Liturgy has a dialogical structure, originating in the divine activity within the life of faith. This gift of faith is the source of the Church's expression of praising remembrance of God's deeds in Christ, that grounds the confident petition for God's continuing bestowal of His blessings. The epicletic, or intercessory, aspect reflects the goal of all forms of Christian liturgical activity and is beginning to receive the attention it deserves in the theology of worship.
In ancient pagan and Christian literature, epiclesis signifies the invoking of a name (in a liturgical context the name of God) upon a person or thing. The most ancient Christian liturgical epiclesis is that found in all baptismal formulas in which the names of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are invoked over the catechumen. Other forms of epiclesis are found in the rites of Confirmation, Ordination, and the blessing of the baptismal font. This entry discusses the historical and theological dimensions of the epiclesis in the Eucharist.
Term. The principal elements found in the Eucharistic epiclesis as gathered from the various liturgical texts are (1) a simple invocation to God, (2) a petition that God the Father send down the Holy Spirit, (3) a petition that the Holy Spirit transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, (4) a similar petition that the Holy Spirit apply to the faithful the sanctifying fruits of the Eucharist. Often only one or another of these elements is present in the two predominant types of Eucharistic epiclesis: one, a consecratory formula; the other, an application of the sanctifying effects of the Eucharist to the faithful. While the consecratory epiclesis—an invocation to the Holy Spirit to change the elements into the Body of Christ—does not seem to exist in the classical Roman liturgy, it is found in other Latin liturgies, such as the Mozarabic and the Gallican. But in the Eastern liturgies, especially the predominant byzantine rite as typified by the liturgies of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, it is fairly universal. The other type of epiclesis, in the sense of an application of the Eucharistic effects, seems to have been the earlier.
Place in the Eucharist. In the Eastern liturgies, the epiclesis follows the Lord's words of institution. In the most widespread Byzantine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the epiclesis reads: "And we pray and beseech and entreat You, send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts lying before us. And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. Amen. And that which is in the chalice the precious Blood of Your Christ. Amen. Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen, amen, amen." The place of the Eastern epiclesis is more logical because it follows the actual historical development of the mysteries as recounted in the same order of events in the Creed. But liturgical development has never been uniform nor always logical, as may be seen in the lack of such a consecratory epiclesis after the words of institution in the Roman rite. There are five highly disputed opinions about whether there is an epiclesis and where it is placed in the classical Roman canon: (1) there is no epiclesis in the Roman Mass, (2) the Quam oblationem is the epiclesis coming before the words of institution, (3) the Supplices te rogamus is the epiclesis coming after the Consecration through the words of institution, (4) both these are forms of epiclesis, (5) a silent epiclesis occurs in the mere gesture of imposition of hands at the Hanc igitur.
Controversy. The early Fathers of the East, in fighting sabellianism and other heretical tendencies of subordinationism, including later attacks against the divinity of the Holy Spirit, stressed the distinction between the Three Persons in the Blessed Trinity. In the Eucharistic Anaphoras of the East, afflicted by heresies against the divinity of the Holy Spirit, there arose an emphasis on the attribution to the Third Person of the power to consecrate and sanctify. Both actions were viewed as fruits of the Eucharist, which had a reference equally well to the faithful as to the gifts offered on the altar. Both in the Eastern liturgies and in the writings of theologians, such as Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), Pseudo-Chrysostom, Theophilus of Alexandria (d. 412), and John Demascene (d. 749), proof can be found of this attribution of consecratory power to the Holy Spirit. But only under the influence of Nicolas Cabasilas (d. 1363) and of Simeon of Thessalonica (d. 1429) did a controversy arise when the Latins attacked the Greeks for holding that the prayer of epiclesis after the words of institution was necessary for consecration. The Latins maintained that the words of institution sufficed. In the reunion council at Florence (1438), John Torquemada (d. 1468), Bessarion (d. 1472), and Isidore (d. 1463), metropolitan of Kiev, tried to reconcile the two opinions. All but Marcus of Ephesus accepted the Latin position that the Sacrament was realized by the Lord's words alone. Marcus pushed Cabasilas's position to the extreme, holding that the words of institution were merely narrative, but the epiclesis was the sole formula of transubstantiation. In the following centuries this became one of the many polemics between the Christian East and West.
