Consecration (Oblation, Epiclesis, Great Doxology)
The consecration continues with the Oblation, through which we acknowledge the Holy Gifts we offer to back to Christ: “Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before thy Divine Majesty, with these thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee.”
We are joining with His once-for-all offering of Himself upon the altar, and in the work of Christ that He accomplished throughout the entirety of His life. This portion of the consecration reminds us that it is the totality of who Christ is that we remember through the Eucharist, not just his blessed passion and precious death, but also his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension.
Following the Oblation is the Epiclesis, sometimes called the Invocation, wherein the priest specifically requests that God, “Send down thy Holy Spirit upon these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine, that they may become the body and blood of Christ.” During these prayers the priest takes a slightly different posture, first bowing as the chalice is uncovered, then holding his hands over the elements while he prays for the Holy Spirit to descend upon them.
When the elements are consecrated, both the words of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit are deemed important and necessary and are therefore included. One may question whether the Epiclesis is “necessary” given that the words of institution have already been uttered. While as mortal flesh we experience these events in a linear timeline, in a sacramental and mystical sense, we can consider them to be occurring simultaneously. In other words, while the priest first says the Words of Institution, then recounts the history of Christ’s redemptive work and our thanksgiving for it in the Oblation, before now calling down the Holy Spirit in the Epiclesis, we can also think of all of these thoughts and concepts occurring simultaneously.
One way to think of it is with reference to the incarnation and baptism of Jesus. At His nativity, Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man; the incarnation (whereby God became man) had already occurred. As a result, Jesus already possessed the fullness of deity at His nativity. However, we also see the Holy Spirit descend upon Him as a dove at His baptism. Did He somehow become more God at His baptism? Absolutely not. Did He somehow gain increased power or a greater degree of divine presence through the Holy Spirit descending upon Him? Absolutely not. Was the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus necessary for Him to embark upon His earthly ministry? Yes, without question. We can then ask the same questions of the Eucharist. While the consecration may have occurred at the Words of Institution, whereby the elements are now considered the Body and Blood of Christ, we do not then consider the calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the elements to be superfluous. We are involved in a Holy Mystery whereby we are interacting with the Triune God, giving thanks to God the Father Almighty that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can enjoy and benefit from the presence of the Son at the altar.
The final portion of the Consecration is the great doxology, wherein we give “ourselves our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice,” and conclude with the acknowledgement under the authority of God Almighty, “by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.”
Through this doxology we reiterate our desire to receive grace, the fatherly goodness of God, and that He would accept our sacrifice. As we specifically request to be filled with God's grace and heavenly benediction, we cross ourselves as a reminder that it is through our citizenship in the Divine Kingdom, which was inaugurated through our baptism, that we are able to enter into this sacrament and receive that grace, for of our own, we are unworthy. The great doxology then closes with a definitive statement that all we have done is done on behalf of and because of the Triune God, to whom we give honor and Glory.
(as published in St. Luke's Sunday Bulletin, 8/12/18)