Thursday, 12 June 2008

Where's the epiclesis?

A common cry down our way.

This came back to me again last night at our Eucharist training. In the eucharistic prayer at the Lord's Supper, where is the epiclesis, and what does it mean?

Epiclesis is the liturgical anorak's term for the calling down of the Holy Spirit, and it happens in all the Church of England's eucharistic prayers, back to the BCP.

In Common Worship's prayers (A to H), there are basically two options. In some, the epiclesis is clearly on the elements. So, we pray that God would send his Holy Spirit to do something to the bread and the wine.

In others, the epiclesis is clearly on the people. So, we pray that God would send his Holy Spirit to do something to us.

In others, it's unclear (more yummy Anglican fudge), and in Prayer B you have a double epiclesis, on elements and people.

I don't think most evangelicals have any comprehension of the signifcance of this. The general response to Common Worship was, how lovely to have some variety, because of course you wouldn't want to repeat the same words too often in case they become meaningless would you? After all, you wouldn't want to tell your wife "I love you" too often in case it becomes meaningless. But of course, what the variety has smuggled in is Roman sacramental theology.

My advice, stick to Prayer C, which is basically Cranmer's BCP prayer. If you insist on variety, it seems to me Prayer D also has a clear epiclesis on the people rather than the elements.


Liam Beadle said...

Thank you for this.

I am unconvinced that any of the Eucharistic Prayers in CW contain an epiclesis which is unequivocally on the elements. There may be a measure of ambiguity (which is a shame, I grant you), but it is always possible to interpret the words as invoking the Spirit on the gathering or the eucharistic action. In none of them (except D, where it is on the gathering) is the direction of the Spirit's work stipulated.

Liam Beadle said...

I should add that some of the sacrificial language in the anamnesis in Prayer C actually makes it more problematic than some of the other prayers in the rite. In some ways, Prayer B is preferable, given its explicit separation of the sacrifice of praise and the bringing of the bread and the cup.

Neil Jeffers said...


Thank you. I agree that none of them is unequivocal (unsurprisingly in a Synod-approved text). Jeremy Haselock, Precentor of Norwich, and the man who drafted many of the eucharistic prayers says this of Prayer E:

"Much could be said about the phrasing of the epiclesis and the odium theologicum such a concept induces in Synod. In prayer E the original draft (my own) read "send your Holy Spirit on us and on these gifts, that broken bread and wine outpoured may be for us the body and blood of your dear Son" but the revision committee was too timorous a beastie to allow this all too clear phrasing to remain and so what we have is simply "send your Holy Spirit, that broken bread and wine outpoured." I know what I meant and most of those who use the prayer will know what we are asking God to do. Yes, as Fr Moreton observes, it is not as we might like, but to say that the epiclesis in all the new prayers "consistently refers only to us and never to the gifts" is an ungenerous lack of acknowledgment of the real progress we have made."

So while it may be possible to use the eucharistic prayers, even in their ambiguity, with Calvinistic understanding, within the political context of the Church of England, it is clear many of them are an attempt to move as far as permissible in a Romanising direction, and we may, therefore, wish to avoid them.