Eucharistic Prayer III: Oblations and Epicleses

Well, there they go again.  Just as you’re sitting down with your coffee to enjoy this wonderful bulletin article (because you’re not reading it during Mass, right?  Right???), they have to go throw more vocabulary in there!  Yep, it’s “oblation” again!  We’ve mentioned this a little in this column already, but what is an oblation again?

Well, the best way to think about it is that an oblation is a special offering that we give to God – like a gift or sacrifice of some kind.  One great way that we see this in the Bible is the story of Elijah and the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18), one of my all time favorites.  Elijah and the prophets of the pagan god Baal get into an argument and decide to put their money where their mouth is.  So both of them are trying to call down God’s power to consume their oblation sacrifice.  Elijah makes fun of them a little bit, and then prays that God come and accept his sacrifice, and then BAM! a huge pillar of fire comes from heaven and burns the sacrifice.

We kind of do something similar at Mass with the epiclesis.  We pray, “…by the same Spirit, graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration,” praying that the Holy Spirit would come down on those gifts like he did for the prophet Elijah.  A pillar of fire would be impressive, but a lot more destructive, and we’d have to have the fire department standing by at all our Masses, so we’ll just stick with the epiclesis.  Through the sanctifying power and words of Christ re-spoken through the priest, at the expressed command of the Lord himself (“Do this in memory of me.”), we call down the Holy Spirit upon our gifts.

But the neat thing about Eucharistic Prayer III is that later, there is another epiclesis.  But the oblation this time isn’t just the Body and Blood of Christ, but our hearts.  We pray, “May he make of us an eternal offering to you…”  The oblation at Mass starts with the gifts at the altar, but continues with the gift of ourselves.  We are called to enter into Christ’s offering of himself, so that we offer ourselves as victims alongside the Victim himself.

I know this is a theme that we’ve all heard before, but it’s important to realize that Mass is more than just our sitting by as we watch something happen.  We are called to be actively engaged in offering ourselves.  So maybe the question for this week as you prepare for Mass next week is, “What is it that I want to offer God as an oblation.”  Have a great week!