep people’s noses in their books waiting for their cues, as it were, something that is not favored in all quarters….

      “The Eastern practice has been to overlay portions with litanies and hymns that can engage the worshippers.”

      Do they in fact, and how to do know and measure that? That’s not meant as snark as much as it is to raise clearly the issue of intended fruit vs actual fruits, and how to identify and evaluate the difference without resorting to cognitive bias and cherry-picking.

      Tackle this problem after the problem of homily length and quality has been successfully resolved.

      1. John Kohanski Avatar
        John Kohanski

        Singing during the anaphora by the eastern Churches is complicated now that recently some of the Greek Catholic Churches in US have resorted to praying the entire prayer outloud. Between the parts that are sung by the congregation, and the prayer itself, the length of time is now doubled. This is especially noticeable when the Liturgy of St. Basil is used and the anaphora and chants are much longer than those in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. What used to be a well choreagraphed “dance” between the priest, the deacon, and the people has now become unequally yoked and dare-say clerical.
        Also, the main and longest chant during the anaphora is to the Mother of God, and is quite well beloved. Even if some people sing nothing else, they will usually sing this hymn. That’s measure enough for me.

      2. Joshua Vas Avatar
        Joshua Vas

        “To engage worshippers” was meant as a general statement of original intended purpose. The reality, as you point out, may in fact be different. I was simply pointing out that variation among priest/deacon/choir/congregation appears to be one way in which the Eastern liturgies have attempted to “solve” the problem of one person going on for too long. Whether it is a good, suitable or effective solution is another question. In some cases, the replacements are longer than the original. But it reduces the effect of hearing only one voice.

        I also agree completely re: acclamations, which is why I feel that would not be workable.

        Personal experience only, but I feel that the length of the Eucharistic Prayer tends to stand by itself even after the overall length of the Mass (including homily, etc) is adjusted. Perhaps it is simply that I have been fed (and fed myself) a diet of a particular length and anything beyond starts to feel strange. 

  4. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    At several London parishes, the main Sunday Mass has since the 1960s been sung in Latin using the normative (Paul VI) rite. The congregations have become familiar with the Latin prayers, and many know them by heart and love them. Eucharistic Prayer II has worked well not only because of its brevity but because the Latin sentences are easier for the people to understand – and many do understand them; at Farm Street we had tutorials from time to time in the Latin prayers. The shorter sentences are also easier to sing.

    Take the first sentence following the Sanctus of EP II:

    Vere Sanctus es, Domine,
    fons omnis sanctitatis.

    Here’s the corresponding sentence from EP III, featuring several subordinate clauses:

    Vere sanctus es, Domine,
    et merito te laudat omnis a te condita creatura,
    quia per Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum,
    Spiritus Sancti operante virtute
    vivificas et sanctificas universa,
    et populum tibi congregare non desinis,
    ut a solis ortu usque ad occasum
    oblatio munda offeratur nomini tuo.

    And the first sentence of EP I:

    Te igitur, clementissime Pater,
    per Iesum Christum,
    Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum,
    supplices rogamus ac petimus,
    uti accepta habeas et benedicas
    haec dona, haec munera,
    haec sancta sacrificia illibata,
    in primis, quae tibi offerimus
    pro Ecclesia tua sancta catholica:
    quam pacificare,
    custodire, adunare et regere digneris
    toto orbe terrarum:
    una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N.
    et Antistite nostro N.
    et omnibus orthodoxis
    atque catholicae
    et apostolicae fidei cultoribus.

    The Latin of EP III and EP I is beautiful and worthy of use. We regularly had EP I on major feasts, where the priest’s Latin and singing were strong, and EP III from time to time as well. But for many Sundays of the year, the simpler Latin of EP II worked very well, and was well loved by generations of worshipers.

    The English food historian Jane Grigson said: “We have more than enough masterpieces; what we need is a better standard of ordinariness.” EP II, well celebrated, can improve our standard of ordinariness.

  5. Jeff Armbruster Avatar
    Jeff Armbruster

    “Latin sentences are easier for the people to understand – and many do understand them; at Farm Street we had tutorials from time to time in the Latin prayers.”