In the beginning, the Church was not concerned with the exact point at which transubstantiation took place. The Eucharistic Anaphora was considered as a unity. Later, with the suppression of any consecratory epiclesis in western liturgies and with greater speculation in the West, there was a tendency to define the importance of each prayer of the canon. In the decree of reunion with the Armenians and Jacobites at the Council of Florence (1439–45) there was no question of the epiclesis, but it was stated that the words of institution were the form effecting transubstantiation (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1320, 1352). A similar decree was issued by the Council of Trent (ibid. 1654). In 1729 Pope Benedict XIII wrote to the Melkites: "Not through the invocation of the Holy Spirit but by the words of consecration [i.e., words of institution] is transubstantiation effected." The thesis of Prince Maximillian of Saxony, which tried to reconcile the two theories—the words of institution would be the necessary form for the Latin Church; the epiclesis would suffice for the Eastern Church—was condemned by Pius X in 1910 (ibid. 3556).
Theological developments since Vatican II. Since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Catholic theologians have attempted to work out the full implications of the dialogue structure, and essentially epicletic nature, of all forms of liturgy: a structure and content that mirror and actualize the covenant relationship between God and the Church, founded on Christ. This entails the rethinking of the christological dimension of worship that is essential for any systematic explanation of the full scope of the theology of Christian liturgical-sacramental activity. There is also the problem of the theological integration of the role of the Holy Spirit into the liturgy so that the complementarity of the activity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is made more understandable. Both the christological and pneumatological aspects are involved in the current discussion on the subject of the theology of liturgy in general, and the epicletic dimension of liturgicalsacramental celebrations in particular.
Traditional Eucharistic prayers. The traditional Eucharistic theologies of the East and West agree that the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and that the properly disposed participants of Holy Communion are fully united to Christ through the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit. All classical Eucharistic Prayers reflect this theology of sanctification by including a twofold invocation: for the sanctification of the bread and wine, and the communicants.
Traditional Eastern Eucharistic Prayers invoke the Father to send the Spirit to change the gifts and the community, while the old Roman Eucharistic Prayer appeals only to "God." This difference between the two traditions no longer remains since the introduction of the epiclesis of the Spirit in the new Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Missal of Paul VI. However, divergent theological interpretations of the role of the special epiclesis of the Eucharistic Prayer, carried on within the Byzantine Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches since the Middle Ages, have not been fully resolved at the level of official teaching. Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs that theologians of the two traditions are working toward a consensus over important aspects of this matter. In this regard, developments on the subject of the agent of the divine activity, the role of the presiding minister of the liturgy, and the more recent investigations of the liturgical-theological structure of the Eucharistic Prayer may be singled out for special mention.
Divine Agent of Sanctification. Traditional Western scholastic theology attributes the work of sanctification to the Godhead as such, and "appropriates" it to the Holy Spirit, that is, insofar as the name "Spirit" evokes the concept of sanctification. In other words, the Holy Spirit is not considered to have a personal mission of sanctification in the Church. There is only the one personal mission of the Word, begun at the Incarnation, and continuing in the Church. From this point of view, the mystery of the transformation of the Eucharistic gifts is attributed to the action of Christ, consecrating the bread and wine, and to the action of the Holy Trinity as such, changing the elements into Christ's Body and Blood. This explanation is still favored in some influential Catholic theological circles.
Traditional Eastern theology, on the other hand, affirms that the Holy Spirit has a personal mission of sanctification in the Church. In virtue of this mission, the Spirit applies the words of Christ to each Eucharist by transforming the elements into Christ's Body and Blood.
