Scottish Episcopalians are generally pretty chuffed to have a proper epiclesis in the Eucharistic anaphora. By ‘proper’, of course, we mean that it makes it clear that the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is the work of the Spirit, that the Spirit is also invoked upon the people and that the prayer of invocation is placed after the anamnesis and oblation rather than before the words of institution as in most Western rites. This means that the implied theology of our Eucharistic rites is closer to Orthodox than Western Catholic emphases, though I don’t think the gulf is as wide as we might imagine post-liturgical movement.
What is distinctive, though, is that our more recent Liturgy (1982) does not necessarily see the work of the Spirit upon those for whom he is invoked as being dependent on the reception of the consecrated elements in the way that our earlier liturgies may have implied. At the very least, these earlier forms focussed on the effects of God’s Spirit on those who receive. In the ’82 rite, the Spirit ‘kindles us’ with the fire of God’s love and ‘renews us’ for the service of God’s Kingdom because we have prayed for that Spirit to descend upon us and because God is faithful in granting such a prayer. However, this insight is not new and I’m grateful for the insights of Lev Gillet in respect of the Orthodox liturgy, where he insists that God can give spiritual gifts to those who never receive the sacramental signs (Orthodox Spirituality, London 1945). The Eucharist is not magic, conjouring up the presence of Christ through a set incantation, but an expression in time and in a particular place of what cannot be contained by time or space. The Eucharist is a door through which we pass into the cosmic work of renewal that is the outpouring of the Father’s love through the working of the Spirit, who makes Christ present to us.
To have the invocation of the Spirit at the heart of our paradigmatic Christian prayer is to recognise the universal nature of what we see in the death and resurrection of Christ. The whole world is reconciled to God in the paschal mystery, not just the lives of believers. Nonetheless, this work of renewal does concern us in our own particularity – it’s not just ‘out there’. Indeed, our point of contact with this universal mystery is the renewal of our own lives through the working of that same Spirit. I suspect there are many ways in which the particular and the universal connect. Among them, surely, is the necessity for inner transformation before any true and lasting change can happen at a communal level. But the activity of God’s life-giving Spirit cannot be limited by the extent to which we are individually transformed. That’s why we don’t just pray for ourselves. Life in the Spirit is a matter of ‘joining in’ with what the life-giving God is doing.