Concerning the Eucharistic Prayers

Author: CDW


Congregation for Divine Worship

Circular Letter of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship Addressed to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences

1. The reform of the sacred Liturgy and especially the re-organization of the Roman Missal recently completed in accordance with the requirements of Vatican Council II (1) are intended above all to facilitate an intelligent, devout and active participation in the Holy Eucharist on the part of the faithful (2).

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

Variety of texts in the Missal

3. The reason for providing this ample variety of texts and the purpose intended by the revision of the forms of prayer to be used are of a pastoral nature, namely in order to bring about both unity and variety of liturgical prayer. By making use of these texts as set forth in the Roman Missal, the various groups of the faithful who gather together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist feel that they form part of the one Church praying with one faith and one prayer, and at the same time they enjoy a timely ability, especially where the vernacular is used, of being able to proclaim in many ways the one same mystery of Christ, whilst they can the more easily lift up their hearts individually to God in prayer and thanksgiving (4) and can participate in the celebration with great spiritual fruit.

3. For some years after its promulgation the new Roman Missal could not be completely introduced everywhere for celebration with the people, because the translation of it into the vernacular of a great number of nations was an enormous work requiring quite a period of time (5). Moreover, the opportunity thus provided for increasing pastoral efficacy is oftentimes not appreciated nor, in arranging the Mass, is sufficient thought given to the common good of the congregation (6).

New requests

4. Meanwhile a desire has arisen amongst not a few to adapt the eucharistic celebration still further by the composition of new forms of prayer, including even new Eucharistic Prayers. They say that the choice provided by the present "presidential" prayers and the four Eucharistic Prayers in the existing "Ordo Missae" still does not fully meet the manifold requirements of the different groups, regions and peoples. Therefore it was many times requested of this Sacred Congregation to approve, or grant the faculty of approving and bringing into use, new texts both of ordinary prayers and of Eucharistic Prayers more in tune with the modern way of thinking and of talking.

Moreover, quite a number of authors of various languages and countries have published, during the last few years, Eucharistic Prayers composed by themselves under the guise of studies, and it has frequently happened that, notwithstanding what is laid down in Vatican Council II (7) and episcopal prohibitions, some priests have made use of privately composed texts in their celebration of Mass.

5. In view of all the foregoing, the Sacred Congregation, by mandate of the Supreme Pontiff and after consulting experts from various parts of the globe, gave careful study to the question of the composing of new Eucharistic Prayers and of giving to Episcopal Conferences the faculty of approving them, together with cognate questions and their outcome. The conclusions arrived at from this study were submitted to the members of this Sacred Congregation at a plenary session, to the judgment of the other Sacred Congregations concerned, and finally to the Supreme Pontiff.

After mature consideration of the whole question, it did not seem advisable at this juncture to grant to Episcopal Conferences the general faculty of bringing out or approving new Eucharistic Prayers. On the contrary, it has seemed more opportune to call attention to the pressing need of giving fuller instruction on the nature and reality of the Eucharistic Prayer (8). Seeing that this is the culminating point of the celebration, it must also be the culminating point of an instruction in depth on the subject. It seems likewise necessary that fuller information should be given as to the possibilities of encouraging a full participation on the part of the faithful, offered to priests by the use of the current liturgical regulations and of the prayer-forms contained in the Roman Missal.


6. Therefore the four Eucharistic Prayers contained in the revised Roman Missal remain in force, and it is not permitted to make use of any other, composed without the permission of the Apostolic See or without the approval of the same. Episcopal Conferences and individual Bishops are earnestly begged to put pertinent arguments before their priests in order to bring them wisely to the observance of the same regulations as laid down by the Roman Church, to the benefit of the Church itself and in furtherance of the proper conducting of liturgical functions.

