I have many favourite moments in the Mass, but one of my favouritest is when we pray the epiclesis. Epiclesis means invocation, or “sending down from on High”. After the priest blesses the gifts of bread and wine, he invokes the Holy Spirit and prays to God:
“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And my favouritest moment in that? Like the dewfall.
We beg that God would send down His Spirit like the dewfall.
In many ways, it’s a bit of a wussy image. We think of dew as passing, or inconsequential, or just annoying when you’re left your washing out overnight. (Not that I do that…)
At Pentecost, the Spirit comes down in wind and fire. His entrance is dramatic and unmissable.
Wouldn’t that be nice for Mass? A daily bolt of lightning or fire from On High? Every Mass would be Elijah-moment of power and glory and that poor little prophets of Baal with their cynicism and placards wouldn’t know what hit them.
“Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kgs 18:38-39)
I think we’d all like that. Who doesn’t love a bit of drama and some explosions here and there?
But no, we pray that the Holy Spirit would come down like the dewfall. Literally, that these gifts would be made holy and become the Body and Blood of Christ “by the dew of Your Spirit”.
What does dewfall essentially amount to? Dampness. Moisture. Thin coverings of water.
Deluges of divine power, tsunamis of sanctity, and floods of faith bucketing down blessings; them I can understand… but dew? What’s so inspiring about that??
So why’s dew so good?
First and foremost, it was dew that brought the Israelites manna in the desert.
“[I]n the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” (Ex 16:13-15)
Not only in exile but also in the Promised Land, dew was life-giving and life-sustaining. In the hot summers in Israel (and rather like our hot summers here in Sydney), it was vital to the agricultural cycle in Israel, keeping crops and plants alive when they’d otherwise die.
Dew meant food and safety and peace and abundant blessings. Jacob, at the end of his life, lives safely in the land of Israel,
“in a land of grain and wine, whose heavens drop down dew.” (Dt 33:28)
For the Jews, dew is the “dew of Heaven”, the “dew of your youth” (Ps 110:3), the dew that comes softly and unseen, “like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb” (Dt 32:2) but drenches the land in life and blessing.
The Jews still pray the prayer for dew (tefillat tal) at the Passover, praying,
“For a blessing and not for a curse, For plenty and not for famine, For life and not for death!” (Jewish Encyclopedia, Geshem)
No wonder then that Isaiah, prophesying about the Resurrection, says,
“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” (Isa 26:19)
This is what the Holy Spirit is doing too, isn’t He? Like the dew, He comes down from Heaven, silent and unseen, to bring new life from the earth.
In all acts of creation, the Holy Spirit is there.
He hovered over the face of the waters at Creation.
He descended on Christ in his baptism in the waters of the Jordan River.
In our own baptisms, He washes us, renews us, re-generates us and makes new creatures in Christ. Jesus tells us that, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5) and St Paul that we are saved by “the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5)
But having given us life through Baptism, God now sustains our life through the Eucharist. And this is where dew comes in.
The Eucharist is the Bread of Life, the New Manna sent down from Heaven. Jesus spells it out for us, presenting Himself as the fulfilment of both the Passover and the manna in the desert.
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48-51)
And unlike the old manna, which “your fathers ate in the wilderness… and died”, this Bread truly comes down from Heaven because it is Christ Himself who has come down from Heaven. And it truly will sustain us because it is Christ Himself who gives us eternal life.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
By sending down His Spirit, God transforms or transubstantiates the ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of His beloved Son, which is true food and drink and truly gives life because it is Christ Himself.
So yeah, dew! Who knew, right? (Hint: the Jews)
Like the dew brought the bread of manna to the Israelites in the desert, the dew of the Holy Spirit brings us the Bread of Life. And like the dew brought life to the land, the dew of the Holy Spirit brings us eternal life in this New Manna.
Every Mass, we pray for this. And every Mass, the Spirit of the Lord descends and we witness a silent miracle.
He comes down to us from Heaven, the Holy Spirit sent down like the dewfall to bring us the life, the Bread of Christ, Christ Himself.
Like the dewfall.