Tag Archives: Eucharist

A Theological, Historical, and Social Study of Anamnesis in Christian Liturgy

23 Apr

Anamnesis is a central notion in Catholic or, more broadly, in Christian liturgy. Liturgical remembrance of God’s action on behalf of and in relationship with humankind in history is both a starting point for worship and flows from worship. Thus, Dennis C. Smolarski links worship with anamnesis (ἀνάμνησις). This Greek noun, in its New Testament context, most commonly translates into English as “remembrance… a commemoration, [or] memorial.”[1] Smolarski contends that “Christian worship is fundamentally an anamnesis. It is an ‘active’ remembrance of the paschal mystery‒ [of] our salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection.”[2]

As Smolarski suggests, Christian worship is fundamentally anamnetic, as an act in which “the present is brought into intimate contact with the past” and vice-versa. However, this description of anamnesis is more akin to actualizing[3] remembrance than merely “‘active’ remembrance,” as per Smolarski’s definition. In this paper, I will identify key historical and theological points of development of the Christian notion of anamnesis as actualizing memory. I will also highlight points of anamnesis in Catholic liturgy, with particular attention to the structure and origins of Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Missal. Lastly, in order to demonstrate not only that anamnesis is unlimited by discrete points in liturgy but is meant to move worshippers beyond liturgy, so that liturgy has an effect on society in which it is set, I will briefly relate anamnesis in worship with pastoral concern for social justice.

The semantic range of the term anamnesis, in Greek and to a lesser extent in modern languages, is wide, and this word has undergone historical evolution in meaning. For instance, in the Attic Greek of Plato, ἀνάμνησις was used in an epistemological sense as equivalent to recollection. In Plato’s Meno, Socrates argues that “no one ever seeks to learn anything.”[4] Either one has in mind a prior concept‒ thus one recollects or has anamnesis‒ of a subject of inquiry, and therefore needs not to inquire about that subject, or one has no prior notion of the subject of inquiry, and so the inquiry does not arise.[5] No learning, then, takes place without a priori anamnesis of a subject for learning. Plotinus, a contemporary of early Christians, developed Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis further. According to Plato, one could have recollection as a notion of something that one could not experience, as in the form of an object, versus the object as discerned by the senses. Plotinus, though, held that anamnesis must derive from intelligible matter. Anamnesis was thus the capacity of the rational soul to develop awareness of an intelligible object.[6] In postmodern French literary theory, anamnesis is defined differently again from Plato or Plotinus, as the process whereby the reader enters as a character into the plot of a novel, for example. The reader therefore brings the work’s plot into contact with the present act of reading the text.[7]

None of these historical examples of the evolution of meaning of anamnesis correspond fully with the Christian usage of this term or its significance for Christian worship, although the French postmodern literary notion of anamnesis correlates most closely with its Christian sense of remembrance that brings past action into the present. A clear example of anamnesis in this Christian context, within possibly the earliest written references to the Last Supper and its implications for Christ’s disciples, is found in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. In consecutive verses, the accusative noun form of ἀνάμνησις, ἀνάμνησιν, is used within a command from St. Paul to the Corinthians, once concerning the bread that has become Christ’s body, and then again concerning the cup of wine transformed into “the new covenant in [Christ’s] blood” (v 25).  Paul reinforces the twofold directive by placing it in the mouth of the Lord himself: “Do this in remembrance of me” (τουτο ποιειτε εἰς την ἐμην ἀνάμνησιν) (vv 24-25). Without using the term anamnesis again, Paul then further explains Christ’s command to commemorate the Last Supper through a communal meal that is at once an act of anamnesis and of eschatological anticipation. Partakers in this meal are transformed by it as both Christ’s past gift of self and future second coming are brought into the present encounter with the Lord: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v 26).

