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You are here: Documents > The Eucharist and the Mass > Circular Letter to the Presidents of the National Conferences of Bishops on Eucharistic Prayers  Back one page.

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1. The reform of the sacred liturgy, and especially the reorganization of the Roman Missal recently completed in accordance with the requirements of Vatican Council II, [1] are intended above all to facilitate intelligent, devout, active participation by the faithful in the Eucharist. [2]

A notable feature of this new Roman Missal, published by authority of Pope Paul VI, is undoubtedly the wealth of texts from which a choice may often be made, whether in the case of readings from Holy Writ or in that of the chants, prayers and acclamations of the whole community, or again in regard to the "presidential" prayers, not excluding the Eucharistic Prayer itself, for in addition to the venerable traditional Roman Canon, three new texts have been brought into use. [3]

2. The reason for providing this ample variety of texts and the purpose intended by the revision of the prayer forms to be used are of a pastoral nature, namely, in order to bring about unity and diversity of liturgical prayer. By using these texts as set forth in the Roman Missal, various groups of the faithful who gather to celebrate the Eucharist are able to sense that they form part of the one Church, praying with one faith and one prayer. At the same time they possess an appropriate means, especially when the vernacular is used, to proclaim in many ways the one mystery of Christ; and it becomes easier for individual faithful to raise their hearts to the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving, [4] and to share in the celebration with greater spiritual results.

3. Although several years have passed since the promulgation of the new Roman Missal, it has not yet been fully introduced everywhere for celebration with the people, because its translation into the vernacular of so many nations has been an enormous work requiring a considerable period of time. [5] Moreover, the opportunity thus provided for increasing pastoral effectiveness is often not known, nor is sufficient thought given, in arranging the Mass, to the spiritual good of the congregation. [6]

4. Meanwhile, many have expressed a desire to adapt the Eucharistic celebration still further by the composition of new prayer forms, including even new Eucharistic Prayers. They say that the choice provided by the present "presidential" prayers and the four Eucharistic Prayers in the Order of the Mass still does not fully meet the many requirements of various groups, regions and peoples. This Sacred Congregation has received many requests to approve, or grant the faculty of approving and bringing into use, new texts for prayers and Eucharistic Prayers more in line with modern thinking and speech.

Moreover, during recent years many authors of various languages and countries have published Eucharistic Prayers which they had composed for the sake of study. In spite of the limitations prescribed by Vatican Council II [7] and episcopal prohibitions, some priests have used privately composed texts often in their celebration of Mass.

5. Consequently this Sacred Congregation, by mandate of the Supreme Pontiff and after consulting experts from various parts of the world, has carefully studied the question of the composition of new Eucharistic Prayers and of giving episcopal conferences the faculty for approving them, together with related questions and their consequences. The conclusions of this study were submitted to the members of this Sacred Congregation in plenary session, to the judgment of the other Sacred Congregations concerned, and finally to the Supreme Pontiff.

After mature consideration of the whole matter, it does not seem advisable at this juncture to grant episcopal conferences the general faculty of composing or approving new Eucharistic Prayers. On the contrary, it seems more opportune to call attention to the pressing need for fuller instruction on the nature and reality of the Eucharistic Prayer.[8] Since this prayer is the center of the celebration, it must also be the center of a more profound instruction. It also seems necessary to provide priests with more detailed information on the possibilities they have for encouraging full participation of the faithful by using the current liturgical regulations and the prayer forms of the Roman Missal.

6. Therefore the four Eucharistic Prayers contained in the revised Roman Missal remain in force, and no other Eucharistic Prayers composed without permission or approval of the Apostolic See may be used. Episcopal conferences and individual bishops are earnestly asked to present pertinent reasons to the priests in order to bring them wisely to the observance of the one practice of the Roman Church, to the benefit of the Church itself and in furtherance of the proper arrangement of liturgical functions.

The Apostolic See is motivated by the pastoral desire for unity in reserving to itself the right to regulate such an important matter as the order of the Eucharistic Prayers. With. in the unity of the Roman rite it will not refuse to consider legitimate requests and will readily consider such requests from episcopal conferences for drawing up new Eucharistic Prayers for particular circumstances and introducing them into the liturgy. But the Holy See will prescribe the norms to be followed in each case.

