The Liturgy – Part One • The Anaphora – Part Two
A Commentary on the Holy Mysteries (continued)
By Chorbishop Seely Beggiani
The Eastern Churches give the name Anaphora to the Eucharistic prayer. The term comes
from the Greek and means to lift on high or to elevate. Therefore, it has the meaning of
offering, which is the principal action that is taking place. As already noted, during the
Eucharistic service we seek to unite ourselves with the sacrificial offering of the Body
and Blood of Christ, so as to achieve union with God.In the introductory dialogue to the
Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving", the faithful pray: "Let us lift up our
thoughts, our minds and our hearts." Thus the spirit of Anaphora should imbue our
interior attitudes and dispositions.
The Maronite Church is heir to a large selection of anaphoras. These represent ancient
Eucharistic prayers originating from various parts of the Syriac world. Each anaphora
provides us with rich spiritual insights into the meaning of the Eucharistic Celebration
and the work of salvation. We have already spoken of the Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles
which is the most ancient anaphora of the Antiochene tradition and is perpetuated by the
Maronite Church. Our present missal features six anaphoras and it is hoped that more will
be available in the future.
Noteworthy among our present anaphoras is the majestic Anaphora of Saint James, which the
Maronites share with other churches of the Antiochene tradition and with the Byzantine
The Pauline Blessing
The Anaphora proper begins with a blessing by the celebrant taken from Saint Paul's
second epistle to the Corinthians. He invokes the love and grace of the Persons of the
Most Holy Trinity and prays that they dwell in the faithful.
The Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving
We believe that God created the universe out of love, and that the whole
creation responds to God in praise. This hymn of praise is a constant one and extends from
the angels and saints in heaven all the way to inanimate creatures. Creatures below the
human level offer praise by fulfilling the nature God gave them. Angels and saints are in
eternal contemplative union with God. Humans aspire to transform their ordinary lives into
a constant awareness of the presence of God. It is the goal of the Divine Liturgy to
symbolize this eternal and cosmic worship of the Creator.
As we have already noted, we imagine that our earthly Liturgy mirrors the Divine Liturgy
perpetually going on in heaven as described, for example, in the Book of Revelation. At
this point in our liturgical celebration, the barriers between earth and heaven are
removed and the Liturgy on earth becomes one with the Liturgy in heaven.
The Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving in the various anaphoras usually addresses God the
Father as Creator and His work of creation. It goes on to describe how creation is
responding in praise. Perhaps the most beautiful description of this symphony of cosmic
worship is found in the Anaphora of Saint James which declares:
. . . The heights of Heaven and all its powers exalt You:
the sun, the moon and the whole choir of stars;
the earth, the seas and all that is in them;
the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Church of the firstborn, those whose names are written in
the angels, archangels, dominions and thrones. . . .
"Holy, Holy, Holy"
It is fitting that the response to the Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving" is the
Chant of Angels recorded in the Scriptures. The Liturgy portrays the faithful as singing
in unison with the angels in heaven. At this point, the heavenly and earthly choirs are
Prayer after the Holy
It is our belief that God is deeply concerned and involved with human
affairs. To put it better, human history is the working out of God's plan of salvation.
One writer has observed that history began with the first sin, and will end when the work
of salvation is completed. The Scriptures narrate for us the tragedy of human sinfulness,
God's desire to save us out of compassion, and the various stages of our salvation. In the
Anaphora, the prayer after the "Holy" serves both a worshipful and catechetical
function by recalling for us God's plan of salvation.
The Anaphora of Saint James provides a moving narrative of salvation history:
. . . You are our God and Father,
. . . Compassionate to the suffering of Your creation.
You formed us from the earth and conferred on us the joy of Paradise.
When we transgressed Your command and sinned You neither neglected nor rejected us,
but rather, like a merciful Father, You sought us .
By the Law You called us back;
by the prophets You guided us;
and, at last, You sent Your only Son, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, into the world
that He might renew Your image in us.
