The Priest’s Praying Body: Manual Acts 3 – Anamnesis to Amen.

This is the penultimate post in the commentary on the gestures of the priest in the Eucharistic Prayer, following on from posts on 12 December and 11 January. We are now at the section of the Prayer known by a technical Greek name which has its origin in the Last Supper, ‘Anamnesis’. In the Scottish Liturgy the ‘Narrative of the Institution’ or ‘Prayer of Consecration’ is followed by the ‘Anamnesis and Oblation’, as in all Eucharistic Prayers, and then, in a position where the Scottish Liturgy follows Eastern and not Western Christian custom, the Epiclesis. The final post will look at how the bodily actions of the priest express our theology of what happens in the prayer, despite the theological problem of when the bread and wine are transformed.

‘The Last Supper’ (1625), Valentin de Boulogne

Anamnesis and Oblation.

Anamnesis means ‘remembrance’, or more correctly a recalling of past saving deeds which makes them present, as Jesus said of this sacrament “do this in memory of me (‘for my  anamnēsis’)” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). The concept of anamnesis has been used in twentieth-century ecumenical theology to understand why the Eucharist is a sacrifice. There can be no serious doubt that the Eucharist is a sacrifice because this is a common teaching from the first years of the Church. It is also an important aspect of Scottish Episcopalian theology, as seen in the extract from Bishop Jolly’s The Christian Sacrifice in the Eucharist published in this blog on 27th June 2020. An oblation is an offering, an essential part of a sacrifice, and this is also a special emphasis of the Scottish Episcopal Church which added to this prayer in 1764, in capitals, the words “WHICH WE NOW OFFER UNTO THEE”. These words were not in the 1637 Scottish Liturgy or its source the Communion Office of the 1549 English Book of Common Prayer, although similar words of offering are present in the ancient Roman Canon on which Cranmer’s 1549 Prayer is based. The prayer of anamnesis and oblation is thus important for Episcopalians. It is an ancient one and has not attracted manual gestures in the same way as the Narrative of Institution and the Epiclesis. It is generally said in the orans position but in various medieval rites here the priest extended his arms in the form of a cross, as Christ’s sacrifice is recalled and offered here, and some maintain this custom today. It is not, however, just the crucifixion which is the subject of the anamnesis, the prayer mentions ‘his blessed passion and death, his glorious resurrection and ascension and… the coming of his Kingdom’. As we lift up our hearts in the Eucharist, we are lifted up outside time and space and encounter the whole mystery of Christ.

An offering is usually accompanied by a gesture of lifting up and presenting the gift to the recipient. This is not done today in this prayer but the offering is expressed by the gesture of lifting the elements at the consecration and at the end of the Canon, or even, some would say, at the two elevations in the institution narrative. Studying Christian liturgical practice one often gets the impression that it follows its own logic, which is a warning against creating gestures that seem to you to make sense but have no place in the tradition. F.C. Eeles in his 1910 book Traditional Ceremonial and Customs Associated with the Scottish Liturgy notes that some Episcopalians in the eighteenth century elevated the elements to breast height at the words “which we now offer unto thee” and Bishop Dowden in his commentary of the 1764 Scottish Liturgy notes that in a copy of the Liturgy belonging to Bishop John Alexander of Dunkeld (1743-76) the word ‘eleva’ (‘lift up’) is written in the margin by these words. This action is possible, but it would detract from the significance of the elevation at the end of the Canon.

The Eucharist at St Salvador’s, Edinburgh (with thanks to Fr Andrew Bain & Ross Jesmont)

The anamnesis and oblation in the 1982 Scottish Liturgy Eucharistic Prayers, together with the Prayer of Petition which follows the Epiclesis, are often said by the whole congregation together with the priest, but they are still ‘presidential’ prayers and so should be said in the orans position or the broader gesture mentioned above. The custom of the congregation joining the priest’s prayer has grown up without official approbation and, although ‘synchronised speaking’ may sometimes sound awkward, it does emphasise that the Canon is the prayer of the whole congregation in the same way as do the acclamations of the people, for example ‘Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again’ in the English and Roman rites.

Gian Lorenza Bernini, ‘Descent of the Holy Spirit’ (1666), window in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.


The Epiclesis, from the Greek verb epikaleo meaning to call down, is a calling down of the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine and the congregation. The words of the epiclesis are accompanied by a distinctive four-part action.  At the epiclesis the sign of the cross is commonly made on one’s body as the Holy Spirit is called down on the congregation and it is a distinctive Scottish Episcopalian practice for people in the congregation to do the same. Then the priest’s hands are held horizontally, joined at the thumbs, over the gifts as the Holy Spirit is invoked upon them, and when it is prayed “that they may be the body and blood of your Son” the sign of the cross is made over the elements with the right hand. Finally the hands return to the horizontal position over the elements until the next prayer of petition when the orans position is resumed.

