Sep 3, 2006

Louis Bouyer: Eucharist

Louis Bouyer, Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968. xii + 484p. $22. ISBN10 0-268-00498-6.

Fr. Louis Bouyer of the French Oratory wrote this work in 1966, which was then re-edited in 1968. This latter date coincided with the introduction circa 1967 of three new Eucharistic Prayers to the Roman Rite. Since then, others have been added to the Roman Missal and one would give much to read Fr. Bouyer’s (1913-2004) critique and analysis of their form. In any case, the work here presented is a must read for any liturgical student. One of the most perturbing problems of the liturgical reform, the addition of the new Eucharistic Prayers, is here given its reason for existing. More than that, for these reasons are given in a few short paragraphs at the end of the book, the thoughts and genesis behind the desire for touching in anyway the core of the liturgical rite is explained.

The origins of the liturgical rites have long been a rather perplexing problem with various solutions being given. A synthesis of these solutions to the problem of the origin of the rites can be found in Fr. Adrian Fortescue, The Mass. Bouyer’s work specifies only the anaphora, or Eucharistic prayer, for critique and analysis in an attempt to uncover both the primitive form of the Eucharist and the primitive spirituality. In so doing, he gives vary many examples from Christian liturgical history, both East and West, which alone is worth the price of the book. His thesis rests on the tracing of Christian liturgical development back to its earliest times and even further into its Judaic foundations, especially with regards to the sacred meal prayers, or berakoth. He fully gives an explanation of these berakoth along with examples that can hardly be found elsewhere. Through the use of comparative liturgy, Bouyer finds in these berakoth the primitive form of the Eucharistic prayer. Of course, it makes perfect sense that the Last Supper was celebrated according to Jewish liturgical rites, or at least according to Jewish liturgical forms. This does not equate to reducing the Eucharistic prayer to a Jewish berakoth, however. It is within this structure that Christ gives new meaning and radically therefore alters, or rather fulfills, the ancient Jewish berakoth forever. We shall return to this point later.

The generally accepted theories of the Eucharistic prayer by liturgists seek to find the primitive Eucharist in sources such as the Apostolic Tradition, the Pseudo-Clementine Liturgy of Book VIII of the Apostolic Constitutions, and in the Divine Liturgy of St. James. This in turn meant that the Roman Canon had suffered some radical altering of its form for it was supposed that it had its primitive state in one of the liturgies just mentioned. Bouyer completely debunks this theory and proves even more surely that the Roman Canon retains the ancient form of the primitive Eucharist than any of these three supposedly primitive rites. It remains true that some restructuring of the Roman Canon happened but that is purely development and not the radical restructuring that some liturgists had supposed. Bouyer goes a long way towards giving credence to the development theories espoused by Gerhard Rauschen. Rauschen had argued against the theories of a radical alteration of the Roman Canon according to the Epiclesis argument. He had also affirmed the probability that what restructuring took place was due to influence from Alexandria rather than Ravenna. All this seems to be proven by Bouyer’s thesis. I am completely convinced on at least this count.

Unfortunately, the work also has a touch of the fever that has run through liturgists of this century that somehow the liturgy had become corrupted by accretions throughout the Middle Ages or the Dark Ages as these are more wont to call them. He also seems to be somewhat affected by an archeologism of sorts with regards to his insistence that the Eucharistic prayer is ideally situated within the context and language of a sacrificial meal (something that Benedict XVI, as a Cardinal, was highly critical of). He also seems to enjoy using the word Eucharist in its etymological sense of thanksgiving rather than in reserving it in reference to the Blessed Sacrament. I suppose that is hardly something to quibble over though it something that I found to be an annoyance. Nevertheless, this work is essential in understanding how the old offertory prayers came to be replaced by Jewish meal prayers and how the first three additions of Eucharistic prayers came to find a place in the Roman Missal along side the venerable and ancient Roman Canon. The fourth Eucharistic prayer in particular bears the marks of Bouyer’s genius and authorship. He is quite enamored of the Anaphora of St. Basil. He also identifies the third Eucharistic prayer as built upon the Gallican-Mozarabic traditions. I recommend this book highly both for the quality of scholarship in the analysis, as well as for the wealth of liturgical data found within, but not without cautioning that it be read with a critical eye.

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