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In his answer to a related question, Andrew Leach has discovered a text of Pope Benedict XVI to the effect that the Eucharist is the highest form of prayer in the Church:

The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive "nourishment".

("Homily for the Ordination to the Priesthood", May 3 2009)

Similarly, the "Instrumentum Laboris" or planned agenda for the 2005 Ordinary Synod on the Eucharist states that

The Eucharist is the most sacred and highest form of prayer. It is the Great Prayer.

(Chapter I, Section 34)

On the other hand, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has a section on prayer focusing on the Lord's Prayer, states (quoting from St. Thomas Aquinas):

The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of prayers. . . . In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired.

(Paragraph 2763; the quote is from the Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 3, Article 9, "Whether the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer are fittingly assigned?")

Do these two statements form an opposition or contradiction in the mind of the Church? If so, has this contradiction ever been resolved or even discussed by Church officials or by major Catholic theologians?

  • I have no idea if this is the official view, but the difference could be simply explained if the statements about the Eucharist use the term 'prayer' in a wider sense than the Catechism quote. – DJClayworth Nov 4 '15 at 16:35
  • It doesn't make any sense to me to call any kind of prayer "highest", but these quotes do appear to be at odds, so you've got my upvote. – curiousdannii Nov 5 '15 at 1:27
  • @cuiousdannii The pope's comments should probably be considered within the context of his audience. A roomful of clergy. Any of us who speaks in public tailors our remarks to the audience. Even with that consideration, he is well within his authority to offer such guidance given that he's the Pope. – KorvinStarmast Nov 5 '15 at 2:13
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Short Answer: there isn't a contradiction

A reference to the larger treatment of both Prayer and the Eucharist in the Catechism, and not taking out of context the official teaching should prevent seeing a contradiction in what the Pope said (which conformed to the agenda of the 2005 Ordinary Synod).

Amplification

The answer is within the brief quote from the Pope (per @AndrewLeach's entry that you linked to) if we look at the whole quote.

The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive "nourishment": the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, Lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation. All these expressions of prayer, which have their centre in the Eucharist, fulfil the words of Jesus in the priest's day and in all his life: "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep" (Jn 10: 14-15).

For starters: the Church teaches through the Catechism (1324) that

1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life."

The Catechism as a whole addresses all elements of Christian life, as the Church sees them. This includes prayer: all of Section IV of the Catechism covers Prayer. Prayer in general is thus a subset of the larger thing, Christian life, as addressed in all 2865 articles.

The "apparent" contradiction looks like taking things out of context. I've fallen into the context problem myself more than once.

  • It is worth noting that the context of the Pope's remarks is an address to clergy, who have a further obligation for more and daily prayer than the laity.

    There isn't a competition between the Eucharist and the Our Father, nor does the Pope's message and commentary imply that, nor will you find an "in church" source that agrees that there is a conflict.

The two are in harmony. (See Catechism 2770-2772 below). This is ably demonstrated during the Mass, since one of the prayers included is the Our Father, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist (cf Roman Missal, 3d edition).

In describing the Eucharist as a prayer (per the Pope's citation) rather than as a rite or a celebration of thanksgiving, Pope Benedict names it both an act of prayer and then discusses other forms of prayer. His meaning (in context) is that the Eucharist is also a a form of prayer. (Usually, a great collective prayer).

The authority of a Pope: his utterances, encyclicals, and commentaries can be authoritative without having to be ex cathedra. He is the Head of the Church, and the Head of the Magisterium of the Church, which is the church's ultimate teaching authority. That this quote is in accord with a previous proceeding of the Synod argues that there isn't a conflict.

The Our Father as the Perfect Prayer? Sure it is. Why wouldn't it be?

It was passed down from Jesus to his Disciples, so you can (from the Trinity perspective) say that God(The Son) gave this prayer to His People/The Faithful -- since He is perfect, the prayer is perfect.

From the Catechism

2765 The traditional expression "the Lord's Prayer" - oratio Dominica - means that the prayer to our Father is taught and given to us by the Lord Jesus. The prayer that comes to us from Jesus is truly unique: it is "of the Lord." On the one hand, in the words of this prayer the only Son gives us the words the Father gave him: he is the master of our prayer. On the other, as Word incarnate, he knows in his human heart the needs of his human brothers and sisters and reveals them to us: he is the model of our prayer.

