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 Church.
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 Heaven;
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 one.
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 race.
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 our redemption.
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 from evil.
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 are contrite.
“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 brings forgiveness.
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 unity.”
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 mortals.
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 Liturgy.
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 into Heaven.
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 world.”
The Liturgy – Part One • The Anaphora – Part Two