He came down from Heaven, and, taking flesh from the Holy Spirit and the Ever-Virgin Mary,
Mother of God, He dwelt among us and accomplished everything for the salvation of our
You will note that this prayer refers to "the Law" and the "Prophets"
which connote the whole of the Old Testament. Reflecting our tradition, the prayer
describes the work of salvation as the renewal of God's image in us. In other words, we
were created in the image of God. Sin did not bring about a loss of that image, but rather
its being tainted and distorted. God, therefore, would not abandon His image, but rather
comes to restore it to its original beauty.
The service of the Eucharist is a re-enactment of the Last Supper. It was Christ
himself who called upon His disciples to "Do this in My memory until I return".
At the Last Supper Christ had shown His total self-giving to the will of the Father by
declaring that the bread and wine were indeed His Body being broken and His Blood shed for
Fulfilling the divine mandate to remember and to witness, we gather about the altar as the
celebrant repeats the Last Supper narrative. Just as Christ was willing to lay down His
life for others, we are called to dedicate ourselves to that same ideal. In imitation of
the Sacrifice of Christ, we commit ourselves to unconditional discipleship, and the
willingness to pay its price, even to the point of suffering and death.
Memorial of the Plan of the Son (Anamnesis)
As disciples of Christ, we not only witness to the events of the Last Supper, but also
to the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ's offering of Himself in the bread and
wine was confirmed in His death on the Cross. His sacrificial death brought about
Resurrection and Life. We are called to witness to the mighty deeds achieved by God in the
death and resurrection of Christ.
However, Christ also promised that He would come again. Therefore, we, the Church on
earth, await Him in hopeful expectation. We realize that our lives and deeds will face a
future reckoning. Thus the second prayer in this series describes the final judgment
before the tribunal of Christ, and petitions that He be merciful.
Invocation of the Spirit (Epiclesis)
The Holy Scriptures and our own tradition ascribe works of power and creativity to the
Holy Spirit. The Book of Genesis describes the Spirit of God on the primordial waters
bringing about creation. The Spirit of God descended on the prophets and revealed the Word
of God. The Spirit of God overshadowed Mary and she conceived Our Lord. The Spirit of God
descended upon Christ in the Jordan River and sanctified the waters of creation. The
Spirit of God was breathed by Christ on the disciples, empowering them to forgive sins.
The Spirit of God descended upon the disciples at Pentecost and formed the Church. Here in
the Liturgy, the celebrant calls on the Spirit to make the gifts the life-giving Body and
Blood of Christ. As the separated bread and wine at the Institution Narrative represented
the death of Christ, so the power of the Spirit at the Invocation represents the Rising of
Christ from the dead in the newness of life.
Invocation on the People
Having called the Spirit on the gifts, the celebrant prays that the Spirit of God and
its forgiving power dwell in those assembled. He prays that the Spirit pardon their faults
and cure their bodies and souls, so that they may live by the Spirit.
We might conclude this section of the Anaphora by noting the Trinitarian nature of the
Eucharistic prayer. In the Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving we address God the Father; in
the Institution Narrative we commemorate the work of God the Son; and at the Invocation we
call upon the power of God the Holy.
In the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit, brought about through the actions of the
Anaphora, the worshiping community presents its petitions offered through the celebrant
and the deacon. This part of the Divine Service is especially meaningful, since one of the
main purposes of Liturgy is for the community to express its total reliance on God for all
of its needs and its desire to sanctify all aspects of its daily life. We also have here
an example of the "communion of saints" in action.
