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Consecration in the Anaphora of Addai & Mari

Daniel J. Castellano (2007)

In 2001, seven years after the Vatican's common declaration of faith with the (formerly Nestorian) Assyrian Church of the East, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity issued its Guidelines for admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, in order to improve relations between Catholics and schismatics of the Chaldean rite. This document is most noted for its surprising affrimation of the sacramental validity of the Assyrian anaphora of Addai and Mari, a Eucharistic Prayer that does not literally recount the words of Christ at the Last Supper. The product of years of careful analysis, this declaration has been widely misinterpreted, though understandably, as denying the Church's millennial doctrine that the words of Christ spoken by the priest are the form of the sacrament that effects transubstantiation.

To correct such misinterpretations, and to appreciate the real value of this document, we need only examine the Pontifical Council's words more carefully, in light of what is known about the anaphora in question. First of all, the Council does not say that the anaphora lacks an Institution Narrative, only that it lacks a "coherent Institution Narrative". The Council acknowledges that scholars are uncertain whether the Anaphora of Addai and Mari originally contained a more coherent Institution Narrative. We will examine this question ourselves later, but the Council does not presume to decide this intractable historical question. "The validity of the Eucharist celebrated with the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, therefore, should not be based on historical but on doctrinal arguments."

Far from setting aside the Church's traditional doctrine, the Pontifical Council explicitly cites the Council of Florence: "The form of this sacrament are the words of the Saviour with which he effected this sacrament. A priest speaking in the person of Christ effects this sacrament. For, in virtue of those words, the substance of bread is changed into the body of Christ and the substance of wine into his blood." This solemn definition by the Council of Florence does not preclude variations in the specific wording of the Institution, as should be evident from the fact that such variations exist among valid orthodox rites, even to the extent of recounting the Institution in the third person. While the Church has no power to change the substance of the sacraments, "the Church does have the power to determine their concrete shaping, regarding both their sacramental sign (materia) and their words of administration (forma)," assuming such changes do not alter the substance of the sacrament.

The doctrinal question before the Pontifical Council is whether the incoherent verbal form of the anaphora's Institution Narrative retains the substance of the sacrament. The Council decides that the "the words of the Institution are not absent in the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, but explicitly mentioned in a dispersed way, from the beginning to the end, in the most important passages of the Anaphora." [Emphasis added.] Thus the Council upholds the traditional requirement that the words of Institution must be explicitly present in a valid Eucharistic Prayer. The oddity of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari is that these words are dispersed throughout the liturgy, but are nonetheless explicitly present.

Having affirmed the traditional principle requiring an explicit Institution Narrative, we can examine whether the actual text of the anaphora is consistent with this principle. The essence of the Institution Narrative is the words of Christ which declared that the sacramental bread and wine are truly His Body and Blood, offered unto the remission of sins. This declaration can be made in the third person, as in the Anaphora of St. Xystus (Pope Sixtus II):

When he was prepared for the redemptive passion, in the bread which by Him was blessed + + +, broken and divided unto His holy apostles, He gave us His propitiatory Body for life eternal.

Likewise, also in the cup which by Him was signed, sanctified + + + and and given to His holy apostles, He gave us His propitiatory Blood for life eternal.

And with these He added this admonition, saying: So often as You partake of these, make remembrance of My death, My burial and My resurrection until I come.

This ancient Eastern Orthodox liturgy, attributed to a Pope(!), omits all of the words of Christ at the Last Supper, save His admonition to do these things in remembrance of Him. Nonetheless, this Institution Narrative retains what is essential, explicitly declaring that the blessed bread is now "His propitiatory Body for life eternal", and the content of the cup is now "His propitiatory Blood for life eternal." These words, in the context of a liturgy that clearly intends to consecrate the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ as a sacrifice for our sins, constitute a valid Institution Narrative. The priest acts in persona Christi not by reciting Christ's words in the first person, but by performing the same act of consecration that Christ performed at the Last Supper.

In the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, the Institution Narrative is dispersed throughout the Liturgy, rather than concentrated in one place. However, we will find that it contains the same essential verbal elements of the valid rite of Pope Sixtus. One of the anaphora's central prayers opens:

O my Lord, in thy manifold and ineffable mercies, make a good and gracious remembrance for all the upright and just fathers who were pleasing before thee, in the commemoration of the body and blood of thy Christ, which we offer to thee upon the pure and holy altar, as thou hast taught us.

