Eucharistic Worship And Texts As Sources Of Theological Reflection

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2005 »Volume 42 2005 Number 3 »Eucharistic Worship And Texts As Sources Of Theological Reflection

By James Leachman, O.S.B.

James Leachman, O.S.B. is a monk of Ealing Abbey, London. He has been principal of the Benedictine Study and Arts Center at Ealing. He is Professor of Liturgy at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, Rome, specializing in Liturgy, Ecumenism and Liturgical Spirituality. He has contributed reviews and articles to the Heythrop Journal, Ecclesia Omnis, and Studia Liturgica. He has taught liturgy at the EAPI, Manila.


This paper will focus on the liturgy in general and Eucharistic worship in particular as a source of theological reflection. In it the reader will see reflection upon the experience and the texts of Christian worship can help a Christian to recover aspects of the tradition that may have been forgotten or overlooked. The paper will look at the methods needed for such reflection and consider the practical suggestions that may arise. The traditional sources for theological reflection have traditionally included first the Christian experience of living in this world, including the dimension of religious worship and prayer, and second God’s self-revelation through salvation history, through authoritative definitions and liturgies of the Church and through the use of human reason.

Beginning with a consideration of human experience and authoritative texts as sources of knowledge of God, the reader is then led on to a consideration of liturgy, and particularly the experience of Eucharistic worship, as sources of theological reflection. In the third section the article focuses on an appreciation of the traditional emphasis on the interrelation of doctrine and liturgy summarized in the phrase "lex orandi-lex credendi."

The final and fourth section of the paper has three parts. The first part considers the meaning and purpose of the Eucharistic epiclesis in its traditional fourth-century Greek form. Then in part two, the reader is directed to other non-Greek forms of the epiclesis, and shows how several of these prayer formulae offer a glimpse of the worldviews (cosmologies) and theologies, very different to those familiar to the many peoples and cultures of today. In the third part of this fourth section, some formulae of Eucharistic epiclesis are suggested as resources for a contemporary renewal of the language and theology of the Eucharistic epiclesis in the liturgical revision of the churches.

Experience as a Source of Theology

Human Experience and Self-Transcendence

Human nature has at its core a desire for self-transcendence, for by their very nature human beings want to become more than what they are, whether it be more attractive, fitter, thinner, richer, brighter, holier, happier, or wiser. Human beings want to be different; they want to change. The baby looks into his/her mother’s eyes, asks for comfort and reassurance, tries to grab a toy in order to investigate the world around, tries to walk in order to explore and receive information. All these are simple acts of self-transcendence, yet there are also more complicated examples and processes. Throughout life, each person moves from one stage of development to another, from infant to child to adult and on towards death. These stages of development, together with other transitional events in life, mark points of passage from one stage or condition to another. They are critical events, and once they have occurred, life is never the same as it was before.

Thus these events bring one to the threshold (limen) of personal existence and call forth decision: One may choose either to cross the impending threshold or back away from it. But the decision depends on whether one wants to hold on to this life as a possession to be kept, or whether one wishes to surrender it in the hope of receiving it back transformed (Regan 1977:342).

All have to let go of who they are and where they are, in order to move on, to discover and to understand who it is they are being called to become. Work in the human sciences, such as that carried out by Erik H. Erikson in the 1950s and many others since, suggests that humans go through various sequential stages in their growth to maturity and fullness (1990:239-69). Christians have used the analysis of the human sciences to enable them to say that the transcendent goal of human existence, that is of all our self-transcendence, is given to men and women in history, in the experience of personal communion with God.

Not only do human beings pass through stages of physical and psychological growth (and sometimes of regression), they also grow in understanding of their life’s meaning and purpose, and even more they express their self-understanding through symbolic action, both personal and communal. This activity of symbol-making can be named concrete self-transcendence. It is common to all human beings. An artist or a musician, mother, architect, town-planner, poet, cook or gardener, is involved in an act of self-transcendence through creative daily work. Lovers exchange gifts; and this too can be an act of mutual self-transcendence. So, human beings are symbol-makers and symbol-users. Through this activity they can express themselves and relate to others in society. Human language is but a one symbol-system which can express or interpret experiences into written texts which we can study. Ritual, dance, art, music, and architecture are other symbols-systems of self expression, and all of these need to be reflected upon, evaluated, and appreciated.

