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Calling Down The Holy Spirit In The Eucharistic Prayers

By Father Jim Sauer

The Epiclesis – or calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine – was considered to be in the early Church the consecratory moment of the Eucharistic Prayer. The Eucharistic Prayers today follow the custom of the Church in Alexandria, Egypt, which had a “split” Epiclesis.  The first Epiclesis asks God to change the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The second Epiclesis following the Institution Narrative asks God to deepen our communion with Him and one another by the power of the Spirit.  The epiclesis reminds us that God is working here and now giving us invisible grace by means of visible sacramental signs.  We can only place the signs before God and beg for the divine operation.  The calling down of the Holy Spirit is found in all seven Sacraments.


Eucharistic Prayer II proclaims “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  The image of the “dewfall” recalls Exodus 16:11-15:  “The Lord said to Moses…  ‘In the evening twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have your fill of bread, and then you will know that I, the Lord, am your God.’  In the evening, quail came up and covered the camp.  In the morning there was a layer of dew all about the camp, and when the layer of dew evaporated, fine flakes were on the surface of the wilderness, fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.  On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, ‘What is this?’ for they did not know what it was.  But Moses told them, ‘It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat’”. 


Eucharistic Prayer III states “Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you:  by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate these mysteries”. 


Reconciliation Prayer II professes “Look, we pray, upon your people’s offerings and pour out on them the power of your Spirit, that they may become the Body and Blood of your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in whom we, too, are your sons and daughters”.  The four Eucharistic Prayers from the Swiss-German Bishops’ Conference use the same words, “Therefore, Father most merciful, we ask that you send forth your Holy Spirit to sanctify these gifts of bread and wine that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”. 


The Introduction to the Roman Missal affirms the epiclesis to be the Church’s invocation imploring the power of the Holy Spirit that the gifts offered by human hands be consecrated, that is, become Christ’s Body and Blood, and that the unblemished Victim to be consumed in Communion may be for the salvation of those who partake of it” (Paragraph 79c).


The invocation of the Holy Spirit over the bread and wine leads into the Institution Narrative and Consecration.  The words and actions of Christ during the Last Supper are now recalled, when he offered his Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine, giving them to the Apostles to eat and drink, and giving them the command to perpetuate this same mystery (Roman Missal, 79e).  In so doing, that same Sacrifice is realized here and now in the assembly of believers.