The Apostolic See, moved by the pastoral desire for unity, reserves to itself the right of determining a matter of such great importance as the regulations for the Eucharistic Prayers. Within the unity of the Roman Rite it will not refuse to consider legitimate requests; and petitions coming to it from Episcopal Conferences for the drawing up of some new Eucharistic Prayer in particular circumstances and introducing it into the liturgy will be given benevolent consideration; but in each case the Holy See will lay down the norms to be followed.

7. After making this decision known, it seems useful to offer some considerations which may render its meaning clearer and its execution easier. Of these, some have to do with the nature and importance of the Eucharistic Prayer in liturgical, and especially Roman, tradition; others concern the things that can be done to accommodate the celebration to each congregation without in any way alteringthe text of the Eucharistic Prayer.

Nature of Eucharistic Prayer

8. The Eucharistic Prayer, which is of its very nature the "culminating point of the wholecelebration", is a "prayer of thanksgiving and of 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 is the intermediary, translating both the voice of God addressed to the people, and the voice of the people lifting up the soul to God. It alone must be heard, while the congregation gathered to celebrate the sacred liturgy remains devoutly silent.

In this Prayer, over and above the catechetical indications, intended to highlight the particular characteristic of any celebration, there supervenes the element of thanksgiving for the universal mystery of salvation or for some particular aspect of this which, in accordance with the day, the feast, the season or the rite, is being celebrated (10).

For this reason, in order that those taking part in the Eucharist may the better render thanks to God and bless Him, already in the new Roman Missal "there has been an increase in the provision of Prefaces, either taken from the ancient tradition of the Roman Church or now composed for the first time, by means of which particular aspects of the mystery of salvation are brought out and more and richer motives for thanksgiving are offered" (11).

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

9. Again, so far as the end looked to by the Eucharistic Prayer is concerned, as well as its make-up and structure, the aspect known as petition or intercession is to be considered secondary. In the reformed liturgy that aspect is developed especially in the universal prayer 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 offer also a variety of forms of intercession to be inserted into the different Eucharistic Prayers, according to the structure of each, in particular celebrations, and above all in ritual Masses (13). In this way the reason for any particular celebration is made clear and definitive, whilst at the time the offering of this prayer in communion with the whole Church is signalized (14).


10. Besides the variations noted above, which are intended to bring about a closer connection between the thanksgiving and the intercessions, there are also, in the Roman tradition, some special formulas to be used "infra actionem" on the principal solemnities of the liturgical year, whereby the memorial of the mystery of Christ being celebrated is made the more manifest (15).

It is clear from this that there was concern in ancient tradition to maintain the unchangeable character of the text, while yet not excluding certain opportune variations. If the faithful, hearing the same text again and again, unite themselves somewhat the more easily with the priest celebrant in prayer, nevertheless some variations, though only few in number, prove acceptable and useful, arousing attention, as they do, encouraging piety and lending a certain special quality to the prayer.

Nor is there any reason why the Episcopal Conferences should not make similar provision for their own areas, a Bishop for his diocese, or the competent authority for the Proper pertaining to a religious family, in regard to the points mentioned above (nos. 8-10) as open to variation, and then ask the Holy See for confirmation of the same.

Ecclesial dimensions

11. The ecclesial importance attaching to the eucharistic celebration is to be highly esteemed. For whilst in the celebration of the Eucharist "there is represented and brought about the unity of the faithful who constitute one body in Christ" (16), "the celebration of Mass is already in itself a profession of faith in which the Church recognizes and expresses itself" (17). All this is abundantly apparent in the Eucharistic Prayer itself, in which not just some private person or a local community only, but "the one only Catholic Church" existing in whatsoever number of individual Churches (18) addresses itself to God. But where Eucharistic Prayers are introduced without any approbation from the competent authority in the Church, disquiet and dissensions frequently arise among priests and in congregations, whereas on the contrary the Eucharist ought to be "a sign of unity" and "a bond of charity" (19). Indeed not a few complain of the too subjective a character of such texts. The fact is that those who take part in the celebration have a right that the Eucharistic Prayer, which they ratify as it were by their "Amen", should not be mixed up with or wholly imbued with the personal preferences of the one who wrote the text or makes use of it. Hence it is obviously necessary that only those texts of the Eucharistic Prayer are to be employed which, being approved by legitimate Church authority, manifest very clearly and fully an ecclesial bearing.