The Liturgical Leader. Traditional Eastern and Western theologies agree that through ordination the priest obtains the authority from Christ to act as his representative in the special ministry. Both agree that the priest acts as representative of the Church in the exercise of his ministry. Therefore, both agree that what the priest does in the whole of the Eucharist is done as representative of Christ and the Church.
However, modern Orthodox theology explains that the priest, who presides at the liturgy, always acts directly as the Church's representative in all his official activity. In this way he indirectly represents Christ, the true High Priest of the liturgy of His Church. Consequently, the priest speaks the narrative of institution of the Eucharist as representative of the Church, and thereby as representative of Christ, who relates his words, spoken once for all at the Last Supper, to each Eucharist.
Western theology also holds that the priest always acts as representative of Christ and the Church in all liturgical activity. However, developments in theological reflection on the Eucharist since the 12th century resulted in a new view of how the priest represents the Church and Christ in this liturgy. According to traditional Western scholastic theology, in the rest of the Eucharistic celebration, before and after the recitation of the words of Christ, the priest directly represents the faith of the Church, and indirectly Christ, the Head. At the recitation of Christ's words, the priest directly represents Christ, and thereby indirectly the Church, insofar as Christ is the Head of the Church. This explanation was favored by Pius XII in his encyclical letter Mediator Dei (1947).
From this latter standpoint an epiclesis for the sanctification of the gifts is superfluous after the words of institution. Also the epiclesis before these words cannot be considered an integral sacramental moment of the sanctification of the bread and wine. It represents the desire of the Church, uttered in the name of Christ, for what takes place when the Christ speaks His own words of consecration. Orthodox theology, on the other hand, requires that the epiclesis be considered an integral sacramental moment of the sanctification of the gifts. Both the words of Christ and the epiclesis, taken together, are the sacramental representation of the mystery of the Eucharist. The one expresses the conviction of faith that Christ relates His words of institution to each Eucharist; the other that the Holy Spirit, working with divine and sovereign freedom, applies the words of Christ to the gifts of the Church.
Toward a consensus. There are indications that Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians are beginning to transcend traditional differences in the theology of the Eucharistic epiclesis.
Orthodox Theology. Leading Orthodox theologians are drawing out more clearly the implications of the active presence of the Risen Lord in the Eucharist. They readily agree that Christ Himself includes the petition of the Church for the coming of the Holy Spirit in His "eternal intercession." Likewise, they make their own the opinion of John Chrysostom, mediated by Nicholas Cabasilas (14th century), that the words of Christ, recorded in the narrative of the Last Supper, are a formula of consecration that retains its power in the present.
Roman Catholic Theology. In modern times Catholic theology has displayed a singular interest in the theology of the Holy Spirit. One of the results has been a growing consensus concerning the personal mission of the Holy Spirit, and the application of this pneumatology to the Eucharist in a way that conforms to the Orthodox approach.
The theology of the role of the minister who presides at the Eucharist has also entered a new stage of development. The notion that the priest is only understandable as embedded in the relation Christ-Church has led many Catholic theologians to discard the sharp distinction between his two representative functions. This means that the priest is best described as the direct representative of the Church, and as indirectly the representative of Christ who is the Head, in all his activities, including that of the Eucharistic Prayer. When the priest recalls the account of institution and intercedes for the coming of the Spirit to apply the words of Christ to this celebration, Christ Himself is understood to relate His words to this liturgy and to include the petition of the Church in His "eternal intercession," since He is the true Host and High Priest of His Eucharist.
Witness of the Eucharistic Prayer. The modern analysis of the literary-theological structure of the classical Eucharistic Prayers has made a notable contribution toward its theology. The commonly accepted results of this investigation can be quickly summarized.