This explicitly indicates that the Body and Blood of Christ are being offered to the Lord as an altar sacrifice. The phrase "as thou hast taught us" can only refer to the Last Supper discourse. Although the words of Jesus' discourse are not recited, they are expressly referenced in this prayer, which claims to act in accordance with our Lord's command to commemorate His sacrifice. Elsewhere, the anaphora removes any doubt as to the meaning of this sacrificial offering:

Glory to you, my Lord, for you have called me, even feeble me, in your grace, and have brought me near unto you in your compassion, and have established me as a designated member in the great body of your holy catholic church, to offer before you this living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice, which is the memorial of the passion, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, - through whom you were well-pleased and reconciled to forgive the sins of all men.

The priest acknowledges that he is specially chosen to offer the living Sacrifice, in memorial of Christ's passion, death and resurrection. Having affirmed the sacrificial character of the priesthood, the anaphora clearly indicates the purpose of the sacrifice in its Epiklesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit:

And let thy Holy Spirit come, O my Lord, and rest upon this offering of thy servants, and bless it and sanctify it that it my be to us, O my Lord, for the pardon of sins, and for the forgiveness of shortcomings, and for the great hope of the resurrection from the dead, and for new life in the kingdom of heaven with all who have been pleasing before thee.

The combination of these and similar passages constitute a valid Institutional Narrative that expresses the substance of what is being done, who is doing it, and why it is being done. The priest, the designated minister of God, offers to God a living Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Lord's command at the Last Supper. This Sacrifice is offered unto the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life, in commemoration of our Lord's passion, death and resurrection. Thus the Pontifical Council is amply justified in its conclusion that "the words of the Institution are not absent in the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, but explicitly mentioned in a dispersed way, from the beginning to the end, in the most important passages of the Anaphora." [Emphasis added] If the cited passages had all been combined in a contiguous narrative, there would be no doubt that the Anaphora of Addai and Mari is as valid as any other Eastern rite. The source of confusion had been that the Institution Narrative is presented "in a dispersed way", not that any of its components are missing.

The Council's conclusion that the Anaphora of Addai and Mari can be considered valid was approved by Pope John Paul II.


In light of the Vatican's decision, the Anaphora of Addai and Mari now occupies a unique position among valid Eucharistic rites, being the only such rite that lacks a coherent Institutional Narrative. Since the Catholic Church has traditionally held that transubstantiation occurs at the moment the words of Institution are pronounced, this creates a difficult theoretical problem of when transubstantiation occurs in this Assyrian rite, where the words of Institution are dispersed throughout the liturgy.

First, we must reject the patently erroneous opinion that the Church has abandoned her belief that the words of Institution effect consecration of the Host and Chalice. If this were the case, it would be inexplicable that the Pontifical Council should expend so much effort looking for elements of an Institutional Narrative in the anaphora. Directly citing the doctrine of the Council of Florence, the Pontifical Council considers explicit words of Institution to be essential to a rite's validity.

Second, we must reject on logical grounds the absurd opinion that there is no moment of consecration. When the eucharistic bread is first baked, and the wine fermented, all the ancient churches agree that they are but bread and wine, not the Body and Blood of the Lord. Similarly, all agree that by the end of the liturgy, when the priest receives communion, he truly receives the Body and Blood of the Lord. By these two admissions, all have tacitly admitted that it is meaningful to speak of the consecrated or unconsecrated state of the species with respect to time. Without pretending to decide the question with infinite precision, it is meaningful to ask what is the earliest moment in the liturgy when the priest could consume the species and be truly receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.

To deny that such a moment even exists (as distinct from knowing when that moment is) would be to effectively deny that there is any difference between receiving the Body and Blood of Christ or consuming bread and wine. Since the presence of Christ in the Host and Chalice is a Real Presence, it makes a real difference whether we consume the species before or after consecration.

It will not suffice to say that God cannot be contained in time, for we are not speaking of God in His Essence, but as He is manifested in the species of bread and wine that are confined by space and time. Just as God spoke to Moses at a certain time and place, and walked the earth as Jesus at a certain time and place, so does His miraculous conversion of bread and wine into His Body and Blood manifest itself in a confined place and time, lest we should say that the bread and wine are always the Body and Blood of Christ, or even more heretically, that all things are the Body and Blood of Christ, since God cannot be contained by space. It is true that God cannot be confined by time or space, and from His perspective, which is the way things really are, all is Here and Now. Nonetheless, this does not preclude special manifestations of His Divinity in ways that are confined by space and time from our human perspective, as the examples cited prove.

Although logic requires that there exist some moment when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ (a gradual change would be impossible, since Divinity cannot be subdivided), it does not necessarily follow that we can obtain practical knowledge of that moment. All of the ancient liturgies of the Church are ambiguous at various points in their verbal forms as to whether the species are to be regarded as consecrated or not. Evidently, Christians in the earliest era were not concerned with attempting to indicate such a moment, but rather they regarded the entire Eucharistic Prayer in its integrity as effecting the consecration, without trying to systematically define which aspects of the liturgy were essential. This neglect of the problem had no practical consequences, since priests performed the liturgy in all its parts, essential and non-essential, so that there could be no question as to its validity, and none received communion until the latter part of the liturgy.