    Hmmm. Easier to understand for English speakers…than the English translation? I wonder. But you provide a bit of hedge with “many do understand them”. Well, some perhaps. And for those who don’t there’s always the tutorials being offered. What, parishioners have children and jobs and soccer and music lessons…and covid? Still, even if after all that some attend the tutorials…they’re not becoming fluent in Latin. They’re leaning to crib a few sentences. And they understand these…in English, their mother tongue. Essentially, they translate back. Finally, let’s return to the others–the many, or most really–who don’t understand the Latin passages. What about them? Asking people to find meaning in a Church service spoken in a language they don’t understand, with the implication that they’re somehow lacking because of that, is bit of a problem.

    The truth is, I love Latin being incorporated into the Mass and elsewhere as well; perhaps especially in chant. I don’t know Latin. Even with repetition and familiarity, the best I can do is try to catch the meaning as it flies by. So yes, I’m ambivalent about this and have no answers. I did just outline a few of my concerns. I’d rather open Mass to everyone, in all of its aspects, and forgo a bit of perceived beauty. In families, one rarely gets everything that they want.

    p.s. I’m obviously not a cradle Catholic. Perhaps those who are are bewildered by the idea that people wouldn’t understand Latin prayers.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      It’s not as if people don’t have plenty of options in a place like London for an all-vernacular Mass. What Jonathan describes is pretty rare and I don’t see a problem with providing it for those who, for whatever reason, want to participate in a Mass in Latin. I suppose someone might wander in not knowing that Mass would be in Latin and be put off by it, but then they would just know not to come back next week.

      1. Jonathan Day Avatar
        Jonathan Day

        Fritz is right: at Farm Street, for example, there’s a 9:30 family Mass, all in English, with hymns; then an 11:00 solemn sung Latin Mass of Paul VI.

        Why Latin for that one? Well, it’s a multilingual community, the music works well with the Latin, and the Jesuits have been celebrating it continuously since the current Mass was promulgated after Vatican II. So it’s well known, and sought out. Same at Westminster Cathedral, and at several other parishes.

        But people who want a Mass in English, or Polish, or Spanish, or French (etc.) have nearby options as well.

        By the way, Jeff: the current English translation is in some places harder to understand than the Latin, since it’s a weird hybrid of the two languages. But that is another story…

  6. Jeff Armbruster Avatar
    Jeff Armbruster

    “By the way, Jeff: the current English translation is in some places harder to understand than the Latin, since it’s a weird hybrid of the two languages. But that is another story…”

    Yep, point taken. A decent English translation of a Latin text should be able to bring across the central ideas and even some of the music of the original. An inspired translation can do much more than that. Apparently, some little shadow fell across the pages of the more recent attempts. Too bad. Language is one of the primary means by which our faith is conveyed (even the Holy Spirit is known by its tongues.) Certainly our faith should be expressed in language that communicates as best it can its depths and beauty.

  7. Robert Imbelli Avatar
    Robert Imbelli

    Thank you for an informed and informative discussion.
    Whatever prayer is chosen, manner of celebrant’s praying and articulating is crucial.
    Sometimes in an unwieldy English translation, inserting a period (or at least a semi-colon) works wonders.

  8. Devin Rice Avatar
    Devin Rice

    I can’t remember ever hearing EP2 recited with its own preface, but it would make sense that the prayer would work much better that way as the anaphora was composed as a single unit with the preface.

    I am also struck by how EP2 is used by the Canons Regular and the Anglican Ordinariate given their traditionalist leanings. (BTW, at the “English” live stream masses at St. John Cantius that I have seen, the entire prayer is recited aloud.) I probably guess that EP2, while short, sounds more “Roman” and there is an expectation in those communities that the Roman Canon would not be rarely used.

    This topic was discussed in two years ago.
    In the comments in that post, an argument appeared that it was the current translation of the missal that in part caused an increase in EP2 at the expense of EP1 and EP3.
    I guess I would respond with
    – EP2 was ubiquitous prior to the 2011 implementation
    – from the anecdotes I have gathered in the PrayTell comments and other places, EP2 is also commonly used in other languages, even those much closer to Latin.
    – setting aside the Roman Canon, IMHO, if you compared the 1998 translation of EP3 with its current translation, they are not too dissimilar. Also EP2 and EP3 are about a minute apart in length. And as commenter Liam frequently notes, prayers that get used often enough can afford to be a little bit more complex.

