Words of Institution
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Lord's Supper • Communion
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The Words of Institution (also called the Words of Consecration) are words echoing those of Jesus himself at his Last Supper that, when consecrating bread and wine, Christian Eucharistic liturgies include in a narrative of that event. Eucharistic scholars sometimes refer to them simply as the verba (Latin for "words").
Almost all existing ancient Christian Churches explicitly include the Words of Institution in their Eucharistic celebrations, and consider them necessary for the validity of the sacrament. This is the practice of the Latin Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and all the churches of Oriental Orthodoxy, including the Armenian, the Coptic, the Ethiopian and the Malankara. The only ancient Mass ritual still in use that does not explicitly contain the Words of Institution is the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari, used for part of the year by the Assyrian and the Ancient Church of the East. The Chaldean Catholic Church and the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, two of the Eastern Catholic Churches, use the same Anaphora, but insert in it the Words of Institution. However, the Catholic Church has explicitly recognized the validity of this Mass ritual in its original form, without explicit mention of the Words of Institution, saying that "the words of Eucharistic Institution are indeed present in the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, not in a coherent narrative way and ad litteram, but rather in a dispersed euchological way, that is, integrated in successive prayers of thanksgiving, praise and intercession."
No formula of Words of Institution in any liturgy is claimed to be an exact reproduction of words that Jesus used, presumably in the Aramaic language, at his Last Supper. The formulas generally combine words from the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke and the Pauline account in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. They may even insert other words, such as the phrase "Mysterium fidei", which for many centuries was found within the Roman Rite Words of Institution, until removed in 1970.
There is no consensus among scholars if the Words of Institution were used in the celebrations of the Eucharist during the first two or three centuries or if their use was only sporadic. In her study The Function of the Words of Institution in the Celebration of the Lord's Supper Ros Clarke refers to evidence that suggests that Words of Institution were not used in the celebration during the 2nd century. She says that the evidence from the early church suggests that the words of institution were not then used liturgically, but only catechetically, and so the narrative of the Last Supper was not used in celebrating the Eucharist. What was essential, she says, was the ritual, consisting of the four actions of taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and giving it to be eaten, accompanying the actions by saying some words identifying the bread with Jesus' body, and similarly with respect to the cup. Father Robert Taft states definitely that there is not a single extant pre-Nicene (325 AD) Eucharistic prayer that one can prove contained the Words of Institution.
Uses in present Christianity
Roman Rite of the Catholic Church
The Words of Institution of the Roman Rite Mass are here presented in the official English translation of the Roman Missal in the form given in the following italicized text. The distinction here made by bolding is not found in the Missal.
- Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
- for this is my body which will be given up for you.
- Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
- for this is the chalice of my blood,
- the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
- which will be poured out for you and for many
- for the forgiveness of sins .
- Do this in memory of me.
From the time of Peter Lombard on, the prevailing theology of the Catholic Church considered the eight words in bold above to be on their own the necessary and sufficient "sacramental form" of the Eucharist. Pope Eugene IV's Decree for the Armenians, issued after the Council of Florence, declared: "The words of the Savior, by which He instituted this sacrament, are the form of this sacrament; for the priest speaking in the person of Christ effects this sacrament. For by the power of the very words the substance of the bread is changed into the body of Christ, and the substance of the wine into the blood". The Decree did not limit the words to the eight in bold, but was popularly taken to mean that, on their own, they are all that is needed for effecting the sacrament. The Decree also declared that the matter of ordination was the giving to the ordinand of objects connected with their ministry, an idea now discarded and even then contradicted by the Catholic Church's recognition of the validity of ordinations in Churches that had no such ceremony in their rite of ordination.
The theological opinion about the necessity and sufficiency of pronouncing certain parts of the Words of Institution (the eight words bolded in the English translation given above) is not included in, for instance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in definitive form in 1997. On 17 January 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari, a probably second-century anaphora in which the Words of Institution are not spoken, "can be considered valid." The Guidelines for Admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches on 20 July 2001 say that "the words of the institution of the Eucharist are in fact present in the anaphora of Addai and Mari, not in the form of a coherent narration and in a literal way but in a euchological and disseminated manner, that is to say they are integrated in the prayers of thanksgiving, praise and intercession which follow." These prayers in fact speak of "the commemoration of the Body and Blood of your Christ, which we offer to you on the pure and holy altar, as you have taught us in his life-giving Gospel."
It has therefore been argued that it is the prayer as a whole, not some isolated words within it, that is efficacious in the sacrament, and that the Words of Institution that Jesus himself spoke at his Last Supper are consecratory at every Eucharist, whether they are repeated or only implied, in accordance with the teaching of Saint John Chrysostom: "That saying, 'This is my body', once uttered, from that time to the present day, and even until Christ's coming, makes the sacrifice complete at every table in the churches."
