Saturday, May 24, 2008

Zenit: Archbishop Flynn's Q-and-A on Conscience

Archbishop Flynn's Q-and-A on Conscience

"The Human Person Always Acts for His or Her Own Fulfillment"

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, MAY 23, 2008 ( Here are the questions and answers that Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis addressed at the end of his pastoral letter "Moral Conscience," released Monday. Archbishop Flynn retired May 2, upon turning 75.

The full text can be found on the ZENIT Web page:

* * *

1. Is there a contradiction between freedom and truth?

Although our modern world tends to find cause for hesitancy before the prospect of absolute truth; that is, truth that is universal, our freedom actually depends upon such a truth. If there were no truth there could be no ground for personal dignity other than the majority or no way to work for the common good apart from utility.

And yet, if we are reflective, our own personal experience informs us that there is such a truth. For example, that truth should be told, that respect should be shown, that good should be pursued and evil avoided. That truth that sets our freedom free is the natural law – the way that the human person can deliberate about the good.

2. Is there a contradiction between faith and reason?

Because there is a unity to the truth, there is not a contradiction between faith and reason. Human understanding is a great gift and by thinking and reasoning the person can come to truth. But love, if it is our fulfillment, cannot be explained merely by reason. Love must be revealed. God revealed this truth to Israel and fulfilled it in Christ. For Christians, the truth is ultimately a person who reveals the truth about God and the truth about man in his own person: Jesus Christ. Thus, reason’s search finds its fulfillment not its negation in faith.

3. Does the Church intend that the State be religious?

The Church recognizes the State’s distinctive responsibility to serve the commongood. This means that representatives of the people are called to discern policies and laws that serve the common good; ie, the good of all. The Church’s unique competency is that she is an expert on the person and therefore it is essential that she continue to propose this truth to the State. For human laws must respect the natural law if, in fact, they will be laws that serve the person and help to realize the common good.

4. Are there actions which are always wrong, so called intrinsically evil acts?

Yes, the Christian moral tradition has always recognized intrinsically evil acts; i.e., acts which are always and everywhere wrong. One such action is the direct taking of an innocent human life such as occurs in abortion or intentional homicide. In teaching the truth of such intrinsically evil acts the Church does not man to limit human freedom but to serve it, to witness to the truth that sets us free.

5. Why is our conscience so necessary?

Our conscience is the way in which the human person comes to the truth about fulfillment precisely because it acknowledges, when formed,the sapiential nature of God who is love. Because God is love, God has directed all things to their end, to their fulfillment. The human person always acts for his or her own fulfillment but often we are our own worst enemy – we are the agents of our unhappiness! Conscience is the gift whereby we can come to know and act according to our true end and thereby be fulfilled by a “good” which is without end namely, sharing in the exchange of divine love.

6. What is an erroneous conscience?

An erroneous conscience is a conscience that renders a wrong judgment about the good in a concrete circumstance. For example, a married man who thought he deserved an intimate relationship with someone who was not his spouse would have an erroneous conscience. The opposite of an erroneous conscience is a correct conscience.

7. What is the difference between a formed and unformed conscience?

A formed conscience is one which is informed by the truth of the natural law and the new law of love fulfilled in Christ. As such, a formed conscience is not simply a referent for what one wants to do or feels like doing but one which invites the individual to love. Because one has the duty to form one’s conscience in the truth – and this is only a logical necessity if one desires to love, to do good and not evil – one has a responsibility to learn the truth and to bind one’s freedom to the truth.

8. What is the difference between a vincible and invincible conscience?

Because one has an obligation to form one’s conscience in the truth there is a presumption that one is responsible for judging correctly the difference between right and wrong. A vincible conscience is a conscience that should have known something one did not know and therefore bears responsibility for that ignorance which led them to act wrongly. The category invincible conscience is one which acknowledges that at times through no fault of our own -- ie, we are trying to know the truth -- we make decisions which are wrong.

Zenit: Archbhishop Flynn on Moral Conscience

Archbhishop Flynn on Moral Conscience

"One’s Last and Best Judgment Concernng What One Should Choose"

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, MAY 23, 2008 ( Here is the pastoral letter "Moral Conscience" by Archbishop Harry Flynn, the retired archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that was published Monday. Archbishop Flynn retired May 2, upon turning 75.

* * *

There are those who view the moral conscience as personal, internal, subjective and open to no criticism from without. Even in the Catechism of the Catholic Church one might think to find justification for such an outlook. There we read: “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. ‘He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.’”[1]

The problem with an overly subjective outlook is that it misses the point. It does not look at the whole question of conscience, just as this quotation from the catechism would not be properly understood if it were left standing by itself without seeing it in conjunction with the paragraphs that surround it.

The proper understanding of the moral conscience is basic to our understanding of morality and to the living of our lives. I would like, therefore, in this letter to address some of the most important aspects of conscience with the hope that a clearer understanding of them will also result in a deeper appreciation of what a gift conscience is and why we must, for our own eternal happiness, attend to its proper formation.

I. THE QUESTION: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)

Can we really know the difference between right and wrong? Fifty years ago that would have been a question easily answered. Now it may be hotly debated or simply dismissed. In one sense the explanation is as old as humanity. We were created in the image of God (Gen 1‐2) and were called to know the truth and to live in love. Yet, our first parents disobeyed God and introduced sin into the world, thus depriving the intellect of an easy grasp of truth and constancy of will in living the good (Gen 3).

Created for communion with God and with one another in truth and love, Adam and Eve chose instead to decide for themselves what would be right and what would be wrong, and so they (and in them all of us) began to hide from God.

The consequence of that choice is mutual recrimination (“The woman made me do it...,” “The serpent tricked me...”), self‐disillusionment and even death -- consequences which we know all too well. But God does not abandon Adam and Eve to their lie. Instead, he seeks them out: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9‐) Fifty years ago it was every bit as possible as it is now to choose wrong rather than right and try to justify oneself for doing so, but fifty years ago it was also easier to know and agree on the difference between right and wrong. At that time we still shared cultural values about the truth of the natural moral law. What is “new” today is that now the very idea of knowing right and wrong is called into question.

This questioning of the truth of right and wrong, the questioning even of the possibility of knowing anything to be certain, leads to what we call “relativism.” It has been creeping up on us for centuries, gradually changing the way we think about ourselves and our world. The Scientific Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment -- not to mention religious wars and persecutions -- were among the catalysts that led intellectuals in the Western world to question the shared philosophies of our ancestors and the theological foundations of Greek and Judaeo‐Christian thought. Such questions fostered a tendency to think it better to be “modern” than to be “ancient,” even though to classify an idea as “modern” or “ancient” tells us nothing about whether it is true or false.

This is not to disparage advances in the modern world. We have gained a greater respect for the freedom of the human person. There have been wonderful medical and technological advances. Ideas both democratic and scientific have benefitted all of us.

At the same time, the lack of a common intellectual and moral sense has contributed to a century of totalitarianism and materialism which converged to wreak havoc on all peoples and on the world we share. The result, however, has been more than a matter of global movements. On the smaller scale these notions (which inevitably involve lies about God and man) are the basis also of individual moral decisions and values. Over time they have fostered a moral culture which prizes personal autonomy and subjective determination of good above all else, creating a world of “merely individualistic morality.”[2]

This sort of subjectivism leads to the notion that things are good or bad because they do or do not suit my preferences, because they are or are not in accord with what I think is best for me -- almost like deciding what sort of car to drive or what sort of music to enjoy. Of course, preferences have a valid part to play in our lives, but mere self‐centered choices will never serve as a basis for true fulfillment or as a way of serving the common good.

This is not a difficult idea to grasp. In fact, all of us (even children) make use of it all the time in our daily relations with each other.[3]

“You’re not being fair!” “You promised.” “Excuse me, but you’re in my seat.” “He was nice to you. Shouldn’t you be nice to him?” Every one of these statements, commonplace as they are, reveals something far deeper at work here. They all make sense only if the speaker is right in supposing that the listener and he share a common standard upon which both of them can and should agree -- a standard of fairness or of honesty to which both of them are bound and which both should recognize. In fact, even when we don’t agree with what the speaker wants, we still are prone to try to justify ourselves on the ground of some exception to the standard rather than by simply denying the standard itself. There is an implication here of something outside of both speaker and listener, some reality that both subscribe to and which both consider important to the relationships of daily life. Indeed, that same standard is present in far greater things than the small examples I have chosen to give.

