...in his little treatise *On the Holy Spirit,* St. Basil the Great provides a list (one would suppose, hardly exhaustive; more indicative) of unwritten (that is, extra-Biblical) traditions which he believes that the Church holds as coming down from the Apostles. Among the items is this:
"Have any saints left for us in writing the words to be used in the invocation over the Eucharistic bread and the cup of blessing? As everyone knows, we are not content in the liturgy to recite the words recorded by St. Paul or the Gospels, but we add other words both before and after, words of great importance for this mystery. We have received these words from unwritten tradition." (par. 66)
It almost sounds as though St. Basil were saying that the very words of the anaphora were something handed on from the Apostles. What leaves me puzzling over that is the well known fact that St. Justin, writing in the second century, expressly declares that the words of the anaphora were extemporized:
"Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given..." (First Apology, Par. 67)
Granted, there was a general pattern which St. Justin describes:
"There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen." (First Apology, Par. 65)
So a Trinitarian prayer "at considerable length" but offered "according to his ability." Thus, we would suppose it was not the text of the anaphora which was in some way sacrosanct and held to be apostolic, but I think the only way to interpret St. Justin's description is to recognize that there was a pattern of praying that was regarded as apostolic. And this fits with the fact that St. Basil the Great took in hand to compose such an anaphora - in fact, we have two recensions of his version of this prayer that he describes as coming down from the apostles. And that's just his! We have numerous anaphorae from those early years, many markedly different from each other in detail, but every last one of them, I believe, may be accurately described as praise to the Father for the gift of the Savior and of the holy sacrifice that is His Body and Blood, and quite often prayer for the Holy Spirit to hallow the gifts and grant a worthy reception of them.
Fast forward to the time of the Reformation. Rome cried "foul" when the Lutherans removed the Roman canon from their liturgy, though still leaving praise to the Father and prayers for worthy reception. I find it fascinating how Chemnitz responded to this in his monumental Examen:
"One certain form for these prayers, with fixed words, to which all churches were bound under peril of mortal sin was not prescribed, but there was freedom to use any form so long as it agreed with the faith.... Thus the Greeks had one form for such prayers in the church Dionysius, another in the church of Basil, and yet another in the church of Chrysostom. Among the Latins Ambrose had one form, Isidor another, Gregory still another. And yet when Augustine wanted to lay a question before Gregory, because one custom at Mass was held in the Roman church, another in the Gallican churches, Gregory did not want all churches bound to his form of prayers, but answered: 'In whatsoever church you find what is able to please God more, choose it diligently.' Therefore that they want to compel the churches to recite the papalist canon as something necessary, as though the consecration and Communion could not be done without this canon, is done outside of and contrary to the opinion of antiquity. And our churches are unjustly condemned because in the celebration of the Lord's Supper they, as did the ancients, freely use prayer formulas which are in harmony with the faith and because they accord with the nature of our times and make for the edification of the church, in which nevertheless the essential things are comprehended which were customary in the prayers of the ancients." (II:514,515)
I think Chemnitz reads the history correctly: St. Basil was not implying that there was an apostolic origin to the text of the prayers offered at the Eucharist, but to their pattern, which accords with our faith in being Trinitarian. I'd be quite curious if others have worked through this and have thoughts of their own to offer in this regard?