In former times, there were two sets of petitions. The intercessions for the needs of the
whole Church were recited by the celebrant, while prayers for the specific needs of the
local faithful, known as the dyptichs, were chanted by the deacon. In our present missal
the petitions have been combined. Traditionally, the various anaphoras followed a set
order of petition. First, prayers were offered for the living. This also included prayers
for the Universal Church, the local community, for blessing on the year and the fruits of
the earth. Among living persons, prayers were offered in hierarchical order for the Pope
of Rome, for the Patriarch and for the Bishops, the clergy, monks and religious, civil
leaders and the laity. There followed prayers for the deceased, where the Blessed Mother
is mentioned first, followed by the Apostles and other figures in salvation history, the
saints, deceased hierarchy, clergy and laity.
The Service of Communion
The Breaking of the Bread and the Signing
The gesture of breaking the bread is reminiscent of the time when the bread used in the
liturgy consisted of one large, leavened loaf that was consecrated and then divided for
distribution to the celebrant and all the other participants. However, the breaking of the
bread also leads to a very ancient practice of signing the chalice with the consecrated
bread and signing the bread with the consecrated wine.
Some believe that there are two themes being represented in the Anaphora. In the first
phase, we celebrate the sacrificial and salvific work of Christ which is signified by the
ritual separation of the Eucharistic Bread and Wine at the "Words of
Institution". The second phase begins with the invocation of the Holy Spirit
(epiclesis), where the oblation is filled with the Holy Spirit, symbolizing both the
revivifying resurrection of Christ and the transfiguration of the oblation into divine
nourishment. The revivifying action announced at the invocation of the Holy Spirit now
finds visible expression in the reunion of the bread and wine by the signing. The physical
joining of the bread and wine signifies the resurrected or vivified Christ. The host
marked by the blood becomes the figure of the vivified body, and the wine marked and mixed
with vivifying bread becomes the figure of the glorious blood.
In being so marked, the bread and wine now symbolize nourishment of immortality. The
oblations become divine gifts which are given to us in communion.
The particles of bread were traditionally referred to as "pearls" or
"embers". In the Syriac tradition the pearl often symbolized Christ. Legend had
it that pearls were conceived virginally in the sea by bolts of lightning. Therefore, the
pearl symbolizes both the origin of Christ and Christ as light to the world.
Our missal reads: "We sign this cup of salvation . . . with the purifying ember which
glows with heavenly mysteries". The term "ember" recalls the Biblical
reference to the lips of Isaiah being purified by a burning coal. Also, the bread now
being consecrated by the fiery Spirit of God is seen as symbolically ablaze. The
Thanksgiving prayer of the Anaphora of Third Peter says of the Eucharist: "O
devouring fire that our fingers have held, and living ember that our lips have
kissed". This symbol reinforces the idea that the Eucharist purifies us and is for
the forgiveness of sins.
After breaking the bread, the celebrant places a particle in the chalice and recites the
following prayer: "You have united, O Lord, Your divinity with our humanity and our
humanity with Your divinity; Your (immortal) life with our mortality and our mortality
with Your life. You have assumed what is ours and You have given us what is Yours, for the
life and salvation of our souls . . . " This prayer offers a concise statement of the
Syriac teaching on the Incarnation. God in His generosity and compassion desires that His
creation achieve divinization. This divine plan is realized in the Word of God joining
with our human nature. In so doing our nature now has the possibility of going beyond
itself. However, through sin, death, both physical and spiritual, has entered into our
existence. Therefore, God's immortality replaces our mortal destiny. In the Word of God
humbling Himself, our humility has been raised to its Creator.
The Lord's Prayer
Having mystically recalled the death and resurrection of Christ, we now seek to be
nourished by the "tree of Life". To partake of this awesome gift, we must
prepare ourselves. We begin with the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Befitting its
importance, the Lord's Prayer is introduced by a short prayer and is concluded with
another. The introductory prayer petitions God to purify our hearts and consciences so
that we can pray with confidence that prayer taught us by Christ Himself.
The Lord's Prayer itself declares that God is indeed the Father of each of us. Not only is
God's name holy, but all creation is holy because it is made in His image and likeness.