We have here a standard that we do not “make up” for ourselves, as though conscience were purely private and personal. It is an objective standard that we discover, not a subjective one that we manufacture. If we want to live in a society that respects the dignity of all persons, then it is in our interest to take a strong look at the objectivity of what is good or bad, right or wrong for all of us. To avoid the question of objective truth only pretends to allow subjectivity to reign and individualism to be sovereign, and even our simple examples show what an impossible world that would create. In such a world raw power would be decisive and pleasure would become the principle of action. But to choose such a world is to choose to act against our truest selves and against our deepest desire to love and be loved.

We must ask ourselves the question God asked of Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” Do you accept the truth? Do you live in real love? The implications are enormous, because love fosters life and sin fosters death. If we are not building a community of love, then we are fostering what Pope John Paul II called a culture of death, a totally inhospitable place in which to live.[4] But there is another way to live: There is the truth that leads to life.

II. TRUTH, CHRIST, CHURCH: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6)

At supper with his friends on the night before his death, Jesus, fully aware of all that was about to happen, rose from the table, set aside his outer garments and fastened a towel around his waist. Then he filled a bowl with water and began to wash his disciples’ feet.[5]

“Do you realize what I have done for you,”[6] he asked them after he had finished. If he, their master and teacher, washed their feet like a common servant, then they must do likewise for each other. “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples -- if you have love for one another.”[7]

Jesus desires to share with his disciples the love that he shares with the Father, and he does so by an action of pure service, an act of witness to the fulness of his love. This love is no mere feeling, no noble or touching sentiment. It is a commitment, a choice to place oneself at the disposal of the other. It is demanding, so demanding that -- as Good Friday proved -- it will suffer death rather than fail in its commitment. It is a love almost frightening in its fidelity to the truth.

Truth is at the heart of it all. “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”[8] But even for Jesus the truth is not simply his, not simply subjective. “The words that I speak to you, I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.”[9] It is this truth of the Father that the disciples must come to learn and appreciate. That will happen through the Advocate, the Helper, the Spirit of Truth: “The Holy Spirit which the Father will send in my place will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I have told you.”[10] It is the Holy Spirit who insures that the disciples -- the Church -- will remain in union with Jesus, who is “the way and the truth and the life,”[11] and will continue to teach the truth that sets us free.

Truth is essential in our relationship to God and to each other. The foolishness of what we have referred to as relativism is in the fact that it tries to accept everything as possibly true and ends up accepting nothing as actually true. Listen to the exchange between Jesus and Pilate. Jesus said, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”[12]

And all that Pilate could respond was, “What is truth?” And he went back out to try to sway the mob to spare Jesus, without the courage of truth to enable him to act on his own, free of the fear of Caesar that might have truly set Pilate free had he only known the truth. It was Jesus who was bound for trial, but it was actually Pilate who was not free. And, saddest of all, he had been within inches of the Living Truth, so close he could have reached out and touched it, but his cynicism held him back.

God has given us the means of finding the truth. He has given us faith and reason, and they are both his gifts, they are both of value in our search for truth, our search for God. Far from denigrating the power of human reason, the Church has consistently defended it. It has seen no contradiction between reason and faith, but has recognized their ordered relationship. Reason’s search for truth is not wrong, it is simply not fully sufficient in itself. It finds its fulfillment in the act of faith.

The more we know ourselves through both reason and faith, the more we come to know the truth of our relationship to God. And the more we know of that relationship, the more we know about how we ought to live. We begin to learn the truth about what is right and what is wrong in the things we do, and that knowledge of the truth, far from limiting our freedom, actually expands it. It sets us free to do what is truly right, and in that we will find our true fulfillment.

True freedom is not, as we are sometimes prone to think, the possibility of choosing either good or evil. The possibility of choosing evil is actually a perversion of freedom. True freedom is the possibility of always being able to choose what is truly good, and that we can do only if we come to know the truth about what is right and what is wrong. Know the truth, and the truth will truly set you free.

There is no contradiction between a Church that offers the love of Christ and a Church that teaches the truth which Christ embodies. Christians who endeavor to follow Christ and to live in his love should be fully disposed to learn from the witness that this Church provides.[13] Its statements are not contrary to freedom of conscience, they are, rather, a statement of the truths which enable our consciences to act with true freedom.

III. CONSCIENCE: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32)

What is conscience? Is it a body of knowledge about what is right or wrong? Is it an attitude of mind, a habitual outlook on moral conduct? In fact, it is neither of those things. It is something simpler. It is an act of judgment about the morality of an action one is considering doing. “Conscience is one’s last and best judgment concernng what one should choose.”[14]

Conscience measures a contemplated act against the objective standard of the moral law, which is one aspect of the truth that sets us free and to which the Church bears witness. Conscience applies this law of love in the particular circumstances of daily life. For this reason, conscience is the immediate norm of our moral action as it loves us to do one thing or avoid another by making a judgment of reason about the good or evil of a particular case.[15]

In rendering the judgment of conscience on the moral quality of a particular act, we make use of the unity of truth as we know it -- in part through natural reason (that truth “written upon our hearts,” as Paul says in Romans 2:15) and in part through revelation. Conscience presupposes these sources of knowledge. In other words, conscience does not determine what is right or wrong, but rather makes a judgment about whether a particular proposed action is in accord with what is right or wrong and is, therefore, a good or evil action.[16] This is why those people are wrong who say that morality is purely individualistic, that conscience is a wholly independent, exclusively personal capacity to determine what constitutes good or evil.[17] In fact, to reduce conscience to so narrow and ineffectual a vision is actually to demean its real significance.

It is only because you and I know the same truth -- whose fullness is to be found in Christ -- that we can base our moral act in an operation of conscience. If decisions of conscience were no more than privately decided “truths,” we could never share a common good. Instead, it is essential that we have the capacity to know the truth and so to deliberate what act is good.

Conscience is not only our last judgment before acting, it must also be our best. However, if conscience is a human judgment, then it is also capable of error and is not infallible. This is why the Church teaches that conscience must be properly formed. It must be enabled to discern what actually does or does not correspond to the “eternal, objective and universal divine law” which human intelligence is capable of discovering.[18]

Our freedom is a freedom for the truth and not a freedom from the truth. Otherwise there would be no possibility of sharing in a true good. This is why the Fathers of Vatican II affirmed that “through loyalty to conscience, Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems that arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by the objective standards of moral conduct.”[19]

Clearly a person must follow conscience in order to be morally responsible. Yet no human being can realistically claim that his conscience is simply infallible, since decisions of conscience depend on conformity to the objective moral law and do not create the moral law. But if conscience can be erroneous, therein lies the potential for tragedy. In spite of all sincerity, a conscience in error neither fosters fulfillment nor serves the good. If conscience, therefore, is to serve its purpose, it must not only be sincere, it must also be correct. How sad, indeed, to be utterly sincere in what we do and to be, at the same time, utterly and sincerely wrong. Conscience needs formation.

IV. FORMATION OF CONSCIENCE: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

The importance of conscience cannot be underestimated. The judgment of conscience about the goodness or evil of a contemplated act is not only a judgment on the value of the act itself, but is also a judgment on the doer of the act. His choice of action is also his choice of his own moral state. His actions reveal what he is and even contribute to making him what he is. To choose to do good is to choose to be a moral person; to choose to do evil is to choose to be an immoral person. The judgment of conscience is crucial.

“A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.”[20] It is obvious that to act against a conscientious judgment made with certitude would really be a way of doing violence to one’s own moral state. However, we must also recognize the fact that human judgment is capable of error. Even when the person making the judgment is certain that he is right, he may easily fail to grasp the question correctly or to have the full knowledge he needs or to be aware of all the facts. In such cases, the person making the judgment would be acting in good faith and would not be guilty of sin, but he would still be wrong and the evil of the act would still take place.

One may be morally blameworthy for his lack of proper judgment and his own ignorance. “This is the case when a man ‘takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.’ In such cases the person is culpable for the evil he commits.”[21] The sources for errors in moral conduct may be varied. “Ignorance of Christ and his gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity; these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.”[22]

In either case -- whether the ignorance is or is not blameworthy -- one always has the obligation to take whatever steps are required to ensure that one removes that ignorance, since it is an obstacle to right judgment and therefore to right living. Such ignorance is always harmful.

Earlier we spoke of conscience as one’s last and best judgment concerning what one should choose. For that judgment to be the best judgment, one must take care to see to it that conscience (the judgment) is properly formed. Good judgment never just “happens.” It always demands insight and knowledge of both facts and values.

