The Eucharistic Prayer
The Liturgy is not only a memorial of the Last Supper, but of the whole of our redemption, and so, after we have recalled our Lord’s command to ‘Take eat’ and to ‘Drink from this’, and his solemn declaration that this bread and wine are his Body and Blood, the Prayer continues by recalling the other events which accomplish our salvation. It is important to grasp the structure of this part of the Prayer. In order to bring this out, here is a slightly paraphrased translation,
And so, as we remember this command of our Saviour and everything that has been done for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, the second and glorious Coming again; and as we offer you what is yours from what is already yours, in all things and for all things we praise you, we bless you, we give thanks to you, O Lord. And we pray to you our God’.
The Second and Glorious Coming Again
Grammatically this is all one sentence, but in the Liturgy the priest only says the words as far as ‘in all things and for all things’. It is the people who sing, ‘We praise you, we bless you’. The main verb of the sentence, as Professor Trembelas pointed out many years ago, is given to the people, just as earlier the priest introduces the people’s hymn, ‘Holy, holy, holy’ with the words ‘singing, crying, shouting the triumphal hymn and saying’. The people’s words ‘We praise you, we bless you…’ are not meant to be a pious meditation, sung to a long, drawn out melody to ‘cover’ the solemn invocation of the Holy Spirit, but rather they are a joyful affirmation of praise and thanksgiving to God for ‘all that has been done for us’
‘Offering you your own from your own’
For various reasons the structure of this part of the Liturgy has been misunderstood in many places, so much so that in some churches in the United States the people’s hymn is now sung after the Invocation (Epiclesis) of the Holy Spirit! One reason the true structure has been misunderstood is that most modern Greek texts of the Liturgy do not say ‘Offering you’, but ‘We offer you your own from your own in all things and for all things’ full stop. In this way the people’s response becomes a ‘stand alone’ hymn, and no longer part of a dialogue with the celebrant. Another reason is that some translators and commentators understand the Greek panta as masculine and give the meaning as ‘on behalf of all’ or ‘for all’. In fact the Greek is neuter plural and so, in English, the word ‘things’ must be added to make the meaning clear.
Offering you your own from your own’
All this may seem very fussy and complicated, but in fact it has practical implications for the actual celebration of the Liturgy. The priest when he sings the words ‘in all things and for all things’ must do so in such a way that the people can at once give their response. He must not chant them so that his words form a self-contained whole. Musical settings for the people’s response should be simple, not elaborate and drawn out. As Professor Trembelas the next words of the priest, which introduce the Invocation of the Spirit, follow on naturally from the people’s response.
People: We praise you, we bless you, we give thanks to you, O Lord, and we pray to you, our God.
Priest: Also we offer you this spiritual worship, without shedding of blood, and we ask, pray and implore you: send down your Holy Spirit upon us, and upon these gifts here set forth.
Once again it is most important to stress that the Liturgy is an action by both priest and people; it is not a spectator sport, with the clergy and servers as the players and the congregation as the supporters in the stands. The words which introduce the Invocation make this point. They do not ask God to send the Holy Spirit only upon the gifts, but, and it comes first, ‘upon us’, that is the priest and people.
Here again it is important to understand the structure of the prayer, and so we give a translation following the grammar of the Greek, without all the later interventions of the deacon.
Priest: send down your Holy Spirit upon us, and upon these gifts here set forth, and make this bread the precious Body of your Christ, and what is in this Cup the precious Blood of your Christ, changing them by your Holy Spirit, so that those who partake of them may obtain vigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, communion of your Holy Spirit, fulness of the Kingdom of heaven, freedom to speak in your presence, not judgement or condemnation.
‘Changing them by your Holy Spirit’
The Liturgy is the Mystical Supper of the Lord and the reason for the consecration is ‘so that’ we may take part in that Supper by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, not simply to have Christ present among us in the consecrated bread and wine. Communion is an integral part of the divine Liturgy, not simply an optional extra for the especially devout.