Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Eucharistic Prayer. . . again. . .

I did some ruminating upon my friend Pr Will Weedon's appreciation for the Verba only canon of DS 3 along with his own admission to a preference for a Eucharistic prayer (at least at one point if not still).  While I certainly do not wish to take anything away from the sung Verba as it was intended in TLH but hardly ever done and is still intended in LSB but not that frequently the norm, I think there is a pastoral reason for debating again the Eucharistic prayer.  The Eucharistic prayer is not ceremony or ornament but the rehearsal of the salvation history in which the Supper of our Lord has its context, meaning, and setting.  But it is precisely the salvation

We live in an age of remarkable Biblical illiteracy -- even among the faithful on Sunday morning.  There was a time when a politician like Abraham Lincoln could borrow from the Good Book and everyone who heard him knew the Biblical reference that was being used for his speech.  That time has come and gone.  I used to marvel how Oswald Hoffman could weave together phrases from Scripture into his sermons (which we listened to religiously on the way to or from church on Sunday morning).  I was talking about that to someone who knew him well and quite literally listened to him every week only to find they they had not noticed.  In order to recognize Biblical references you must have Biblical proficiency.  That is precisely what is missing today.

Our children do not attend Sunday school and VBS and even catechism classes with the same urgency a previous generation of parents insisted and the congregation expected.  Divorce, travel, sports, and a host of other alternatives means that once a month is the new normal for attendance.  Even twice monthly means missing half of everything in Sunday school or the Divine Service (plus many congregations skip Sunday school and Bible study during the summer!).  This has created a need and an urgency more than ever for context.

On Sunday morning, before the first reading, I announce the day.  I literally announce what day it is in the Church Year, a sentence about the context for each of the three readings appointed, and a sentence about the theme of the sermon.  It is, like the Collect of the Day, a heads up to the people of God to know what to look for as the service continues.  Quite literally, this little addition is four or five sentences.  In addition, although I hate outlining, I put an outline of the sermon into the service folder.  It is also brief and not meant to suffice for listening to the sermon.  The outline does provide a convenient reference for those to refer back to during the week and it does help them to recall the words preached.  Again, the reason is the context of Biblical literacy and familiarity which is missing among even the faithful on Sunday morning.

For context, the Eucharistic prayer is important.  The Words of Institution alone are not missing anything and constitute the consecration formula that we Lutherans insist upon -- Christ's word doing what Christ has appointed that word to do.  But the Eucharistic prayer, which is not the consecration, provides a setting for and a context in which these words are set.  Even the rather ordinary Eucharistic prayers within LSB tell us what is happening, how to receive what is being offered, what this communion upon Christ's body and blood deliver, and what this communion witnesses and proclaims to the whole of the people of God and those even outside the Church.  It is not overly elaborate and orthodox to every jot and tittle though I think it is not quite as elegant and eloquent as some that have been offered or used in the history of the Church.  Yet it is something made more urgent because so many of our people do not have this context in their hearts and minds and too many of our people hear these words in isolation -- as if they were only symbolic or were a sort of incantation to get a desired result.  

Even more than this misunderstanding, I fear our people do not yet have a Eucharistic piety the way our liturgy and confessions presume.  These actual words may not be Lutheran but the content is -- the Eucharist is both source and summit of our lives of faith, our piety, and our vocation.  We are not really a people with a Word piety alone but a means of grace piety.  Word and Sacrament is how God comes to us and in this the Eucharistic prayer is even more important as our people's Biblical literacy wanes.   We got into trouble in a time when Biblical literacy was greater than today but the Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood became a little add on from time to time -- not often because that would keep it from being special and not necessary at all to the faithful.  Part of the the urgency now for a Eucharistic prayer is to locate the Sacrament within Christ's atoning work, encourage a hunger for what the Lord has given, and equip us to get past our penchant for localized doctrine about what the Sacrament is and confess it as we pray it.

The old saw about a Eucharistic prayer confusing people about what consecrates or about the distinction between prayer and proclamation (an untenable one) or the fears of sacrifice replacing sacrament is past its expiration date.  In an age of online communion and feelings that replace trust in Christ working through the means of grace, the Eucharistic prayer helps us locate Christ's work and His gifts within exactly the right context.


Anonymous said...

Lutherans substituted the catechetical Exhortation to serve the purpose of instruction before communion. I’m not sure a eucharistic prayer is intended for the same function. A prayer of thanksgiving is perfectly fine, but does not properly belong to the institution of the Sacrament.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

A Treatise on the New Testament, that is The Holy Mass

“Therefore we must separate the mass clearly and distinctly from the prayers and ceremonies which have been added to it by the holy fathers. We must keep these two as far apart as heaven and earth, so that the mass may remain nothing else than the testament and sacrament comprehended in the words of Christ."

Luther’s Works Vol. 35:97

Mabel said...

One good reason for Bible literacy is that you can then ace the Biblical questions (or rather, "answers") on JEOPARDY. I can smugly come out ahead of my husband when they have this category. His parents gave up on forcing him and his siblings to attend Sunday school and catechism classes.