Therefore, nature and especially human beings should never be violated. We pray that God's
plan of salvation be fulfilled through His kingdom's being established on earth. God's
kingdom itself is summarized in God's will being done on earth by all His creatures and,
especially by uniting our wills with God's will, just as the heavens do the will of God.
We invoke God's unfailing providence in providing for our daily needs. We commit ourselves
to forgive others, as God has forgiven us. And we beg that God protect us from all the
threats of evil. We conclude the Lord's Prayer with the Biblical affirmation that all
kingdom, power, and glory being to God.
Following the Lord's Prayer is a concluding prayer, called an embolism, because it
develops the theme of the last petition of the Lord's Prayer, namely, that God deliver us
The Penitential Rite
To render the congregation worthy to receive the Eucharist, the celebrant imposes hands
on the people and offers a prayer of absolution. We are reminded that Christ offered the
sacrifice of the Eucharist for the forgiveness of sins. The celebrant calls upon the Holy
Spirit to make the partakers worthy of communion.
"Holy Things for the Holy"
Having prayed over the faithful, the celebrant raises the oblations and declares:
"Holy Things for the Holy". This declaration can be understood in two ways.
First, the celebrant is declaring that the participants have been and will be sanctified
by the holy elements of the Eucharist. A second interpretation is that the celebrant is
cautioning that the Eucharist should be received only by those who are worthy.
The proclamation by the celebrant of "Holy Things for the Holy" can be seen as
the completion of an extended rite of penance taking place within the Eucharistic
celebration. As already noted, this rite is based on the affirmation that the Eucharist is
a sacrificial act for forgiveness. We recall that the one sacrifice of Christ merits
forgiveness for all people for all time. Each individual celebration of the Eucharist is a
participation of that one historical sacrifice. The Divine Liturgy reminds us of this
reality continuously in many of its prayers, whether during the Anaphora or in the prayers
after communion. As we also have noted, the invocation of the Holy Spirit on the oblations
signifies the presence of the healing and sanctifying Spirit of God. In the Lord's Prayer,
the faithful ask for divine forgiveness, as they forgive those who have sinned against
them. The Imposition of hands makes explicit the offer of forgiveness, and finally the
proclamation of "Holy Things for the Holy" announces its reality to those who
"Make Us Worthy, O Lord... "
The celebrant and the congregation make their immediate preparation for communion by
reciting the prayer "Make us worthy, O Lord..." The prayer begins by implying
that we, humans, are unworthy of such an awesome gift and that it is the Lord Himself who
renders us worthy. It then, affirms that our sanctification is achieved through our life
"in Christ". Christ's human nature became the vehicle of holiness for human
beings by force of the Incarnation. Now, we are called to be one body with Christ, and the
Eucharist is the eminent means of our union with Christ.
In the Old Testament, the blood shed in sacrifices offered to God was believed to have a
purifying power and conveyed divine forgiveness. Receiving the Blood of Christ, who is the
"Lamb of God who sacrificed Himself for us," brings about our forgiveness.
The Syriac Fathers develop the theme that the Eucharist is also a pledge or a guarantee of
eternal life. The Eucharist being the presence of divinity protects us on the road from
death to paradise. By receiving the Eucharist throughout our life, our mortality begins to
take on immortality, and this new "mode of existence" survives our death.
Finally, our goal in eternity is intimacy with God, which is the fulfillment of what we
experience in the Eucharist in preliminary fashion here on earth.
The celebrant presents the gifts to the faithful. In raising the paten, the celebrant and
the congregation recall the teaching of Christ in John's Gospel that those who partake of
him in faith inherit life. The celebrant raising the chalice reaffirms that Christ's Blood
The traditional verses chanted at communion represent the Church's affirmation that she
was constituted through the Body and Blood of Christ. The English term
"communion", as used by Christians, conveys this extended meaning. On the one
hand, we speak of receiving communion to signify our individual partaking of the
Eucharist. However, on the other hand, all Christians, as members of Christ, are also
called to form a communion. And, it is the Eucharist that brings about this unity. The
Second Vatican Council teaches us that the Eucharist is the "sign and cause of
The Communion verses then look to the end of history when the members of the Church face
judgement. However, just as the sacrifices of old were used to petition God's mercy, so
the Church sees the Eucharist as our intercessor before "God's awesome throne."