A child doing the epiclesis gesture at ‘play church’

This four-part action is the same as that found in the simplified ceremonial of the modern Roman Rite but its roots are in ancient Scottish and Western practice. In the Byzantine Liturgy the sign of the cross is made three times, over the bread, the wine and both together, at the epiclesis. The ancient Roman Liturgy in its different forms, including the Sarum rite used in Scotland, had no explicit epiclesis in the canon but between the eighth and fourteenth centuries ritual actions were added to the two prayers just before the consecration so that the priest first stretched his hands over the elements and then made the sign of the cross three times over the bread and wine together and then once over each element separately. From this background eighteenth century copies of the Scottish Liturgy often have crosses added to indicate that separate crosses are made over the bread and the cup at the words ‘body’ and ‘blood’ and some prescribe up to four more crosses made over the elements at the moment of the epiclesis: “ble+ss and sanc+tify with thy wo+rd and Holy Spi+rit”. This corresponds to the traditional Latin liturgy used in medieval Scotland but one or two signs of the cross are probably sufficient as even two can seem rather hurried.

Prayers of Petition  

The 1982 Scottish Liturgy follows the epiclesis with a short prayer of petition and communion with Mary and the Saints. It is an ancient tradition which has long been preserved among Anglicans that a simple bow of the head is made when the Holy Name of Jesus is spoken and it is good to extend this to the name of Mary and the Saint of the day. The 1970 Scottish Liturgy also has petition here but in three prayers to accept our sacrifice and grant forgiveness and blessings which come, via the 1764 and 1637 Scottish Liturgies, from the reworking of the ancient Roman Canon in the 1549 English Book of Common Prayer. These beautiful prayers are, like the one in the 1982 Scottish Liturgy, said with hands raised in the orans position but three gestures are sometimes added to them from the medieval tradition. The second of the three prayers begins by humbly offering our souls and bodies to the Lord and this first part of the prayer is sometimes said with a profound bow giving bodily form to this humility. The sign of the cross is then made in the second half of this prayer where we pray that all communicants may “be filled + with every grace and heavenly benediction”, a sign first used here in the twelfth century which signifies the blessing received from Christ. The third gesture is a striking of the breast as a sign of repentance at the beginning of the third prayer, ‘And though we be unworthy through our manifold sins…’.

The Bishop of London praying in the orans posture during the Eucharistic Prayer

Doxology and Amen

After these prayers of petition we come to the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the doxology  and the congregation’s ‘Amen’ which signifies their participation in and assent to the whole prayer. The basic gesture here is the ‘little elevation’ or lifting up of the consecrated bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ. Usually the consecrated host is held up vertically over the chalice as the Bishop of London is doing in the picture below but it is possibly to simply lift up the chalice and paten. Although commonly called the ‘little elevation’ because it does not go up as high as the elevations at the consecration, it is actually much older and theologically more significant. It is first found in Rome in the seventh century where the Bishop elevated the bread and the deacon the chalice, something that should still be done when a deacon assists at the Eucharist. In the second Christian millennium this simple lifting up came to be surrounded by many signs of the cross, at first three made with the hand before the elevation, then between two and five made with the consecrated host (bread) over the chalice which meant that the actual elevation moved to the end of the doxology. In the simplified Roman Rite all these crosses have been removed but some Anglicans retain them, at least at the three mentions of Christ at the start of the doxology: ‘through Jesus + Christ our Lord, with + whom, and in + whom’. The congregational ‘Amen’ at the end is a very significant moment in the Prayer, so significant that Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria wrote in the third century that the great privileges of the Christian people include hearing the Eucharistic Prayer, joining in the final Amen, and stretching out their hands for the holy food (Eusebius, History of the Church, 7.9).

The Bishop of London at the doxology in the Eucharistic Prayer

Finally, after the people have given their assent to the prayer by the final ‘Amen’, the priest genuflects before the presence of Christ in the bread and wine on the altar. This may be a time for the congregation to pause for a short while in silence before the mystery in which they are participating. One theological puzzle that the Scottish Liturgy raises about this mystery of presence will be the subject of the last post in this series.

2 thoughts on “The Priest’s Praying Body: Manual Acts 3 – Anamnesis to Amen.

  1. In the Byzantine rite, the first elevation, of both the paten and chalice, is made crosswise by the deacon, while the bishop or the priest recites the oblation (“Thine own from thine own do we give thee…”). Probably it is thence that the Scots took the idea.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s