ROME, APRIL 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: As I have watched Pope Benedict XVI celebrate Mass on television, I have noticed that during the Roman Canon, he appears to perform the epiclesis twice: "Through him we ask you to bless and accept ..." and "Bless and approve ...." Every priest I have seen pray the canon has simply blessed the gifts at the beginning of the canon and then performed the epiclesis later in the prayer. Is there a difference between these two gestures made by the Holy Father and by the priests in the Midwest of the United States? — M.S., Illinois
A: Actually I think that the Holy Father is simply fulfilling the rubrics for the venerable Roman Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer I.
In the first part of the prayer the text says: "We make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord:
"[He joins his hands and says] that you accept
"[He makes the Sign of the Cross once over the bread and chalice together, saying:] and bless + these gifts, these offerings …"
Thus this gesture is, properly speaking, not an epiclesis but a sign of blessing. Our reader's confusion might arise from the way the Holy Father joins his hands before making the blessing. It is also likely that some priests move directly from the hands-extended position to the gesture of blessing without noticeably joining their hands.
Later in the prayer we have the epiclesis of consecration in which the rubric indicates:
"[Holding his hands extended over the offerings, he says:] Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable …"
Some confusion might also arise because of the difference between the Roman Canon and the other Eucharistic Prayers. In all the other prayers the epiclesis of consecration is accompanied by the priest first extending his hands over the gifts and then making a sign of the cross.
When the liturgy was reformed, the Roman Canon was left mostly intact, though with some modifications in text and gestures. All the other Eucharistic Prayers, though based on ancient texts, are new compositions and the gestures have been mostly standardized.
I mentioned above the "epiclesis of consecration" because all the Eucharistic Prayers have two epicleses, or invocations of the Holy Spirit. The second epiclesis is often referred to as the "epiclesis of communion" as it calls upon the Father to send the Spirit to bind Christians in unity. In the Roman Canon this invocation is implicit; in the other Eucharistic Prayers it is explicit.
This second epiclesis is not accompanied by a gesture expressing invocation and so is less noticeable than the first.
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Follow-up: Epiclesis in Eucharistic Prayer I [4-30-2012]
The April 17 column on the epiclesis in the Roman Canon brought to mind this question from Palo Alto, California: "Is not the first Eucharistic Prayer, also known as the Roman Canon, the normative Eucharistic Prayer for Sunday Mass?"
While it would be going too far to say that that Roman Canon is the "normative" Eucharistic Prayer for Sunday Mass, I think it fair to say that it, along with Eucharistic Prayer III, are the preferred Sunday texts.
Eucharistic Prayer II, while not forbidden on a Sunday, is especially recommended for weekday celebrations. Its brevity can create a certain disproportion between Sunday's longer Liturgy of the Word with three readings, creed and obligatory Prayer of the Faithful and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Eucharistic Prayer IV cannot be separated from its preface and so, if used on a Sunday, may only be used during ordinary time. It is good to use it on occasion especially when the message of the readings can be tied into an overview of salvation history. This Eucharistic Prayer was originally envisioned as being especially apt for groups with a good biblical background. Catholics in general have become far more biblically literate in the decades following the liturgical reform, and experience has shown that this prayer can be used to good pastoral effect when used wisely.
The Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation would at most be able to be used on a Sunday of Lent but with the proper Lenten preface.
Since the Eucharistic Prayers for use in "Masses for Various Needs" and "For Masses with Children" are restricted to specific Mass formularies or to particular groups such as young schoolchildren, they would practically never be used for a parish Sunday Mass.