7. After making known this decision, it seems useful to offer some considerations which may clarify its meaning and facilitate its execution. Some of these have to do with the nature and importance of the Eucharistic Prayer in liturgicaland especially Roman-tradition; others concern what can be done to accommodate the celebration to individual congregations without in any way altering the text of the Eucharistic Prayer.

8. By its very nature the Eucharistic Prayer is the "center of the entire celebration," and "a prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification" whose purpose is "that the whole congregation of the faithful may unite itself with Christ in proclaiming the wondrous things of God and in offering the sacrifice." [9] This prayer is offered by the ministering priest, who interprets God's voice as it is addressed to the people, and the people's voice as they lift their souls to God. The priest alone should be heard, while the congregation gathered to celebrate the sacred liturgy remains devoutly silent.

Over and above its catechetical nature, which strives to highlight the specific characteristics of the particular celebration, there is in this prayer an element of thanksgiving for the universal mystery of salvation or for some particular aspect of this mystery which the liturgy is celebrating, according to the day, feast, rite or season. [10]

For this reason, in order that those participating in the Eucharist may better render thanks to God and bless Him, the new Roman Missal already contains "a great number of Prefaces, either derived from the ancient tradition of the Roman Church or composed recently. In this way, the different aspects of the mystery of salvation will be emphasized and will offer more and more enriching occasions for giving thanks." [11]

For the same reason, the priest presiding at the Eucharist enjoys the faculty of introducing the Eucharistic Prayer to the people with a brief reminder [12] of the motives for thanksgiving, in words suited to the congregation at the particular time. In this way those present can perceive that their own life is part and parcel of salvation history and so gain ampler benefits from the Eucharistic celebration.

9. Again, so far as the purpose of the Eucharistic Prayer is concerned, as well as its make-up and structure, the aspect of petition or intercession is to be considered secondary. In the revised liturgy this aspect is developed especially in the general intercessions whereby, in a freer form and one more suited to the circumstances, supplications are made for the Church and for mankind. Nonetheless, the new liturgical books also offer a variety of forms of intercession to be inserted into the different Eucharistic Prayers, according to the structure of each. They are to be used in particular celebrations, and above all in ritual Masses." In this way the reason for any particular celebration is clearly defined, and the offering of this prayer in communion with the whole Church is signified. [14]

10. Besides the variations noted above, which are intended to bring about a closer connection between the thanksgiving and the intercessions, the Roman tradition also has other special formulas for use infra actionem on the principal solemnities of the liturgical year, whereby the memorial of the mystery of Christ that is being celebrated is made more manifest. [15]

It is evident from this that ancient tradition was concerned with maintaining the unchangeable character of the text, while not excluding appropriate variations. If the faithful, hearing the same text again and again, unite themselves more readily with the priest celebrant in prayer, nevertheless some variations, though only a few in number, prove acceptable and useful; they foster attention, encourage devotion and lend a special quality to the prayer.

Nor is there any reason why episcopal conferences should not make similar provision for their own areas in regard to the points mentioned above (nos. 8-10), and request approval from the Holy See. The same holds true for a bishop in regard to the Proper for his diocese, and for the competent authority in regard to the Proper for a religious family.

11. The ecclesial dimension of the Eucharistic celebration is to be highly esteemed. For while such a celebration "expresses and brings about the unity of the faithful who form one body in Christ," [16] "the celebration of Mass is of itself a profession of faith in which the whole Church recognizes and expresses itself." [17] All this is abundantly apparent in the Eucharistic Prayer itself; there it is not just an individual person or a local community, but "the one and only Catholic Church," existing in any number of individual Churches, [18] that addresses itself to God.

Whenever Eucharistic Prayers are introduced without approval by competent Church authority, unrest and dissensions frequently arise among priests and within congregations, even though the Eucharist should be "a sign of unity" and "a bond of charity." [19] Indeed, many people complain of the overly subjective character of such texts. Those taking part in the celebration have a right that the Eucharistic Prayer, which they ratify by their "Amen," should not be mingled with or wholly imbued with the personal preferences of the one who composes the text or uses it.

