THE CONSECRATION OF THE HOLY GIFTS — THE CHURCH’S AFFAIR (PART II OF II)
by Rev. Fr. Stylianos Muksuris
This week, we shall continue our discussion on how the entire Church is expected to participate in the consecration of the Holy Gifts. Before we address this issue though, it behooves us to turn our attention to the Barberini Codex 336 manuscript, an ancient euchologion, or prayer book, from the end of the eighth to the beginning of the ninth century, which gives a substantial indication of how Eastern Christians of that time worshipped in the Divine Liturgy. The text is the oldest extant manuscript of its kind available to us and is a very valuable resource that reflects the Eastern liturgical celebration during Byzantium’s Golden Age.
It is interesting that in both Byzantine Liturgies attributed to St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom, the words of consecration spoken by the priest are sealed with the “Amen”, but it is not exactly clear to whom this word belongs. Was it spoken by the priest himself or the deacon, or was it perhaps a remnant of the more ancient liturgical practice of having the entire congregation seal the entire Eucharistic Prayer with their response? Most modern texts of the Divine Liturgy, for the sake of consistency, attribute the “Amen” to the deacon or, in his absence, to the celebrant, and this because the rubrics call for the prayer to be recited softly, beyond the earshot of the laity. During the consecration, when the congregation kneels, the prayers and the sacrifice that should be offered by the entire Church are offered by the clergy alone, and the people’s participation at this most sacred moment is reduced to a either a wandering of the mind or the recitation of personal petitions and requests.
The consecration portion of the Divine Liturgy reads as follows:
Priest: Again we offer to You this reasonable worship without the shedding of blood and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down upon us and upon these Gifts here presented Your Holy Spirit.
Priest: And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ.
Priest: And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ.
Priest: Changing them by Your Holy Spirit.
Deacon/People: Amen. Amen. Amen.
It is true that in later Byzantine times, when the Eucharistic Prayer was recited silently by the clergy and could not be heard by the people, the deacon assumed the laic role in sealing the prayer with the “Amen.” In truth, however, the sacrifice is offered by the whole community of faith with the priest, who as spiritual leader serves as the community’s mouthpiece before the Lord God. The shared priesthood in Christ by both ordained and ‘unordained’ clergy (i.e. the laity) is very much rooted in the Apostolic word, uttered first by St. Peter in his First Universal Letter: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2.9). And since the entire Divine Liturgy is one continuous offering of material (bread and wine) and spiritual gifts (praise and thanksgiving), the ones privileged to make this offering at every gathering in Christ’s Name are those who have entered the light of knowledge through holy baptism; that is, every one of us!
The Church invites each lay worshipper to seal the consecration prayer with their own response of “Amen”, complementing the priest’s verbalization of the prayer that is not his own, but the Church’s. For this reason, if the celebrant recites this portion of the Eucharistic Prayer out loud and the choir delays its rendition of “We bless You,” then the people should pray together with the priest and seal the consecration with their consent. In this manner will the Eucharistic Prayer truly be an affair not solely of the clergy, but of the whole Church.