Human Experience and Criteria for Authenticity

T. S. Eliot’s memorable phrase in his poem Dry Salvages, "We had the experience but missed the meaning" reminds the reader that experience of the world has first to be noticed and then evaluated and acted upon in order to have meaning and consequences for one’s life. The unreflective life is valueless. One can examine the process by which human beings reflect on experience and discover meaning, and in addition Christians must also establish ways of deciding whether their actions are in conformity to what is life-promoting for both themselves and others. Reflecting on this is a sign of moral maturity.

Besides being self-transcending-symbol-makers, each person establishes criteria for authenticity by which he or she can judge his/her experiences as either life-promoting or life-denying. Human beings do not only seek pleasure, but also love, meaning, and fulfillment or authenticity; and the search for these generally conflicts with the mere following of the pleasure principle.

Gerald O’Collins considers that God’s presence can be discovered throughout each and every experience, in its different aspects— the subject who experiences, the experience itself, and the consequences of the experience—and he concludes that a revelatory or believing aspect is present in every human experience, though it need not be expressly identified as such. "Either God is somehow there in every experience or God is not there at all" (1981:48). A child reaching towards his/her mother, a nurse treating a patient, a man building a road or a woman driving to work are experiences with dimensions of transcendence which, upon closer examination and deeper reflection, can reveal such believing, revelatory, or transcendent aspects. Recently, Nunzio Capizzi wrote a relevant article considering, among other things, religious experience and pre-theological reality (2004:97-124, esp. 114-15). In it he explains how the analysis of human experience shows that there are very diverse levels of awareness and that, among them, ordinary daily "consciousness" has a privileged place, for it monitors and guides. The different levels of awareness are like islands and experiences of the supernatural and the sacred are used to help the subject to return, after reflection and decision, to engage again in the world of relationships.

If this is so, human reflection on experience can be the beginning and a source of theological reflection, for it discerns and makes judgments on the place of the human person in a world containing experiences and intimations of the supernatural, and of God. Human experience can be a valid source of theology through this reflection and application of criteria of authenticity. In the process of theological reflection upon experience the subject can appeal to the hard data of sense experience or to the more elusive but somehow more primordial and instinctive non-sensuous experience. This immediacy of the non-sensual experience of the self is noticed as it becomes expressed in feeling, mood, tone, and body awareness and is mediated as changes in levels of consciousness or awareness.

The criteria for authenticity by which people judge both sense experience and non-sensuous experience as more or less meaningful, profound or significant can be derived from a felt knowledge of an appeal that resonates with one’s own experience as a self. One also attempts to judge, understand, evaluate experience through comparison with a previous experience and what resulted from previous judgments of experience. Human beings can use philosophical and theological analysis too to judge experience. All these modes of discursive reflective analysis mediate the subject’s own meaning of his/her experience of oneself as a self-in-the-world. More exactly, the immediacy of lived experience is often mediated through a particular image, symbol, metaphor, or word. The relationship between these mediating symbols, images, or words and the immediate experience of the self has to be judged as meaningful, significant, authentic or not. David Tracy suggests the need for two criteria of authenticity: "meaningfulness" as disclosing the significance and purpose of our actual experience and the "internal-coherence" or harmony and consistency of any thought-processes and cognitive claims resulting from an experience (1988:70).

Such "criteria for authenticity" may vary synchronically from society to society and from culture to culture and religion to religion. The values or criteria differ across geographical barriers and through history also, that is diachronically. If these human values, expectations, judgments, and relationships are recorded in written or artistic forms, then later generations can have access to beliefs and values encoded in such recorded texts. In this way we can see that the very human experience of Christian worship, when judged by these criteria for authenticity, is a valid source which can lead us to discover aspects of theology, perhaps some which may have been forgotten or overlooked in the course of the Church’s history. We now move on to consider the human experience of the worship of God in this light.

Religious Worship and Eucharistic Worship as Sources of Theology

When humans are touched by the presence of God in their daily lives, whatever that may mean, their response to such a revelatory experience is often expressed through communal worship. Worship is a religious phenomenon, a reaching out through the fear that always accompanies the sacred, and indeed every human experience of transcendence, to what we call the experience of mystery which both conceals and reveals an intuition of the transcendent.

Religious worship has attracted and involved many millions of people. Those involved in religious worship today have used the human sciences to describe and to analyze it. Anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists who have studied worship have understood that this phenomenon, like all human experience, has a dimension of self-transcendence, though in this case it is a corporate expression of self-transcendence (like some nonreligious rituals) and a religious one too.

