Q: I have wondered about a new phrase in Eucharistic Prayer II: The priest says “like the dewfall.” It sounds sort of funny. — A reader in Philadelphia
A: Admittedly, the phrase “like the dewfall” does sound “sort of funny,” or at least very poetic at first hearing. Please keep in mind that this is not a whimsical addition to the text. In the 1969 Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI, the official Latin text reads, “Haec ergo dona, quaesumus, Spiritus tui rore sanctifica,” which is properly translated into English as, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.” Note that the Latin ros, roris is “dewfall.” Why the first English translation of the 1973 Missal omitted “like the dewfall” is left for speculation; nevertheless, the new English translation of the 2011 Missal is clearly more accurate to the original Latin text.
And the Holy Spirit comes “like the dewfall.” In sacred Scripture, “like the dewfall” is a powerful image. Consider some passages from the Old Testament. In the Book of Exodus, we read how the people complained that they were hungry. God said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven” (Ex 14:4), and instructed him to tell the people, “In the morning, you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the Lord, am your God” (Ex 14:12). The next morning, “when the dew evaporated,” the people awoke and found the manna, “the bread which the Lord has given you to eat” (Ex 14:13-15). So God performed this miracle, feeding His people with manna. The action of “like the dewfall” is quiet, unseen, mysterious and gentle. It is a life-giving action.
The Book of Lamentations, traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, makes reference to “the dewfall” that is found each morning: “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, His mercies are not spent. They are renewed each morning, so great is His faithfulness. My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore will I hope in Him” (Lam 3:22-24). Even though Lamentations mourns the loss of Jerusalem, the destruction of the city and all the horrors associated with its siege and destruction, there is hope: The Lord, in His quiet, unseen, mysterious and gentle action, will bring restoration and renewal.
Other prophets also use the image of “the dewfall.” For example, God spoke through Hosea: “I will heal their defection, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them. I will be like the dew for Israel: He shall blossom like the lily” (Hos 14:5-6). Even though Israel, whose love had dried up like the arid desert due to infidelity, idolatry and sin, the Lord’s love would descend “like the dewfall” and bring new life. Also, Isaiah prophesied of the coming of the Messiah and restoration of Israel: “But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust. For your dew is a dew of light, and the land of shades gives birth” (Is 26:19).
The manna, the prophecies of the coming Messiah and the restoration of a new kingdom of God are fulfilled in Jesus. Consider the bread of life discourse in the Gospel of St. John: Jesus had performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. The crowd asked for a sign, saying, “Our ancestors had manna to eat in the desert”; according to Scripture, ‘He gave them bread from the heavens to eat’” (Jn 6:30-31). Our Lord responded, saying, “I solemnly assure it was not Moses who gave you bread from the heavens; it is my Father who gives you the real heavenly bread” (Jn 6:32). And then, Jesus taught, “I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever; the bread I will give is My flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). Jesus gently entered this world, true God also becoming true man through Mary, who had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit — a silent, unseen, mysterious, gentle incarnation. Jesus Himself is the fulfillment of “the dewfall,” for He came to offer the perfect sacrifice for sin, make the new and eternal covenant and establish the kingdom of God made visible by the church. He came to give life, “that they may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). Moreover, this teaching foreshadows the great gift of the holy Eucharist, instituted at the Last Supper.
And so, the wonderful saving act of God lives on in the holy Mass. At Mass, the priest prays for the Holy Spirit to descend like “the dewfall” to transubstantiate bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this “living Bread come down from heaven,” we are united with Our Lord and together as a church in a holy Communion, and each of us can “live life to the full.” Through this living sacrifice, the new and eternal covenant is re-presented. All of this is done in a very quiet, unseen, mysterious and gentle way, yet in a way that is so miraculous that even the angels pause to adore. As we prepare to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper this Holy Thursday, may the Holy Spirit descend upon each of us “like the dewfall,” so that we may believe ever more fervently in the great gift of the blessed sacrament.