    The Missal states EP1 and EP3 should be common on Sundays and Feasts and EP2 should be used frequently on weekdays. So I consider current practice a misuse. But if a priest is not going to use EP1 or 3, I think it would probably better for the celebrant to use the Eucharistic Prayer for use in Masses for Various Needs and Occasions. Like EP2, the missal implies that the EPVN&O should not be used on Sundays outside of specific circumstances, but if one is going against the missal’s prescriptions anyway, then EPVN&O (especially the 4th variation) seems like the sensible choice.

  9. Alan Griffiths Avatar
    Alan Griffiths

    The documents known as the ‘Apostolic Tradition’ were all the rage among liturgiologists in the 1960’s because of their perceived antiquity. And not only was EP2 modelled in part on the eucharistic anaphora contained therein. The Prayer of consecration of a bishop is almost pure AT. Fine prayer though it is, its importation into the Roman Rite set aside an authentic Roman tradition of prayer. I am sorry about that.

    Since then the academic view has changed and ‘Apostolic Tradition’ is no longer seen as either a single document, nor as entirely Roman, nor as ‘really ancient.’ The anaphora looks much more like an oriental prayer. Maybe it should be set in a similar frame to the Barcelona Text?

    My experience of using EP2 has nearly always been praying it with its own ‘preface.’ That does make a better product of it. But I usually only used it on weekdays. As to the new translation, I think that ‘like the dewfall’ sounds contrived (as indeed it was! And dew rises, not falls, but that is a side issue) and to ignore the biblical reference in ‘.. adstare coram te et tibi ministrare’ (cf. Daniel 7) by using the weak ‘be in your presence,’ while retaining it in the preface of EP4, seems to me cock-eyed and against the principles outlined in ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’ (one cheer for LA there).

    Incidentally, under the same 1960’s hippolytean influence, the C. of E. produced, in its ‘Series 2’ eucharistic rite, an anaphora with a particularly fine preface, not too badly mauled by subsequent committees, worthy of consideration on our side of the fence.


    1. Anthony Hawkinsa Avatar
      Anthony Hawkinsa

      Dewfall is a word traceable in English since 1622. And it is among the commoner 50% of words, in steady use for the last 200 years. –
      Also as a physical phenomenon it tends to form more on upper surfaces, since these are colder after sunset. – I know this is not important, but the persistent sniping at a word I like irritates me.

      1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        Don’t forget “Morning Has Broken” in popular culture.

        The usage is not vastly different that referring to sunrise and sunset and other words for natural phenomena. I am happy to have the parallelism to manna. One of the best things about the revised EP2.

      2. Michael Slusser Avatar
        Michael Slusser

        I agree with Anthony Hawkins. That phrase “like the dewfall” brings up for me the fleece of Gideon and its connection in Christian reflection with Mary’s conception by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. To me it is very appropriate for the epiclesis.

  10. Alan Hommerding Avatar
    Alan Hommerding

    As a composer, I’ll offer an extra cheer for EPII; when writing my “Melodic chant setting” I toyed with EPIV, because some of the language is quite lovely – but other issues . . . the structure of EPII was quite easy to work with for a musical setting!

  11. Todd E Voss Avatar
    Todd E Voss

    Very interesting post and great comments in the thread. I actually think EP2 is a beautiful “little” prayer notwithstanding its messy provenance. Too “little” for a Sunday although I take the points about a lengthy audible prayer recited by the priest and how it has been dealt with (not audible in the West and various insertions in the East). I too wondered why Cantius used EPII . I can’t recall now if they chant it. I might say that “chanting” it gives it (and all prayers) a “sacrality” that can, in a sense, make up for its shortness. Perhaps more to the point, a chanted EP in vernacular creates the sense of “we’re now in a different dimension” that Latin or hieratic language is noted to create (by strong advocates of such usage). Since I am for an entirely sung liturgy (a sung dialogue), that thesis goes well with my own bias. But since I also dislike venerating the clock, I would not mind a much longer mass with the Roman Canon or EP III chanted in the vernacular (and I admit that when sung, the time differences are much greater than the experiment of the timed spoken EP’s one can find on the web).

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