MASS OF THE FAITHFUL
The major section of the eucharistic service, during which the oblations are consecrated and the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is preceded by the MASS OF THE CATECHUMENS, which, in the early church, was the only part of the Divine Liturgy open to those who had not received the sacrament of baptism and, consequently, were not yet fully accepted into the Christian community of the faithful. The mass consists of the eucharistic prayers, the consecration, collective prayers, the FRACTION, and the COMMUNION.
These include the following hymns of praise and thanksgiving:
The Heavenly Hymn
The deacon calls upon the congregation to stand in awe and offer to God the sacrifice of praise, which, according to Saint Paul, is a tribute uttered by lips that acknowledge His name (Heb. 13:15). It is a token of gratitude in remembrance of the expression of thanks rendered by Christ when He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist (Mt. 26:26-27; Mk. 14:22-23; Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 2:23-25). The congregation responds, “The mercy of peace, the sacrifice of praise.”
Then the priest and the deacon lift the prospherein, the great veil covering the oblations, and shake it gently, a symbolic representation of the rolling of the stone away from the entrance of the tomb and of the Resurrection, which brought about the reconciliation between God and man.
During the mass, the priest takes the mat that is over the host into his right hand and makes the three following signs of the cross: first, to the west, signing the congregation and saying, “The Lord be with you all,” to which it responds, “And with your spirit”; second, to the east, signing his fellow servers and saying, “Lift up your hearts,” to which the congregation responds, “They are with the Lord”; and, third, he signs himself, saying, “Let us give thanks to the Lord,” to which the congregation responds, “It is meet and worthy.”
The first of the eucharistic prayers is a thanks-offering to God for His loving kindness.
The Cherubic Hymn
The choir and the congregation then sing the Cherubic Hymn, which Saint Gregory Dialogos called “the triumphal hymn of our salvation,” the words of which are derived from Isaiah 6:3. This hymn, which occurs in most ancient liturgies and in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, appears to have been first used by the Church of Alexandria. “We have seen that the Sanctus, preceded by an account of the angels’ worship, is to be traced to Alexandria in the work of Origen (c. A.D. 230) and probably goes back in the Alexandria use to a period well before that date” (Dix, 1960, p. 237).
The Angelic Worship
The priest places the mat that is in his left hand upon the altar; then he moves the other mat from his right to his left hand and takes the mat that is upon the chalice. Holding it, he makes three signs of the cross, first upon himself, then upon the servers standing at the altar, and lastly upon the congregation, each time saying, “Holy.”
He continues praying from Saint Mark’s Liturgy, “Truly heaven and earth are full of Thy holy glory, through Thine Only-begotten Son our Lord and God and Savior and King of us all, Jesus Christ. Fill this Thy sacrifice, O Lord, with the blessing which is from Thee, by the descent upon it of the Holy Spirit.”
The corresponding prayers from Saint Basil’s and Saint Gregory’s liturgies are more comprehensive. The former includes memorials of man’s fall, of the prophets sent by God to teach man of things to come, of the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the fulness of time, of His Passion, His Resurrection, Ascension, and promised Second Coming. Saint Gregory, in his liturgy, addressed Christ, referring to the indescribable majesty of God’s glory and the depth of His love for mankind: “Thou hast formed me and laid Thy hand upon me, and inscribed in me the image of Thy power. Thou has endowed me with the gift of reason, . . . Thou hast bestowed upon me Thy knowledge.”
The Consecration Prayers
The Institution Narrative or Crossing the Gifts
Pointing to the bread and the wine, the priest says, “He instituted for us this great Mystery of godliness.” Here the deacon brings the censer nearer to the priest for him to incense his hands, after which he continues, “For having resolved to give Himself up unto death for the life of the world.” The congregation responds, “We believe.” He takes the bread into his left hand and raises the mat that was under the host and places it on the altar, saying, “He took bread on His pure hands, which are blessed, life-giving and without blemish.” The congregation says, “We believe this is true, Amen.”
With his eyes looking upward, the priest continues, “He looked up towards heaven, to Thee, O God, His Father and Lord of all. He gave thanks. He blessed it. He sanctified it.” The last three sentences are each accompanied by the sign of the cross and responded to by the congregation with the word “Amen,” and finally, “We believe, we confess, and we glorify.”
