HIS PAST WEDNESDAY, the Church throughout the world celebrated the memorial of Saints Pontian & Hippolytus, two of the great Roman martyrs of the third century. That Hippolytus was an anti-pope who was reconciled with the Church before his torture and martyrdom makes him a man of significant historical intrigue.
Again this year, I read with annoyance the brief biographical description offered about the saint in the Ordo: “Hippolytus, † 235/236; disputed author of Apostolic Tradition; Roman priest and stern rigorist; opposed Sabellianism and milder penitential discipline of Pope St. Callistus (14 Oct. [† 222]); first anti-pope (217-235); exiled to Sardinia with Pontian; source of Eucharistic Prayer II.” Here we have a case of half-truth and dated scholarship.
As was discussed during the question & answer session after a plenary lecture at this year’s Sacred Music Colloquium, the theory that Prex Eucharistica II is derived from the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome is dubious. Even less certain is the claim that this anaphora possesses the most ancient roots of all the canons.
The true authorship of the Apostolic Tradition is murky, and, at this point, to claim that the text is of Western origin is scholarly untenable. For those interested in the detailed exposition, I highly recommend an article by Matthieu Smyth (The Anaphora of the So-Called Apostolic Tradition and the Roman Eucharistic Prayer, Usus antiquior, Vol. 1 No. 1, January, 2010, 5–25). Therein the author clearly demonstrates how the structure and content of EPII betray the text’s Eastern sources. The Apostolic Tradition, by which EPII is “distantly inspired” (i.e., on which it is loosely based), is therefore not to be considered representative of early Christian liturgical tradition in Rome.
How did this Eastern anaphora from West Syria come to be in the Roman Missal of 1970? Answered simply, the Consilium formed after Vatican II set out to compile a canon that would be inspired by the text. The chief backer of this project was Dom Bernard Botte. Smyth explains:
The purpose was to enrich the patrimony of eucharistic prayers of the Church of Rome; that which was done was based on the belief of the Romanitas and of the supposed antiquity of this document, which Botte had defended with so much ardour. What a paradox for a document that in reality never had a relationship with the city and which in many respects was less ancient than the Roman Canon, the authentic eucharistic prayer proper to the Church of Rome!
The merits of including a canon of Eastern origin in the Missal celebrated throughout the West are good matter for debate. Yet the greater concern, I believe, is that this canon—the “Second Eucharistic Prayer”—has been repeatedly championed as the canon that links worshipers most closely with the liturgies of ancient Rome. This tired claim, at last, has been shown to be erroneous.
Those who would be more tempted to deplore the abrupt introduction in a hierarchical manner of a eucharistic prayer foreign to the Latin tradition in the midst of Western euchology would be able to console themselves by considering that the Prex eucharistica II is in reality an original composition, painted in bright colours, the creative fruit of experts of the Consilium who took the anaphora of the Diataxeis as their point of departure. Its features, stamped by their West Syrian structure and by their archaisms, are henceforth almost unrecognisable, but faithfully reflect the concerns of a small group of liturgists in the middle of the twentieth century.
The subject of the Canon of the Mass brings up a range of issues, which have been discussed on these pages before. For example, the canons saw a major change recently when Pope Francis directed that the name of St. Joseph be mentioned in every Eucharistic Prayer.
Also, there is the surprising answer to the question: does EPII really save time?
So, how did I celebrate the memorial of Saints Pontian & Hippolytus? The same way I do every year: with the Roman Canon.