There are certain norms for formation of conscience that will apply in every case, as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: (1) One may never do evil even if the intention is that good will come of it; (2) one should do unto others as he would have them do unto himself; (3) charity always demands respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience.[23]

In order for conscience to be properly formed, one must make the effort to be upright and truthful. This means making every effort to form judgments of conscience based on good reasoning and on the acceptance of the true good willed by God. As human beings we are influenced by negative forces and by the temptation to sin. We are easily drawn to a false autonomy and the temptation to reject even legitimate authoritative teaching.

“The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fears, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.”[24]

The judgment of conscience is at the heart of our relationship to God and to neighbor. It is essential to our life and happiness, since it is conscience that directs us to live in such a way as to be everything that the loving Creator intended us to be. To be otherwise is to doom ourselves to a vain quest for a happiness that cannot be attained because it does not exist. We are daily faced with choices, large and small, all of which lead us in one direction or the other. We do not always have ready answers to the situations that arise, but we are bound to have minds and hearts open to the truth that will be presented to us through reason and through faith. We are bound to listen to the voice of God as both reason and faith make it known to us.

To have a well formed conscience is not to have our freedom constrained. It is, rather, to have a freedom that is full and complete, because in every choice made on the ground of a well formed conscience we come one step nearer to God and one step nearer to what, in our heart of hearts, we truly wish to be.

CONCLUSION: “Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:15)

The grace of baptism is the grace of new life in Christ. That new life, however, is not a static gift given for the day of baptism and remaining within us as a “relic” of the sacrament. It is, rather, a new life, a new vitality renewed each day and drawing us ever nearer to the fullness of life that will be ours in Heaven. To live in Christ is to live as another Christ. It is to live for the truth and to lay down our lives for that truth as witnesses to the gift we have received. To live in Christ is to love self and neighbor as does Christ.

This love is not a feeling. It is a steadfast willing. It is a constant choice of the good, and that good must be illuminated by the truth known to reason and fulfilled in faith. This is the function of the well formed conscience. It is a responsibility of the highest order. It is something we must all pursue, for without a conscience informed by the truth we can never find fulfillment in the love of God or love of neighbor. Only when I have the certitude of a truly well formed conscience will I be able to say in truth, “Christ lives in me.”

* * *

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 2nd edition with modifications from the Editio Typica, 1994, 1997, quoting from Vatican II, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 1965, n. 3 § 2.

[2] Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes [GS], n. 30. Pope John Paul II in the Encyclical Veritatis splendor [VS], 1993, n. 32, writes: “But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and ‘being at peace with oneself,’ so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment... there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others.”

[3] The ideas presented here are not original with me, but come from a delightful passage in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (Macmillan Co., 1966 [8th printing], Book I, chapter 1).
[4] “For us too Moses’ invitation rings out loud and clear, ‘See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil... I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live’ (Dt 30:15,19). This invitation is very appropriate for us who are called day by day to the duty of choosing between the ‘culture of life’ and the ‘culture of death.’” Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae,
101995, n. 28.

[5] Cf. Jn 13.

[6] Jn 13:12.

[7] Jn 13:35.
[8] Jn 8: 31-32.

[9] Jn 14: 10.
[10] Jn 14: 26.

[11] Jn 14: 6.
[12] Jn 18: 37-38.

[13] VS, n.64, “It follows that the authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians. This is so not only because freedom of conscience is never freedom ‘from’ the truth but always and only freedom ‘in’ the truth, but also because the Magisterium does not bring to the Christian conscience truths which are extraneous to it; rather it brings to light the truths which it ought already to possess, developing them from the starting point of the primordial act of faith. The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience, helping it to avoid being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine proposed by human deceit (cf. Eph 4:14), and helping it not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it.”

As the Second Vatican Council put it: “in matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful, for their part, are obliged to accept their bishops’ teaching with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 1964, n. 25). And always, as Vatican II noted: “[I]n forming their consciences, the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of
the Church. For the Catholic Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature” (Dignitatis Humanae, n. 14).

[14] Germain Grisez, "The Way of the Lord Jesus," Volume I, Christian Moral Principles, Franciscan Herald Press, 1983, p. 76.

[15] Cf. VS, 34. Pope John Paul later writes: “The dignity of this rational forum and the authority of its voice and judgments derive from the truth about moral good and evil, which it is called to listen to and to express. This truth is indicated by the ‘divine law,’ the universal and objective norm of morality. The judgment of conscience does not establish the law; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law and of the practical reason with reference
to the supreme good, whose attractiveness the human person perceives and whose commandments he accepts.

‘Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-à-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behavior.’” (VS, 60, quoting Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Dominum et vivificantem, 1986, n. 43.)

[16] Cf. CCC, n. 1778.
[17] Cf. Dominum et vivificantem, n. 43.
[18] Cf. Dignitatis humanae, n. 3; VS, n. 60.

[19] Gaudium et Spes, n. 16, emphasis added. See also Dignitatis humanae, n. 3: “On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience.”

[20] CCC, n. 1790.
[21] CCC, n. 1791, quoting Gaudium et Spes, n. 16.

[22] CCC, n. 1792.
[23] Cf. CCC, n. 1789.
[24] CCC, n. 1784.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fr. Folsom, O.S.B., From One Eucharistic Prayer to Many: How it Happened and Why

From One Eucharistic Prayer to Many: How it Happened and Why

by Father Cassian Folsom, O.S.B.

Part I

The history of the multiplication of alternatives to the Roman Canon -- now known as Eucharistic Prayer I -- in the years following Vatican II takes on new significance in the present massive revision of the Roman Missal. This illuminating account will be presented in three parts.

In the 1970 and 1975 Latin editions of the Roman Missal, there are four Eucharistic Prayers (these may be augmented in the third editio typica which is due out this fall). In more recent American editions of the Roman Missal, in addition to the four already mentioned, there are five others included in the appendix: two for Reconciliation and three for Masses with children. Thus for the last twenty-five years, the Roman rite has had the experience of many Eucharistic Prayers.

This was not always so, however. For some 1600 years previously, the Roman rite knew only one Eucharistic Prayer: the Roman canon.

In the average parish today, Eucharistic Prayer II is the one most frequently used, even on Sunday. Eucharistic Prayer III is also used quite often, especially on Sundays and feast days. The fourth Eucharistic prayer is hardly ever used; in part because it is long, in part because in some places in the U.S. it has been unofficially banned because of its frequent use of the word "man". The first Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman canon, which had been used exclusively in the Roman rite for well over a millennium and a half, nowadays is used almost never. As an Italian liturgical scholar puts it: "its use today is so minimal as to be statistically irrelevant".1

This is a radical change in the Roman liturgy. Why aren't more people aware of the enormity of this change? Perhaps since the canon used to be said silently, its contents and merits were known to priests, to be sure, but not to most of the laity. Hence when the Eucharistic Prayer began to be said aloud in the vernacular, with four to choose from -- and the Roman canon chosen rarely, if ever -- the average layman did not realize that 1600 years of tradition had suddenly vanished like a lost civilization, leaving few traces behind, and those of interest only to archaeologists and tourists.

What happened? Why did it happen? How should we respond to the new situation? These questions are the subject matter of this essay.

What happened is long in the telling, because the period of liturgical history in question is involved and complex. It is necessary to follow closely the various twists and turns in the path of this development, however, in order to be in a position to understand why things happened the way they did.

1. Sacrosanctum Concilium (December 4, 1963)
Article 37 of the Schema on the Liturgy (in the final document it would be numbered article 50), treats of the Ordo Missae. In the discussions on this text, only one of the Council Fathers, Bishop Wilhelm Duschak, S.V.D. requested a new Eucharistic Prayer either to replace the Roman Canon or to use as an alternate.2

On the other hand, several Fathers in commenting on article 37/50, stressed that the Canon should not be touched. In the voting itself, a number of votes placet iuxta modum expressed the same reservations. The relator responded saying that these concerns were already reflected in the phrase "due care being taken to preserve the substance of the rites" (probe servata eorum substantia), although in fact, the post-conciliar commission would abandon this position. According to Jungmann, it was the relator's mind that a free hand should be given to the post-conciliar work of reform.3

In any case, neither the Schema nor the final text of Sacrosanctum Concilium make any mention of new Eucharistic Prayers.