In Christian worship the worshipping community opens itself to the source of its life, to the Holy Trinity, so that it may continually be constituted afresh, and so remain true to its own identity. The Christian liturgy contains different elements of corporate praise, prayer, sermon, sacrifice, sacrament (corporate symbolic self-representation), and spiritual ecstasy (Lang 1997:1). The discipline of theology of liturgy, as Patrick Regan has written, has to look at these elements and to work with them, for it…

has as one of its tasks, to sift out the various facets of this vision (of Christian liturgy), show their ultimate derivation from revelation, trace their developments in tradition, and explain their congruence with other areas of theology, especially soteriology and ecclesiology. The accomplishment of this task will be difficult because it touches many disciplines: biblical, historical and systematic theology. And so the theologian of the liturgy will find himself dipping into all three, and probably several more (1977:333, 337).

The texts of the Eucharistic prayers (anaphoras), recorded over many centuries will be the principal focus of this study. Through a close examination of them the reader can see what the original Christian community, the author, redactor, or participants believed that they were doing in the liturgy. The liturgical evidence in the texts records the original community's theology of worship and of the Trinity; and also shows how they understood God's self-revelation to them through their cultural heritage of language and ritual. The world-view of the text's community can therefore be deduced from ancient liturgies, and these may be very different from our own.

No important question regarding the liturgy is either simple or innocent, but always involves serious theological and anthropological issues. Liturgical action is conditioned by the community’s theology and culture and it in its turn also influences them. There is no such thing as liturgical autonomy in either pastoral practice or theoretical reflection. Liturgical texts give way to the meaning put into them by their authors. For example, what goes on in liturgical prayer is inseparable from the image of God that it presupposes and that is, as it were, acted out in it.

This interpenetration of liturgy and belief provides the reader of liturgical texts with a way of deducing the theology behind the texts. Those who wish to consider this further may be interested in reflecting on the relationship of God the Trinity with religious worship. In worship the participants are open to the ultimate transcendent (God), and the religious dimension of life (the godly or divine). There is intended to be a mutual self-communication between God and the worshippers through the activity of the worship.

There have been some impressive attempts at expressing this relationship between the One who communicates (God the Trinity) the medium of the communication (the act of worship), and the purpose of the communication (the sanctification of worshippers and the world). The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthazar deduces that there is a correspondence between the self-revelation of the life of the Trinity (the economic Trinity) and the internal life of the Trinity, the immanent Trinity while also affirming an essential difference between God’s action in the drama of the world and God’s divine being and life. God’s being and life are nevertheless symbolized in God’s self-revelation to the world. The relations between persons are in the first rank of images of God for these image aspects of the immanent life of the Trinity (Balthasar 1978:466). In the next section we see how the liturgical forms of Christian worship can lead us to discover forgotten aspects of the Church’s theological tradition.

Deducing Theology

Lex orandi-Lex credendi

On the basis of what we have seen then, the study of the theology of liturgy may be undertaken by searching for the understandings of the Christian faith, which are reflected in a specific liturgical tradition at a particular stage in the history of a Church. Each Church tradition has had its own membership, experiences, criteria for evaluation, culture, language, and traditions. By analyzing the relevant data of a liturgy and the ways in which it was formulated or used its worldview, the cultural background and the Christian doctrine, which undergirds the particular text or practice, may be able to be worked out.

Balthazar’s affirmation that a knowledge of God’s being and life are to be derived through Jesus Christ is the basis of the relationship between the law of prayer (lex orandi) and the law of belief (lex credendi). God’s being (the life of the immanent Trinity) and God's life and self-expression (the economic Trinity) are revealed in the life and work of Jesus Christ who makes the life of the Trinity known. It is the life and work of the Savior Jesus Christ that is celebrated ritually in Christian liturgy; so Christian liturgy (lex orandi) is a symbolic expression of the life of the Trinity and our proper understanding of it (lex credendi). The Christian meaning symbolized in liturgical celebrations and texts, which can be brought to the surface by discursive thought, is related to the doctrinal formulation of aspects of Christian revelation.

The axiom law of prayer-law of belief (lex orandi-lex credendi) can be used in two ways to use liturgy as a source for theology. Liturgy can be used as a source or evidence for theology or theological premises can be used to change and adapt liturgy. Dom Odo Casel considered that the Church’s self-understanding expressed in the liturgy, while not rendering other models of expression of faith superfluous, is clearly superior to all other points of view. The liturgy is the source and central witness: the highest activity (1962:49) of the life of faith and so of all theology. For Casel, the law of prayer is the visible expression of the law of belief.

