Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Mass In The Infant Church By Rev Garrett Pierse Part 9.

CHAPTER VII. The Epiclesis.

The early writers distinguish the principal parts of the Mass, such as the Offertory and the Communion, but the moment and cause of the Consecration they do not determine with equal clearness. Is the Consecration of the Eucharistic Elements effected by Christ's Words of Institution, or by a verbal formula invoking the Holy Spirit, or by both these agencies ? The question played an important part at the Council of Florence in 1439 A.D. It is still an important ground of disagreement between the Latin and the Greek separated Church. The position of the former has been for a long time definite and decided ; Roman Catholic theologians, almost universally, 1 hold that the Consecration is effected by the Words of Institution alone. The opinion of the Greek separated Church is divided. Although, in the past, some theologians of the Greek Church attributed the sacred efficacy to the Epiclesis or formula of invocation alone, most Greek theologians of the present day attribute it to both the Words of Institution and the Epiclesis. This controversy has given the question added importance, but as it is, comparatively speaking, a minor issue it would not be surprising if we found in the writings of some early Fathers indefiniteness concerning its solution.


" As," writes the first of our authorities, Justin, " by the word of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour was made flesh and blood for our salvation; so also the food which was consecrated by the prayer of the Word proceeding from Him, 2 and from which our flesh and blood, by assimilation, receive nourishment, is, we are taught, both the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the Apostles, in the memoirs which they composed and which are called Gospels, have declared that Jesus commanded them to (say) as follows: He took bread and gave thanks over it and said: This do in remembrance of me, this is my body ; and in like manner He took the cup and gave thanks over it and said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. The same thing in the mysteries of Mithra, also, the evil demons imitated, for bread and a cup of water are placed in the mystic rites for one who is to be initiated, with the addition of certain words, as you know or may learn." 3

According to Justin's obscure words the bread is u made Eucharist" by the prayer of the Word. Different interpretations have been given to these words, and I am forced to depart from them all, and add still another. Some interpret the passage to mean that Justin taught that the Consecration was caused by " the word" proceeding from Jesus,namely, the Words of Institution. According to this interpretation it would be called "the prayer of the word," because these words imply an invocation of God that He would change the Elements. To this it is objected by other interpreters that the Words of Institution only through an over-subtle exegesis could be called a prayer and that the meaning is, rather, the prayer containing the Words of Institution. While I believe that the advocates of this second interpretation are reasonable in accusing the others of over-subtlety, I believe that their own exegesis does not escape an identical reproach. What can be the meaning of the " prayer of the word," if Word be not written with a capital letter ? Would it not be a confused expression, making no sense even under violence? On the other hand, if it means the prayer of the Logos, the interpretation is easy. The parallelism of the sentence, too, supports this view. Just as by the word of God Jesus Christ becomes the incarnate God, so by the prayer of the Word (also God) the bread becomes the body and blood of God. The act of Consecration is called by Justin and others by a verb derived from the root " Eucharist " which means thanksgiving. This suggests that it is the whole prayer of thanksgiving which was, somewhat inexactly, regarded by this early Father as the instrument of Consecration.

We know from Justin that this prayer of thanksgiving was in his time connected with an account of the procedure of the Last Supper, and of the Words of Institution. Justin even represents this account of the procedure as commanded. It must not be supposed that only the Words of Institution are represented as the cause of the Consecration because these are quoted. For the account of the circumstances of the Last Supper is also quoted, and it seems clear that Justin selects from the Canon of the Mass just as much as will prove his thesis about the reality of Christ's flesh and blood in the Eucharist.


The verbal formula, namely, the prayer of thanksgiving, was regarded by Justin as strangely efficacious. For in the parallel rite of Mithra some magic power is attributed, also, to the recital of certain words. " The mixed cup," writes the next of the Fathers, Irenaeus, " and the broken bread receive the word of God and become the Eucharist, the body of Christ." 4 " We invoke," he writes again, ( 'the Holy Spirit that He may exhibit 5 this sacrifice, the Bread as the body of Christ and the Cup as the blood of Christ." Again, "Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine and protracting to a great length the word of invocation, he (the Gnostic Marcus) contrives to give them a purple and reddish colour so that Charis, who is one of those that are superior to all things, should be thought to drop her own blood into that cup through means of his invocation, and that, thus, those who are present should be led to rejoice to taste of that cup, in order that, by so doing, the Charis who is represented by this magician may also flow into them." 6

By Irenaeus the instrument of Consecration is variously denominated the word of God, a spoken invocation which can be protracted so as to give time for tricks of jugglery, and an invocation of the Holy Ghost; elsewhere he calls it, less precisely, an " invocation of  God." 7 There has been seen an interesting account of the Gnostic jugglery, which was evidently a travesty of the Catholic Canon of the Mass. It supplies a clear proof of the ancient belief in the real presence of Christ's blood in the Cup. This Gnostic imitation is said to be effected through means of the invocation. Irenaeus, therefore, implies the rather general conclusion that the Consecration is effected by the prayer, including the word of God—that is, probably, the Words of Institution,—and an oral invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Clement of  Alexandria. 

