The Eucharistic Prayer: Part II
The conclusion of the Preface and the singing of the Sanctus alerts us to the truth that we have entered into a prayer that lifts us up out of our everyday existence and brings us into an order of reality all its own – a world of signs and symbols which, through the action of the Holy Spirit, put us in touch with the saving deeds of Christ Who leads us in praise and thanksgiving to God the Father.
It is a world where we engage in an action beyond our natural capacities, namely, to join together in offering to God, with every fiber of our being, a pure sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving acceptable in His sight. Indeed, the pure and holy sacrifice is the very one God the Father provided for us when He sent His Son into the world to suffer, to die, and to rise for our salvation. Thus, the very act of praising the Triune God is what puts us into living contact with the redemption which Christ won for us and also enables our earthly voices to mingle with those of the choirs of angels and all the saints. Imagine, when we are singing the Holy, Holy, Holy, that our voices are blending with those of the Apostles, the martyrs and doctors of the Church, lay men and women, pastors and religious, who have been redeemed by the Blood of Christ. From their place in heaven they pray with us and for us, so that we may worship "in spirit and truth" (John 4:24).
And in that spirit of thanksgiving, our minds filled with "wonder and awe," we kneel after the Holy, Holy, Holy, for the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer and share in it as it unfolds before our eyes of faith. Let us remind ourselves what the remaining component parts of this wondrous prayer are.
First is the epiclesis, a Greek word which means "to call upon." Here the priest performs the ancient biblical sign of extending his hands over the gifts of bread and wine while calling upon or invoking the Holy Spirit upon them, so that they may become Christ's Body and Blood. The second Eucharistic Prayer puts it this way:
"Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ."
In performing the epiclesis, the ordained priest acts in the very Person of Christ, for he has already been sacramentally identified with Christ as Head and Shepherd of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Thus, in repeating the words and actions of Christ at the Last Supper, he acts in the Person of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit so as to change bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.
In describing the coming of the Spirit upon the gifts, the epiclesis evokes the biblical imagery of dewfall, a reference that was omitted in the previous translation. It describes the gentle, almost unseen way the Holy Spirit refreshes and restores God's gifts of creation. Think, for example, of the beautiful Advent hymn, Rorate Caeli, that echoes Isaiah 45:8: "Drop down dew ye heavens from above and let the clouds rain the just." How grateful we should be for the coolness and refreshment of the Spirit!
Later in the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest prays that we who partake "of the Body and Blood of Christ may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit." We will return to this "subsequent" epiclesis in next month's column.
Thus, we are seamlessly brought to the Institution Narrative and the Consecration of the Mass. The "institution narrative" refers to what Scripture tells us Jesus said and did at the Last Supper when he instituted the Holy Eucharist. This narrative includes the words of consecration by which bread and wine become Christ's Body and Blood. While at table with His Apostles, Christ offered His Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine and gave them to the Apostles to eat and drink. As the priest reverently re-enacts what Christ did, he completely changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the crucified and risen Christ, and in so doing, effects, that is, "causes to be made present anew" the One Sacrifice of Christ, namely, His saving Death and Resurrection. Although the words of the Consecration may be familiar to us, we should never forget the wondrous reality they portend. And while the Church's Eucharistic faith is sometimes the object of ridicule, we should cherish this faith and give thanks to the Lord who wishes us to share so intimately in His life and love.
Before reverently showing the Body and Blood of Christ to the people, the priest repeats the Lord's command, "Do this in memory of me" (see 1 Cor. 11:26; Mt. 26:29; Mk. 14:24; Luke 22:19). This command of the Lord is at the origin of the institution of the priesthood. It prompts the Church throughout the world to celebrate Mass daily. And it should draw us to the Eucharist each Sunday and even more often when possible.
Following the Consecration is the anamnesis (Greek for remembrance) by which the Church fulfills the Lord's command, handed on by the Apostles, "Do this in memory of me." The remembrance in which we've been commanded to engage is no ordinary remembrance on two counts: first, what we remember is the saving Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ into heaven, the great and wondrous events by which we were saved; and second, we remember them in a way unique to the Church's sacramental liturgy, that is to say, we remember them in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This sort of remembrance is not just a case of recalling them in our minds but rather these unique historical events are symbolically performed and made present again, so that we, in our turn, might actually share in them. Thus, after the Body and Blood of Christ have been lifted up for us to adore, the priest proclaims: "The mystery of faith!"... and we respond, "We proclaim you Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again."
With that, the Eucharistic Prayer continues its effective and reverent remembrance: "Therefore as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of Salvation..." Note the word, "celebrate:" in the context of Mass it means not just to remember, as in celebrating an anniversary, but "to accomplish" or to "perform" precisely the events that are being remembered.
Next month, we will continue our study of the Eucharistic Prayer, as we look at the remaining parts of the Eucharistic Prayer, namely, the oblation, the intercessions, and the concluding doxology. By that time, the newly translated Roman Missal will be in use in all the parishes.
For now I want to take a moment to thank the priests and deacons of the diocese for their cooperation and diligence in preparing for the introduction of the new translations. Together, we hope and pray that this will be a moment when we and all those we serve are strengthened in our life of worship and thus in our unity and in our capacity to make of our lives, "a living sacrifice of praise."