Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Eucharist: A Meal of Mutual Empowerment "EUCHARIST IN TURMOIL"Eucharistic Prayers by Diarmuid O'Murchu


"EUCHARIST  IN  TURMOIL"Eucharistic Prayers by Diarmuid O'Murchu
"The attached Eucharistic Prayers (hence EPs)seek to honour the second interpretation of Eucharist as a ritual of the open, egalitarian table, to which all are welcome regardless of class or status, and from which nobody should ever be excluded. The priest is a ritual facilitator, very much in keeping with the role of the mother in Jewish Shabat meal, the original model used by Christians in developing Eucharistic celebrations, but also honouring the oldest definition of Priesthood known to all Christian Churches, namely the vision of the priest as theservus servorum Dei (the servant of the servants of God). In this Eucharistic context, the Priest has no power other than that of being a facilitator for empowerment in the ritual context. 

The primary power in every Eucharistic celebration resides with the living Spirit of God, not with the priest or people. From earliest times the Church has honoured this fact through the notion of the Epiclesis: the invocation of the Holy Spirit. When I studied theology, I was told by my Jesuit professor, that the Epiclesis is the heart and soul of the Eucharistic prayer. It was several years later before I fully internalized that truth.  

The Catholic Church uses a double invocation of the Holy Spirit, which I have retained the attached EPs, firstly invoking the Spirit over the gifts of bread and wine, and secondly over the people of God to reinforce their unity as a Christian people. The first invocation comes before the words of Consecration, indicating that the real power for change in the Eucharistic elements (however we understand it) is activated through the invocation of the Holy Spirit and not through any special words uttered by the priest. The second tends to be located as the second paragraph after the Eucharistic acclamation. 

Other Christian traditions combine the two into one, with the primary emphasis of invoking the Spirit upon the people, thus making the people of focus of the Spirit’s transformative power. Some commentators (e.g Crockett 1999) suggest that this may have been the original emphasis when the concept of the Epiclesis was first developed. I rather like the notion of the double Epiclesis as it truly highlights where the emphasis should rest. The Holy Spirit, who is the agent of all creativity throughout the length and breadth of creation, logically becomes the primary agent for change and transformation even in the Eucharist itself. 

Who is meant to invoke the Holy Spirit? My impression is that theologians are quite clear on this matter but may not always state it forthrightly: the baptized people of God gathered in worship. It is both their privilege and responsibility, and should not be taken from them to fulfill clerical power or control. Ritually, it would therefore be ideal for the gathered body to pray aloud and together the two paragraphs related to the Epiclesis. Gestures can also be added and in my experience they enrich the underlying meaning. For the first invocation all can be invited to extend their hands over the gifts of bread and wine. And for the second Epiclesis, with the emphasis on the unity of the gathered group, people can be invited to link hand to shoulder with the person to their right or left. 

In theological terms, what is needed primarily for a valid Eucharist Prayer is the invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis), whether done as one articulation or in a two-fold expression. What then of the words of Consecration? These words certainly belong to the inherited tradition, and carry a primordial memory of what Jesus said at the Last Supper, and probably at several other meals as well. In praying these two paragraphs, we are touching into the power of sacred memory. Perhaps, therefore, instead of retaining the words exclusively for the priest, they should be prayed by those in the worshipping group who carry responsibilities around the ongoing life of that particular community, e.g., a parish council in a parochial setting, the staff of a school or Retreat Centre, the leadership team of a religious community..."   

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