While thus accepting as valid the Anaphora of Addai and Mari even when the Words of Institution are not explicitly spoken, the document of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity "warmly invites" an Assyrian priest celebrating the Eucharist when Chaldean Christians are participating to insert the Words of Institution in that circumstance, as permitted by the Assyrian Church itself.
Byzantine Christian Churches
For the bread: "Take, eat: this is My Body, which is broken for you for the remission of sins."
For the wine: "Drink of it, all of you: this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins."
Orthodox Christians and some Eastern Catholic Churches do not interpret the Words of Institution to be the moment the "Gifts" (sacramental bread and wine) are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In fact, they do not define a specific moment of change; however, they understand the process to be completed (perfected) at the Epiclesis (the calling-down of the Holy Spirit upon the Gifts).
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts does not contain the Words of Institution, since it is actually a Vespers service at which the faithful receive from the Reserved Mysteries (Sacrament) which were consecrated the Sunday before (hence the name: "Pre-sanctified").
- "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,
- and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'
- In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'
- For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
Protestantism has typically utilized the words of institution as a central part of its Communion service, though precise traditions vary by denomination. The debate over the force and literalness of the words of institution underlies the arguments between consubstantiation and transubstantiation. Most of the established churches in the Protestant tradition employ a mirroring of Paul's words surrounding the words of institution, while Congregationalist and Baptist churches use the words themselves without the full citation of Paul's wording.
"For in the night in which he was betrayed, he took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise, after supper, he took the cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, "Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins. Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me."
"Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed, took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: Take; eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way he also took the cup after the supper, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, Drink of it, all of you. This cup is the New Testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
By doing so, they include the phrase "My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins..." This reflects Lutheran sacramental theology in which the sacrament is a means of grace and actively forgives sins.
Current trends in Methodist thought would require both the verba and an epiclesis for a Prayer of Thanksgiving, which bridges Western and Eastern thought.
- Guidelines for admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East
- "McGowan points to evidence from the Didache and Justin Martyr which suggests that the words of institution were not used in the celebration of the Supper during the second century. Justin Martyr, at least, had access to the words of institution but used them for catechetical rather than liturgical purposes. The words enabled believers to understand the sacrament but were not essential for celebration of the sacrament. If it is the case that the liturgical use of the narratives was not known in the second century and only developed later in the third century, it is surely unlikely that there was an earlier first century liturgical tradition reflected in the NT texts."
- "The liturgical use of the words seems to be a relatively late phenomenon. McGowan points to evidence from the Didache and Justin Martyr which suggests that the words of institution were not used in the celebration of the Supper during the second century. Justin Martyr, at least, had access to the words of institution but used them for catechetical rather than liturgical purposes. The words enabled believers to understand the sacrament but were not essential for celebration of the sacrament. ... This ritual is comprised then of the actions described in v. 19 of taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and giving it to be eaten. It seems to include the accompanying action of saying 'This is my body, which is given for you' or at least of saying words with the same illocutionary force, identifying the bread with Jesus' body. By comparison with the words of institution recounted in 1 Cor 11, it seems that a similar command was given with respect to the cup, or that the single command was intended to encompass both sets of actions, verbal and non-verbal" (The Function of the Words of Institution in the Celebration of the Lord's Supper).
- Bulletin of the Pro Unione Centre in Rome, Spring 2003 pp. 15-27
- Denzinger 698, in the old numbering)
- Robert F. Taft, SJ, Professor Emeritus of Oriental Liturgy, Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome: Mass Without the Consecration? The Historic Agreement on the Eucharist between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East promulgated 26 October 2001
- Denzinger 701, in the old numbering
- "A long and careful study was undertaken of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, from a historical, liturgical and theological perspective, at the end of which the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on January 17th, 2001 concluded that this Anaphora can be considered valid. H.H. Pope John Paul II has approved this decision" (Guidelines for admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, 3. The Anaphora of Addai and Mari).
- A. GELSTON, The Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari 121-123, quoted in Taft
- Homily on the Betrayal of Judas (De proditione Judae hom. 1/2, 6), PG 49:389-390, quoted in Taft
- Guidelines, 4. Guidelines for admission to the Eucharist
- "The Holy Eucharist: Rite One". The (Online) Book of Common Prayer.
- The Small Catechism VI.4; cf. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Robert Kolb et al., eds. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1993)
- Catechism of the Catholic Church - The sacrament of the Eucharist
- Guidelines For Admission To The Eucharist Between The Chaldean Church And The Assyrian Church Of The East
- Fortescue, Adrian (1908). "Canon of the Mass". the Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
- Guéranger, Prosper (1885). "Explanation of the Prayers and Ceremonies of Holy Mass".
- Canon of the Mass of the 1962 Roman Catholic Missal with MP3 Audio (with English translation)
- Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford UP, 1974.