By Father Ryan Maher.
“I will be with until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Our Blessed Lord spoke these words to his disciples before he ascended to his Father in heaven. Our Lord fulfills this promise through his Real Presence in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist. In the holy sacrifice of the Mass the Lord Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist as nourishment for our pilgrim journey and as a pledge of eternal life. Through the words of consecration spoken by the priest at Mass the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. But before these words are spoken, the priest says the prayer of epiclesis (from the ancient Greek meaning, “calling down from on high” or “invocation”). The epiclesis is essential to the Eucharistic sacrifice because it is the calling down of Holy Spirit upon the simple gifts of bread and wine so that they can be changed and transformed.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion.” (n. 1375) A work of the Holy Spirit is always the process of conversion.
At Mass the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine during the epiclesis and calls down the Holy Spirit upon them using the words provided for each one of the Eucharistic prayers. For example, the epiclesis for Eucharistic Prayer III reads, “Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration”. The priest then makes the sign of the cross over the bread and wine saying, “that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit.” (n. 1553)
The priest implores the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine, to transform these simple elements into the Body and Blood of Christ. As revealed in sacred Scripture, the work of the Holy Spirit is to give new life by way of transformation, true change and conversion.
In the Nicene Creed the Church gives voice to belief in the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, with the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” The Holy Spirit is in fact the giver of life! It was by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that Mary conceived the Christ child in her womb (cf. Luke 1:35).
The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is received at baptism giving each person a share in the divine Life. In confirmation a person is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In baptism and confirmation a person is truly changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit and by the sacramental grace that is bestowed upon the person receiving the sacrament.
The Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles at Pentecost. After receiving the Holy Spirit they were changed and transformed. No longer were they afraid! Filled with the Holy Spirit in the upper room, they became different men who had the courage to preach the Gospel to all nations, to carry out the works of Jesus Christ in the world and to reconcile sinners.
The prayer of epiclesis and the prayer of consecration is an immersion into the life and love of the Blessed Trinity. The Son freely and willingly offered himself to the Father on the cross for our salvation. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit so that we would never be left abandoned.
We participate in Mass to give glory to God, to worship and praise the Blessed Trinity, and to be sanctified. Never should it happen that we participate in Mass and remain unchanged. In some way the graces of the Mass we receive should change us. Receiving the proclaimed Word of God into our hearts and receiving holy Communion into our very body — how can we not be changed in some way through our participation at Mass? This is a work of the Holy Spirit — to change us; to transform us; to give us life.
Let us lift up our minds and hearts to the Lord at Mass and call down the Holy Spirit in the many ordinary moments of our daily lives so that we can be changed and transformed and, with the help of God’s grace, become saints.
Father Ryan Maher is a vicar general for the Diocese of Covington and rector of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.