Monday, May 4, 2020

The Extent of the Epiclesis

Dr. K's discussion of the East-West divide on the theology of how and when the consecration happens during the anaphora immediately brought to mind Kallistos Ware's wise question on this subject: "Where you planning on leaving some of the words out?"

All things being equal, there are short forms of all Sacraments, East and West, for emergency use, except for the Eucharist and Ordination. Those must always be done within the context of the Divine Liturgy or the Mass. As such, the additional prayers create the context and construe the intention of the Sacrament.

I tend to agree with Dr. Kwasniewski's interpretation of Patristic references to the "words of the Lord" as meaning the Institution words that come to us in today's received Eucharistic rites. However, I do not see why the Words of Institution are the only acceptable form of consecration. The Greek rite Churches use a very different, albeit still Trinitarian, formula for Baptism than the current Latin Church, which in turn uses a very different formula than it did c.700, as is shown in the Gelasian Sacramentary, which gives the Apostles' Creed as the form.

Saint Nicholas Cabasilas, a late medieval Greek layman and liturgical writer, supported the Greek view that the epiclesis—the invocation of the Holy Spirit—is necessary for the Eucharist and  wondered if the Supplices te rogamus of the Roman Canon is such a prayer. A Ukrainian friend believes the Unde et memores is a Latin epiclesis.

In the modest opinion of this blogger, that reads one tradition's unique framework into another tradition's in a way that does not quite work. The Holy Spirit is mentioned many times in the old Roman Mass and hardly ever in the new (ironic), but never directly in the Canon. The "Sanctifier" is invoked midway through the offertory and after the dismissal, but the actual Eucharistic Sacrifice is directed toward the Father through the Son. The Canon has a fascinating chiastic structure that deserves attention, but it suffices to say that the Roman anaphora is mainly concerned with supplication, presentation of the Sacrifice, prayers for the living and dead, and ensuring that the Sacrifice is pleasingly received; the whole thing reflected an Old Testament Temple theology illumined by the Sacrifice of the Cross. One could reasonably venture to say that the prayers, even if out of order, of the Roman Canon predate the field of Pneumatology.

The Eastern Churches, all of them, not just the Greek ones, all include an epiclesis in their anahorae. While Greek theologians generally assign a high importance to this moment in their own rite, it becomes a little difficult to use other Eastern traditions in total support of this point. The epiclesis in the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is of the "descending" nature expounded by the writers available to us in English:
"Send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered and make this bread the previous Body of Your Christ + and make that which is in this chalice the precious Blood of Your Christ + changing them by Your holy Spirit."
The Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, formerly used most Sundays of the Byzantine year and now mainly during Lent, asks the same thing with "reveal" instead of "make" being the operative verb.

The Anaphora of Saint Cyril in the Alexandrian tradition has two epiclesis prayers, one before the Institution narrative and a more familiar (to non-Copts) one afterward. Perhaps the most obvious question comes from the anaphora of Addai and Mari, a prayer of the Church of the East. It contains no Institution narrative and while it does have an epiclesis in the sense of the invocation of the Holy Spirit, it does not ask the Paraclete to perform the act of change as it does in the Byzantine, Coptic, Armenian, and Ethiopian rites:
"And let thy Holy Spirit come, o my Lord,
and rest upon this offering of thy servants,
and bless it and sanctify it
that it may be to us, o my Lord,
for the pardon of sins and for the forgiveness of shortcomings,
and for the great hope of the resurrection from the dead,
and for new life in the kingdom of heaven
with all who have been pleasing before thee."
To what extent can the epiclesis be applied to liturgical theology? To the extent that a rite has it.


  1. I wish NLM did more to explain the glories of the rites of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. I know that most sacramental Christians worship in accordance with the Roman and Greek rites however some of the most profound experiences I have had were at my participation in the Coptic and Syriac liturgies. I suppose because they resemble the eastern worship that I am accustom to from my non-Christian background which is much more "mystical" and ethereal for souls that were formed in the West.

    1. The rites of the non-Calcedonian Eastern Churches are generally off people's radar as those Churches do not fit into the conventional narrative of a Church unified until 1054 when the confessional propaganda on either side takes over. The Copts and Armenians have especially interesting traditions very different from the Byzantine tradition.

      The Latin and Byzantine rites also have more in common with each other in terms of shared feasts, the kalendar, some mutual texts and ceremonis for the more important parts of the year given that they were in the same Empire for centuries and remained in continued contact with each other centuries beyond that. That was not true of the non-Calcedonian churches.