Hence it is obviously necessary that only those texts of the Eucharistic Prayer are to be used which, having been approved by lawful Church authority, clearly and fully manifest ecclesial sense.

12. Due to the very nature of the Eucharistic Prayer, a more precise adaptation of the celebration for various congregations and circumstances, and a fuller expression of the catechetical content, cannot be always or conveniently effected in it; they should be inserted, however, in those parts and formulas of the liturgical action which lend themselves to variation or require it.

13. First of all, those who prepare or preside at the celebrations are reminded of the faculty granted by the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, [20] by which they can, in certain cases, choose Masses and also texts for the various parts of the Mass, such as the readings, prayers and chants, so that they correspond "as far as possible to the needs, spiritual preparation and capacity of the participants." [21] Nor should it be forgotten that other documents published since the promulgation of the General Instruction offer norms and suggestions for enlivening celebrations and adapting them to pastoral needs. [22]

14. Among the possibilities for further adaptation which are left to the individual celebrant, it is well to keep in mind the admonitions, homily and general intercessions.

First, there are the admonitions, by which the faithful are brought to a deeper understanding of the meaning of the sacred action or any of its parts. Of special importance are those admonitions which the priest himself is invited by the General Instruction on the Roman Missal to compose and deliver; he may introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day before the celebration begins, to the Liturgy of the Word before the readings, or to the Eucharistic Prayer before the Preface; he may summarize the entire sacred action before the dismissal. [23]

Then again, importance is to be given to those admonitions prescribed in the Order of the Mass for certain rites, which are to be introduced either before the penitential act or before the Lord's Prayer. Naturally, these admonitions need not be given word for word as set out in the Missal; it may well be advisable, at least in certain instances, to adapt them somewhat to the actual circumstances of the particular gathering. Nevertheless, the special nature of all admonitions should be heeded, so that they do not turn into sermons or homilies; care must be taken to be brief and to avoid tedious verbosity.

15. In addition to the admonitions, the homily must be kept in mind. It is "part of the liturgy itself," [24] and explains the Word of God proclaimed in the liturgical assembly for the faithful there present, in a manner suited to their capacity and way of life, and relative to the circumstances of the celebration.

16. Finally, considerable importance is to be attached to the general intercessions with which the congregation responds to the Word of God as it has been explained and received. To be effective, the petitions offered up for various needs throughout the world should be suited to the congregation, bringing to bear in their composition that wise freedom consistent with the nature of this prayer.

17. In addition to the selection of its various elements, a truly living and communal celebration requires that the one presiding and the others who have some particular function to perform should give thought to the various forms of verbal communication with the congregation, namely, the readings, homily admonitions, introductions and the like. [25]

In reciting prayers, especially the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest must avoid not only a dry, monotonous style of reading but an overly subjective and emotional manner of speaking and acting as well. As he presides over the function, he must be careful in reading, singing or acting to help the participants form a true community, celebrating and living the memorial of the Lord.

18. In order to ensure a fuller impact of the Word and greater spiritual fruit, due regard must be given - as many people desire - to the sacred silence which is to be observed at stated times as part of the liturgical actions; [26] in this way each individual, according to temperament and his experience at the moment, makes some self-examination or meditates briefly on what he has just heard, or praises God and prays to Him in his heart. [27]

19. In view of all this, it is earnestly hoped that pastors of souls will take great care to instruct the faithful, rather than to introduce novelties into texts and rites of the sacred action. This will enable the people to understand better the nature, structure and elements of the celebration, especially the Eucharistic Prayer, and to participate more fully and more knowledgeably in the celebration itself. The power and effectiveness of the sacred liturgy does not consist merely in the newness and variety of its elements, but in a deeper communion with the mystery of salvation made present and operative in the liturgical action. In this way alone are the faithful, in their profession of one faith and outpouring of one prayer, enabled to work out their salvation and to be in communion with their brethren.

The Supreme Pontiff Paul VI, on April 18, 1973, approved and confirmed this circular letter prepared by the Sacred Congregation, and ordered its publication.

From the offices of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, April 27, 1973.

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You are here: Documents > The Eucharist and the Mass > Circular Letter to the Presidents of the National Conferences of Bishops on Eucharistic Prayers  Back one page.

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