We have all seen a magician perform magic tricks that leave us scratching our heads wondering how he did it. A slight of the hand, a secret compartment in a box, or some other ‘magic’ changes one thing to another thing. He pulls a rabbit out of a hat, causes a quarter to change to a penny, or a slight of the hand where an ace of spades becomes the ace of diamonds. Most typical magic tricks like these are preceded with a magician’s popular and well-known phrase “hocus pocus”. Most people, however, are unaware that this phrase originates from the Catholic Mass.
The most important part of the Catholic Mass is the epiclesis. The epiclesis is when the priest calls down the Holy Spirit upon the offerings of the bread and wine. The power of the Holy Spirit causes the transubstantiation during the Holy Mass, where the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
“While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body,’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-27)
The words of Christ at the Last Supper should sound familiar to all of us. They are the same words used by the priest during Holy Mass to call down the Holy Spirit for the consecration of the Eucharist. It is the epiclesis. It is the most sacred moment during the entire Mass. It is from this sacred moment that secular history and tradition has given us “hocus pocus” in magic. The words of the priest, “this is my body,” are the same words Christ spoke during the Last Supper to his apostles. In Latin, the phrase “this is my body” is translated, “hoc est enim corpus meum.”
The words “hocus pocus” started picking up steam with magicians in the 1600s. The words were often chanted prior to a magician creating an illusion and trick to entertain the crowds. It was used as a perversion of the Latin words of the epiclesis. It is believed the origin of the phrase’s popularity within the magician world is two-fold. Many speculate that William Vincent was a famous magician in England during the early 1600s who went by the stage name of “Hocus Pocus”. Additionally, many say it also gained notoriety when a book was published in 1635 by an anonymous author titled “Hocus Pocus Junior: The Anatomie of Legerdemain.” No matter the secular origins and tales of how the phrase came to become so widely associated with magic, it all started on the altar. It all started with Jesus and the Eucharist. The primary difference is that the Mass, the epiclesis, is not Hocus Pocus. It’s transubstantiation.
The Holy Spirit comes down upon the altar and through the Holy Spirit the Lord Jesus appears under the cover of bread and wine. The visual bread you see with your eyes becomes the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. The wine you taste with your lips becomes the blood of Jesus. It is the real, original, and never-ending “hocus pocus”. The only difference is it does not involve changing a card in front of your eyes, pulling a rabbit out of the hat, or making metal rings connect and disconnect. It is true substance changing. It is life giving transformation. It is grace flowing forgiveness. There is no slight of hand or hidden compartments. There is only the hidden Jesus under the cover of bread and wine. There is no trick. There is only power and that power changes everything. It changes me and it can change you.