STRS Major, David Pennington, Is Honored
Those of us who have grown up as cradle Catholics regularly assume that there is a particular point in the Eucharistic prayer when the elements of bread and wine become the sacramental body and blood of Christ, namely, the point in the prayer when the celebrant recites the words of institution: "This is my body …," and "This is the cup of my blood, …" It was, therefore, surprising to many when Pope John Paul II, together with the prefects of certain congregations in the Roman Curia, announced on October 26, 2001, that the anaphora (Eucharistic prayer) commonly used in the Assyrian Church of the East is a valid consecratory prayer even though it lacks an explicit institution narrative. David Pennington, one of our undergraduate TRS majors, studied the steps leading up to this announcement in a paper he wrote for his senior capstone seminar last fall. He subsequently had his paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa, the publication of the National Honor Society for Religious Studies and Theology. This is a refereed journal that publishes articles by faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates.
David's paper, which will appear in one of the issues of that journal in 2008, is entitled "From East to West-A Perfect Offering: Understanding the Agreement on the Eucharist between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East." After giving an overview of the Jewish roots of the various Eucharistic prayers used in the Christian churches, thereby showing how the meal prayers of Judaism were reinterpreted in a Christian perspective, David goes on to describe the way divergent practices soon developed in these churches. As the churches in the West and East grew more and more independent from one another, the precise moment of consecration became crucially important in the worship life of the Western Church. On the other hand, David points out that liturgical scholars such as Robert Taft, S.J., have noted that in the earlier, common tradition of the undivided church, the prayer of consecration was considered to be the entire anaphora, "not just some segment of it set apart as an isolated 'formula.'" Those who have studied the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, which was used in the Assyrian Church of the East long before that church split off from the Catholic/Orthodox Church as a result of the Nestorian Schism in the middle of the fifth century, observe that this Eucharistic prayer clearly refers to the liturgical action as being in continuity with the command of Jesus at the Last Supper to do this "in memory of me." It also includes a petition that the Lord send "[his] Holy Spirit to rest upon this oblation of [his] servants and bless and hallow it." The agreement announced at the Vatican in 2001 recognizes that such elements in the anaphora make it a valid, consecratory prayer. Even though this agreement does not portend an immediate reunion of these two sister churches, it does, in David's words, "mark a narrowing of the gap between communities of faith based on the teachings and example of Jesus as handed down by the apostles. While these communities had been separated for centuries, what remained was the Spirit working within both to accomplish the goal of praise and ecclesial unity both within themselves and with one another."
All of us in the School of Theology and Religious Studies congratulate David on having his article accepted for publication in an important journal. After receiving his bachelor's degree at commencement this May, he hopes to pursue graduate studies in liturgical/sacramental theology. He is one of twenty-one CUA students being inducted in the Theta Alpha Kappa Honor Society this spring.