Strengthen us for this service with the power of Your Holy Spirit, and grant speech to our lips that we may invoke the grace of Your Holy Spirit upon the gifts that are about to be offered.
And grant that always guarded by Your power we may give glory to You, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 12-13)
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
One of my pet peeves is when people use the phrase “take Communion.” We “take” things out of a sense of entitlement. At the end of a long day working outside, we “take” a shower, because we are entitled to be clean. After a year of work, we “take” a vacation because we earned it. However, no matter what we do, not matter how hard we work, no matter how strong we believe, there is no one who is worthy of God, because He is perfect and we are far from it. We can never partake in Holy Communion with a sense of entitlement, we can never “take” it. We “receive” Holy Communion. And we receive it as a gift. A gift for which no one is worthy. A gift we receive only through the grace and mercy of God.
The prayer quoted above is the “Prayer of the Faithful” (the last part of it). Up until this point in the Divine Liturgy, with the exception of this prayer, both the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil and the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom are identical. (It should be noted again, that St. John Chrysostom edited the Liturgy of St. Basil. He essentially “shortened” the prayers. It was not St. Basil who elongated them.) The first part of both Liturgies includes petitions and hymns and culminates in Scripture readings from the Epistles and the Gospels. The “Prayer of the Faithful” follows the reading of the Gospel and helps us to turn our focus towards the climax (and really, purpose) of the Divine Liturgy which is an intimate encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ through the receiving of Holy Communion.
While the prayer is offered by the celebrant, it is written in the plural. “Strengthen us for this service with the power of Your Holy Spirit, and grant speech to our lips.” We recognize the power of the Holy Spirit, and that His Grace is the only way that we can dare offer this service, that we can dare to present gifts and ask for them to be consecrated, and that we can dare partake of the consecrated Gifts. The words of the Divine Liturgy are so beautiful, and so timeless, and yet we pray for the speech to be granted to our lips to allow us to even utter the words of these prayers which ask for the Grace of the Holy Spirit to come down on the gifts that are about to be offered. This should be humbling not only to the celebrant (and that’s a real gut check for me, to realize that I don’t always approach the altar in a humble, or even very attentive manner), but also to the people (and a similar gut check to all of us).
Back to receiving, as opposed to taking. We receive gifts with a sense of gratitude. We seek to honor the giver. We certainly do not turn our back on the giver or insult the giver, or ignore the giver or forget to thank the giver. We are asking for the grace of the Holy Spirit ultimately to come down on our ordinary gifts of bread and wine and to make them the extraordinary gifts of the Body and Blood of Christ. Then we are asking to receive these extraordinary gifts, even though our behavior and our faith at times are anything but extraordinary. When we “ordinary” people partake of the “extraordinary” gifts, we are not supposed to revert back to ordinary. We are supposed to become extraordinary as well. When we receive this great gift from Christ, through the descent of the Holy Spirit, we are supposed to come with a posture of gratitude, we are supposed to honor the Giver. It is easier to remember to honor God, our Giver of all good things, when we come to Him in a posture of humility, recognizing that we need to be strengthened for the service, and that even the speech we are given to invoke the grace of the Holy Spirit is a gift, for which we are to be thankful, not only in thought but especially in deed. In other words, gratitude and thanksgiving are not just thoughts, but they translate into actions.
Every prayer in the Divine Liturgy ends with an ekphonesis, a concluding sentence that is intoned out loud by the celebrant, which just about always references the Holy Trinity. The ekphonesis of this prayer is familiar—“And grant that always guarded by Your power”—because it is common to both the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and that of St. Basil. It asks that God will grant that we will always be “guided by Your (His) power.” In other words, for God to grant that we will always be guided by the strength of God, which we get through humility, as well as the words of God, that we should allow to come upon our lips. And putting all of that together, we are to give glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
The Bible verse that corresponds to this reflection is from the Book of Acts. It was said by Jesus at the time of His Ascension into Heaven. His disciples were undoubtedly sad (because their friend was leaving), confused (because they didn’t understand the Ascension, after all, how could they?), uncertain (what to do next) and afraid (even if they understood what to do and what it meant, they would still be scared in spreading the Word of God). In this verse, Christ assures the disciples that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit, and they would then be able to be witnesses for Christ to the ends of the earth, having been imbued with the knowledge and grace of what to say and how to speak. We are still living the experience of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit continually comes into each of us, from the time of our Baptism, until our time of death. And it is the Holy Spirit who sends down His grace on us to be witnesses to Christ, even (especially if) when we take the message to others.