August 28, 2011

Epiclesis

Posted in Creation, Epiphany, Holy Spirit, Incarnation, Pentecost, Resurrection, The Eucharist tagged , at 6:21 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Breath of God, swoop down to hover
O’er frail elements as once Thou did
To birth the earth, and then again to cover
Blessed Mary, Ark whom Gabriel bid
To bear the perfect Son and Lamb of God:
The Uncreated on His creation trod.

Bright Spirit, now alight as on that day
The Son of Man cleansed Jordan’s stream;
As when, transfiguring Him, Thou showed the Way
And brought bright heaven down to beam
On humankind, who could not quench the Light:
The rising Star has overcome sin’s night.

Holy Dove, brood now between the seraphim;
Open the Ark, and break the heavenly Manna free,
And once again frail earth convert to honor Him.
Make wine His Blood, make bread His Body be.
Then, as at Pentecost, transform Christ’s own:
His Body, His Bride whose sins He did atone.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


So I’ve already broken my own rule about limiting Greek and Hebrew words, but in this case there is little choice. There is no adequate English word for epiclesis, the point in the Eucharistic service in which the priest, Christ’s representative to the Church, calls down the Holy Spirit to turn mere bread and wine into Sacrament. I suppose blessing or invocation would come close, but they still do not capture the full concept. In my studies for a paper about the prayer of epiclesis in various liturgies, I came to realize that this work of the Holy Spirit is just one in a long line of creative-redemptive-sanctifying moments throughout the history of the world, so the poem is another sweeping panorama that catalogs many of the key points in Scripture where the Holy Spirit is at work in this earth. The point at the end of the poem is that the Church (including me!) is part of that creative-redemptive-sanctifying purpose accomplished by the Holy Spirit.


In scouring all my resources for a poem to post this Lord’s Day that would also be appropriate for the Feast of St. Augustine, I found this one in an email I sent to a fellow seminary student on the Feast of Epiphany in 2008. I remember quite distinctly that the poem grew out of a paper I had written for Bishop Sutton’s Liturgics class. As I read my dialog with Jonathan (now Fr. Jonathan) I had to shake my head because I had sent him an early draft of the poem and then made the poor man read several paragraphs of pure angst spent in revising a few words to make sure the meter and sense were both correct. At the conclusion of the process, I wrote, “So now you’ve briefly been inside the head of a poet. Most of the time it’s a dreadful place, really. And when I obsess with these details, it’s a crashing bore.”

But he was gracious, and in his analysis he added this quotation from St. Augustine of Hippo via Garry Wills:

“If you want to know what is the body of Christ, hear what the Apostle Paul tells believers: ‘You are Christ’s body and his members’ (1 Cor. 12:27). If, then, you are Christ’s body and his members, it is your symbol that lies on the Lord’s altar—what you receive is a symbol of yourself.  When you say ‘Amen’ to what you are, your saying it affirms it. You hear the priest say ‘The body of Christ,’ and you answer ‘Amen,’ and you must be the body of Christ to make that ‘Amen’ take effect. And why are you a bread? Hear the Apostle again, speaking of this very symbol: ‘We though many are one bread, one body (1 Cor. 10:17).'”

“This then is the ‘bread that comes down from heaven, so that the one eating it shall not die (Jn. 6:50).’  But these words apply only to the validity of the mystery, not to its visibility—to an inner eating, not an external one; to what the heart consumes, not what the teeth chew.”

[From Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills—p. 141—quotes are from Augustine’s Interpreting John’s Gospel 30.2, 28.2 and 26.12]

To become a part of God’s eternal purpose through participation in the Church, the Body of Christ, is the grandest calling the human heart can ever hear.

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