On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church, in its official documents has tended, in recent history, to change the accent of the axiom to rather the opposite meaning. Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei in 1947 wrote, quoting Augustine of Hippo and Prosper of Aquitaine, "Let the law of prayer determine the law of belief."1 In the document he admitted that liturgy is a source of faith and theology of the highest rank but wanted to accentuate the value of the teaching authority of the Church through a primary emphasis on the law of belief.

In the same way the Catholic Church’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council,Sacrosanctum Concilium, was a theological document which set down principles for implementing a massive renewal and restoration in the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgical texts so that they in turn would cause a shift in the faithful laity’s manner of praying, thinking, and living. In this case too the law of belief was intended to determine the law of prayer.

Edward Kilmartin wants to affirm that the law of faith and the law of belief are interrelated. They neither serve the same purpose nor are they independent of one another. The law of prayer (the liturgical tradition) on the one hand implies a comprehensive, and, in some ways a pre-reflective, perception of the life of faith. The law of belief (the Church’s dogmatic-theological tradition) on the other hand must be introduced because the value of any liturgical tradition demands study, theoretical discourse, and judgment (Kilmartin 1988:97). We shall see in the next section how such judgments on the law of prayer have sometimes been made.

Textual Ambiguity

Liturgical elements can be ambiguous in meaning, or we might call them "playful" or "slippery" (Leachman 2005:2). Some of these ambiguous liturgical prayers and ritual practices, therefore, after due study and judgment either fall into disuse or have been deliberately marginalized or eliminated in some rituals and translations in order to avoid misleading understandings, or loss of meaning and value in a particular culture. There are two clear examples of this in current Roman Catholic rites of initiation.

In the Rite of Initiation of Christian Adults the "Exorcism and Renunciation of False Worship,"2 which have been introduced into the modern Latin editio typica of the rite by borrowing from third and fourth-century practice, remain as options to be decided by Conferences of Bishops. In the USA they are only used at the discretion of the diocesan bishop. This may be because of the ambiguous or sinister meaning given to the word exorcism in these cultures. In the early rites exorcism simply involved the idea of driving out false doctrine and wrong thoughts from the mind of the candidates by the strong emphasis on doctrinal and moral instruction, and had no sinister connotations, whereas the mere use of the word may cause concern.

In the Rite of Baptism of Children, there is a second example of the gradual marginalization of an ambiguous ritual. The "Ephphetha" is a rite found in third-and fourth-century liturgies and is based on Jesus Christ’s practice of healing the deaf and dumb by the use of spittle, touch, and prayer (Mark 7:31-5). In the Latin edition the use of the "Ephphetha" or "Prayer over the Ears and Mouth"3 is left to the decision of the Conference of Bishops. In the English translation for the USA of the Rite of Baptism of Children the decision whether to use the prayer has been left entirely to the discretion of the minister.4 The text has been interpreted in a spiritual way, so that it has almost lost its meaning and purpose. We find,

May Jesus touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith.5

The two rituals of Exorcism and Renunciation of False Worship and Ephthetha seem to be redundant in the cultures on both sides of the North Atlantic. Other liturgical elements, on the other hand, which also display ambiguous meaning or confusing connotations, can be re-read in the light of meanings retrieved from the tradition. This in turn can give that particular liturgical element new life in a new culture and place in history. This is what the author is suggesting in the following sections of this paper for the Eucharistic epiclesis. The Church’s rich patrimony of Eucharistic epicleses is a marvellous source which can renew and enrich the reflection, life, and pastoral action of the Church.

Retrieving and Rediscovering Neglected Theologies

The Example of the Eucharistic Epiclesis

The origin of the word epiclesis is from the Greek roots epi meaning upon, and kaleo meaning I call. Literally the word means calling down upon, and generally is used in the sense of a consecratory invocation of the Holy Spirit, or more rarely, the Word of God or of an Angel, upon the gifts of bread and wine in the central prayer of the Eucharistic celebration, the Eucharistic prayer.

Jesus Christ is believed by Christians to be God incarnate. His titles of Messiah, Christ, Son of God, and the Word made flesh show what Christians came to believe and gradually to define about his origin and nature. Two key scriptural texts give models for the incarnation process: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:4) and "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow" (Luke 1:35). This second model of incarnation is the one that parallels the Eucharistic epiclesis of the Holy Spirit (Clarke 1982:270-84).