2. Private initiatives to revise the Roman Canon or compose new Eucharistic Prayers (1963-1968)
Private initiatives, however, to revise the Roman canon were already being made. Two such initiatives were published in scholarly journals: that of Hans Küng4 in 1963 and Karl Amon5 in 1965.6 Many other newly-composed Eucharistic Prayers followed, some of them published, some of them not. One of the most important elements in this story is the political pressure put on the Holy See by the Church in the Netherlands. Between 1965 and 1966, before the vernacular was permitted for the canon, translations of the canon and texts of new Eucharistic Prayers were already circulating in Holland.7 The Dutch episcopal conference, in the person of Bishop Jean Bluyssen of Hertogenbosch, president of the national liturgical commission and himself a member of the post-conciliar commission for the carrying out of the liturgical reforms (hereafter referred to as the Consilium), made an official request to the Holy See for permission to use these texts. (Note the pattern: unauthorized experimentation first, pressure for permission later). In the Fall of 1966, there was much coming and going of messages and emissaries between the Netherlands and Rome in order to resolve the problem. Annibale Bugnini, the chairman of the Consilium, reports what happened:

As a result of Father Bugnini's visit to the Netherlands, a special committee was set up to examine some anaphoras sent by the [Dutch] liturgical commission. Several meetings made it clear that it would be difficult to obtain approval for these; the Consilium therefore suggested that the Dutch wait for the new Eucharistic Prayers then being composed (Bugnini, p.461, n.7).6

In January of 1967, those in authority agreed that some of the requests of the Dutch Conference had to be granted: among those requests, the translation of the Canon and the study and eventual approval of three new anaphoras. Pope Paul VI appointed a special curial commission to consider whether "it is not appropriate to extend the concessions foreseen for the Netherlands to other countries or even to the entire Church" (Bugnini, p.106).

Not willing to wait for the word from Rome, however, many individuals and groups simply went ahead on their own. The Dutch bishops chose eleven Eucharistic Prayers out of the many in circulation and published them for official use (November 11, 1969). The Flemish-speaking bishops of Belgium did the same, but limited the selection to five (November 1, 1969). A year earlier, the Indonesian bishops had given approval to ten Eucharistic Prayers (October 24, 1968). The Dutch prayers were translated into German8 (1968) and went through many printings (cf. Bugnini, p.465). In France, there were some one hundred Eucharistic Prayers in circulation.9 Bernard Botte complains, in 1968, about the utter anarchy that reigned in French-speaking areas because of the use of unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers.10

While all of these private initiatives were taking place, what was happening at the official level?

3. Study Group 10 of the Consilium and its work on the Ordo Missae (1965)
The Eucharistic Prayer itself was not originally a concern of the Consilium, but rather the revision of the Ordo Missae. This was assigned to Study Group 10. In the process of the work, the question of the Roman canon inevitably arose. Bugnini describes the situation for us:

The Roman Canon was the most sensitive and complex problem of all. On the one hand, respect for this prayer made the group hesitate to touch it; on the other, there were suggestions from experts and requests from pastors for a different and more logical organization of the Eucharistic Prayer. In order to achieve a resolution of the difficulties, it was proposed to experiment with three revised forms of the Roman Canon (Bugnini, p.343).

News of these experiments soon got out, and various people complained to the Holy See. What became evident was that the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing. Bugnini reports that the Secretary of State, Cardinal Cicognani, wrote to the president of the Consilium, Cardinal Lercaro, on October 25, 1965 and again on December 10, 1965, urging extreme caution (Bugnini, p.152, n.30). On March 7, 1966, the Secretary of State communicated this message from Pope Paul VI to the Consilium:

I hasten to tell you of His Holiness' desire that the Canon itself not be altered, at least for the time being; any possible change must therefore be submitted for explicit approval of the Holy Father, who, for his part, believes he must not introduce any changes into the Canon itself without previous documented and rigorous studies and then, should the occasion arise, only after consulting with the bishops. I am to tell you that, all things considered, it is perhaps better to leave the traditional text unchanged; this, however, does not mean that study of the subject is not to continue (Bugnini, p.152, n.30).

The Holy Father was putting the brakes on, but not discouraging further study. The Consilium, therefore returned to the subject of the Eucharistic Prayer a couple of months later, presenting a new request to Paul VI on May 25, 1966:

If the time comes to reopen the question of composing a new Eucharistic Prayer (in view of the difficulties that mark the present Roman Canon from a pastoral standpoint), study group 10 would be honored to be allowed to work up some models. In that case it would also feel obliged to see to it that any new prayer still displayed the Roman genius, so that the Roman Mass would continue to be faithful to the spirit of the Roman liturgy (Bugnini, p.449).

One month later, on June 20, 1966, Cardinal Lercaro submitted the following request to the Holy Father:

Any projected revision of the text of the Eucharistic Prayer faces numerous and sensitive problems; but then so does the retention of the prayer in its present form present difficulties. Especially if said aloud, the Roman Canon would become burdensome due to its very changelessness and to some elements that are too narrowly local, such as the lists of the saints....

The Canons suggested by various sources tend to be revisions of the text with a view to curtailing the elements just mentioned and relocating other intercessory prayers (Memento, Communicantes, Nobis quoque) so as to make the Eucharistic Prayer more of a single unit that includes the Preface, Sanctus and anamnesis. But revisions are always dangerous, especially when they mean tampering with texts that have so venerable a tradition behind them.

It seems more expedient to leave the traditional text of the Canon untouched and to compose from scratch one or more Eucharistic Prayers that would be added to the traditional Canon and used as alternatives to it, even if only for the purpose of having a greater variety of texts (Bugnini, pp. 449-450).

It is interesting to single out the motives for the proposed change:

1) The Roman Canon would be burdensome if recited out loud, because it is always the same.

2) The lists of saints are too local.

3) The Canon is unsatisfactory from a stylistic viewpoint, and would require considerable reworking in order to appear as a single literary unit.

In spite of these objections to the Roman canon, however, the Consilium made the prudential judgment that it was too dangerous to tamper with the text, and that it was better therefore to provide a few alternatives in order to respond to the defects mentioned, and to provide some variety. As Bugnini reports, "the Pope's decision was brief and to the point: 'The present anaphora is to be left unchanged; two or three anaphoras for use at particular specified times are to be composed or looked for.'" (Bugnini, p.450).

If taken at face value, this decision would leave the Roman canon primacy of place, while adding several other Eucharistic prayers to the repertoire in a subsidiary role. (In fact, this is not what happened). The "particular times" are not specified, and the Holy Father left open the possibility of borrowing the new anaphoras from the tradition or composing entirely new prayers.

With this green light from the Holy Father, the Consilium set to work immediately.

Part II

Part I of this three part essay, which appeared in the September issue, began the history of the multiplication of alternatives to the Roman Canon (now known as Eucharistic Prayer I). Noting that during its first 1600 years, the Roman rite knew only one Eucharistic Prayer, Father Cassian observes that the multiplication of "options" since the early to mid-1970s has resulted in the virtual disappearance of the Roman Canon. "The average layman did not realize that 1600 years of tradition had suddenly vanished like a lost civilization, leaving few traces behind, and those of interest only to archaeologists and tourists."

Although the documents of the Second Vatican Council did not mention new Eucharistic prayers, private initiatives to revise the Roman Canon and/or to compose new Eucharistic Prayers were being made as early as 1963 by theologian Hans Küng. Agitation for creating new alternatives to the Roman Canon was intensifying especially in Holland, and new prayers were published by Dutch and Flemish bishops and used without authorization from Rome.

Meanwhile, at the official level, the Consilium (the group responsible for implementing the Council's decree on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium) and "Study Group 10" (concerned with revision of the Roman Missal) were also considering alternatives to the traditional Canon. Their rationale: 1. The Roman Canon would be burdensome if recited aloud, because it is always the same; 2. The lists of saints are too local; 3. The Canon is unsatisfactory from a stylistic viewpoint."

Despite pressure from advocates of alternative prayers, Pope Paul VI objected to changing the Canon. Eventually, however, he was persuaded to permit "two or three" alternatives "for use at particular specified times", although he insisted that the Roman Canon be left intact. But the pope did not elaborate on "specified times". So "[w]ith this green light from the Holy Father, the Consilium set to work immediately."

The accout of what happened to the Roman Canon continues in Part II following.

4. Vagaggini and the summer of 1966
Study group 10, which worked on the Ordo Missae, was now enlarged to respond to the new task at hand. Father Vagaggini, a Benedictine monk and professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum of Sant'Anselmo in Rome, spent the summer of 1966 at the library of Mont-César in Belgium, doing an intense study of the Roman canon, and composing two new Eucharistic Prayers (which are the basis for the present prayers III and IV). The work of Vagaggini was published in book form that same year;11 thus the discussion moved from the restricted circle of the Consilium to the wider public forum, raising the expectations of some and the hackles of others.12

Vagaggini's proposals were then examined by the entire study group, various periti, and the Fathers of the Consilium. It was decided to act upon Pope Paul's instructions by adopting two already-existing anaphoras, that of Hippolytus (the inspiration for Eucharistic Prayer II) and the Alexandrian anaphora of St. Basil (which in the end was not accepted because of certain theological difficulties). The new compositions adopted were the two proposed by Vagaggini.

