Sacramentum Caritatis 13: Epiclesis

After the biblical testimony to the Holy Spirit, we come to the topic of The Holy Spirit and the eucharistic celebration. Pope Benedict XVI begins here with the topic of transubstantiation. I confess a little disappointment with the Church that the focus of the Holy Spirit begins and often seems to end with the divine action on things (bread and wine) and misses the persons.

13. Against this backdrop we can understand the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic celebration, particularly with regard to transubstantiation. An awareness of this is clearly evident in the Fathers of the Church. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catecheses, states that we “call upon God in his mercy to send his Holy Spirit upon the offerings before us, to transform the bread into the body of Christ and the wine into the blood of Christ. Whatever the Holy Spirit touches is sanctified and completely transformed” (Cat. XXIII, 7: PG 33, 1114ff).

The early Doctors of the Church seemed to complete the expectation at Mass, that an openness to joining the elements in transformation leads to a Spirit-infused community of believers. Optimally, the epiclesis at Mass isn’t just for inanimate objects, but for believers who can accept an animation in their own life as baptized disciples.

Saint John Chrysostom too notes that the priest invokes the Holy Spirit when he celebrates the sacrifice: (Cf. De Sacerdotio, VI, 4: PG 48, 681) like Elijah, the minister calls down the Holy Spirit so that “as grace comes down upon the victim, the souls of all are thereby inflamed” (Ibid., III, 4: PG 48, 642).

The flames of Acts 2 are reborn.

The Holy Father suggested the Eucharistic Prayer, including the epiclesis, can be a source of “appreciation”–I would say reflection:

The spiritual life of the faithful can benefit greatly from a better appreciation of the richness of the anaphora: along with the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper, it contains the epiclesis, the petition to the Father to send down the gift of the Spirit so that the bread and the wine will become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that “the community as a whole will become ever more the body of Christ” (Propositio 22).

It was a favorite catechetical task I assigned to young Christians to watch at their First Communion Mass for one particular moment. When the priest’s hands hovered over the bread and wine and his prayer mentioned “the Holy Spirit.” Then tell me about it afterward. This is where awareness of the anaphora graduates from a narrative by the clergy into an experience of noticing grace.

A few sentences from the preparatory document are cited:

The Spirit invoked by the celebrant upon the gifts of bread and wine placed on the altar is the same Spirit who gathers the faithful “into one body” and makes of them a spiritual offering pleasing to the Father (Cf. Propositio 42: “This eucharistic encounter takes place in the Holy Spirit, who transforms and sanctifies us. He reawakens in the disciple the firm desire to proclaim boldly to others all that he has heard and experienced, to bring them to the same encounter with Christ. Thus the disciple, sent forth by the Church, becomes open to a mission without frontiers.”).

And thus we have the connection of the Eucharist to the mission of Jesus Christ. While I know many modern catechists focus on the belief in transubstantiation of the elements–even its orthodox depiction in officialdom–as a badge of membership, I wonder if the emphasis is misplaced. We think of epicletic moments of things–food. We miss the openness to living persons participating in the infusion of the Holy Spirit. Being a disciple or apostle is dependent on a mixture of God’s will for a minority of persons, of fulfilling particular human abilities (preaching, teaching, governing, etc.) and less of GOd’s grace working with whatever makeup exists in any and every baptized person. The epicletic action is limited not just to bread and wine, but only to such foods prepared in a specific way. The reverse is true for human beings. The disciple needs no such special preparation or special mixture of ingredients/abilities/gifts. For the disciple, the “inflamation” becomes all about the charisms, the Spirit-inspired gifts imparted for the good of the Cause.

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in post-conciliar catechetical documents, Sacramentum Caritatis. Bookmark the permalink.

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