The Canon of the Mass: The Anaphora of St. Basil

The form and structure of liturgies is something that churches which employ these in worship either take for granted or argue over intensely. But very few people understand how a) these came into being or b) how they should be revised or replaced in times of liturgical change. What kind of theology is embodied in a liturgy? What attention to the rhythm and metre is given? How will a liturgy work in a language other than one the one it’s written in? How well does a liturgy communicate its message, in addition to being the setting for the “sacred pledge” of the Eucharist? All of these important questions frequently get the short shrift, either by defenders of an existing liturgy of by proposers of a new one?

Liturgical change is the time when these questions do get asked the most. Probably the most important liturgical transition of the last one hundred years took place when the Roman Catholic Church promulgated the Novus Ordo Missae, which was instituted in 1970. That mass was the result of both theological and liturgical forces that had been going on in the Church for most of the preceding century.

Many of those changes—and probably some of the process that led to the NOM—were set forth in Cipriano Vagaggini’s book The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform. Published in 1967, it is a careful and thorough treatment of the subject, and probably represents the thinking of those in charge of the liturgical reform initiated by Vatican II.

The focus of his work is the anaphora, which is, by Vagaggini’s definition, “the liturgical text which accompanies and expresses the offering of the Church’s sacrifice to the Father.” The RCC had used the Roman Canon for nearly fourteen centuries and, while Vagaggini is careful to underline the importance of the Roman Canon to the life of the Church, he is also clear that it has its defects as well.

In this series (which starts here,) we will reproduce the various historical anaphorae he sets forth, plus two Projects “B” and “C” which are his proposals (or perhaps those at the Vatican in the process of formulating the then really “new” NOM) for new anaphorae to be used in the church. Vagaggini also has extensive explanations for all of this; consult the book for these.

I will reproduce the English translations of these anaphorae only. Serious liturgists would do well to consult his original Latin, as the translations look like they were taken from the Italian without consideration of the original Latin text. I have tried to winnow out errors in the OCR process but, if you find some, please bring them to my attention.

A general overview of this topic can be found here.

(Here ends the fixed portion of the introduction; the variable portion follows.)

Today we head east and look at the “Anaphona of St. Basil,” which Vagaggini characterises as in the “Antioch tradition,” although this rendition is actually Greek Alexandrine.

I

Let us lift up our hearts.

We have lifted them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to God.

It is right and fitting.

II

It is right and fitting: right and fitting; it is truly right and fitting. It is you who are the supreme ruler, Lord, God of truth, who exist before the ages and reign through the ages; who live on high and regard the humble, who have made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them: Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, through whom you have made all things, visible and invisible: who are seated upon the throne of your glow and adored by every holy power;

(Deacon: Let those who are seated rise.)

before you stand the angels and archangels, the princes and powers, the thrones, the dominations and hosts of heaven.

(Deacon: Face towards the East.)

Before you stand ranged the many-eyed cherubim, the six-winged seraphim ceaselessly praising, proclaiming and announcing:

(Deacon: Be attentive!)

People: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts.

III

You are indeed holy, holy, holy, Lord our God. Who shaped us and established us in a paradise of delights. When we transgressed your commandment by the serpent’s fraud, and had lost eternal life and had been banished from the paradise of delights, you did not abandon us forever, but carefully visited us through your holy prophets. And in these last days, when we sat in darkness and the shadow of death, you enlightened us through your only begotten Son, our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

He was born of the Holy Spirit, incarnate of the holy Virgin Mary and made man, and showed us the way of salvation, granting us eternal regeneration by water and the Spirit, and made us his own people, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

He loved his own who were in the world and gave himself as a ransom for us, when we lay under the domination of death, poisoned by sin. He descended into hell from the cross and rose on the third day from the dead and ascending into heaven he sat at your right hand, Father, appointing the day of wrath in which be will be manifest, judging the world in justice, and will render to each according to his works.

(People: According to your mercy and not. ..etc.)

IV

He left us this great mystery of love. When he was about to hand himself over to death that the world should live, he took bread in his holy, immaculate and blessed hands, looked up to heaven on high to you, his Father, our God, and God of all things: he gave thanks.

(People: Amen)

blessed,

(People: Amen)

sanctified,

(People: Amen)

broke, and gave it to his holy disciples and apostles saying: Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for YOU and for many and shared among you for the remission of sins. Do this in memory of me.

Similarly, after he had eaten, he took a chalice, mixed water and wine, gave thanks,

(People: Amen)

blessed,

(People: Amen)

sanctified,

(People: Amen)

tasted it and again gave it to his holy disciples and apostles saying: Take and drink of this, all of you: this is my blood, of the New Covenant, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.

Do this in memory of me. As often as you shall eat this bread and drink this cup you announce my

death and proclaim my resurrection and ascension, until I come.

(People: Amen. Amen. Amen. Your death, O Lord…etc.)

V

Remembering his holy passion, resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven and installation at your right hand, God and Father, and his glorious and fearful return, we offer you this, from your own gifts. Among all things, through all things and in all things.

(People: We praise you. We bless you.)

(Bow your heads in awe.)

VI

We sinners and your unworthy servants adore you, lover of men, the Lord, the Good, and we pray and beseech you that, in your merciful goodness, your Holy Spirit may come upon us your servants and upon these offered gifts and sanctify them and make them holy nourishment for your holy people.