As the mystery of the Incarnation at Bethlehem was accomplished by the power of the Word of God and by the Holy Spirit, so also the mystery of Christ’s being made explicitly present in the Eucharist is accomplished through the action of Word and Spirit. Clarke, in the article mentioned, shows that the Church’s reflection on the mystery of the Eucharist is often seen to parallel her reflection on the life of Christ, and so if we examine our eucharistic texts and practice (lex orandi) we should expect to see the underlying strands of what we believe (lex credendi).

The forms of epiclesis most familiar to English-speaking Catholics is that found in the second Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal, which is written out as follows:

Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A consideration of the language of epiclesis gives the reader an insight into the worldview of the period in the third and fourth centuries when the Eucharistic epiclesis of the Spirit came to be understood as explicitly consecratory. It was agreed that, through the agency and activity of Spirit and Word, the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. The worldviews of the early Church are found in the terminology inherited today in contemporary Eucharistic prayers, even though the words and phrases may have lost their original meaning. Even the words epiclesis and anamnesis (making memorial) themselves reflect a cosmology which is today little used outside religious circles.

So when we consider a text we must endeavor to discover what the community who wrote it and used it intended by it. We can understand a text only when we have understood the question to which the text itself is an answer, for the text must be understood as an answer to a real question, which the author of each Eucharistic prayer is trying to answer, How does this Christian community understand the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ? or the question, How can we understand and accurately put into words what happens at the celebration of the Eucharist?

H. G. Gadamer treats this interpretation of texts to discover their meaning. He understands that the reader of a text has to immerse himself or herself in the context (the world) of the text in order to interpret it. When the reader’s understanding interpenetrates the meaning of the text and the understanding of its author then he or she has access to the world of the text and to its vocabulary, ideas, and meaning (1979:333).

The use of the term epiclesis may indeed imply that the Word or the Spirit is considered absent from the celebration before the epiclesis. During and afterwards the Word or Spirit is present in the gifts of the Eucharist (or the water and oil of the rites of initiation) in order to transform them or, in the words of the Roman Canon, to send the angel(s) to take the gifts to God’s altar in heaven. Today this understanding of anepiclesis as causing a cosmological translocation of Spirit or Angel and gifts has lost much of its meaning. People today, whether or not they are believers, almost without exception, have problems in understanding that the Spirit descends from heaven, or that the Angel mentioned in the Roman Canon descends from heaven and returns there taking the gifts back to the heavenly altar.

If the term epiclesis needs to be re-read or re-understood perhaps it could be redefined in more accessible language as intending a change of nature or a change of content, effect, and meaning of the gifts and people present without employing the confusing primitive element of a change of position in the cosmos of the Holy Spirit or of an Angel in order to effect a consecratory change. The original vocabulary of epiclesis, implying the Spirit or an Angel journeying between heaven and earth in order to effect a consecration, may have to be abandoned in favor of a retrieved vocabulary and understanding from traditions that have been forgotten or overlooked. The gifts of bread and wine are more easily understood to become or be transformed by the activity of the Holy Spirit who is already present and active among his people.

In the Eucharistic prayers Christological and incarnational language is extended to Eucharistic doctrine. We see for example that the pre-existence and exaltation language used by Christ in the gospels and in classical Christology, including that found in the third-century document The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, is reflected in the Eucharistic prayers. This particular liturgical document has been one of the principal ancient sources used for the recent liturgical revisions in Western churches and so is particularly significant. The characteristic structure and language of the Eucharistic prayer in The Apostolic Tradition has been copied in modern revisions but presents an archaic dualistic worldview, which can be very difficult for the modern mind to understand and appreciate. The Eucharistic prayer in The Apostolic Tradition contains a dialogue between the celebrant and the Father in the language of temporal and cosmological or spatial negotiation. If we examine its fourth chapter in greater detail the phrase, "And we ask that you would send your Holy Spirit upon the offering of your holy Church," involves two pleas. There is first a request for a temporal change for it which implies that the Spirit was formally absent and will be present, echoing as it does the earlier phrase,

We render thanks to you, O God, through your beloved child Jesus Christ, whom in the last times you sent to us as a Savior and redeemer and angel (messenger) of your will... You sent him from heaven into a virgin’s womb.

Secondly, it also implies a spatial exchange, and it gives two reasons. The first reason is that the phrases above from The Apostolic Tradition, as well as the parallel section in the first Roman Eucharistic prayer, "we beseech you to command that these things be borne by the hands of your angel to your altar on high," which are respectively epicleses of the spiritus in Apostolic Tradition and of the angelus-filius in the first Roman eucharistic prayer, imply that God will send either firstly the Holy Spirit (or the Word) upon the bread and wine from heaven (de caelo). The second indicator of a spatial exchange is that the gifts will be taken by an angel to another altar elsewhere (in heaven, in sublime altare tuum). Here, there is an expectation that the Angel will carry the bread and wine to heaven. There is a spatial or cosmological exchange in both Eucharistic prayers, an idea that is very difficult for our present-day minds to grasp!

