“Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered…”

(This is Neil.) I’ll get back to the discussion on music eventually. I should say that I think that the very best thing on the Internet is Fr John Breck’s “Life in Christ” series. In his current column, he writes about the Eucharistic celebration. Fr Breck, an Orthodox priest, makes it clear that Christ is always the true celebrant of the Eucharist. He tells us that “time and space are telescoped” in the liturgy, so that we must never speak of the Eucharist as adding to or repeating the sacrifice of the Cross, and we must remember that the Eucharist is always eschatological (a foretaste, a pledge). He explains that the Eucharist is always pneumatological, for the Holy Spirit is called down to transform both the gifts and the assembly into the Body of Christ. Finally, he reminds us that the Eucharistic offering “is in reality made by the entire community of the faithful,” but always on behalf of all.

Obviously, Fr Breck is speaking of the Eastern Divine Liturgy. Perhaps, in light of recent discussions, we should be grateful that the post-conciliar liturgical renewal has helped us Roman Catholics better understand his words. Let us take the subject of the epiclesis, or the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the Eucharistic gifts. The Father hears this prayer and sends the Spirit to, as Fr Breck writes, cause the “radical transformation into a new and transcendent mode of being” that occurs within the elements (as well as ourselves).

Cardinal Walter Kasper has written (see my post here) that the old and unfortunate debate between East and West about the precise moment of consecration (epiclesis or the words of institution) has given way to an understanding that the entire Eucharistic prayer has an epicletic nature. He writes, “It was all the more important that an explicit epiclesis was re-introduced into the new Eucharistic prayers in the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy.” (Whatever one thinks about the rest of his article, Mark Francis is surely right to suggest that “it is difficult to discern” a consecratory epiclesis in the Roman canon – one can only point to the Quam oblationem that is prayed before the words of institution.)

And, the Cardinal tells us, once we grasp the meaning of the epiclesis, we can understand that the Church is itself epicletic: “It does not ‘have’ the Holy Spirit nor is the Holy Spirit at the disposal of the Church. However it can and may ask for the coming of the Holy Spirit and can be certain that this plea will be heard.”

Here, then, is Fr Breck:

The first panel of the triptych reminds us that Christ Himself is the true Celebrant of the sacrament.  The life-giving mystery unfolds precisely because it is celebrated by the One who is our High Priest, our mediator and advocate before God the Father, whose self-offering on the Cross makes possible the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, not only for ourselves, but for the whole world (1 Jn 2:1-2).  When the priest, in the name of the people, speaks the Words of Institution, he makes audible Christ’s own declaration, spoken over the Paschal bread and wine: “This is my Body…This is my Blood.”  By this liturgical invocation the Divine Liturgy, charged with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, renders us contemporaries of the disciples in the Upper Room and of those who welcomed the Risen Lord into their house at Emmaus.  Time and space are telescoped in the liturgical moment, so that we are truly “present” with Jesus and His disciples in Jerusalem, just as time and space are transcended at baptism, when we are plunged into “the waters of Jordan.”  Baptized with Christ as well as in Him, we commune with Him as well in the gifts He offers of His own Body and Blood.

The third or last panel of the triptych is the Epiklesis, the invocation addressed to God the Father by the priest, again in the name of the entire community.  By this supplication, the priest fervently begs the Father to send, upon the assembly of the faithful, as well as on the sacramental gifts of bread and wine, the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, that He might transform both the people and these gifts into the Body of Christ.  “Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered…,” that the “change,” the radical transformation into a new and transcendent mode of being, might occur within ourselves as well as within the elements set forth.

This “epikletic” prayer, perhaps more than any other, affirms an essential truth: that the people of God constitute the universal Church, and that the foundation and sustenance of the Church is the communion of the faithful in the Body and Blood of Christ.  This is why the apostle Paul uses a single expression, soma tou Christou, “Body of Christ,” to designate both the members of the ecclesial community and the holy bread, “given for you” (1 Cor 10:16f; 11:23-27).  In its very essence the Church is “Eucharistic.”

The central panel of this liturgical triptych, which constitutes the culminating point of the Eucharistic celebration, is the Anamnesis or Memorial.  It commemorates – and thus makes real and actual (the Biblical notion of “remembrance” signifies “realize” or “reactualize”) the events it recounts, from the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, through His resurrection and ascension in glory.  Here again, time and space are telescoped, such that we remember what has not yet occurred, namely “the second and glorious Coming” (the parousia or eternal presence) of the Lord Jesus at the close of the present age.

This Memorial culminates in a gesture of offering that symbolizes the entire Eucharistic service.  Crossing his hands to grasp the chalice filled with wine and the paten that bears the Lamb or Eucharistic bread, the priest (or deacon) elevates them and proclaims: “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all!”

God first offers us the humble gifts of the earth, wheat and grapes.  We receive them and by our efforts transform them into bread and wine, which we offer back to Him.  He then receives them from our hands, in order to transform then into Eucharistic Gifts, “Holy Things.”  That is, we offer to God what He has already bestowed upon us; and He receives them, to offer them back to us as the ultimate Source of life.

This gesture of offering, made by the priest, is in reality made by the entire community of the faithful.  By our baptism, all of us in the most basic sense are priests, members of a universal, royal priesthood.  By offering ourselves and the elements of bread and wine, we offer to God as well the world around us.  This is an essential part of the entire liturgical service of the Church.  Unless we offer “ourselves and each other,” both those within and those outside the community of faith, to Christ our God, the Eucharist remains incomplete, unfulfilled.  “Thine own of Thine own we offer on behalf of all and for all.”  This means not only “all things,” but “all people,” every one who is created in the Image of God.

If we gather as the Church to celebrate the Eucharistic mystery, it is not as a closed community, a small group of the elect, isolated from the rest of the society.  We celebrate as well for non-believing friends, for our enemies, for the outcasts and marginalized, for victims of war and social injustice, and for all those who have asked us to pray for them, “unworthy though we be.”  Our Eucharistic prayer is nothing other than a prayer “for the life of the world and its salvation.”

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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