The Epiclesis: The calling down of the Holy Spirit

    What is the Epiclesis?
    Part of the Eucharistic Prayer is the calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the offerings of bread and wine. This calling down of the Holy Spirit is called the Epiclesis, and the priest asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit in order to sanctify these offerings so that they may become the Body and Blood of Jesus. There is an easy reference here to the story of Elijah calling down the fire of the Lord upon his offering in order to show forth the God of Israel as the true God when the Israelites had fallen into false worship (1 Kings 18:1-40). In the same way as the great prophet Elijah, the ordained priest stands between God and people calling down the fire of the Lord – the Holy Spirit – upon the offerings at the sacred altar. If we interiorize this action as well, we are asking God to send his Holy Spirit upon us as well – not in the same sacramental way as the priest at Epiclesis – that we may be strengthened by his grace and may live our vocation to become faithful disciples each day.
    Why do we sometimes ring bells?
    Traditionally, this moment in the Mass has been signified by the short ringing of bells, calling our attention to this integral part in the sacred action and also because the ringing of bells signifies a joyful occasion. Ringing bells is optional.
    What are the words of Consecration? Where do they come from? What do they mean?
    While the entire Eucharistic Prayer is a prayer of consecration and thanksgiving ending in the Doxology, the words of Consecration are central and deserve our attention. In order to grasp their full meaning, we must know where they come from, the deep spiritual reality they make present, and our appropriate response to these powerful words. These words come to us directly from the lips of Jesus in the Gospel as he ate the Last Supper with the apostles. He celebrated the Passover with them according to Jewish custom but also celebrated the first Eucharist with them that night as he instituted the Mass. Now, the fullest meaning of this sacrament became clearer to the apostles after his sacrifice on Calvary, allowing them to understand more deeply the theology of the sacrifice of the Mass, but it is important to know that the institution of the Eucharist occurred in conjunction with the Passover Feast of the Jews.
    At Passover, the Jews commemorate the miraculous account of their time in Egypt when the angel of the Lord passed over the houses of the faithful Jews who heeded the word of the Lord and signed their doorposts with the blood of a slaughtered lamb. It is no mistake that Christ at the Passover meal in which he instituted the Eucharist – the sacrifice of the New Covenant – chose specific and measured words to speak to his apostles. They knew that the Passover was a sacrifice, first and foremost. To hear Christ himself say eat his flesh and drink his blood clearly evoked the idea of sacrifice and linked it to the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. The words of our Lord, “the blood of the new and eternal covenant,” link back to the words of Moses at the sacrificial ceremony at Sinai that marked the covenant with Israel. Here Moses took the blood of animals and sprinkled the people with it, sealing them with the blood of the covenant and saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant.” It becomes clear, then, that for the apostles to hear  Jesus tell his apostles to drink his blood as the blood of the new and eternal covenant on the feast of Passover, this was a clear establishment of a new covenant by the Blood of Christ.
    Why did the words of consecration change recently?
    One point of contention in the new translation of the Roman Missal is the new rendering of the words of consecration with regard to the Blood of Christ. The new rendering says, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.” The old rendering said, “for you and for all.” Some feel that the new rendering can be misinterpreted as saying that our Lord did not die on the cross for all of humanity. However, this misinterprets the new translation. What the new translation points out is the very real doctrine that although redemption was wrought for all by our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross, each of us has the ability to choose to accept the gift of salvation, and some of us choose against it. Additionally, it echoes the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant who “shall lay down his life for sin” and “shall justify many” (Isaiah 53:10-12).
    Why does the priest show the Body and Blood of Jesus after the consecration?
    Following each of the consecrations, the priest shows the Sacred Species for all. Here too, we cannot neglect the fact that the priest shows the host just as much for himself as he does for the faithful. Together, they gaze upon the Jesus Christ in adoration, and the priest genuflects as a sign of reverence and awe; he does the same for the Precious Blood. Thus we see the richness of these venerable words, these sacred actions that call to mind the mysteries of our faith, all of which can be missed if we fall into mere attendance at Mass and do not engage the very deepest part of ourselves.
    Ian Bozant is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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