The Holy Spirit: Source of Unity in the Liturgy

By Weil, Louis | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

The Holy Spirit: Source of Unity in the Liturgy


Weil, Louis, Anglican Theological Review


For Anglicans, discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy has tended to focus on two specific issues in sacramental theology: first, there is the long debate among a wide range of Anglican theologians and liturgists concerning the action of the Holy Spirit in Christian Initiation. More specifically, this debate has focused on the Spirit's role in confirmation.1

At least with regard to the authorized liturgical texts, this debate has been concluded for the American Church in the rites of baptism and confirmation in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: the rite clearly indicates (BCP, p. 298) that "Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church." This assertion is affirmed also in the prayer (BCP, p. 308), which follows the water rite:

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit

you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin

and have raised them to the new life of grace.

The text then continues with the prayer for the gifts of the Spirit that had appeared in earlier versions of the Prayer Book (in a somewhat different form) in the rite of confirmation:

Sustain them, 0 Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring

and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit

to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your

works.

Archbishop Cranmer's inclusion of this prayer at confirmation obviously contributed to the confusion within Anglicanism over the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism. It contributed to the idea that confirmation was an essential aspect of the initiatory process, and the claim that confirmation was the primary sacramental action associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit. This latest revision in the American BCP resolves that problem by clearly identifying the Spirit's activity with the "full initiation" which baptism effects.2

The second area where one may find a reasonable amount of material among Anglican authors, although much less than that concerning Initiation, is with regard to the role of the Holy Spirit in the eucharist. More particularly, this relates to the inclusion of an epiclesis or Invocation of the Holy Spirit in the text of the eucharistic prayer. For the Eastern Orthodox, this crucial element in the various forms of the eucharistic prayer is absolutely fundamental to the integrity of the prayer. In the West, on the other hand, the primary prayer of the Western Church prior to the Reformation-that is, the Roman Canon-was notably weak in its proclamation of the role of the Spirit in the eucharist.3

This difference is an important reminder of the much more central place that the Holy Spirit has held in the theology and spirituality of the Eastern traditions than has been true in the West. It is appropriate to begin our discussion on the role of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy with some comments on the difference between the Eastern and Western traditions. This will lead, in turn, to a suggestion as to the underlying theological issue concerning the Spirit in the liturgy.

A story is reported from the first session of the Second Vatican Council in 1963. The work of the Roman Catholic bishops on the text of the Constitution on the Liturgy was moving toward completion. It was decided that the text should be shown to the ecumenical observers at the council and that their reactions to it would be solicited. Comments were positive, on the whole, except for one matter. The observers noted that, apart from formulaic references to the Holy Trinity, the document did not ascribe any significant role to the Holy Spirit in the Church's liturgical worship.

When we read the text of the Constitution as it was finally promulgated on December 4, 1963, we can see that some attempt was made to respond to this criticism through the insertion at a number of points in the text of such phrases as "in the Holy Spirit" or "through the Holy Spirit. …

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