One of the main reasons given for proposing these new anaphoras was the principle of variety. According to Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, longtime secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, "This kind of variety seems needed if the Roman liturgy is to have the greater spiritual and pastoral riches that cannot find full expression in a single type of text" (Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy, p.452).

In the explanations given for these new texts, a certain emphasis was placed upon their length. Of the three new texts which were eventually approved, one is very short (EP II), one of medium length (EP III) and one is rather long since it includes a summary exposition of the entire economy of salvation EP IV).

5. Steps in the process toward official promulgation
In a very schematic way, these are the steps which the texts of the new Eucharistic Prayers went through in order to receive final approval (cf. Bugnini, pp. 460-465):

a. April, 1967: the schema was approved by the presidential council of the Consilium, then by the Fathers. It was sent to the pope on May 3, 1967. (The schema also included nine new prefaces).

b. The Holy Father ordered the schema to be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation of Rites (June, 1967). CDF did not approve the Alexandrian anaphora (literally, "offering", another name for the Eucharistic prayer) of Saint Basil because of the theological problem of the epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit).

c. July 10, 1967: In view of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops, Pope Paul VI wrote to the Consilium with these instructions: "You are authorized to prepare a booklet [containing the new anaphoras] that is to be given to the Fathers of the coming Synod; all things considered, however, it is advisable that the formula of consecration not be changed."13

d. The Synod of Bishops was held in October, 1967. Among the liturgical matters under discussion was the question of the new Eucharistic Prayers. A number of "papal queries" were placed before the Fathers for a vote on October 14, 1967, among them the question: "Should three other Eucharistic Prayers, in addition to the Roman Canon, be introduced into the Latin liturgy?" Of the 183 Fathers voting, a large majority said Yes, 22 said No, and 33 said Yes with qualifications (placet iuxta modum).14 The modi were as follows:

1. The Roman Canon should always have the place of honor and be used on Sundays and more solemn feasts.

2. Very precise norms should be set down for the use of each prayer; the choice of prayer should not be left to the celebrant.

3. The new Eucharistic Prayers should be restricted to special, well-prepared groups.

4. Before use of the prayers is allowed, they should be submitted to the episcopal conferences for study, and the faithful should be carefully instructed in advance.

5. There should not be only three further Eucharistic Prayers, but a good many more: these should be taken from the Eastern liturgies. Furthermore, the episcopal conferences should be granted authority to compose others proper to them.

6. The Roman Canon should itself be revised to facilitate its use.

As can be seen, not all the modi followed the same line of argument. Bugnini remarks that the value of the vote was "quite relative" because the Fathers were not voting as actual representatives of their episcopal conferences, but as individual bishops (Bugnini, p.351). In any case, the response of the Synod was largely favorable.

e. The publication of the new Eucharistic Prayers was delayed, however. Bugnini attributes the delay to the "usual interferences." In addition, the Secretary of State insisted on January 28, 1968, that a suitable instruction be issued along with the new texts.

f. The definitive approval was given on April 27, 1968.

g. The three new Eucharistic Prayers were promulgated by a decree of the Congregation of Rites on May 23, 1968,15 which also determined that the prayers could be used beginning August 15, 1968.

h. On the same day, the document "Norms on the Use of Eucharistic Prayers I-IV" was issued.16 Since these norms are not very well known, it is worthwhile to cite them here.

1) Eucharistic Prayer I, i.e. the Roman Canon, may always be used; its use is particularly suited to days assigned a proper Communicantes or a proper Hanc igitur; to feasts of the apostles and saints mentioned in this Prayer; also to Sundays, unless pastoral reasons call for a different eucharistic prayer.

(This norm, in effect, reduces the use of the Roman canon to a few special occasions).

2) Because of its distinctive features, Eucharistic Prayer II is better suited to weekdays or to special occasions.

(This norm, in effect, expands the use of this Eucharistic Prayer; the most outstanding distinctive feature referred to being its brevity).

3) Eucharistic Prayer III may be used with any of the prefaces; like the Roman Canon, it is to have precedence on Sundays and holydays.
(This norm, in effect, replaces the Roman Canon with Eucharistic Prayer III).

4) Eucharistic Prayer IV has an unchangeable preface.... It may be used whenever a Mass does not have a proper preface; its use is particularly suited to a congregation of people with a more developed knowledge of Scripture.

(This norm, in effect, limits the use of this Eucharistic Prayer to rare occasions: it cannot be used during any of the strong seasons when there is a proper preface, i.e. Advent, Lent, Easter. In addition, the somewhat condescending note about a more educated congregation, if taken seriously, would limit its use even further).

i. A week or so later, on June 2, 1968, the new president of the Consilium, Cardinal Benno Gut, sent a cover letter to the presidents of episcopal conferences17 along with guidelines to assist catechesis on the anaphoras of the Mass.18

j. The Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum was promulgated on Holy Thursday, April 3, 1969, but because of fierce controversy, the editio typica was not issued until Holy Thursday of the following year, March 26, 1970.

6. Problems after official promulgation of the new Eucharistic Prayers
One might have expected that the official publication of the new Missal with three new Eucharistic Prayers in addition to the Roman Canon would have put an end to unbridled experimentation. "It was hoped that the publication of the new Eucharistic Prayers would eliminate or at least lessen the problem [of the many private compositions in circulation]," writes Bugnini. "This did not happen" (Bugnini, p.465). The genie had been let out of the bottle, and would simply not go back in. Certain episcopal conferences blatantly ignored remonstrances from Rome. Signals were unclear, however, since the Congregation for Divine Worship gave permission for quite a number of Eucharistic Prayers for special groups and special occasions.19

On May 27, 1971, Divine Worship explained the problem to Pope Paul VI, suggesting that the issue needed to be more carefully studied:

"We hear that the Liturgical Institute of Paris has collected and studied over two hundred Eucharistic Prayers... If the Holy Father agrees, the Congregation would like to undertake a systematic collection of all the existing material and study that it may have a clear grasp of the dimensions of the problem and be able to tackle it with greater clarity and on a solid basis" (Bugnini, p.467).

On June 22, 1971, a reply came from the Secretary of State:

"Given the extent of the indiscriminate use of unapproved Eucharistic Prayers, the Holy Father wishes that a careful study be made of the problem in all its aspects, in order to find a solution that will remedy this serious situation of undisciplined liturgical practice" (Bugnini, p.467).

Thus a special study group was appointed on September 17, 1971 to look into the matter.

7. Work of the special Study Group
From October 1971 to March 1972, this special Study Group met several times, producing a working document of some one hundred pages analyzing the problem and proposing solutions. At the third meeting, January 25-26, 1972, the group, comprised of 17 members, voted on four questions (cf. Bugnini, pp. 467-469):

1) Should the number of Eucharistic Prayers in the Roman Missal be increased?

Yes: 10 No: 3 Yes, iuxta modum: 4

2) Should a larger number of Eucharistic Prayers be allowed in regions in which the episcopal conferences think it advisable?

Yes: 12; No: 0 Yes, iuxta modum: 5

3) Is the solution proposed in n. 39a of the schema acceptable? (i.e. that the Congregation for Divine Worship should prepare models of its own)

Yes: 8 No: 8 Yes, iuxta modum: 1

4) Is the solution proposed in n. 29b acceptable? (i.e. that the Congregation for Divine Worship should prepare guidelines for the episcopal conferences to use in making their own judgments)

Yes: 8 No: 5 Yes, iuxta modum: 4

The clear consensus of the group was that more Eucharistic Prayers should be allowed. There was no clear agreement, however, about the role of the Congregation for Divine Worship in guiding or directing the composition of these prayers.

Some of the consultors of the Congregation, who had not been polled on these questions, but who felt very strongly about them, published their own findings, coming to quite opposite conclusions, namely that it was inopportune to compose new Eucharistic Prayers in addition to the ones already in the Roman Missal. This published report aroused alarm in various quarters, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and much controversy ensued. The Secretary of State was obliged to intervene, to diplomatically rebuke the Congregation for Divine Worship, and to do some damage control. Pope Paul VI, on February 28, 1972, in an audience with Bugnini (whom he had ordained a bishop on February 13, 1972) also issued a kind of rebuke: "I once again strongly urge the Congregation for Divine Worship to try to control the tendency to multiply Eucharistic Prayers," adding a number of clarifications:

* Other Congregations competent in the matter were to be consulted in these matters (translation: Divine Worship shouldn't be acting on its own);

* Liturgical uniformity should be stressed;

* Arbitrary experiments should cease;

* Episcopal conferences do not have the authority to introduce new Eucharistic Prayers unless they have received permission from the Holy See (Bugnini, pp. 470-471).