The typical forms of prayer, found in the narrative context in the OT, as well as in traditional Jewish private and public prayer, have anamnetic (praising remembrance) and epicletic (petitionary) sections. The anamnesis of God's mighty acts on behalf of the chosen people grounds their petition for God's continuing support that maintains the covenant relation. Jewish prayer, associated with feasts instituted by God, includes scriptural texts witnessing to the foundation of the feasts. These texts, introduced by way of direct address or allusion, furnish the theological basis of the prayer. The scriptural texts can be found in either the anamnetic or epicletic sections.
This structure of prayer, based on and mirroring the theology of covenant, enables those praying to experience the dynamics of the covenant relationship with God. It was taken over by the Christian Church as the normative structure of her liturgical prayer and, in particular, for the Eucharistic Prayer. Hence the anamnetic and epicletic sections of the Eucharistic Prayer must be considered as units of a single prayer, the confession of the mystery of salvation realized in Christ. Both parts, taken together, express the dynamics of the covenant relation initiated by God and continually actualized in the liturgy of the Church. Classical Eucharistic Prayers, following the pattern of Jewish liturgical prayer, insert the institution of the Eucharist into either the anamnetic or epicletic sections.
The former type, characteristic of the Antiochene tradition, concludes the anamnetic section with the Words of Institution, and an anamnetic-offering prayer that brings out the theological intention of the praising remembrance. This is followed by the epicletic section in which the explicit petition for the sanctification of the gifts can be located before or after the petition ordered to the sanctification of the communicants. The latter type admits of a greater variety. The special epiclesis of sanctification of the gifts can be placed before the Words of Institution and anamnesis-offering prayer, and the one ordered to the sanctification of the communicants afterward, as in the old Roman canon. Sometimes a twofold epiclesis is placed after the institution and anamnesis, as is the case with the Alexandrian anaphora of Mark.
In all Eucharistic Prayers the meaning of the praising remembrance of the saving acts of God in Christ lies primarily in the desire of the Church for fellowship with Christ, the sharing in His saving work, and His glory mediated through the "food of immortality." Hence the presiding minister appears as authorized spokesperson of the community, proclaiming God's deeds in Christ and petitioning that the saving work of Christ be applied in the present. In this activity, he is supported by the "Amen" of the liturgical assembly, identifying this prayer as its own.
Centrality of Institution. The institution is the central element in the dynamics of the Eucharistic Prayer. This narrative is the theological center from which the anamnesis-offering prayer draws its inspiration, and the theological center to which the epiclesis for the transformation of the elements is ordered. The epiclesis for the sanctification of the communicants is another center of the Eucharistic Prayer. It enables the community to express at the level of prayer the goal that is attained sacramentally through Holy Communion. The epiclesis for sanctification of the elements can come before or after the institution-anamnesis, but the communion epiclesis only afterward. This shows that the institution is the theological center of the prayer, from which the whole meaning is derived. At the same time, the communion epiclesis always makes clear the goal of the celebration. In Eucharistic Prayers in which the twofold epiclesis is brought together and placed after the institution, the order can be petition for the sanctification of the communicants, followed by petition for the change of the gifts [James (Gr.); Chrysostom (Byz.); Basil (Alex.)]. But even where the petition for the transformation of the gifts is given first consideration, it is always made evident that this is ordered to the benefit of the communicants, not primarily to the change of the gifts as such.
The Eucharistic Prayer expresses the intense desire of the Church to be continually reconciled with God. Following the pattern of the prayer of the OT and Judaism, the Church recalls the narrative of institution, situates it at the climactic summit to confer on her prayer the maximum force. Inspired by the promise that the words of Christ carry, the priest humbly petitions, in the name of the Church, for the transformation of the gifts together with the transformation of the communicants "for whom" the change of the gifts is intended. As a person formally deputed for this task, the priest is aptly described as one who represents the Church in the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer. This formulation corresponds best to the liturgical-theological structure of the Eucharistic Prayer and does not deny that Christ Himself is the Host and High Priest of His Church and His Eucharist.
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