10 June 2009

Supplices te Rogamus ...

In the Eastern rites, and in the invented Eucharistic Prayers which were introduced into both Roman Catholic and Anglican worship in the 1970s and 1980s, the Epiclesis is treated as crucially important. The Holy Spirit is invoked to come and make the elements the Body and Blood of Christ. I am not a Byzantine and I have no interest in rubbishing their ancient and noble tradition. Nor would I stand for any 'latinising' of their tradition. The only criticism I have is of those Byzantines who encourage an Orthodox 'Western Rite' in which an epiclesis has been intruded into the Roman Canon. Because the epiclesis is not our tradition. And our tradition should not be Byzantinised.

At the beginning of the 20th century, liturgists commonly believed that the epiclesis was 'primitive' and must somehow have got 'lost' from the Roman Canon. If you have a copy of Fortescue, you will find an account by him of the various theories which were held about this; and the various ingenious attempts made to 'reconstruct' the 'original Roman epiclesis'.

A succession of distinguished Anglican scholars disposed of this nonsense. Yes: Anglican. I know that it is natural for Roman Catholics to feel that there is something impertinent in Anglicans playing in their backyard by taking such an interest in 'their' Canon. The fact is, the Canon is something which we lost 450 years ago - and then, in the middle of the 19h century, rediscovered. What you discover for yourself often means more to you than something that Daddy Tried To Make You Do.

Where Easterners call upon the Spirit to come down upon the elements, our ancient Western, Roman tradition asks the Lord to take his Church's offerings to the Altar on high. E C Ratcliff, one of our great Anglican liturgists, summarised this as "a ticket to the Royal Enclosure". That we, in the Mass, are swept up into the heavenly places with our offerings, which become his, so that we can be filled with all heavenly benediction and grace, is quite as august a notion of the Eucharist as the idea that the Spirit comes down upon us from above.

It also happens to be distinctly older. Look again at the paragraph Supplices te rogamus in your missal.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father, this is very good.

D. Benedict Andersen OSB said...

The whole "epiclesis" issue in WR Orthodoxy seems to be parallel with how Rome and RC theologians used to deal with the ancient East Syrian Anaphora of Ss. Addai and Mari, which does not have an institution narrative. It used to be assumed, by RC theologians, that it must have had an institution narrative because, of course, that's the sine qua non of eucharistic consecration according to Latin scholastic theology. And so the RCC altered the text of the Anaphora for use by Chaldean Catholics. Later, when it was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it never, ever had an institution narrative, Rome declared it valid and restored it to its authentic form for use by Chaldean Catholics today. How is this not the same kind of issue? Once again, liturgical tinkering is very seldom a good thing. I don't care if it's Rome, the Holy Synod of Moscow, or the Antiochian Vicariate.

Anonymous said...

Very true Fr. John!

Though I have to say some aspects of the BCP are really beautiful (the Daily Office for one) even if the BCP Mass is not all it should be. Than again the "Anglican Missal" (Frank Gavin Publications) as used in the USA is quite beautiful too.

Fr. Gregory

The Religious PĂ­caro said...

Not all Anglican epiclesises (epicleses?) date from the 1970s. The American Church has had one since the 1700s, because of our ties to the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Didn't the 1549 BCP have one, too?

William said...

"Heare vs (O merciful father) we besech thee: and with thy holy spirite and worde, vouchsafe to bl+esse and sanc+tifie these thy gyftes, and creatures of bread and wyne, that they maie be vnto vs the bodye and bloude of thy moste derely beloued sonne Jesus Christe." (1549)

Dale said...

Yes, it is indeed strange that the "Western rite" Orthodox are inserting, especially in the Roman Canon, a Byzantine epiclesis. Firstly, the very idea of playing around with the canon of St Gregory seems strange at best, and perhaps heretical at worst; and secondly, one of the greatest Byzantine Greek liturgists, St. Nicholas Cabasilas, in his "Commentary on the Divine Liturgy" considered the "Supplices te rogamas" as the "consecrating moment" in the Roman Mass, and did not condemn a lack of Byzantine style epiclesis. Unfortunately, the modern Byzantines cannot seem to contemplate an "Orthodox" liturgy without this insertion.

One does tire of having to accept a position that seems to accept anything "Byzantine" as more ancient and more worthy than our own ancient western traditions. One might say the same thing regarding the manner of making the sign of the cross as well...which has also been Byzantinised in western rite Orthodox communities as well.

But all in all, I do not think that what the western rite Orthodox do or do not do is very important, they are only a stepping stone to full Byzantinisation, which is the only tradition that will ever find acceptance in the Byzantine Church.