In 1 Corinthians 11:24-26, anamnesis is connected with covenant; the cup in particular is said to be “the new covenant in [Christ’s] blood.” This confluence of covenant and anamnesis is not a Christian novelty. Indeed, a strong connection between anamnesis and covenant exists in ancient Israelite tradition and is central to several Old Testament texts. Dennis Smolarski cites three Biblical verses‒ two from the Old Testament, Exodus 13:8 and Deuteronomy 6:28‒ wherein this covenant-anamnesis link is clear.[8] In Exodus 13:8, the LORD instructs Moses: “On this day you shall explain to your son, ‘This is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” This covenant by which God had granted to Israel “the land of Canaan” (Exo 6:4) is again remembered and applied to the relationship between God and Israel in the present tense in Deuteronomy 6:28: “[God] brought us from there to lead us into the land… promised on oath to our [ancestors], and to give it to us.”

Like Smolarski, the National (now United States) Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) has argued that “the Christian concept of anamnesis”[9] has Jewish roots and was tied to the covenant theology and worship practice of ancient Israel. According to both Smolarski and the NCCB’s Committee on the Liturgy, “anamnesis” in Christianity “coincides with the Jewish understanding of zikkaron,” a Hebrew word that the NCCB renders as “memorial reenactment,”[10] while Smolarski explains it as remembrance “that makes the effects of [a] historical event present and effective for the believer.”[11]

According to Christian understanding, the covenant by which God bestowed Canaan upon the Israelites, having “struck down the Egyptians” but having passed “over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt” (v 27b), has not been abrogated. On the contrary, much as Israel has been instructed to commemorate “the Passover sacrifice of the LORD” (v 27a), Christians make present for all time the salvific and kenotic Passover offering of Jesus Christ. The Pasch of Christ by which a “new covenant” (1 Cor 11:25; Luke 22:20; Heb 8:8, 13; 9:15, 12:24) is established between God and humankind is not the supercession but the actualization and fulfillment of the ancient “covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exo 2:24). As the NCCB’s Committee on the Liturgy notes, “the synoptic gospels present Jesus as instituting the Eucharist during a Passover [meal] celebrated with his followers, giving to [the Passover] a new and distinctly Christian ‘memory.’”[12] Eucharistic Prayer IV of the Roman Missal proclaims that “while [Jesus and his followers] were at supper,” Jesus gave to “an eternal covenant” new sacramental and anamnetic significance.[13] Therefore, by Christian initiation believers are drawn into participation in the present in Christ’s paschal mystery, as Romans 6:3-4, Smolarski’s third Biblical citation in his chapter on anamnesis and worship, states: “We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death… We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

On one hand, both the Old and New Testaments are replete with the notion of anamnesis, as the remembrance of God’s past action that leads to “newness of life” in the present. On the other hand, the Greek anamnesis and its cognates, and the Hebrew zikkaron (זִכָּרוֹן),[14] which has the nearest meaning to anamnesis, are not common words in Scripture. Derivatives of zikkaron appear fifty-nine times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and its usage is most often connected to temple sacrifice.  Anamnesis and its cognates appear only nine times in the Septuagint, and in the New Testament, anamnesis and similar words are even rarer, with only seven appearances. The form found in 1 Corinithians 11:24-25, ἀνάμνησιν, occurs in only one instance in the New Testament outside of these two verses, in Luke’s account of the Last Supper (22:19). As Aelred Arnesen points out, the nominative case noun ἀνάμνησις occurs only once in the New Testament, in Hebrews 10:3,[15] and is also found only once in the Septuagint, in Numbers 10:10. In the latter case, the Israelites are told that their offerings and festivals “will serve as a reminder of” God’s perpetual presence in their midst. In the letter to the Hebrews, the limitation of the high-priestly sin offering compared to “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10) is stressed: “In those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins” (v 3).

