Epiclesis in Eucharistic Prayer I

And More on Receiving Communion

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ROME, APRIL 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: As I have watched Pope Benedict XVI celebrate Mass on television, I have noticed that during the Roman Canon, he appears to perform the epiclesis twice: "Through him we ask you to bless and accept ..." and "Bless and approve ...." Every priest I have seen pray the canon has simply blessed the gifts at the beginning of the canon and then performed the epiclesis later in the prayer. Is there a difference between these two gestures made by the Holy Father and by the priests in the Midwest of the United States? -- M.S., Illinois

A: Actually I think that the Holy Father is simply fulfilling the rubrics for the venerable Roman Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer I.

In the first part of the prayer the text says: "We make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord:

"[He joins his hands and says] that you accept

"[He makes the Sign of the Cross once over the bread and chalice together, saying:] and bless + these gifts, these offerings …"

Thus this gesture is, properly speaking, not an epiclesis but a sign of blessing. Our reader's confusion might arise from the way the Holy Father joins his hands before making the blessing. It is also likely that some priests move directly from the hands-extended position to the gesture of blessing without noticeably joining their hands.

Later in the prayer we have the epiclesis of consecration in which the rubric indicates:

"[Holding his hands extended over the offerings, he says:] Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable …"

Some confusion might also arise because of the difference between the Roman Canon and the other Eucharistic Prayers. In all the other prayers the epiclesis of consecration is accompanied by the priest first extending his hands over the gifts and then making a sign of the cross.

When the liturgy was reformed, the Roman Canon was left mostly intact, though with some modifications in text and gestures. All the other Eucharistic Prayers, though based on ancient texts, are new compositions and the gestures have been mostly standardized.

I mentioned above the "epiclesis of consecration" because all the Eucharistic Prayers have two epicleses, or invocations of the Holy Spirit. The second epiclesis is often referred to as the "epiclesis of communion" as it calls upon the Father to send the Spirit to bind Christians in unity. In the Roman Canon this invocation is implicit; in the other Eucharistic Prayers it is explicit.

This second epiclesis is not accompanied by a gesture expressing invocation and so is less noticeable than the first.

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Follow-up: Denying Communion to Someone

Related to the question of refusing someone Communion (see March 27) was one regarding the consequences of a person receiving unworthily: "A married man who left his wife and is living with another woman cannot receive the Eucharist. However, if he sinfully does so, is he excommunicated? If yes, and then he repents, what does he have to do to obtain reconciliation?"

Anybody who deliberately and knowingly receives Communion while in a state of mortal sin commits a further sin of sacrilege and disrespect toward Christ. Their spiritual situation is thus aggravated by a conscious act of defiance. The increase of grace that would normally accrue to a person receiving Communion is lost forever and indeed is transformed into further motive for condemnation.

However, they are not formally excommunicated. The path of sacramental reconciliation remains open.

When they confess their sins they must include not only the sin that first caused them to lose the life of grace but also the fact of unworthily receiving Communion.

In attributing the penance the priest should take this particular sin into account and may prescribe some specific act of Eucharistic reparation provided it can be carried out quickly and simply.

Here we are speaking about deliberate sin in receiving Communion. We do not refer to special cases when a person has momentarily fallen into sin and has not had the opportunity of confessing before a Mass in which he is obliged or reasonably expected to receive Communion. This could be the case of a priest, deacon or other minister who would normally have to take Communion before the whole assembly.

If this happens, then the person can make an act of perfect contrition, which necessarily implies the commitment of confessing at the earliest opportunity. The person in this case does not commit a sin by receiving Communion and actually grows in grace.

A reader from Japan asked: "An unrelated question: What are your thoughts about eye contact between the priest (or deacon or minister of holy Communion) and the communicant. I was taught that one should have eye contact. Having served some time in a cloistered community, I am no longer so sure. Perhaps there is no 'one right answer,' but I am keenly interested in your thoughts."

Honestly, I think that such an indication gives too much weight to the minister. His or her primary function is to make sure that the host is administered in a dignified manner, whether on the tongue or in the hand, and to make sure it is consumed.

The faithful approach the sanctuary to receive the Lord, not to meet the minister of holy Communion. Some will look at the minister; others will close their eyes as they receive on the tongue. If eye contact happens, then well and good, but I see no particular reason to strive to achieve it.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.