We can see that a linguistic confusion has occurred with such phrases during the passage of time and through the extension of the pre-existence and exaltation language of Christology to the Eucharistic prayer. Yet there are other models of epiclesis available which do not require such translocation language and are, therefore, much more accessible to the modern mind. What Christians intend today in epicleses can hardly be a literal cosmological or spatial translocation of the Holy Spirit or the gifts but a transformation of the gifts and the worshippers present through the active presence of the Trinity among them.

Examining Other Epicleses for Alternative Forms

Many classical Eastern anaphoras use concepts other than that of sending the Holy Spirit down for theepiclesis. Some of these are very interesting and could even be of use in future liturgical renewal and adaptation. A list of a few Eastern epicleses gives a wide selection of alternative conceptual verbs for the action in the epiclesis. Serapion, from the Nile Delta in the fourth century, has two Eucharistic epicleses. The first epiclesis requests that the Word come and fill6 the bread and wine, the Dêr Balyzeh Fragment asks the Spirit to fill us,7 the Manchester Fragment uses fill (Hänggi and Pahl 1968:120), the Armenian anaphora (eucharistic prayer) of Isaac of Sahag asks the Spirit to show the bread and wine to be the body and blood of Christ,8 the Syrian anaphora of the Twelve Apostles also uses show,9 and Byzantine Basil and Alexandrian Basil also have show. Apostolic Constitutions asks that bread and wine be revealed as body and blood of Christ (Metzger 1987:200) and the Maronite Anaphora of Xystus asks the Holy Spirit to hover and rest upon the gifts.10

Not only that, but a modern prayer, approved by the local conference of bishops and now included as part of the National Proper for the Philippines and awaiting authorization from Rome, has an epiclesis containing a word with one of connotations of the word hover in the Armenian anaphora of Isaac. Anscar Chupungco, the venerable father of studies on liturgical inculturation and adaptation, writes that the 1976 version of this text of the Filipino Mass Misa ng Bayang Filipino has for both the consecratory and communion epicleses the verblukuban, and this word calls to mind the action of a bird which is brooding its eggs,11 as does the wordincubat (incubate) in the Anaphora of Xystus. The 1999 version has slightly edited texts, still containing the word lukuban.12 These words lukuban and incubat also have overlapping connotations with the verb hover in the Jerusalem Bible version of Genesis 1:2. If these or similar words were used in epicletic formulas any need for even trying to consider a cosmological translocation would be eliminated.

Aelred Cody made a useful distinction which clarifies the idea of cosmological translocation in his study of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Cody 1960:78). For Cody, cosmological translocation is used as an analogy for a distinction of value, axiological distinction. When heavenly and earthly are opposed, the primary analogue is the distinction of above and below. The distinction between earthly or below and heavenly or above is developed through applying the analysis of Platonic dualism, to signify an axiological distinction, a differentiation of value. Heaven, used axiologically, designates the status of reality, permanence, truth, and value, in contrast with earth which denotes only an imperfect approximation to what is real. If extended to the Eucharist, the bread and wine are first earthly in the sense of being only an imperfect approximation of what they are intended to be. After the gift of the Holy Spirit or Word of God through the agency of the epiclesis in the Eucharistic prayer the bread, wine, and congregation become transformed into the heavenly. They become the body and blood of Christ for the nourishment and conversion of the world.

This axiological use of the language of heavenly and earthly, when applied to the work of the Holy Spirit, the Word, or the Angel in the epiclesis (who are requested to descend from heaven to the bread and wine) as agents of God’s transforming power, offers a clearer understanding and one that is better suited to easy understanding by the modern mind.

A Practical Suggestion

What seems to be intended and understood today by the language of epiclesis is an axiological, or better, an ontological transformation (metabolê) of the people and elements, more like the ideas displayed in the verbs of the Eastern epicletic formulae described above and in the example of the Misa Ng Bayang Filipino. The traditional epicletic structure found in The Apostolic Tradition, and widely adopted in recent liturgical revisions, requires a deft juggling of ideas about spatial or temporal translocation of Spirit or gifts in any sacramental theology derived from such Eucharistic prayers. An alternative vocabulary and retrieved epicletic formulae, based on some of the Eastern epicleses studied above, might be just as faithful to the tradition of belief (lex credendi) and would enrich the liturgical tradition and participation of the people (lex orandi).