Arnesen assumes that the few incidences of the Greek ἀνάμνησιν and the Hebrew זִכָּרוֹן  and of their variants, as well as the range of meaning of these words when they do occur in Scripture, indicate that the Christian notion of anamnesis as “‘re-presenting’ before God an event in the past, so that it becomes here and now operative by its effects” is based on myth.[16] Citing C.F. Evans who, in his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, translates τουτο ποιειτε εἰς την ἐμην ἀνάμνησιν (Luke 22:19) as “do this [having] me in mind,” Arnesen argues that anamnesis in Scripture normally signifies mere recalling or having in mind of a past event.[17] Moreover, he writes, anamnesis understood as actualizing remembrance “cannot find any basis in either the semantics of the word or in the Semitic usage of the first century. Nor do the primordial rites of primitive societies have anything to say to Christian faith.”[18]

Arnesen’s argument has three major flaws. Firstly, his contention that, where ἀνάμνησις or זִכָּרוֹן appear in Scripture, these terms are restricted in meaning to “personal, mental remembrance,” is based on limited data. Arnesen quotes D.R. Jones, who writes that “too many ambiguities” exist in the meaning of ἀνάμνησις in the Septuagint in order to provide authority for any particular interpretation of New Testament passages” in which this term is employed.[19] Such ambiguities are unsurprising, owing to both the semantic range of ἀνάμνησις and זִכָּרוֹן and cognates and to the limited occurrence of these words themselves in the Bible. Statistically, Arnesen’s approach is poor; his sample size‒ the number of instances of ἀνάμνησις in Scripture‒ is too small to establish that the meaning of this term in the Bible is inconsistent. Arnesen’s resultant conclusion is incoherent: On one hand, he contends, following D.R. Jones, that the semantic range of ἀνάμνησις is too great to ascertain a consistent meaning of this word in Scripture. On the other hand, Arnesen has no difficulty concluding that ἀνάμνησις does not signify memory that actualizes past event, as per its dominant Christian significance.

A second flaw in Arnesen’s reasoning is that he links too closely the Christian notion of anamnesis with the doctrine of transubstantiation of the Eucharistic species promoted by Catholics and by some Anglicans. The transubstantiation of the bread and wine into Christ fully present in the sacramental species cannot and ought not to be localized to a single point in the Catholic Mass or Divine Liturgy, since the Eucharistic celebration as a whole is transubstantiative. Similarly, the entire Eucharistic celebration is anamnetic although, unlike transubstantiation, anamnesis may refer to a particular sequence of the Eucharistic prayer. In continuation of his misleading parallel between transubstantiation and anamnesis, Arnesen claims that, like the doctrine of transubstantiation, anamnesis in its Christian sense denigrates the sacramentality of the Eucharist. “The theory of anamnesis,” says Arnesen, “has a like subversive effect [to transubstantiation] in that it undermines resurrection faith in the living Lord who is always there before us and calls us to worship.”[20] On the contrary, if the Lord is understood to be “living” and “always… before us” in worship, then the Christian concept of anamnesis does not obscure the sacramentality of the Eucharist but supports it, as long as the entire sacramental celebration, as an encounter with the transcendent God in signs accessible to the senses, is understood as anamnetic.

This premise that the Eucharist is anamnetic in its essence also counters Arnesen’s objection that ritualized Eucharistic liturgy as actualized memory of salvation history is based on too literalistic an interpretation of Christ’s command: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24-25).[21] The third flaw in Arnesen’s reasoning is that, while he derides Christian anamnesis as myth and as proof-texting of the few direct Scriptural references to anamnesis such as 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, he is blind to the anamnetic character of the whole Eucharistic liturgy and indeed of the entire Biblical canon. Anamnesis in Christian liturgy does not depend on a literalistic application of the limited number of instances of this word in Scripture. Conversely, in Christianity as in Judaism, anamnesis is critical to understanding the significant encounters in history between humankind and God, for example the exodus from Egypt, the Passover, and the delivery from exile in Babylon for Jews and Christians alike, and Christ’s life, death, and resurrection‒ the re-actualization of the Passover‒ particularly for Christians. As for the objection by Arnesen and others against repeated commemoration of these past events, Julie Gittoes asserts that the act of making these events perpetually present in worship is necessarily repetitive. In ritualized worship, says Gittoes in agreement with Catherine Pickstock, Christians engage in “encounter [with] and response” to the Christ event that transforms believers individually and corporately as past story is lived in the continuous present.[22] Anamnesis is thus the dialectic between discrete and unique past events‒ the life, death, and resurrection of Christ‒ and the memorial proclamation of the Lord’s Pasch for always, “until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