(Deacon: Be attentive! People: Amen!)

(Priest: in a loud voice:)

And may he make this bread become the holy body of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and the eternal life of those who partake of it.

(People: Amen)

And this chalice, the precious blood of the New Covenant of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and the eternal life of those who partake of it.

(People: Amen. Kyrie eleison, three times.)

And make us worthy, Lord, of participating in your holy mysteries for the sanctification of soul, body and spirit, so that we may be made one body and one spirit, and take our place and succeed to the inheritance with all the saints who have pleased you in ages past.

VII

Remember, Lord, your holy, one, catholic Church, which you have bought by the precious blood of your anointed, and keep her at peace.

Remember first of all, Lord, our holy father Archbishop Abba N., Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria; grant of your mercy to keep him in peace, safe, glorious, in good health, with length of days, rightly spreading the word of truth, and feeding your flock in peace.

Remember, Lord, orthodox priests, the whole order of deacons and ministers, all those observing chastity and all your faithful people.

Remember us, Lord, and all we do, and have mercy upon us now and forever.

(People: Have mercy on us O God, Father, Lord.)

Have mercy on us God, Lord (three times).

(People: Kyrie eleison: three times.)

Remember also, Lord, the well-being of this our city, and of those who live here in the faith of God. Remember, Lord, the weather and the harvest of the soil. Remember, Lord, the rains and the seeds of the earth. Remember, Lord, to let the waters flow in accordance with the measure of each month. Renew the face of the earth and make it thrill with joy, fill its furrows to overflowing, multiply its seed. Grant us what we need for the sowing and the harvest, and bless it with your blessing. Govern our lives. Bless the new year in your mercy, for the sake of the poor among your people, for the sake of widows and orphans, for the sake of strangers and travellers, and for our sakes, who hope in you and call upon your holy name. The eves of all look to you in hope and you give them food at the right time. You give food to all living things-deal with us according to your merciful goodness. Fill our hearts with gladness and joy, so that having a sufficiency of everything we need, we may abound in all good works in fulfilling your holy will.

(People: Kyrie eleison.)

Be mindful, Lord, of those who offer you these precious gifts, and of those for whom and through whom they offer them, and grant them all a heavenly reward.

Since, Lord, it is a command of your only Son that we should play our part in the communion of the saints, graciously be mindful, Lord, of those who pleased you in ages past, the fathers, patriarchs, apostles, prophets, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors and souls of the just who have died in the faith of Christ. Especially be mindful of our most holy, most glorious, immaculate, most blessed Lady, Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary; of your holy and glorious prophet, John the Baptist, precursor and martyr: of St Stephen, first deacon and first martyr: of our holy father St Mark, apostle and evangelist, of our holy father Basil, the wonderworker: of Saint N. whose memory we celebrate today, and of all your choir of saints. By their prayers and intercession have mercy on us and save us for the sake of your holy name which is invoked upon us.

(The deacon reads the dyptych: the priest reads it secretly) Similarly, be mindful, Lord, of all those of the priestly order who have gone to rest, and those of the lay state. Grant that the souls of all may repose in the bosoms of our holy fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Guide and gather us in green pastures by the waters of repose, in that paradise of delights from which pain, sadness and mourning are banished, in the splendour of your saints.

(After the dyptych the priest says)

Grant, Lord, to those whose souls you have received there to find repose, and mercifully transfer them to the kingdom of heaven.

Keep us in faith, Lord, who live here in exile, and lead us to the kingdom, granting us your peace at all times.

VIII

So that in this, as in all things, you most holy, most glorious and blessed name may be glorified, exalted, praised, blessed and sanctified, with Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. (People: As it was [is and will be from age to age and forever, Amen.])

3 thoughts on “The Canon of the Mass: The Anaphora of St. Basil”

  1. This is indeed the anaphora of the COPTIC Liturgy of St. Basil, not to be confused with the Byzantine Liturgy of St. Basil. This Coptic anaphora is Antiochian in structure, but its content has been influenced to some degree by the earlier Alexandrian “Liturgy of St. Mark” and possibly that of St. Seraphion. I’m surprised he’s publishing as being early. It’s not all that early, dating to probably the Fourth Century or perhaps even a bit later. It is the liturgy most commonly used in the Coptic Church. In any event, the entire liturgy, as used by the Coptic Church, can be found here:

    http://www.coptic.net/prayers/StBasilLiturgy.html

  2. I cannot believe that you would link to a site with the Triasgion is in the form which includes “who was crucified for us.”

    “It is, therefore, a matter for laughter and ridicule that this “Thrice Holy” Hymn, taught us by the angels, and confirmed by the averting calamity, ratified and established by so great an assembly of the holy Fathers, and sung first by the Seraphim as a declaration of the three substances of the Godhead, should be manged and forsooth emended to suit the views of the stupid (Peter the) Fuller as though he were higher than the Seraphim. But oh! the arrogance! not to say folly! But we really say it thus, though demons rend us in pieces, “Do Thou, Holy God, Holy and Mighty One, Holy and Immortal One, have mercy upon us.” (St. John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith, III, 10)

    Have mercy on us indeed! 🙂

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