The harmony is confirmed in the Eucharistic celebration itself.

  1. After the chalice and paten have been set down, the Priest, with hands joined, says:
    At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say:
    He extends his hands and, together with the people, continues:

And everyone says the Our Father. (Ref = Liturgy of the Eucharist, Roman Missal, 3rd edition)

Bottom line:

  • There isn't a conflict
  • There are multiple forms of prayer.
  • When the Eucharist is seen as a prayer, it is consistent with the position of the Eucharist in the Faith (source and summit of the faith) that it is the highest form of prayer, or as the Pope said it, the highest act of prayer.
  • The Pope has sufficient authority to make such an observation as amplification of the teachings in the Catechism.
  • That the Eucharistic celebration includes the Our Father looks like a strengthening of that statement: the highest act of prayer should include "the perfect prayer" within it.

2770 In the Eucharistic liturgy the Lord's Prayer appears as the prayer of the whole Church and there reveals its full meaning and efficacy. Placed between the anaphora (the Eucharistic prayer) and the communion, the Lord's Prayer sums up on the one hand all the petitions and intercessions expressed in the movement of the epiclesis and, on the other, knocks at the door of the Banquet of the kingdom which sacramental communion anticipates.

2771 In the Eucharist, the Lord's Prayer also reveals the eschatological character of its petitions. It is the proper prayer of "the end-time," the time of salvation that began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and will be fulfilled with the Lord's return. The petitions addressed to our Father, as distinct from the prayers of the old covenant, rely on the mystery of salvation already accomplished, once for all, in Christ crucified and risen.

2772 From this unshakeable faith springs forth the hope that sustains each of the seven petitions, which express the groanings of the present age, this time of patience and expectation during which "it does not yet appear what we shall be." The Eucharist and the Lord's Prayer look eagerly for the Lord's return, "until he comes."

  • Welcome, and nice answer! Thanks for contributing. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. – Nathaniel is protesting Nov 4 '15 at 21:05
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    @Nathaniel I think my answer is Too Wordy, and I need to get my copy of the Roman Missal to see if I can offer some more references. (Matt likes references! :-) ) I also think my answer is a little bit of a Frame Challenge? – KorvinStarmast Nov 4 '15 at 21:08
  • It's okay to argue that there's no conflict, especially if you can back it up with references to church sources. And yes, succinct writing is always appreciated. Thanks for continuing to improve your answer! – Nathaniel is protesting Nov 4 '15 at 21:12
  • Very nice! +references ;-) – Matt Gutting Nov 4 '15 at 21:17
  • With all due respect, I did write "apparent contradiction". To elevate that into a real contradiction and then attribute that to me is over-egging things. (That's not to say that this answer does not explain the apparent contradiction, however. But you'll get my +1 if references to me are toned down a bit. Please.) – Andrew Leach Nov 4 '15 at 21:40
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At Matthew 6: 9 , before teaching the Lord's Prayer Jesus says: “This, then, is how you should pray..." . He did not say : " This is WHAT you should pray ..." . Theoretically at least, `Our Father..' was NOT intended to be the ultimate prayer , but was taught as a model prayer. Th Holy Eucharist goes much beyond, by offering the Body and Blood of the Saviour as spiritual food and drink that redeems the faithful.

By the way, the text of Eucharistic Celebration in various Catholic rites like Latin and Syrian includes the Lord's Prayer, the latter one having the Prayer both at the beginning and before the end of the Mass. That, I feel, should answer the question.

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    Could you add some references to show that this is the official Catholic interpretation? – DJClayworth Nov 4 '15 at 17:20
  • @MattGutting He points out that it is the model prayer ... and in that sense it is the perfect example of prayer for anyone who prays. This does not put it in competition with the Mass (which features the Our Father during the Liturgy of the Eucharist). – KorvinStarmast Nov 4 '15 at 20:16
  • I understand your approach, but what is the official approach/statement of the Catholic Church? – Matt Gutting Nov 4 '15 at 20:49
  • @MattGutting You could argue that the official statement is what the Pope said and leave it at that. The Pope gets to do that in the RCC. – KorvinStarmast Nov 4 '15 at 21:11
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    I can only hope that all the Cardinals become active members of CSE and come together to make an official statement. – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan Nov 6 '15 at 8:53

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