The Distribution of Communion
In distributing the Eucharist to the congregation, the priests and deacons pray for two
effects, namely, that the Eucharist brings the "forgiveness of sins", and be a
vehicle for "eternal life".
The present practice of the Maronite Church is to distribute the Eucharist by intinction.
In ancient times, communion consisted usually of leavened bread and both the bread and
wine were received by the faithful. The practice of giving communion to infants existed in
the Maronite Church until the sixteenth or seventeenth century.
Another ancient practice was the custom of receiving the consecrated bread in the hands
and touching it to the eyes, and also touching the fingers to one's lips still moist from
the consecrated wine and touching the eyes, brows and sense organs. These gestures done
with great piety were intended to symbolize the Eucharist purifying the senses. This
practice has long since been abandoned, but is sometimes implied in some of the communion
prayers in the Liturgy.
Recalling the "communion of Saints" and also the power of the Eucharist after
death, a traditional Maronite communion hymn presents the Church praying for the faithful
departed. It also, affirms the efficacy of offering sacrifice for the dead. It speaks of
the Eucharist obtaining pardon for the deceased.
The hymn declares that the Christ who had the power and compassion to bring Lazarus and
the widow's son back to life, can do the same for the faithful departed. It also recalls
that as Christ taught that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob live on in God, so also will those
deceased who are now being remembered.
The hymn prays that the remembrance made by the earthly church be reflected at the altar
of the Heavenly Jerusalem.
The Eucharist is described as a bridge and safe passage through the terrors of death,
bringing the deceased through the darkness into light. The hymn concludes that the action
of the living offering sacrifice for the dead brings joy to the angels and hope to
Blessing with the Gifts
In a natural gesture of benediction, and as a fitting conclusion to the Eucharistic
mystery, the celebrant blesses the faithful with the consecrated gifts.
Prayers after Communion
The first prayer is normally addressed to God the Father and is a prayer of
thanksgiving. The prayer usually develops the theme of our thanking God for making us
worthy to partake of the Holy Mysteries, which enable us to persevere in piety, grant
forgiveness of sin and life in the world to come. The second prayer is usually addressed
to the Son and is known as a prayer of imposition of hands, which is a traditional gesture
prior to dismissal. Formerly, it was preceded by the diaconal admonition to the faithful
to bow their heads. This prayer often echoes earlier intercessions and exhortations in the
The last blessing and dismissal stresses the theme of peace, the Eucharist is spiritual
nourishment, and that the altar of Christ is a "Purifying Altar." The invocation
of the Trinity is reminiscent of Christ's final words to the disciples before He ascended
The Farewell to the Altar
The Divine Liturgy of the Syriac Churches includes a final prayer where the celebrant
privately addresses the altar. This prayer symbolizes in striking manner the intimate bond
between the priest and the altar. It implies that the essence of priesthood revolves
around the eternal sacrifice of Christ and its inexhaustible graces. The human priest is
called to be the steward of these awesome mysteries.
In this prayer the altar is personified and the priest offers a gesture of peace. He
expresses the desire to return in peace, which is the hope of all of humanity as it
struggles in this unstable world. Realizing his sinfulness, the priest hopes that the
Divine Gift that he has offered would obtain his own forgiveness and prepare him for the
judgement that all humans must undergo. Again, the priest expresses his anxiety about the
uncertainty of the present age and asks Christ, whom the altar symbolizes, to guard him.
Since the Church herself is sailing on stormy seas, he asks Christ to protect her as she
fulfills her mission to be the "way of salvation" and the "light of the
The Liturgy – Part One • The Anaphora – Part Two