" He consecrated," writes Clement of Alexandria, " the wine, saying : ' Take, drink, this  is My blood.'" 8 He does not supply much material for a solution of this question. At first sight this passage would seem to imply that Clement believed that at least the Lord consecrated by using the words, " This is My blood." But that Clement is not precise in his teaching is shown from his connecting words of command with the indicative formula. The word he uses for consecrating means to bless, 9 or to pronounce some form of prayer.


"The nourishment," writes his pupil, Origen, "consecrated by the word of God and of invocation . . . becomes profitable by reason of the prayer descending upon it." 10 Again, " We have received these breads which by the prayer become a holy body." 11 Origen, therefore, attributes the mysterious effect to prayer, or, more definitely, to the word of God and of invocation. Elsewhere he speaks of the u breads of eulogy," and of the " word" descending upon the elements, evidently the formula including the Divine words and an invocation. 12


"Having taken bread,'' writes Tertullian," and having distributed it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, this is My body." 13 So far as Christ is concerned, He consecrated according to Tertullian by pronouncing the Words of Institution. This is the first time that we find the formula of Consecration reduced to its most precise limits, and the credit is due to the exact mind of the great Carthaginian lawyer. He speaks only about Christ. Would he say that the disciples consecrated by a formula as precise and brief as that of the Master ? It might be said that both cases were different, that the disciples might have needed an invocation of God when Christ had no such necessity,—an objection which has not much force, since Christ, too, had a human nature and could invoke God, if necessary. At any rate, in Tertullian's words, there is no explicit evidence about the formula with which the disciples of Christ consecrated. But his words seem to contain the germ of the tradition which the Latins used in shaping their brief formula of Consecration.

Words of Bishop Firmilian in Cyprian's  Letters.

" That woman," writes another Latin writer, Firmilian, " who, previously, by Jugglery and deceits of the devil, had many contrivances for the hoodwinking of the faithful, amongst other things, by which she had deceived many, frequently dared to do even this, to pretend she consecrated bread and celebrated the Eucharist by an invocation not to be despised, and to offer the sacrifice of the Lord not without the mystery of the accustomed recital 14 Here, again, we have a reference to a verbal formula of invocation. It was a verbal one, otherwise it could not be a matter for description. This invocation was believed by Firmilian to have influenced the Consecration. The " invocation " seems to have been the name for what we should call the Canon of the Mass. The accustomed recital, which may be taken to mean the account of the institution of the Sacrament, is here described as an accompaniment of the sacrifice, and as in some way mysterious.

We have been considering the testimony of a few early writers concerning the instrument of consecration. Even those few are not unanimous in their answers to the question: Did the early writers believe in the consecratory efficiency of a verbal Epiclesis. Tertullian, indeed, seems to testify to a tradition favouring the power of the Words of Institution alone. But what is the belief, generally speaking, of the few writers of our period ? What theory will square with all the data found in their assertions ? They call the instrument of Consecration a word of God, a formula of thanksgiving, a prayer, an invocation of the Holy Ghost. According to Irenaeus and Bishop Firmilian this invocation is verbal. If it were a merely mental invocation implied in the Words of Institution, their teaching would not be difficult to understand, as such an implied invocation could be held by one who believed that Christ's words wrought the effect of Consecration. The theory, then, suggested by a Catholic, Dr. Rauschen, 15 is that those writers held that the Consecration was effected by the long prayer corresponding to the present Canon, and including thanksgiving, the Words of Institution, and an invocation of the Holy Ghost. This squares with all the facts. It may be said that, when these Fathers attributed the change in the Elements to this whole prayer, they might have spoken as we should* if we were to say the change is wrought by the Canon of the Mass. But there is a difference. It seems to be over-ingenious to say that these early writers, while speaking in this rather general way, had in their minds, as we have, the belief that the Consecration was wrought precisely by the Words of Institution. This is too much to expect from Origen, for example, when he states that the Consecration is effected by the word of God and of invocation. It is difficult, then, for one who assumes from other sources, as I do, that the Consecration is effected by the Words of Institution alone, to acquit a few early Fathers of indefiniteness and some inexactness in treating the present question.

1  Except Toutee, Lebrun, and Schell.


Apol. i. 66.

4 Adv. Haer., v. 2, 3.


Adv, Haer., I., 13, 2.

7 Adv, Haer., iv, 18, 4.

8 Paed,, ii., 2.


10 In Mat,, xi., 14.

11 In Levit. Hom., xiii.

12 In Mat., xi., 14.

13 Acceptum panem et distributum discipulis corpus suum illum fecit, " hoc est corpus meum," dicendo. Adv. Marcion, iv., 40.

14 Sacramento solitae praedicationis. Cypr., Ep. 75, 17.

15 Eucharistie und Bussakr. S. 99.