You may think you’ve never experienced one of these but if you are regular at mass, you most certainly have. It’s at the heart of every Eucharist.
* It is the most solemn part of the liturgy coming immediately after the Sanctus and Benedictus I wrote about last week. It has been a tradition to kneel at this point although in the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church people tend to remain standing in prayer. There is a tendency these days for people to sit rather than kneel. What must never be forgotten is that this is a most solemn moment in the service and is to be experienced with silent attention.
* Also known as the ‘Canon’ of the Mass, this part of the Eucharistic Prayer contains two crucial elements:
- An ‘EPICLESIS‘ from Ancient Greek for ‘invocation’ or ‘calling down from on high’ by which the priest asks the Father to send the Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine that they might become for us the Body and Blood of Christ. At Christ Church the bells are rung as this happens to draw attention to its importance, and the priest uses his hands to signify the action by holding them over the bread and wine and then making the sign of the Cross over them, a reminder of the intimate connection between the offering Jesus makes on the Cross with the offering of the bread and wine at the Eucharist.
- An ANAMNESIS from the Greek for ‘remembering’, though it has the strong sense of making present now what happened in the past. In the New Testament it is the word used by Jesus at the Last Supper when he says, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’. It’s more than remembering the past. It’s about entering into the experience of the past, now; a re-living, though not a repeating of what happened on the Cross. The priest rehearses the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper.
The words are often called the ‘Words of Institution’ since they speak of the meal Jesus ‘instituted’ on that evening. Notice the word! The ‘words of Institution’ make us the Institution we are.
It doesn’t hurt to imagine at this point that you are in four places at once! You are in Christ Church. You are in the Upper Room. You are at the place where Jesus was crucified. You are at the eternal banquet in heaven of which this meal is a foretaste. If in ordinary life you can only be in one place at a time, there are no such limitations in worship. Enter the Mystery…
Remember in the liturgy word and actions are used to convey the meaning. Hands and bells at the EPICLESIS as mentioned. Then after the ‘Words of Institution’ over the bread and wine, the priest genuflects, that is goes down on one knee as an acknowledgement of the real presence of Christ under the form of bread and wine, and then ‘elevates’ each gift to show it to the congregation. Bells are rung, both inside the church to draw attention, and the main church bell to tell the world something is happening!