At a plenary meeting of the special Study Group, March 7-11, 1972, the Secretariat of State asked that the members be brought up to date concerning the recent communications sent by him to the Congregation for Divine Worship, lest the Fathers "in ignorance of the real thinking of his Holiness, proceed along the path traced out by the periti, although this is not fully in conformity with the directives given to them... (Bugnini, p.471, n.31)"

8. Signals missed or ignored
Thus, negative signals were being sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Study Group, but apparently these signals were not understood. On the contrary, work proceeded full steam ahead and in a plenary meeting of the entire Congregation for Divine Worship, the schema for the Eucharistic Prayers was examined and the matter was put to a vote (Bugnini, pp. 471-472):

1) In view of the present situation regarding the development and use of Eucharistic Prayers, should competent authority takes some steps to increase the number of these prayers?

Yes: 13 No: 0 Yes, iuxta modum: 3

2) Is it enough that the Holy See should prepare some new Eucharistic Prayers?

Yes: 2 No: 12 Yes, iuxta modum: 2

3) Is it enough that the Holy See should provide some models to be adapted by the episcopal conferences?

Yes: 0 No: 16 Yes, iuxta modum: 0

4) Should the episcopal conferences be able to compose new Eucharistic Prayers that satisfy criteria set down by the Holy See and are then submitted to the latter?

Yes: 11 No: 3 Yes, iuxta modum: 2

5) Are the guidelines set down in Chapter VI for preparing and evaluating Eucharistic Prayers acceptable?

Yes: 9 No: 2 Yes, iuxta modum: 5

The progressive tendency of the group is clear. More Eucharistic Prayers are called for; the Holy See is neither to prepare these prayers nor provide models for them; instead Episcopal conferences should be able to compose new prayers on their own authority.

The Cardinal Prefect's report to the Secretariat of State, April 12, 1972, was more balanced and modest in tone, but still included the suggestion that episcopal conferences "in extraordinary circumstances, and then case by case" should be given permission to prepare new Eucharistic Prayers. The suggestion was tempered, however, by the proviso that the conference must first request authorization, then prepare the text, which must be submitted to the competent agencies of the Holy See (Bugnini, p.472). Pope Paul VI granted an audience to the Cardinal Prefect on April 20th, issuing a written response a month later, on May 23, 1972, in which he forbade publicity about the discussion in progress, but gave authorization for a draft text to be prepared of an Instruction on Eucharistic Prayers.

This draft text was prepared during the summer months, and was sent to the study group on September 8, 1972. Bugnini reports that "the group held its fourth and final meeting on September 25-26, in a somewhat "disheartened" atmosphere" (Bugnini, p.473). Although they were disappointed that their suggestions had not been well received, they persisted in their recommendation that episcopal conferences be given permission, under certain conditions, to compose new Eucharistic Prayers. On November 17, 1972, the Secretary of State sent the draft Instruction to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The response of CDF was in the negative. Bugnini says why:

In the meantime, others made their voices heard in opposition to approval of new Eucharistic Prayers: a group of theologians on the International Theological Commission (October 11), a French archbishop, and those consultors of the Congregation for Divine Worship who had cast a negative vote at the study sessions. All these put pressure on the Supreme Pastor... (Bugnini, p.474, n.32).

9. "No" From Pope: "A Cold Shower"
On January 11, 1973, the Secretary of State communicated CDF's response to Divine Worship: "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given a negative answer regarding the timeliness of granting the episcopal conferences permission to redact new anaphoras. Its prohibition must be accepted" (Bugnini, p.474).

The letter of the Secretary of State also included the following directives which would later appear in the Instruction on Eucharistic Prayers put out by the Congregation for Divine Worship:

* Episcopal Conferences must put an end to experimental Eucharistic Prayers.

* The Holy See does not unqualifiedly exclude the possibility of approving a new anaphora, but its preparation and promulgation must be agreed on in advance with the Holy See.

* The Roman Missal gives plenty of room for adaptation already.20

Bugnini's reaction demonstrates that the Study Group was working on quite a different wave length than the Holy See. He confesses: "This reply came like a cold shower after a year and a half of hard and intelligent work" (Bugnini, p.474). He had an audience with Pope Paul on December 21, 1972, in which he explained the position of Divine Worship: the Church was faced "with a widespread phenomenon which, it seems, cannot be handled by simply prohibiting it or by ignoring it, but only by channeling it so that the Holy See can still be in control." The Pope then stated his decision: "No to any further experiments. The Holy See reserves to itself (emphasis in original) the authority to prepare new Eucharistic Prayers in particular cases" (Bugnini, p.475, n.33).

The Congregation for Divine Worship then dutifully drafted the Instruction in the form of a circular letter on January 20, 1973. The Secretary of State responded on January 31, 1973, saying: "The substance of the letter is fine, but it needs to be milder in form, and the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the decision should also be given" (Bugnini, p.474).

The result of all this was a very modest document, Eucharistiae participationem,21 published on April 27, 1973. After laying out the situation concerning privately composed Eucharistic prayers and their abusive nature, the circular letter says:

"After all the factors have been fully weighed, the decision is that at this time it is not advisable to grant to the conferences of bishops a general permission to compose or approve new eucharistic prayers. On the contrary, it is judged that the wiser course is to counsel a more complete catechesis on the real nature of the eucharistic prayer..."22

The Congregation for Divine Worship had been severely chastened.

Part III -- Conclusion

Part II of Father Folsom's essay on the history of the multiplication of Eucharistic Prayers in the years following the Second Vatican Council gave a summary of the steps in the process toward official promulgation of the Eucharistic Prayers, and the continued push for further alternatives and innovations.

10. Special Eucharistic Prayers
While the door had certainly been drawn to, it had not been slammed shut, since the circular letter included the following proviso:

Moved by a pastoral love for unity, the Apostolic See reserves to itself the right to regulate a matter so important as the discipline of the eucharistic prayers. The Apostolic See will not refuse to consider lawful needs within the Roman Rite and will accord every consideration to the petitions submitted by the conferences of bishops for the possible composition in special circumstances of a new eucharistic prayer and its introduction into the liturgy. The Apostolic See will set forth the norms to be observed in each case.23

Since the door remained partly ajar, people made bold to knock. The Congregation for Divine Worship was the first to take the initiative, and within a matter of days, asked the Pope on May 3, 1973, "for permission to prepare one or two formularies for Masses with children, and he granted it" (Bugnini, p.478).

A request soon came for special anaphoras for the 1975 Holy Year; permission was granted on October 29, 1973. In order to prepare these texts, another study group was set up. In its first meeting, November 13-15, 1973, it was decided to composed three Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with children and two for the Holy Year.24

Draft texts went back and forth between the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Secretariat of State (cf. Bugnini, pp. 479-482).

The decision came from the Holy Father on October 26, 1974, to the effect that three texts for children and two for the Holy Year were authorized for experiment for a period of three years, that is, until the end of 1977, but they were not to be published officially or included in the Roman Missal. In addition, the Congregation for Divine Worship was to send a letter to the presidents of the episcopal conferences indicating that each conference could choose one prayer from each category.25 (At the end of 1977 the permission was extended to 1980 and then indefinitely).26

11. Swiss Synod, Netherlands, Brazil
At the same time as the Congregation for Divine Worship was working on these texts, various episcopal conferences were also making their requests. Switzerland, on the occasion of its synod, received permission on February 13, 1974 for one Eucharistic Prayer with four thematic variations (as a result it actually seems like four different prayers).

The Netherlands received permission on August 16, 1974 for a new Eucharistic Prayer on the occasion of a Pastoral Colloquium held November 1, 1974.

Brazil also received permission for a new anaphora on November 11, 1974 for its National Eucharistic Congress. Certain other requests were turned down, however (cf. Bugnini, p.477).

12. Pressure for More Options Continues
Because matters still remained unsettled, and unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers continued to be used, the Secretariat of State on April 22, 1975, sent some directives and guidelines to the Congregation for Divine Worship in order to deal more effectively with these problems. These directives were rather restrictive, insisting that proper procedure be followed, and stressing that "only the four anaphoras contained in the Missal are to be regarded as official and definitive" (Bugnini, p.483).