The priest carefully breaks the oblation into one-third and two- thirds without separating them, and says, “He divided it and gave it to His saintly disciples and pure apostles saying, “Take, eat of it, all of you, for this is My Body which is to be broken for you and for many, to be given for the remission of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.'”
Then the priest signs the chalice: “Likewise the chalice after supper, He mixed it of wine and water. He gave thanks. He blessed it. He sanctified it. He tasted and gave it to His saintly disciples and pure apostles, saying, “Take, drink of it, all of you. For this is my Blood of the New Covenant, which shall be shed for you and for many, to be given for the remission of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.'” The people respond here as they have previously done during the consignment of the bread.
Pointing first to the Body and then to the Blood, the priest says, “For every time you shall eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you will preach my death and confess my resurrection, and remember me until I come.”
The congregation responds, “Amen, Amen, Amen, Thy death, O Lord, we do preach, and Thy holy resurrection and ascension to heaven we do confess. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, and we supplicate Thee, O our Lord.”
Here one must stress the dynamic aspect of such a memorial, which is not merely a mental exercise of bringing an event to memory. According to Jean Danielou, “the Greek term ‘anamnesis’ does not mean merely a remembrance or a memorial of a thing regarded as being absent, but it means a recalling or representing the thing in an active sense. It does not mean a remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ as something purely of the past, something that was done, but as a real and present sacrifice which has its effect on us. It is an efficacious commemoration” (1956, pp. 136-37).
The Epiclesis, or the Invocation of the Holy Spirit
This is a petition for the descent of the Holy Spirit on the oblations to change them into Christ’s body and blood. Kneeling down, the priest says inaudibly the following prayer: “We pray Thee, O Lord our God, we Thy sinful and unworthy servants. We worship Thee by the pleasure of Thy goodness, that Thy Holy Spirit may descend upon us and upon these offerings placed here, to purify them, transubstantiate them, and manifest them holy unto Thy saints.”
Here the deacon exclaims, “Let us attend. Amen,” and all raise their heads. The priest crosses the oblation in the paten thrice and says, “And may He make this bread His Holy Body,” to which each member of the congregation says, “I believe,” and the priest stretches out his hands and bows his head to the Lord, saying, “Our Lord, our God, and our Savior, Jesus Christ, to be given for the remission of sins and unto eternal life for all who partake thereof,” and the people say, “Amen.”
Signing the chalice three times, the priest continues, “And this cup, also, the Precious Blood of His New Testament,” to which the people respond as previously, and then he also continues as before. Finally, they say Amen, followed by a threefold Kyrie eleison.
While some theologians believe that the actual consecration of the oblations is effected through the recitation of the very words of Jesus Christ in the institution narrative, others are of opinion that only at the descent of the Holy Spirit can such consecration take place. But rather than attributing the process of the consecration to the Son separate from the Holy Spirit, it would be more appropriate to interpret the act of the consecration of the oblations as the combined sanctification by the Holy Trinity. It is noteworthy that in Saint Gregory’s Liturgy the priest supplicates the Son to send His Holy Spirit upon the worshipers and upon the oblations, stressing at the same time the positive role of the Son in the process of transformation: “Thou, O Master, only by Thy own voice, change these gifts which are presented…. Send the grace of the Holy Spirit upon us to sanctify and transform these oblations which are presented into the Body and Blood of our salvation.”
These are of a comprehensive nature, as they embrace the entire community of the church, both militant and triumphant, united in Jesus Christ. They include the smaller intercessions, the commemoration of saints, and the diptychs.
The Seven Smaller Intercessions
Holding a mat in each hand, the priest says these intercessions preceded by the following prayer: “Make us all worthy, O Lord, to partake of Thy Holies unto the sanctification of our souls, our bodies and our spirits, that we may become one body and one spirit, and be given a portion and an inheritance with the saints who have been well-pleasing unto Thee since the beginning.” The seven intercessions are as follows:
- Intercession for Church Peace: “Remember, O Lord, the peace of Thine One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic Church.”
