“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.”

The bishop or priest celebrating Mass extends his hands briefly over the bread and wine in this moment, invoking the Holy Spirit in the epiclesis (see also The Eucharistic Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer I (5), and Eucharistic Prayer III for more on the epiclesis).

Like the dewfall

It’s not often that you see the Holy Spirit described as dewfall, but it is a powerful image evoking how the Holy Spirit works.

Dew in the Old Testament was a sign for Gideon of God’s presence and action (see Judges 6:37-40): the dew appeared to show the Lord was listening to Gideon’s petitions and would be with him. When Isaac gave his paternal blessing, a spiritual inheritance, to his son Jacob, part of the blessing was that God would give him the dew of Heaven (see Genesis 27:28, 27:39).

When the Israelites in the desert first received manna, the bread that would sustain them during their forty years, it appeared just after the dew (see Exodus 16:14). The dew and flakes of manna fell together at night (see Numbers 11:9). In Deuteronomy Moses prayed that his teaching would come down like rain, but a light rain, like the dew (Deuteronomy 32:2). Isaiah envisions a “dew of light” and associates it with the dead returning to life (Isaiah 26:19). Hosea described the Lord as a dew to Israel, making it blossom and take solid root like a tree (Hosea 14:5).

In the Old Testament the dew came from Heaven, refreshed on hot days, and was gone in the morning. It was a light and misty rain. The Lord withheld it when punishing Israel with drought. Even today in the Eucharist the Bread of Life is brought by the Holy Spirit, just like the dew and manna fell together. Like the morning mist the Holy Spirit covers everything, giving life and refreshment, then fading away until the next sunrise. Isaiah’s dew of light comes and restores and strengthens life through the Eucharist.

Overshadowed by the Cross

The celebrant makes the Sign of the Cross over the offerings as well. When Mary asked how she’d become the mother of God Gabriel described the Holy Spirit as coming over  Mary and the power of the Most High overshadowing her (see Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit now comes upon the gifts and will soon transubstantiate them into Christ, but it is the Cross that makes Christ’s presence a sacrifice, so it is fitting that the sign of the Cross overshadows the offerings as well. Christ returns sacramentally, thanks to the Holy Spirit, and through his cross he becomes offering and eternal life for us.

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