Bugnini interprets the matter thus: "The intention was that the Congregation should adhere strictly to the juridical procedure of the Roman Curia. There were those, however, who saw the action as a way of preventing possible concessions of further Eucharistic Prayers" (Bugnini, p.484).

Special requests continued to come in from Belgium and the Netherlands in order to obtain official approval for the experimental anaphoras which had been in use since 1969 (cf. Bugnini, pp. 484-485). These requests received a decidedly negative reaction at the ordinary joint meeting of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Bugnini personally, however, lobbied the Holy Father to make some sort of positive gesture even if the entire request could not be granted: namely, that Belgium be allowed one of the five anaphoras requested, and that the Netherlands be allowed continued use of the Eucharistic Prayer that had already been approved for the Dutch Pastoral Colloquium the year before. Pope Paul VI followed Bugnini's lead, and permission was granted on July 8, 1975.27

The historical description of what happened in order to move from a monolithic and millennial tradition of a single Eucharistic Prayer to a new situation of many different prayers, is long and complex in its many stages. Nevertheless, what happened is something verifiable and concrete. An analysis of why this happened, on the other hand is, of its very nature, more speculative. I would like to propose six basic reasons.

1. Advances in liturgical studies
The first reason is quite straightforward. Decades of scholarly research in the area of the anaphora, both eastern and western, had resulted in a considerable corpus of primary texts and a corresponding body of secondary literature.

The most notable example of this advancement in liturgical studies is the edition by Anton Hänggi and Irmgard Pahl of Prex Eucharistica, an anthology of anaphoras and anaphora-type prayers from the Jewish liturgy, the New Testament, ancient texts of the early patristic period, oriental anaphoras of the various eastern liturgical families and western anaphoras of both the Roman and non-Roman western rites.28 This volume was published in 1968. The texts, therefore, of ancient anaphoras, were readily available.

2. Dissatisfaction with the Roman Canon and architectural functionalism
A second reason for the change from one Eucharistic Prayer to many was dissatisfaction, on the part of some liturgical scholars, with the Roman canon. I would like to argue that there is a connection between this dissatisfaction and 20th-century architectural functionalism.

The man who best illustrates this theory is Cipriano Vagaggini. In Vagaggini's book on the Roman canon, prepared for Study Group 10 of the Consilium (the group responsible for implementing the Council's reform), the basic argument in favor of change is that the Roman canon is marred by serious defects of structure and theology. (He does treat the merits of the Roman canon as well, but that section is much shorter.)

Vagaggini summarizes his argument in these words:

The defects are undeniable and of no small importance. The present Roman canon sins in a number of ways against those requirements of good liturgical composition and sound liturgical sense that were emphasized by the Second Vatican Council.29

The structural defects show themselves in the disorderliness of the Canon, according to Vagaggini. It gives the impression of an agglomeration of features with no apparent unity, there is a lack of logical connection of ideas, and the various prayers of intercession are arranged in an unsatisfactory way.

Official documents published by the Consilium in order to justify the change, repeat this same line of argument. For example, the guidelines issued on June 2, 1968 to assist catechesis on the anaphoras of the Mass say:

In the existing Roman Canon its unity and the logical sequence of its ideas are not immediately or readily perceptible. It leaves the impression of a series of discrete, merely juxtaposed prayers; it requires a degree of reflection for a grasp of their unity.30

The three new anaphoras on the other hand, the guidelines continue, are characterized by continuity of thought and clarity of structure. [The guidelines also stated that all Christian churches "the Roman rite excepted" use "a great variety" of anaphoras-Ed.]

Not only is the Roman Canon marred by structural defects, according to Vagaggini, but there are a number of theological defects as well. The most grievous of these theological problems is the number and disorder of epicletic-type prayers in the canon and the lack of a theology of the part played by the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist.

Liturgical historian Josef Jungmann counters this critique of Vagaggini's by pointing out that Vagaggini is a systematic theologian who wanted to impose a certain preconceived theological structure on the Eucharistic Prayer. Since Vagaggini had a particularly keen interest in the pneumatological dimension of the liturgy, his new Eucharistic Prayers (III and IV) give a decided emphasis to the Holy Spirit.

Jungmann refers to Vagaggini's famous book, Il senso teologico della liturgia to reinforce his argument. What we have here, says Jungmann, is the personal theology of the author (emphasis added), not the universal theology of the Church.31 In addition, it must be noted that while Vagaggini's pneumatological preoccupation is in itself praiseworthy, it is anachronistic to blame an ancient text for lack of clarity in this area, especially when the Roman canon was composed quite outside of the ambit of fourth-century doctrinal controversies over the nature and role of the Holy Spirit.

Whether speaking of structure or of theology, the main argument seems to be that the Roman canon is untidy. In the course of its development it spread out from the original core text, the way an old country house develops from the original building:32 a wing is added on here, an extra story is built there, a door is cut in the wall where a window used to be, other windows are walled up and new stairwells are necessary because of certain additions, while others are rendered useless. Decorative trim is added "just because". Fine woodwork and stonework appear in the most hidden and out-of-the-way places. Each part of an old building has its own history, and old rambling houses like this are truly wonderful: but they are not neat. Furthermore, they were not originally equipped with modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity, and so we moderns sometimes find such houses inconvenient.

Modern houses, on the other hand, are usually functional and efficient, but often built of cheap materials, and very frequently unattractive to the eye. If this applies to homes, it applies all the more to public buildings, which in this century have achieved new heights of ugliness.

The liturgical reformers objected to the architectural untidiness of the Roman Canon and wanted to replace it with something more streamlined and functional.

It would take someone versed in the history and theory of architecture to draw out all the implications of what I am suggesting (or to refute this intuition, as the case may be). But I wonder if perhaps the reaction against the untidiness of the Roman canon is not perhaps linked with the modern spirit of architectural functionalism.

3. The Zeitgeist of the Late Sixties
A third reason for the changes can be found in the secular and theological Zeitgeist -- the spirit of the times -- of the late sixties. In the secular order, this time period was marked by a massive and sometimes anarchic rejection of structure and authority.

The Second Vatican Council happened to coincide with a period in western history marked by a profound and revolutionary upheaval in societal thought and mores. When the Council optimistically opened the windows of the Church to the world, this was the wind that blew in.

Within the Church, the theological structure existing immediately prior to the Council, which in its general presentation had perhaps had been overly defensive and overly synthesized, collapsed very quickly, being replaced by a new wave of theological experimentation and progressivism.

From a political point of view, it seems to be no accident that the enormous number of unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers in circulation came primarily from France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the countries which formed the backbone of the northern European progressive alliance in the Council. The Consilium clearly favored this progressive approach.

The combination of secular and theological forces in the late sixties had no little effect on the liturgy. The liturgical anarchy that ensued left traces which are still in evidence today. How many times have official documents quoted -- to no avail -- the text of Sacrosanctum Concilium 22:

Regulation of the liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, accordingly as the law determines, on the bishop... Therefore, no other person, not even if he is a priest, may on his own add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy.

The complete disregard of authority is one of the salient characteristics of the Zeitgeist of the late 1960s.

4. Theological Shift to the "Horizontal"
Part of the post-conciliar theological shift was a new stress on this-worldly realities, which often resulted in a style of prayer which was decidedly horizontal and man-centered. The hieratic, sacral and transcendent emphasis of the Roman canon, in contrast, was viewed as out of date and theologically incorrect. This is a fourth reason for the change from one Eucharistic Prayer to many.

5. The Vernacular and Variety
It was often posited that as long as the Roman canon was said in the original Latin, no one was very much aware of its flaws -- the presupposition being that the average priest's knowledge of Latin was not sufficient to discern such things. This is one of Vagaggini's arguments:

For example, suppose the canon were said out loud in the vernacular today, in keeping with the spirit of the liturgy and as a means of giving full spiritual benefit to the people.... We would soon realize just how serious are the liturgical and pastoral problems arising from the text. If only a few priest so far are aware of these issues, it is because many have had their awareness blunted by routine and a more or less mechanical recitation (even if in a general spirit of devotion) of a text in a dead language. And this routine conceals the problems fairly effectively. But how much longer can this state of affairs continue?33

Not only would the saying of the canon in the vernacular reveal its flaws, according to this school of thought, but it would also become repetitious and monotonous. This line of thought is reflected in the proposal that Cardinal Lercaro, the president of the Consilium, submitted to Pope Paul VI on June 20, 1966:

Especially if said aloud, the Roman Canon would become burdensome due to its very changelessness and to some elements that are too narrowly local, such as the lists of the saints.... (Bugnini, p.449).