Since the fifth century, two parts of the liturgy in particular have been generally regarded as effecting consecration: the Institution and the Epiklesis. As we have noted, it is Catholic dogma that the words of Institution are essential to the Sacrament, but in the East the more common opinion is that the Epiklesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit, is what effects consecration. This disagreement has had little practical consequence, since all the valid rites contain both an Institution Narrative and and Epiklesis.

The origin of the Institution needs no explanation; by its own profession, it is based on Christ's command at the Last Supper to imitate His offering of His Body and Blood unto the remission of sins, in commemoration of His passion, death, and resurrection. All of the ancient rites, without exception, contain an Institution Narrative, using explicitly sacrificial language, as we have seen even in the extremely irregular example of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari. It is unsurprising that all should contain such a narrative, since the very purpose of the Eucharistic Liturgy was defined by the words of Institution our Lord spoke.

The Epiklesis or Invocation is also common to all valid liturgies, though in the Roman Canon it is in a highly irregular form. In all Eastern liturgies, the Epiklesis comes at some point after the Institution, and asks the Holy Spirit to consecrate the offerings. Following the plain meaning of the language, many Eastern clerics from the fifth century onward concluded that the consecration must take place at that point, and venerated the Sacrament accordingly. Notwithstanding this opinion, most Eastern liturgies also refer to the species as the Body and Blood before the Epiklesis, so we cannot decide the question on the basis of verbal liturgical forms that were defined at a time when Christians were unconcerned with specifying the moment of consecration.

Many Eastern Orthodox decline to specify a moment of consecration, but instead define those elements that are essential to a liturgy. If all these elements are performed, then the consecration will be effected at a moment known only to God, but certainly before the priest receives communion. Most Eastern Orthodox hold that both the Institution and Epiklesis are necessary elements of the liturgy.

The Roman rite originally included an Epiklesis, as mentioned by Pope Gelasius (492-496), but by the time of Gregory the Great it was abandoned. The Greeks nonetheless recognize the Roman rite as valid, considering the prayer "Supplices te rogamus" to be an Epiklesis. This invocation is translated as follows:

We must humbly beseech Thee, almighty God, command these offerings to be borne by the hands of Thy holy Angels to Thine altar on high, in the sight of Thy divine Majesty.

This Epiklesis, if it can truly be regarded as such, makes no explicit reference to the Holy Spirit, nor does it request a consecration of the gifts. Rather, it is a request that the offering be accepted. The true Epiklesis had been discarded by the Romans at an early date in reflection of the Latin belief (shared by some Eastern fathers such as St. John Chrysostom) that the words of Institution effected consecration.

The Assyrian Church, like the rest of the East, emphasizes the importance of the Epiklesis, so it is possible that, by a process analogous to that of the Roman Canon's loss of the Epiklesis, a more coherent form of the Institution Narrative was dropped at an early date from the Anaphora of Addai and Mari. We cannot hope to specify when such an omission occurred from documentary evidence alone, since it was common practice, for example in the Gallican, Mozarabic, and Maronite rites, to deliberately omit the sacred words of Institution from the written liturgy, even though we know from other sources that those words were certainly spoken.

The eminent liturgical scholar Dom Botte has argued that the original Institution Narrative of Addai and Mari can be found in another of the Assyrian Church's liturgies, the Anaphora of Theodore of Mopsuestia. This liturgy contains a standard Institution Narrative similar to the Byzantine and Roman forms, spoken in the first person, and ending with the command: "Take them all of you, eat of the bread and drink of this cup and do this whenever you are gathered together in memory of Me." According to some ancient commentators, the last phrase was rendered "gathered together in my Name."

The last phrase of the Anaphora of Theodore's Institution Narrative matches up perfectly with the otherwise peculiar opening of this prayer in the liturgy of Addai and Mari: "And we also, O my Lord, Thy weak and frail and miserable servants who are gathered together in thy Name." A bit further, the prayer continues with the phrase "celebrating this great and fearful and holy and life giving and divine Mystery", again seeming to reference the Anaphora of Theodore's Institution Narrative: "And He, together with His Apostles, on the night He was betrayed, celebrated this great, awesome, holy and divine Mystery." On the basis of this evidence, Dom Botte concluded that it is probable that the Institution Narrative of the Anaphora of Theodore originally preceded the prayer cited from the liturgy of Addai and Mari.

