THE CHURCH AT PRAYER

Eucharistic Prayer II: anamnesis, offering and epiclesis

As we continue our exploration of Eucharistic Prayer II, we come now to the parts that follow the acclamations of “The Mystery of Faith.”

The next part of the Eucharistic Prayer is the anamnesis, or anamnesis-offering. It is called that because the important action of the Church’s offering takes place here. This dynamic occurs in every Eucharistic Prayer, and we can always recognize it when we hear words that in one way or another express the idea, “We remember, therefore we offer.” In Eucharistic Prayer II, it is expressed this way: “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation.”

Notice how remembrance, or memorial, is central to the action of celebrating the Eucharist. It is through the Church’s remembrance (anamnesis) that the saving mystery that occurred once in history is made present and effective in our own time. Thus, we are recalling the great deed of salvation, the Paschal Mystery.

Notice, too, that it is here that the offering of the community takes place. This is why we have to be careful with the use of the word “Offertory” when the gifts of bread and wine are presented and prepared earlier in the Mass; while the word rightly applies to the offerings of bread and wine, that moment in the Mass is not the moment where the action of offering takes place — offering takes place here, in the Eucharistic Prayer. The offering is made by the entire Church, not the priest alone, as all take part in the action by inwardly and spiritually uniting themselves to Christ’s offering. The words “Bread of life” and “Chalice of salvation” heighten the connection that the sacrifice being offered here and now is the same sacrifice which Jesus offered at the Last Supper.

It is only possible for us to make this offering, however, because of the gift of divine grace God has first given to us; without His initiative, our worship is meaningless. Our liturgical celebration starts and ends with God; our worship is, in a sense, nothing more than a response to what God Himself has first done for us. That’s why in this prayer immediately after this offering is made, there is an expression of thanksgiving: “…giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” We “minister” to God not because He needs us in any way, or because we fulfill something lacking in Him. Rather, we “minister” to Him in the sense of serving Him, particularly as we minister to and serve our brothers and sisters. Remember, when we love others we are loving God; we cannot love God unless we are ministering to and serving our brothers and sisters.

Following the anamnesis (“We remember, therefore we offer”) is the epiclesis. This is a second epiclesis; the first occurred earlier in the prayer, when we asked for the Holy Spirit to come upon the gifts to transform them into the Body and Blood of Christ. Here, we pray that the Holy Spirit may transform us — that the Spirit will gather us into one: it’s a plea for unity. We find this communion epiclesis in every Eucharistic Prayer.

Praying for unity to be achieved through eucharistic communion is absolutely essential in understanding what the Eucharist is about. Again, we cannot be in union with Christ unless we are also in union with His body, the Church, i.e., our brothers and sisters; we cannot love Christ and serve Him unless we are loving and serving our brothers and sisters. That’s where we need to see the intimate connection, the same identity, so to speak, between the eucharistic elements and ourselves. Eucharist refers both to what is on the altar and who is around the altar; the transformation that is to take place is about the transformation both of the offerings of bread and wine and those who will partake of those offerings, that partaking being the culmination of the sign of the offering of themselves. We are to be bread-become-Body that is broken; we are to be wine-become-Blood that is poured out, and together we are to become those realities as members of the one Body of Christ.

Understanding these two parts of the Eucharistic Prayer highlights for us an essential aspect of what full, conscious and active participation means. Although the priest is the only one giving voice to the majority of the Eucharistic Prayer, everyone is praying it, whether or not they are vocalizing anything, as everyone joins himself or herself to the actions of remembering, offering, and being open to transformation.

Beyond mere listening, how deeply engaged are you in these spiritual actions during the Eucharistic Prayer?