One of the puzzles about the Mass or Eucharistic liturgy is when the confection actually occurs; that is to say, when precisely does the bread and wine cease to be bread or wine and become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ? This question seems abstruse, but it has significant theological and ecumenical consequences. Obviously it has practical consequences: supposing that the mass was half-way underway, and was interrupted – one might legitimately ask if the species are the holy body and blood of Christ, or else if they remain bread and wine respectively. That kind of question can only be answered if one knows ‘when’ the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. However, though this problem has been and may still be a serious problem for Catholics in areas where the celebration of the Catholic faith is illegal and persecuted, the practical dimension is not the primary concern of theologians who ask this question. Rather, it has to do with ecumenism.
In the West, it is typically argued and believed that the Eucharist is confected at the moment the priest recites the words of institution which Christ gave us at the last supper, called the Anamnesis (remembrance):
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
However, in the East this view is not so popular, and instead the East maintains more-or-less unanimously that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ at the Epiclesis. The Epiclesis is the moment at which the Priest invokes the Holy Spirit and prays God to come down onto the gifts of bread and wine and transform them into the body and blood of Christ.
This has been an unfortunate sticking point between Catholics and Orthodox. The Catholic Encyclopedia (otherwise a usually a reliable source) says the following:
“The Catholic Church has decided the question by making us kneel and adore the Holy Eucharist immediately after the words of Institution, and by letting her old Invocation practically disappear.”
~ Catholic Encyclopedia, Epiklesis
Thus, not only do Latin rite Catholics bow before the Eucharist after the words of institution, but the traditional and more elaborate Epiclesis (the ‘old invocation’) has all but disappeared from the Latin-Rite Mass. Thus it would seem as though the Catholic position is that it is the words of institution which are sacramentally efficacious. Even the Catechism seems to carry this same presumption:
In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.
~Catechism of the Catholic Church 1353
Advocates of this position often point to Trent for support. It is worth noting that I have not yet found any section of Trent actually quoted on this point, but it seems to be widely accepted that Trent identified the words of institution as the special point when the confection occurs.
Despite the core of the Eucharistic Prayer, i.e. the point when the Transubstantiation is meant to occur according to the Council of Trent, coincides with the Words of Institution
On the other hand, the Eastern position seems equally prejudiced in the opposite direction:
The official Euchologion of the Orthodox Church has a note after the words of Institution to explain that: “Since the demonstrative pronouns: This is my body, and again: This is my blood, do not refer to the Offerings that are present, but to those which Jesus, taking in His hands and blessing, gave to His Disciples; therefore those words of the Lord are repeated as a narrative [diegematikos], and consequently it is superfluous to show the Offerings (by an elevation) and indeed contrary to the right mind of the Eastern Church of Christ” (ed. Venice, 1898, p. 63).
~Catholic Encyclopedia, Epiklesis
In the West it is standard for the Priest to elevate the host as part of the prayer involving the words of institution, and this is what is being challenged by many Eastern Christians.
This puzzle had given ecumenists a difficult time on either side, but does in fact admit of a solution. It has sometimes been proposed (and is still sometimes proposed today) that the necessary ‘Form’ of the Eucharist requires both the Epiclesis and the Anamnesis together. It is worth noting that the difference between Eastern Rites and the Latin Rite which may account for this stands out like a sore thumb once one considers this solution: in the Eastern Rites, the Anamnesis comes BEFORE the Epiclesis, whereas in the Latin Mass the Epiclesis comes before the Anamnesis. Thus, each tradition would maintain that it was at the conclusion of both that the sacrament was effected. This position would require a softening of one typical Catholic point against the Epiclesis: namely that the Epiclesis has been dropped from the Mass in the West (of course, it hasn’t really). In fact, every single sacrament involves the Epiclesis! Moreover, the Catechism does seem to recognize a necessary balance:
Together with the anamnesis, the epiclesis is at the heart of each sacramental celebration, most especially of the Eucharist:
You ask how the bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the wine . . . the Blood of Christ I shall tell you: the Holy Spirit comes upon them and accomplishes what surpasses every word and thought. . . . Let it be enough for you to understand that it is by the Holy Spirit, just as it was of the Holy Virgin and by the Holy Spirit that the Lord, through and in himself, took flesh.
One might, then, be tempted to think that this proposed solution is appealing. Only both together sufficiently satisfy the Form of the Sacrament. This has become a much more popular ecumenical approach to this discussion in recent times. This solution, however, isn’t as tidy as it at first seems.
There is an additional problem which is often ignored, and which, it seems, weighs in favour of a more Eastern position. Mike Aquilina points the following out in his book “The Mass of the Early Christians” about an ancient Liturgy (the Liturgy of Addai and Mari) which had been thought to be a Nestorian Liturgy by critics, but, it is often agreed today, is actually an extremely primitive/ancient liturgy:
“The Liturgy’s eucharistic prayer (or anaphora) has posed a problem for liturgists and ecumenists in recent years, because its earliest manuscripts contain no account of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Many western theologians have argued that the institution narrative, with its words of consecration, are necessary for a valid Eucharist. In 2001, however, Pope John Paul II approved the rites of Addai and Mari – without the institution narrative – for use in Catholic churches in the east, and for common worship between Assyrian Christians and Chaldean Catholics.”
~ Mike Aquilina, The Mass of the Early Christians, p.188-189
Thus, it would seem as though the problem is more complex than it was realized.
Perhaps another solution would be that it is only at the conclusion of the entire Anaphora (the prayer for the Eucharist) that the Eucharist is confected, and that the Anaphora is satisfied by having certain elements (such as the Epiclesis). However, what of the words of institution? Although it is true to say that there is no clear recitation of the words of institution, still the Anaphora is peppered with the confession of the words of institution.
“The theological opinion about the necessity and sufficiency of pronouncing certain parts of the Words of Institution (the eight words bolded in the English translation given above) is not included in, for instance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in definitive form in 1997. On 17 January 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari, a probably second-century anaphora in which the Words of Institution are not spoken, “can be considered valid.” The Guidelines for Admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches on 20 July 2001 say that “the words of the institution of the Eucharist are in fact present in the anaphora of Addai and Mari, not in the form of a coherent narration and in a literal way but in a euchological and disseminated manner, that is to say they are integrated in the prayers of thanksgiving, praise and intercession which follow.” These prayers in fact speaks of “the commemoration of the Body and Blood of your Christ, which we offer to you on the pure and holy altar, as you have taught us in his life-giving Gospel.”
It has therefore been argued that it is the prayer as a whole, not some isolated words within it, that is efficacious in the sacrament, and that the Words of Institution that Jesus himself spoke at his Last Supper are consecratory at every Eucharist, whether they are repeated or only implied…”
~Wikipedia, words of institution
This view accords well with all the facts, and seems the most ecumenically promising. Thus, the stipulation that the Eucharist requires both the Epiclesis and the Anamnesis was basically correct, except that the Mass does not require a particular form for either of them, but rather requires that the essence of both belong to the whole Anaphora. Thus, we might say that it is the Anaphora itself which is the necessary ‘form’ of the Sacrament.