In the history of the Church different liturgical traditions have emerged and flourished. They are rooted in local cultural and theological traditions and are specific to different historical periods. David Tracy’s analysis helps us to understand how reflection upon experience in each Church community gives rise to symbolic self-representation in ritual and language (per ritus et preces). Kilmartin’s reflection on the relation between the rule of prayer in liturgical formulations and the rule of faith in doctrinal formulations gives us a method for examining liturgical texts in the traditions of the Church and discovering the worldview and theological view of the communities which composed the prayers.

The language used in the epiclesis in some parts of the liturgical tradition has, as we have seen, on occasion given rise to worldviews and to theologies which are very difficult for those who live and work in today’s international, science-based, and materialistic world to understand. If the Church could renew her understanding and expression of epiclesis by retrieving aspects of the traditions that have been forgotten and overlooked, the faithful would be better able to understand these alternatives to the classical cosmological model.

This reflection on the experience and texts of some Eastern worship texts of Eucharistic epiclesis has exposed a preference for the active verbs hover, brood, rest upon, show, and reveal rather than descend, come down, come from heaven. If such patterns could be included in the revision of Western eucharistic epicleses the language pattern and vocabulary for eucharistic theology would be enriched in a way that would be both in continuity with the Christian and Catholic tradition and also more accessible to the faithful of the 21st century.


1. Pope Pius XII, in Mediator Dei, 20 November 1947; AAS 39 (1947) 521-95. Lex credendi lex supplicandi, we find on page 540, line 16-17. Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi p. 541, line 5-6; P. de Clerck, "Lex orandi, lex credendi." Sens original at "avatars historiques d’un adage equivoque," Questions liturgiques 49 (1978)193-212, esp. 210.

2. Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, Città del Vaticano 1972, §65.2, §79;Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, ICEL and US National Conference of Catholic Bishops, LTP, Chicago 1988, §33.2 "The National Catholic Conference of Bishops has approved leaving to the discretion of the diocesan bishop this inclusion of a first exorcism and a renunciation of false worship…"; §69, §70, §71.

3. Ordo Baptismi Parvulorum, editio typica altera, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, Città del Vaticano 1973, §65; Si Conferentiae Episcopali visum fuerit illum servare, fit ritus "Effetta." Celebrans police aures et os uniuscuiusque infantis tangit dicens...

4. Rite of Baptism of Children, in Rites of the Catholic Church, ET by ICEL, Pueblo, New York 1976, 224 §101a.

5. Rite of Baptism of Children, 224 §101b.

6. Hänggi and I. Pahl Prex Eucharistica. Euchologhion Serapionis (Egypt 4th century), 130, plêrôson.

7. A. Hänggi and I. Pahl, Prex Eucharistica. Fragmentum Dêr-Balyzeh, 126, plêrôson.

8. A. Hänggi and I. Pahl, Prex Eucharistica. Anaphora Armena Isaac seu Sahag, 335, ostendat.

9. A. Hänggi and I. Pahl, Prex Eucharistica. Anaphora 12 Apostolorum, 267, ostendas.

10. A. Hänggi and I. Pahl, Prex Eucharistica. Anaphora Xysti, 312, incubat, requiescat

11. Chupungco 1989:93; 1976.

Epiclesis I or Consecration EpiclesisAma naming Mapagmahal, ipagkaloob mo ang iyong Espiritu Santo upang kanyang lukuban at basbasan ang mga alay na ito, sapagkat tandang-tanda pa namin… (106). "Our loving Father, grant us your Holy Spirit that he may come upon and bless these gifts, for how clearly we recall..." (128).

Epiclesis 2 or Communion EpiclesisAma, ipagkaloob mo ang iyong Espiritu Santo upang kaming nakikibahagi sa katawan at dugo ni Kristo ay kanyang tunghayan at lukuban nang kami’y magkaisa sa puso at diwa (107).

"Father, grant us your Holy Spirit. May he look upon us with favor and take us under his wing, so that we who share in the body and blood of Christ, may become one in heart and mind" (129-30).