Catechetical preparation

But a more accurate adaptation of the celebration to the diversity of congregations and of circumstances, and also a fuller expression of the catechetical content, which cannot be always or conveniently effected in the Eucharistic Prayer, given its nature, will be able to be inserted in those parts and set forms of the liturgical action which lend themselves to variation or require it.

First of all, those who prepare the celebrations or preside at them are reminded of the faculty granted in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (20), whereby they can, in certain cases, choose Masses and also texts for the various parts of the Mass, such as lessons, prayers, chants, so that they answer "as far as possible to the needs, the preparation of mind and the capacity of those taking part" (21). Nor is it to be forgotten that other documents, published since the appearance of the aforementioned Instructio, offer further guide-lines and directions for enlivening celebrations and adapting them to pastoral needs (22).


14. Amongst the matters which lend themselves to a fuller adaptation and are left to the individual celebrants to make use of, it is well to keep in mind the admonition, the homilies and the universal prayers.

Firstly the admonitions: by means of these the faithful are brought to a deeper understanding to the meaning of the sacred function or of some of its various parts. Of these admonitions those are of special importance which the priest himself is invited by the Instructio Generalis Missalis Romani to compose and deliver for the purpose of introducing those present to the Mass of the day before the actual celebration begins, or to the liturgy of the word before the readings, or to the Eucharistic Prayer before the Preface; and also as a conclusion of the whole sacred ceremony before the dismissal (23).

Then again, importance is to be given to those admonitions that are laid down in the OrdoMissae 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, so much so indeed that it may well be advisable, at least in certain instances, to adapt them somewhat to the actual circumstances of the particular gathering. Nevertheless, in giving these admonitions their particular character is to be preserved, so that they do not turn into sermons or homilies; and care must be taken to be brief, and verbosity, wearisome to the participants, must be avoided.

Homily and Universal Prayer

15. Besides the admonitions there is the homily to be kept in mind. It is "part of the liturgy itself" (24) and is the means of explaining to the faithful there present, in a manner suited to their capacity and way of life and relative to the circumstances of the celebration, the word of God that is proclaimed in the liturgical assembly.

16. Finally, considerable importance is to be attached to the Universal Prayer with which the congregation responds, in a certain way, to the word of God already explained to them and accepted by them. To ensure its efficacy, care must be taken that 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 constant with the nature of this prayer.

Style of reading

17. Without any doubt, for the celebration to be a truly community and live happening, besides the choice of its various elements it requires that the one presiding and the others who have some particular function to perform should give thought to the various kinds of verbal communication with the congregation, namely the readings, the homily, the admonitions, the introduction and the like (25).

In reciting the prayers, and especially the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest must avoid on the one hand a dry style of reading without any variation of voice, and on the other hand a too subjective and emotional style of speech and action. As the one presiding over the function, he must be very careful in reading or singing to help those taking part to form a true community celebrating and living the memorial of the Lord.

18. In the order to ensure a still fuller impact of the word and greater spiritual fruit, due regard must be given, as indeed many desire, to the sacred silence which is to be observed at stated times as part of the liturgical actions (26), in order that each one, according to temperament and the reaction of the moment, either makes some self-examination or meditates briefly on what he has just been listening to or praises God and prays to Him in his heart (27).