Conveniently enough, this probable location of the original Institution Narrative immediately precedes the Epiklesis, enabling us to pinpoint the moment of consecration with some precision. The consecrating prayer, the Gehantha, may be constructed as follows, with the words of Institution in bold face:

O my Lord, in your many ineffable mercies [repeat], make a good and acceptable memorial for all the just and righteous fathers who were well-pleasing before you through the commemoration of the body and blood of your Christ which we offer you upon your pure and holy altar, as you taught us. Bring to pass your tranquillity and peace in us all the days of the world. - Yea, our Lord and our God, bring to pass your tranquillity and peace in us all the days of the world [repeat], that all the inhabitants of the earth may know you—that you alone are God, the Father of truth, and that you sent our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son and your Beloved, and he, our Lord and our God, came and taught us in his life-giving gospel all the purity and holiness of the prophets and apostles, of the martyrs and confessors, of the bishops and teachers, of the presbyters and deacons, and of all the children of the holy catholic church - who have been signed with the living seal of holy Baptism. [When priest says, "who have been signed", he signs the throne from below upward and from the right to the left while inclining.]

[Probable location of original Institution Narrative.]

[Priest stretches out upon his face and says:] We too, my Lord, your feeble, unworthy, and miserable servants who are gathered in your name and stand before you at this hour, and have received by tradition the example which is from you, while rejoicing, glorifying, exalting, and commemorating, perform this great, fearful, holy, life-giving, and divine Mystery of the passion, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

[Epiklesis:] And may there come, O my Lord,

[Priest rises and lifts up his hands above, and the deacon says:] "In silence and awe stand and pray. Peace be with us."

...your Holy Spirit, and may he rest upon this oblation of your servants. May he bless it and hallow it, and may it be for us, O my Lord, for the pardon of debts, the forgiveness of sins, the great hope of resurrection from the dead, and for new life in the kingdom of heaven with all who have been well-pleasing before you. And for all this great and marvelous dispensation towards us we will give thanks to you and praise you without ceasing in your church, which is saved by the precious blood of your Christ...

The Pontifical Council did not specify which of these words of Institution are absolutely essential to complete the consecration. We can be reasonably certain that the words of the first part of the prayer do not suffice to effect consecration, since they precede the probable location of the original Institution Narrative. Thus, the consecration must take place at some point afterward.

The first and second parts of the prayer combined, from "O my Lord, in Thy many ineffable mercies..." to the final clause, "...perform this great, fearful, holy, life-giving, and divine Mystery of the passion, death, burial, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ," seem to contain all the elements necessary to effect consecration, in which case transubstantiation would occur immediately before the Epiklesis.

The Epiklesis, nonetheless, may also be considered part of the Institution Narrative, since it contains explicit reference to the forgiveness of sins, in analogy with the latter phrases of the Latin consecration of the Chalice. Following St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church has held that the entire consecration formula of the Chalice, including the references to the Passion and the remission of sins, is necessary to complete consecration. Therefore the Epiklesis itself completes the consecration in the Anaphora of Addai and Mari.

The Anaphora of Addai and Mari is a unique case where the Epiklesis really does effect consecration (in combination with the necessary prior narrative), due to the unusual circumstance that the Epiklesis is itself part of the Institution Narrative. This oddity is a result of the omission of a coherent Institution Narrative, which forces the surrounding text of the liturgy, including the Epiklesis, to assume the function of an Institution Narrative.

The validity of this anaphora does not compel the general conclusion that the Epiklesis in other liturgies can effect consecration. Even in the Assyrian rite, the Epiklesis alone does not consecrate, but only in combination with the rest of the Institution Narrative. If other liturgies were to omit a coherent Institution Narrative, the validity of that rite would not be guaranteed by the presence of an Epiklesis, but it would also be necessary for all the elements of an Institution Narrative to be explicitly present, even if in a dispersed form. Since all other valid liturgies possess a coherent Institution Narrative prior to the Epiklesis, the consecration is already accomplished before the Epiklesis.

Although it does not effect transubstantiation, the Epiklesis is still of inestimable value, as it invokes the Holy Spirit and requests acceptance of the Holy Sacrifice. Therefore, Eastern Christians are not wrong to give special veneration at that moment. Unfortunately, in the case of the Assyrian Church, the focus on the Epiklesis led to a diminution of emphasis on the Institution, which is the very substance of the liturgy and its reason for being. This is why the Catholic Church has rightly required that Chaldean Catholics insert a coherent Institution Narrative into the liturgy of Addai and Mari. Nonetheless, since the Church in Persia and Mesopotamia is geographically dispersed, it is often difficult for Chaldean Catholics to receive the sacraments without attending a schismatic rite. The Guidelines for admission to the Eucharist issued in 2001 permit Chaldean Catholics to attend the Assyrian rite, which is why it was necessary to determine the validity of the schismatic form of the liturgy of Addai and Mari.

© 2007 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved. http://www.arcaneknowledge.org

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