QUAERITUR: Epiclesis in the Roman Canon

From a priest reader:

In my Wilfrid Diamond dictionary of liturgical latin, the entry for “epiclesis”, is f., says, “an invocation. The “Supra quae” in the Mass. In the Greek Church a calling down of the Holy Spirit.”

Is the Supra quae an epiclesis (Upon which…)?; it seems to be addressed to the Godhead and not the Holy Spirit, per se.

However, I noticed right away that the “Veni, Sanctificator” just before the Washing of the Hands clearly addresses the Holy Spirit–could this be the epiclesis in the Low Mass. I understand this may be a common question, so forgive me.

My understanding is that, while there is no explicit epiclesis before the consecration, the Roman Canon has texts which are understood as such.

In the Extraordinary Form there was the Veni sanctificator prayer, of course.  This together with the Quam oblationem sufficiently express the intention.  After the consecration there is the Supplices te rogamus.  So, before the Canon begins and at the Canon’s end there are explicit invocations of the Holy Spirit.

So, the Quam oblationem is the main focus in your question.  The new translation renders it this way:

Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect;make it spiritual and acceptable,so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

You can understand the thought behind moving the priest’s palms-down gesture over the bread and wine, from the Hanc igitur to the Quam oblationem in the Novus Ordo.  In the Extraordinary Form, that gesture (during the Hanc igitur) seems to be more a gesture denoting a transference.  It seems to be closer to the gesture of the ancient Jewish priests over the scapegoat, as described in Leviticus 16.  Moving it to the Quam oblationem makes it seem to be more of a calling-down gesture.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Gregory DiPippo says:

    The late Fr. Franck Quoëx, whose knowledge of the liturgy was truly extraordinary, thought there was much to be said for the theory of the “diffused presence” of the Epiclesis. The Roman Canon contains no formal epiclesis, but does contain the elements of an Epiclesis in various places: the prayer “Veni sanctificator” in the Offertory, (accompanied by the same lifting up of hands that begins the Gloria, the Creed and the Canon), the stretching out of the hands over the bread and wine at the “Hanc igitur”, and the three crosses at “benedictam, adscriptam, ratam”.

  2. Matariel says:

    This is not directly related, but deals with the Epiclesis. Someone told me that transubstantiation takes place during the Words of Consecration, which makes sense to me. But someone else said the Epiclesis is when the elements are transubstantiated. But the Latin-Rite Masses don’t have an Epiclesis, but only hints and implications of it. So when does the consecration really take place?

  3. Supertradmum says:

    Bad semininary training, as most liturgy classes do not deal with the Latin or the real meaning of words has created this dismal article. Theology and philosophy are about meaning, definitions, words, conjugations, etc. Grammar is integral to understanding Truth, as a history of councils and heresies has shown us. Wow, what ignorance. I hope more of this type of a sad lack of study is not in the press. Come forward, scholars and saints and defend the Latin….

  4. Joshua08 says:

    I am of the firm belief that what is plain is plain. There is no epiclesis in the Roman Canon. There have been some who had argued for the Quam oblationem (some Dominicans…interesting the Dominican rite rings the bell there, not the hanc igitur, by custom). There have been some who have argued for the Supplices te rogamus.

    What seems very clear is that any epiclesis that might have been there, is present only as a remnant of an actual invocation. The quam oblationem seems unlikely as a relic, unless it used to come after the words of Institution, as the epiclesis generally follows the words of the institution.

  5. Michael_Thoma says:

    This is similar to the decision to accept the Anaphora of Sts. Addai and Mari used by the Chaldeans, Syro-Malabars, and Churches of the East. The words do not have to be literally present as the intention and events are re-presented throughout the entire Liturgy.

    As to motioning for the sign of the Holy Spirit – in my experience no Liturgy is more explicit than the Malankara Syriac Catholic (same as the Syriac Orthodox and Malankara Orthodox, and in theory should be the same as the Syriac Catholics if they were stripped of latinizatons).

  6. PJ says:

    I think we Latins need to be careful about the “Epiclesis” question – we do not quite share the take which some of our Orthodox brethren have on this.

    As I understand it, contrary to the thinking of some Orthodox, we do not think that it is essential for there to be a completely explicit calling down of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic Prayer (which seems to me to be the meaning of the term “Epiclesis” as it is commonly used *).

    Throughout her liturgy, and in her teaching, the Roman church very clearly expresses her faith in the Holy Trinity and the action of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when she asks almighty God to bless her offering – and she of course does this repeatedly during the Roman Canon, emphasised with a sign of the cross (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), or even multiple signs of the cross (in the EF) – it is perfectly clear that her intention is that the Holy Spirit should come upon her gifts, whether the Holy Spirit is mentioned by name at that precise point in time or not (although he is of course mentioned by name in the Doxology).

    The Veni sanctificator (in the EF Offertory) shows this intention particularly clearly (remembering, of course, that the Offertory in both East and West displays displacement; the Church clearly has the sacrificial offering of Christ in mind when she calls for the Holy Spirit in the Veni sanctificator).

    However, there is no true (explicit) Epiclesis in the Roman Canon, and nor do we think that there needs to be (at least not in the sense that the Orthodox tend to mean when they use this term).

    Indeed, as the great Fr Hunwicke (how I miss his blog) used to often point out, the lack of a true Epiclesis in the Roman Canon may in fact be a sign of its great antiquity – an Epiclesis in the Eastern sense may in fact have been a later addition in response to heresies concerning the Holy Spirit (see for example his posts here http://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.com/2010/09/epiclesis-of-roman-rite.html and here http://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.com/2009/06/supplices-te-rogamus.html).

    * People sometimes use the term “implicit Epiclesis” (especially with reference to the Quam oblationem tu) but I think it is unhelpful to be drawn into using this term – it’s a bit of an oxymoron if you regard a true Epiclesis as necessarily explicit.

  7. The Liturgy of Saint Tikhon, developed in the late 19th century for Orthodox Christians attached to the Western rite, contains an anaphora based on the Roman Canon, but with a “strengthened” epiclesis which follows the Consecration.

    “And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to send down thy holy Spirit upon these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine, that they may be changed into the Body and Blood of thy most dearly beloved Son …”

    The entire English text (as it also is published in Latin, but I cannot locate it) can be found here: http://occidental.tripod.com/content/tikhon.txt

Comments are closed.