19. In view of all the above, it may be permitted to express the earnest wish and hope that the pastors of souls, instead of introducing novelties in the way of texts and rites into the sacred functions, will rather be concerned to instruct the faithful with anxious care in order that these may the better understand the nature, structure and elements of the celebration, and especially of the Eucharistic Prayer, and may participate ever more fully and more knowledgeably in the celebration itself. The power and the efficacy 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 actual and operative in the liturgical function. In this way alone are the faithful, in their profession of one faith and outpouring of one prayer, enabled to follow out their salvation and be in communion with their brethren.

The matters contained in this Circular Letter, drawn up by this Sacred Congregation, were approved and confirmed by the Supreme Pontiff Pope Paul VI on the 18th day of April 1973 and ordered by him to be made public.

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


Tit. Archbp. of Diocletiana


1) Cf. Vat. Counc. II, Const. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 48; AAS 56, 1964, 113.

2) Cf. Paul VI, Apost. Const. MissaleRomanum, 3 April 1969; AAS 61, 1969, 217-222.

3) Cf. Paul VI, ibid. 219.

4) Cf. Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, n. 54.

5) In regard to the principles according to which the translations have to be made, cf. Consilium ad exseq. Const. de Sacra Liturgia, Instruction sur la traduction des textes liturgiques pour la célébration avec le peuple, 25 Jan. 1969: Notitiae 5, 1969, 3-12.

6) Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, n. 313.

7) Cf. Vat. Counc. II, Const. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 22, par. 3; AAS 56, 1964, 106.

8) Cf. Benno Card. Gut, Letter to the President of Episcopal Conference, 2 Jan. 1969: Notitiae 4, 1969, 146-148; Indications pour faciliter la catéchèse des anaphores de la Messe:ibid. 148-155.

9) Institutio Generalis MissalisRomani, n. 54.

10) Cf. ibid. n. 55a.

11) Paul VI, Apost. Const. Missale Romanum, 3 April 1969; AAS 61, 1969, 219.

12) Cf. Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, n. 11.

13) In regard to Eucharistic Prayer I, or the Roman Canon, besides the faculty of introducing names in the Memento (N.N.), cf. special Memento forgod-parents in Masses for the initiation into the Church of adults and the formulas for the Hanc igitur in Masses from the Easter vigil to the second Sunday of paschal time, for baptisms of adults, for confirmation, ordination, marriages, profession, for the consecration of virgins; in regard to Eucharistic Prayers II, III, IV, cf, Embolisms for adult neophytes, those professed and consecrated virgins.

14) Cf. Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, n. 55g.

15) Cf. proper Communicantes for Christmas and octave, for the Epiphany, from the Mass of the paschal vigil until the second Sunday of paschal time, for the Ascension and for Pentecost.

16) Vat. Counc. II, Const. Lumen Gentium, n. 3; AAS 57, 1965, 6.

17) Secretariat for Christian Unity, Instruction In quibus rerum circumstantiis, 1 June 1972, n. 2b: AAS 64; 1972, 520.

18) Cf. Vat. Counc. II, Const. Lumen Gentium, n. 23; AAS 57, 1965, 27.

19) Augustine, In Ioannis Evangelium Tractatus, 26, 13; CCL 36, 266; cf. Vat. Counc. II, Const. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 47; AAS 56, 1964, 113.

20) Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, nn.311-324.

21) ibid., n. 313.

22) Cf. S. Cong. for Div. Worship, Instruction ActioPastoralis, 15 May 1969: AAS 61, 1969, 806-811; Instruction Memoriale Domini, 29 May 1969: AAS 61, 1969, 541-547; Instruction Sacramentali Communicatione,29June 1970: AAS 62, 1970, 664-667.

23) Cf. Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, n. 11.

24) Vat. Counc. II, Const. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 52: AAS 56, 1964, 114.

25) Cf. Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, n. 18.

26) Cf. Vat. Counc. II, Const. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.30: AAS 36, 1964, 108; S. Cong. of Rites, Instruction Musicam Sacram, 5 March 1967, n. 17: AAS 59, 1967, 305.

27) Cf. Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, n. 23.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
28 June 1973, page 6

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