Alternative prayers were proposed, therefore, for the sake of variety.

The argument about variety is not foolproof, however. While it is true that a certain amount of variety helps to retain the interest of the listener, too much variety can be destructive of one of the basic norms of any ritual action: its repeatability. This anthropological principle -- the role of memory -- is played out in actual practice: Eucharistic Prayer II and III are used so often that most people have them memorized.

A personal anecdote can illustrate the point nicely. When I was first learning Italian, I would usually chose Eucharistic Prayer II because it was the shortest and the easiest for a foreigner to "get through." When I would stumble on a word or phrase, the old woman who served as sacristan, sitting in the first pew, would pipe out the correction loud and clear, from memory. The point is that, even in terms of the Eucharistic Prayers, priests (and people) tend to choose sameness over variety.

6. A New Formalism
A sixth reason for the change from one Eucharistic Prayer to many is a very simple shift from old-rite formalism to new-rite formalism.

By formalism I mean the desire to observe the prescribed rituals, but to get them done as quickly as possible so as to move on to more important things. According to this spirit (which is legion), the supreme criterion is brevity. And the shortest Eucharistic Prayer is II.

These six reasons do not pretend to be exhaustive. Such as they are, however, perhaps they can serve as a stimulus for discussion.

Summary Proposal
After having studied how we got from one Eucharistic Prayer to many, and after offering some reasons as to why things happened the way they did, it is now time to pose the question: how should we respond to the situation? These comments of mine are now addressed specifically to priests.

My proposal is not radical. Once the other modern houses have been built around the old homestead, you cannot just tear them down. In addition, modern houses have their own merits and conveniences. Rather, I would like to propose a re-discovery of the beauty of the Roman canon and of the transcendence and holiness of God it communicates. One could recommend that priests read and study in this area, but practically speaking, most priests have little time for extra study.

Hence the following modest proposal instead: Why not use the Roman canon more frequently, and come to love it by using it? How much more time does it add to the Mass: three or four minutes perhaps? If the Roman canon were once again to have pride of place, then the other Eucharistic Prayers could be used as supplementary or auxiliary anaphoras, for the sake of variety, according to pastoral need.

(Father Cassian Folsom is a monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, ordained in 1984. Since 1993, he has been teaching at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at Sant'Anselmo, Rome.)


1 Enrico Mazza, The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1986), p.xxxi.

2 For a later historical survey which mentions this intervention, cf. Notitiae 8 (1972), p.132. Bishop Duschak proposed this idea first outside the Council hall in a press conference on November 5, 1962. For more information, cf. G. Caprile, Il Concilio Vaticano II, vol 2: Il primo periodo 1962-1963 (Roma 1968), p.114.

3 Josef Jungmann, "Um die Reform des römischen Kanons: eine kritische Stellungnahme zu C. Vagagginis Entwürfen", Liturgisches Jahrbuch 17 (1967) 2.

4 Hans Küng, "Das Eucharistiegebet: Konzil und Erneuerung der römischen Liturgie", Wort und Wahrheit 18 (1963) 102-107.

5 Karl Amon, "Gratias Agere: Zur Reform des Messcanons", Liturgisches Jahrbuch 15 (1965) 79-98.

6 Both texts are conveniently cited in Cipriano Vagaggini, The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1967), pp.76-83.

7 I am following the story as given by Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948-1975 (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1990), pp.105-107. Since I rely heavily on Bugnini's account of this period and quote him frequently, all citations of his work will henceforth appear in the body of the text.

8 Cf. A. Schilling, Fürbitten und Kanongebete der Holländischen Kirche, Essen 1968.

9 Philippe Béguerie, "La Prière Eucharistique", Notitiae 20 (1984) 196.

10 Bernard Botte, "Où en est la réforme du Canon de la Messe?", Les Questions Liturgiques et Paroissiales 49 (1968) 138-141.

11 Il canone della messa e la riforma liturgica, Torino-Leumann: Elle di Ci, 1966. For the English translation, cf. note 6.

12 For a measured critique of Vagaggini's proposals, cf. J. Jungmann, "Um die Reform des römischen Kanons: eine kritische Stellungnahme zu C. Vagagginis Entwürfen", Liturgisches Jahrbuch 17 (1967) 1-17. Jungmann's conclusion: "Thus, when the question of a new canon is posed -- and this should not be sought in the first place in a totally new composition, or in the (admittedly not impossible) borrowing of a foreign anaphora, but in a way that the timeless and worthy elements of our own tradition are not abandoned but are purified and further developed -- then, for the reasons given, one will not find in Vagaggini's work the desired solution. We cannot follow the path to a foreign liturgy without carefully examining and fostering our own inheritance. Vagaggini's book -- in spite of everything -- is an important piece of work. It can make this contribution: the clarification of this or that point, and it is also useful to strengthen courage for a true reform. But as a concrete suggestion, his two proposals should not even be considered (p.17).

13 The Consilium was not satisfied with the Pope's response, but explained the reasons for the proposed changes and asked that "at least the new Eucharistic Prayers have the text that it had approved." Permission was granted on October 12, 1967. Later, those changes would be introduced into the Roman canon as well. Cf. Bugnini, p.462.

14 There is an error here in Bugnini's text, as the numbers do not add up. The text says: "Of the 183 Fathers voting 173 said yes, 22 no, and 33 yes with qualifications." That would make 228 in all.

15 Prece eucharistica: Notitiae 4 (1968) 156. For the English text cf. International Commission on English in the Liturgy, Documents on the Liturgy: 1963-1979 (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1982), #241, pp.608-609. (Hereafter cited as DOL).

16 Notitiae 4 (1968) 157-160; DOL #242, pp.609-612.

17 "La publication", Notitiae 4 (1968) 146-148; DOL #243, pp.612-613.

18 "Au cours des derniers mois," Notitiae 4 (1968) 148-155; DOL #244, pp.614-619.

19 Cf. Bugnini, p.466 for a list of these concessions.

20 For the complete text, see Bugnini, p.474.

21 "Eucharistiae participationem", Notitiae 9 (1973) 192-201; cf. DOL #248, pp.623-629.

22 DOL, pp.624-625.

23 DOL, p.625.

24 For information about the composition of these texts, cf. Bugnini, pp.478-479.

25 Decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship approving new Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children and Reconciliation, November 1, 1974: "Postquam de Precibus", Notitiae 11 (1975) 4-6; DOL, #249, pp.629-630. The Instruction "Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children and for Masses of Reconciliation" was published the same day: Notitiae 11 (1975) 7-12; DOL #250, pp.630-634.

26 Cf. Bugnini, p.482, n.50. For the official texts, cf. Notitiae 13 (1977) 555-556 (DOL, #251, pp.634-635) and Notitiae 17 (1981) 23. The Latin text of the two reconciliation anaphoras was not published until 1983, on the occasion of the special Jubilee Year of the Redemption: Notitiae 19 (1983) 270-279.

27 The very next day, July 9, 1975, the Congregation for Divine Worship was suppressed and Archbishop Bugnini was relieved of his position. Of course, post hoc does not necessarily mean propter hoc.

28 Anton Hänggi - Irmgard Pahl, Prex Eucharistica: Textus e Variis Liturgiis Antiquioribus Selecti, Fribourg: Éditions Universitaires, 21968. The other collaborators for the volume were Louis Ligier, Joseph Jungmann, Alphonse Raes, Leo Eizenhöfer and Jordi Pinell.

29 Vagaggini, p.90.

30 "Au cours des derniers mois," Notitiae 4 (1968) 148-155; DOL #244, pp.614-619. The text cited is on p.617.

31 Es ist nicht nur der ökumenische Zug unserer Zeit, der sich der Denkweise orientalischer Theologie anzunähern bestrebt ist, sondern darüber hinaus -- man muss nur Vagagginis Darstellung liturgischer Grundbegriffe vor Augen haben -- auch ein gutes Stück persönlicher Theologie des Verfassers." Josef Jungmann, "Um die Reform des römischen Kanons: eine kritische Stellungnahme zu C. Vagagginis Entwürfen", Liturgisches Jahrbuch 17 (1967) 11.

32 Bernard Botte reports a commonplace opinion in circulation in 1968 about the Roman canon: "On le comparait à un vieil édifice qui, au cours des âges, s'était surchargé d'ornement superflus qui en avaient détruit l'harmonie. La comparaison est boiteuse." Bernard Botte, "Où en est la réforme du Canon de la Messe?", Les Questions Liturgiques et Paroissiales 49 (1968) 139.

33 Vagaggini, p.22.