12. Supplement to the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of the Philippines (Pasay City, Phil:Paulines, 1999).Epiclesis I or Consecration EpiclesisAmang makapangyarihan, ipagkaloob mo sa iyong Simbahan ang Espiritu ng kabanalan: isinasamo namin na lukuban niya at italaga ang tinapay at alak na aming alay upang ang mga ito’y maging katawan at dugo ng aming Panginoong si Hesukristo… (155-56). "Father all powerful, send Your Holy Spirit upon your Church, and sanctify this bread and wine which we offer to become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Epiclesis 2 or Communion EpiclesisIpagkaloob mo, Amang makapangyarihan, na kaming inaanyayahan mong sumalo sa hapag ng katawan at dugo ni Hesukristo ay lukuban ng Espiritu Santo, nang kami’y magkaisa sa puso, diwa at gawa (160). "Grant all powerful Father, that we whom you have invited to share in the banquet of the body and blood of Jesus Christ be filled with the Holy Spirit, that we may be united in heart, mind, and deed."


Albertine, R.

1985 "The Epiclesis Problem - The Roman Canon in the post-Vatican Liturgical Reform," Ephemerides Liturgicae 99, pages 338-48.

Balthasar, Hans Urs von

1978 "Die Personen in Christus" Theodramatik II/2 (Einsiedeln: Benzinger).

Capizzi, Nunzio

2004 "La realtà pre-teologica della tradizione" in Sapere Teologico e Unità della Fede, edited by C. A Valls et al. Studies in honor of Gerard Wicks (Roma: PUG).

Casel, Dom Odo

1962 The Mystery of Christian Worship, translated by J. Halliburton (London: DLT).

Chupungco, Anscar J.

1989 Liturgies of the Future: Process and Methods of Inculturation (Mahwah, NY: Paulist)

1976 Towards a Filipino Liturgy (Manila: Benedictine Abbey).

Clarke, Neville S.

1982 "Spirit Christology in the Light of Eucharistic Theology," Heythrop Journal 23.

Cody, Aelred

1960 Heavenly Sanctuary and Liturgy in the Epistle to the Hebrews (St. Meinrad, IN: Grail).

Congar, Y.

1983 "The Eucharistic Epiclesis," in I Believe in the Holy Spirit vol. 3 (London: Chapman).

Crutcher, T. J.

2002 "The Relational-Linguistic Spiral: A Model of Language for Theology," Heythrop Journal 43, pages 463-79.

Erikson, E. H.

1990 "The Eight Ages of Man," Childhood and Society Chapter 7 (London: Pelican).

Hänggi, A. and I. Pahl

1968 Prex Eucharistica. (Fribourg: Éditions Universitaires), Manchester fragment, plêrôson.

Gadamer, Hans G.

1979 Truth and Method (London: Sheed & Ward).

Kilmartin, Edward J.

1988 Christian Liturgy: Theology. (Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward).

Lang, Bernhard

1997 Sacred Games: A History of Christian Worship (New Haven & London: Yale U.P.).

Leachman, James

2005 "The New Family of Common Worship Liturgical Books of the Church of England (3): The role of the Holy Spirit in the Current Rites of Adult Initiation" in Ecclesia Orans 23 (2005) as yet unpublished, page 2.

Metzger, M.

1987 Les Constitutions Apostoliques Vol. III (Paris: du Cerf), contains Eucharistic prayers of the Apostolic Constitutions.

McKenna, J. H.

1987 "The Epiclesis Revisited" in New Eucharistic Prayers, edited by F.C. Senn (table of epicleses in ancient eucharistic prayers).

O’Collins, Gerald

1981 Fundamental Theology (London: DLT).

Regan, Patrick

1977 "Pneumatological and Eschatological Aspects of Liturgical Celebration," Worship 51.

Tracy, David

1988 Blessed Rage for Order (San Francisco: Harper & Row).


Liturgical Sources in English

J. C. D Jasper and G. J. Cuming Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed. [A Pueblo Book] Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 1980, contains the following eucharistic prayers in English:-

Apostolic Tradition (3rd century), page 31

Serapion (Egypt 4th Century), page 74

Apostolic Constitutions (4th Century Syria), page 100

Byzantine Basil (Constantinople 4th century), page 114

Liturgical Sources in Latin and Greek

A. Hänggi - I. Pahl (eds.), Prex Eucharistica. Éditions Universitaires, Fribourg 1968, contains the following eucharistic prayers in Latin or Greek:

Manchester Fragment, Prex, page 120

Der Balyzeh (Egypt 4th century), Prex, page 126

Serapion (Egypt 4th Century), Prex, page 128
Armenian Isaac of Sahag, Prex, page 335

Syrian 12 Apostles, Prex, page 267

Alexandrian Basil, Prex, page 353

Maronite Xystus, Prex, page 312

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