On the Epiclesis in the Western Rite

This from the learned Fr. Hunwicke:

In the Eastern rites, and in the invented Eucharistic Prayers which were introduced into both Roman Catholic and Anglican worship in the 1970s and 1980s, the Epiclesis is treated as crucially important. The Holy Spirit is invoked to come and make the elements the Body and Blood of Christ. I am not a Byzantine and I have no interest in rubbishing their ancient and noble tradition. Nor would I stand for any ‘latinising’ of their tradition. The only criticism I have is of those Byzantines who encourage an Orthodox ‘Western Rite’ in which an epiclesis has been intruded into the Roman Canon. Because the epiclesis is not our tradition. And our tradition should not be Byzantinised.

At the beginning of the 20th century, liturgists commonly believed that the epiclesis was ‘primitive’ and must somehow have got ‘lost’ from the Roman Canon. If you have a copy of Fortescue, you will find an account by him of the various theories which were held about this; and the various ingenious attempts made to ‘reconstruct’ the ‘original Roman epiclesis’.

A succession of distinguished Anglican scholars disposed of this nonsense.

. . .

Where Easterners call upon the Spirit to come down upon the elements, our ancient Western, Roman tradition asks the Lord to take his Church’s offerings to the Altar on high.

Now I am a card-carrying liturgy geek (as you may have figured out by now) but I’m the first to admit that my academic focus has been more on the medieval, the monastic, and the Office rather than Mass Intricacies which is a field of study unto itself.

Anyone care to comment either way on this quote, the original post, and theo-liturgical contents?

10 thoughts on “On the Epiclesis in the Western Rite

  1. Christopher

    The Roman Canon has a sense of Jesus’ high priesthood as central, this “taking of our offering to the Altar on high.” It is a rather strongly Christocentric prayer and shy on the Holy Spirit. And perfectly acceptable. I agree it need not be Easternized (Byzantized is too narrow, as more than one Eastern rite has epicletic material).

    Our own Anglican tradition, however, is both Roman and Eastern, and bits of both emphases can be found therein. You might say depending that you can find high priestly/Sursum Corda modes (as in the Roman Canon), Incarnational/benedictus qui venit modes (our Lord comes down–closer to the Armenians and Luther as well), and Epicletic modes (the Spirit comes down and/or raises to the Life of God–these emphases are in such as Addai and Mari or Chrysostom respectively).

    We must account for the fact that there is more than one Anglican usage–we are not Romans, and ours in TEC follows the work of Laud and the Non-jurors preserving the epicletic emphases of 1549. And more than one interpretation of our Canon(s) as even comparing Jewell and Andrewes shows.

    I would caution speaking of the “Western” rite, as there are several, and if memory serves, though EP’s in the Mozarabic had leeway, an epiclesis was common. It is precisely speaking in this way that makes Eastern Christians nervous–the whole Borg approach to unity.

  2. The young fogey

    I’ve been told the lack of a descending epiclesis shows the Roman Canon is older than the two Byzantine ones. The point isn’t whether transubstantiation happens at the Verba or the epiclesis but that in the anaphora it happens.

  3. Christopher

    The Eastern Churches do not officially teach “transubstantiation” in the way the Roman Church defines the term. Actually, Andrewes teaching on the Eucharist is more on part–it’s Chalcedonian.

  4. Christopher

    Which means the while Roman Church teaching locks the Roman understanding into the Verba and a particular Scholastic understanding of change, it’s quite distinct from any use of that term in the East. The notion that the bread and wine are no longer bread and wine is rejected but that Christ is fully, substantially present is affirmed. The Roman theory of Transubstantiation of course needn’t be read into the Roman Canon anymore than tendencies to resacrificial notions of the late Medieval period to which the Reformers reacted.

    Andrewes has this transfigurative understanding as well:

    And the gathering or vintage of these two in the blessed Eucharist, is as I may say a kind of hypostatical union of the sign and the thing signified, so united together as are the two natures of Christ. And even from this Sacramental union do the Fathers borrow their resemblance, to illustrate by it the personal union in Christ; I name Theodoret for the Greek, and Gelasius for the Latin Church, that insist upon it both, and press it against Eutyches. That even as in the Eucharist neither part is evacuate or turned into the other, but abide each still in his former nature and substance, no more is either of Christ’s natures annulled, or one of them converted into the other, as Eutyches held. (“A Sermon Preached Christmas Day MDCXXII”)

  5. Rd. Kevin

    Well, as an Eastern Orthodox Chrisitan, with some interest in the Western Rite Orthodox movement, I note that St. Nicholas Cabasilas, in his “Commentary on the Divine Liturgy” sates that “in the Latin Church the consecration is performed in the same way as us” (the titel of chapter 30 in my book) and says that the prayer “Supplices te rogamus” serves the same purpose as the Byzantine Epiclesis.

  6. Derek the Ænglican

    That’s the section of the canon Fr. Hunwicke refers to as well. For those who don’t remember it off the top of their heads…:

    We most humbly beseech Thee, almighty God, command these offerings to be borne by the hands of Thy holy angel to Thine altar on high, in the sight of Thy divine majesty, that as many as shall partake of the most holy Body and Blood of Thy Son at this altar, may be filled with every heavenly grace and benediction. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

    You know—I’m not convinced that this is doing the same thing as an epiclesis. An angel going up is not the same thing as The Spirit coming down. And this does occur after the Verba where most Westerners, if pressed, would say is where the Change occurs.

  7. ambly

    “invented Eucharistic Prayers” ? They’re all invented – not one comes directly from scripture.

  8. rick allen

    In Joseph Jungmann’s “The Early Liturgy” he notes that there are two places in the eucharistic prayer where, so to speak, divine action is requested, in the consecration and in the communion. Therefore, in discussing this issue of the epiclesis, he distinguishes between the “consecration-epiclesis” and the “communion-epiclesis”–differentiating the prayer for sanctifying and changing the elements from sanctification of the communicants.

    I don’t know if that distinction simplifies or complicates the discussion. If anything, I suppose it cements the contemporary consensus that the old controversy between East and West, as to the exact time of consecration (epiclesis per St. John Damascene, words of institution per Western scholastics), has no bearing on mutual recognition of validity of the respective eucharistic canons, and, one hopes, can be relegated to the land of interesting but no-longer-divisive problems.

    I have sometimes wondered why “pin-pointing” that time became an issue, but, I suppose, there remains a practical issue because, sometime in the course of the prayer, one’s “stance” toward the elements changes, as they become subject to a heightened form of veneration, and it would certainly be helpful not to venerate too early (which would approach idolatry) or too late (which would indicate a lack of proper respect).

  9. BJA

    As I commented over at Fr Hunwicke’s, the “epiclesis” issue in WR Orthodoxy seems to be parallel with how Rome and RC theologians used to deal with the ancient East Syrian Anaphora of Ss. Addai and Mari, which does not have an institution narrative. It used to be assumed, by RC theologians, that it must have had an institution narrative because, of course, that’s the sine qua non of eucharistic consecration according to Latin scholastic theology. And so the RCC altered the text of the Anaphora for use by Chaldean Catholics. Later, when it was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it never, ever had an institution narrative, Rome declared it valid and restored it to its authentic form for use by Chaldean Catholics today. How is this not the same kind of issue? Once again, liturgical tinkering is very seldom (if ever!) a good thing. I don’t care if it’s Rome, the Holy Synod of Moscow, or the Antiochian WRV.

Comments are closed.