St Joseph in the Eucharistic Prayer - 9 February 2014

I wonder if any readers have noticed a slight change to the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass in recent months. Until recently, the name of St Joseph appeared only in Eucharistic Prayer I. It is now also included in Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV.

For centuries, just one Eucharistic Prayer was used in the Mass. Apart from the variable preface and some minor additions on certain days, the prayer was fixed. Hence it was known as the Roman canon, “canon” meaning “rule”.

Its origins date back to around 375, the time of Ambrose. It was probably composed in Latin as the Roman Church at this time was moving away from using Greek in liturgy towards Latin, the language of the people. The prayer underwent various elaborations until Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) edited and stabilised the Roman canon.

The first change to the prayer for more than 1300 years occurred during the second Vatican Council when Pope John XXIII added Joseph to the list of saints. On November 13 1962, at the end of the eighteenth General Congregation, the Cardinal Secretary of State announced that the Holy Father, wishing to conform to the desire “expressed by many Council Fathers”, had decided to insert the name of St Joseph in the canon of the Mass, immediately after the name of the Most Holy Virgin. This action was to serve for all time as a reminder that St Joseph had been the patron of the Second Vatican Council.

“This decision of the Holy Father,” added the Cardinal, “will go into effect next December 8, and in the meanwhile the Sacred Congregation of Rites will prepare the necessary documents”.

John XXIII’s decision was strongly influenced by the plea for St Joseph made by Bishop Peter Cule from Yugoslavia, who attended and contributed to the Council despite broken health from years of hard labour in a Communist concentration camp.

After Vatican II, when the Roman Canon was being revised to form Eucharistic Prayer I, it was decided that its long list of saints, many from Rome, should be shortened and that the saints named in the alternative Eucharistic Prayers being compiled from historical sources should be few.

The reason for this is that saints were not mentioned in the original Eucharistic Prayers used by the Church, and because the number of canonised saints across the Catholic world had become so vast over the centuries that they could not possibly all be included. St Joseph was retained in Eucharistic Prayer I but did not appear in the second, third and fourth Eucharistic Prayers.

In response to petitions received from throughout the world, and with the approval of Pope Benedict in his time and confirmed by Pope Francis, a Vatican decree was issued in June 2013 directing that henceforth the name of St Joseph was to be included in all four Eucharistic Prayers. This means that after “Virgin Mary, Mother of God”, the words “with blessed Joseph, her Spouse” are now inserted in Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV. The change does not apply to Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation, Children and Various Needs.

The addition of St Joseph is the first change to the text of the Roman Missal since the publication of the revised English translation in 2011. No doubt it will not be the last.

Elizabeth Harrington