- Intercession for the Church Fathers: “The Church which Thou hast purchased unto Thyself with the Precious Blood of Thy Christ. Keep her and all her Orthodox bishops in peace. And remember first, O Lord, our blessed Father, Pope, and Patriarch [name].”
- Intercession for the Church Presbyters: “And those who with him [i.e., the patriarch] rightly divide the word of Thy truth in uprightness. Preserve them unto Thy Church to shepherd Thy flock in peace. Remember, O Lord, the Orthodox priesthood and the diaconate.”
- Intercession for Mercy: “And all ministers, and all who are in virginity, and the purity of Thy faithful people. Remember, O Lord, to have mercy upon us all.”
- Intercession for the Place: “Remember, O Lord, the safety of this holy place, which is Thine, and all other places and monasteries of our Orthodox fathers.”
- Intercession for Nature: Prayers are said for the waters, plants, the weather conditions, and the rising and falling of the river Nile. The wording of this intercession is closely related to the particular season of the year and the cultivation cycle.
- Intercession for the Oblations: “Remember, O Lord, those who have offered these oblations, those for whom they have been offered, and those through whom they have been offered. Give them all the heavenly recompense.”
These seven intercessions pertain to Saint Basil’s Liturgy. Saint Gregory’s, on the other hand, includes a few more, namely, intercessions for kings and rulers, for rich and poor, for young and old, for celibates and married couples. It is to be noted that here, but not in the Liturgy of Saint Mark, the intercessions follow, not precede, the epiclesis prayers.
The Commemoration of Saints
The recitation of the names of saints is a significant part of the Divine Liturgy. In this section of the Liturgy, the priest says, “For such, O Lord, is the commandment of Thy only-begotton Son, that we share in the commemoration of Thy saints. Graciously, O Lord, remember all the saints who have pleased Thee since the beginning: our holy fathers and patriarchs, the prophets, the preachers, the evangelists, the martyrs, the confessors, and all the spirits of the righteous who were consummate in their faith.”
At the close of the commemoration of saints, the deacon says, “Let the readers say the names of our fathers the holy patriarchs who have fallen asleep; may the Lord repose their souls, and forgive us our sins.” Here the priest inaudibly says, “Remember also, O Lord, all those who have fallen asleep and rested, in the priesthood and the laity. Vouchsafe, O Lord, repose their souls in the bosoms of our saintly fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The significance of the diptychs—the commemoration of, and prayer for, the departed—was stressed by many of the early fathers.
This is the ceremonial breaking of the consecrated bread in the eucharistic service (see FRACTION).
This is the culmination of the eucharistic service, in preparation for which the priest says, “Make us all worthy, O Lord, to partake of Thy Holy Body and Thy Holy Precious Blood, in purification of our souls, our bodies, and our spirits, and forgiveness of our sins and trespasses, that we may become one body and one spirit with Thee. Glory be to Thee, with Thy Good Father and the Holy Spirit, forever. Amen.”
The celebrant then partakes of the communion himself, followed by the other priests serving with him, before administering Holy Communion to the deacons and the members of the congregation. Meanwhile, the rest of the congregation sing Psalm 150, standing throughout as a mark of respect until the celebrant has completed the washing of the liturgical vessels and offered thanks to God, saying, “Our mouths are filled with exaltation, and our tongues with joy, having partaken of Thy immortal Sacraments, O Lord.”
Taking a little water in his palms, the celebrant sprinkles it on the altar, saying, “O Angel of this oblation, who fliest up to the heights with this our praise, remember us before the Lord, that He may forgive us our sins.” After the Lord’s Prayer, he dismisses the congregation with the words “Go in peace, may the peace of the Lord be with you.”
- Brightman, F. E. Liturgies Eastern and Western. Oxford, 1967. Coquin, R. G. “Anaphore alexandrin de St. Marc.” Le Muséon 82 (1969):307-356.
- Danielou, J. The Bible and the Liturgy. London, 1956. Dix, G. The Shape of the Liturgy. London, 1960.
- Jungmann, J. A., S. J. The Early Liturgy to the Time of Gregory the Great, trans. Francis A. Brunner. London, 1960. Leitzmann, H. Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Oxford, 1974.
- Malati, T. Y., Christ in the Eucharist. Cairo, 1986.