Figures from different periods in Christian history such as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, and Thérèse of Lisieux add support to the Christian notion of anamnesis and its centrality in Eucharistic liturgy as described by Gittoes. In Augustine’s thought, anamnesis is especially critical to his reckoning of time. For Augustine, time is not comprehended as past, present, and future, but as continuous present. Says Gabriel R. Ricci: “The past and future are tethered” by Augustine “to a present without duration.”[23] This “eternalizing” of the present into “a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future,”[24] which Ricci terms Augustine’s “historiographic anamnesis,” collapses “the three moments of time” into a single movement “of re-collected memory that is simultaneously institutive, constitutive, and re-combinative.”[25] Eric Voegelin takes Ricci’s description of Augustine’s historiographic anamnesis a step further. He notes that for Augustine, time, as experienced by human beings in the continuous present and open to eternity, also transforms humanity ontologically. Reflecting on Augustine’s De Trinitate,[26] Voegelin writes: “The rhetorical exuberance of Augustine can never find enough new expressions for the experience of a being that changes its form from being to eternity: ‘de forma en formam mutanturde forma obscura en formam lucidama deformi formam in formam formosam, and finally de forma fidei en formam speciei.’”[27]

Augustine’s notion of ontological change that is effected in one’s soul via anamnesis is highly dependent on Platonic doctrine of form and image. Thomas Aquinas maintains, like Augustine, that one is fundamentally changed by one’s relationship with God, whose past actions in history and anticipated actions are made present through remembrance and expectation, respectively. However, Aquinas severs the Platonic bonds of Augustinian ontology and metaphysics, in that the soul of a being, says Aquinas according to Voegelin, cannot mutate to take on another form. Ontological change, in the Thomistic sense, is when one essence is replaced by a new one, or when a supernatural form is added to a being’s natural form.[28] For Aquinas, memory that is proper to the intellect‒ that is, not merely of the senses‒ is that which brings past experience and future anticipation into the present. Only in the present, then, does the addition of grace to nature, therefore a change effected on the intellectual soul by its encounter with supernatural grace, take place.[29]

Anamnesis is thus at the core of Augustinian and then Thomistic ontology and metaphysics in patristic and medieval times, respectively. For Thérèse of Lisieux in late nineteenth-century France, anamnesis is the focal point of prayer and contemplation of the Eucharist. In her “Canticle for Today,” Thérèse speaks of the “living bread; bread of heaven; divine Eucharist… only for today.” In Theresian spirituality, Julie Gittoes writes, the Eucharist is the experience of Christ’s Paschal self-offering in the present. Even while living amid this “passing hour,” Thérèse experiences in the Eucharist a foreshadowing‒ a sacrament‒ of “the eternal today.”[30]

These historical examples from the works of Augustine, of Thomas Aquinas, and of Thérèse of Lisieux show the vital importance of anamnesis as present encounter with the past in Christian thought and experience. While I have noted that anamnesis understood as such is also key to Christian and, more narrowly, Catholic liturgy, I will now illustrate this significance of actualizing memory in the section of the Eucharistic Prayer named anamnesis in the strict sense, through a discussion of the current forms and origins of this section of the Eucharistic Prayer.

Paul F. Bradshaw traces the development of the anamnesis in the Eucharistic Prayer back to the ninth and tenth chapters of the Didache. These two chapters of this late first or early second-century C.E. work focus on the Eucharist, yet they do not mention the command of Jesus through Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25: “Do this in remembrance of me.” In the Didache, the Eucharist is understood primarily as an act of thanksgiving. Chapter 9 of this document directs partakers in the Eucharist to “give thanks…First, concerning the cup… and [then] concerning the broken bread.”[31] This prayer, Bradshaw argues, is a more likely origin of the Eucharistic Prayers of the current Roman Rite than the Jewish Seder prayers. The Didache’s prayer of thanksgiving more closely parallels the Eucharistic Prayer as one to be recited before the Eucharist, whereas the prayers over food in Judaism were to be said after the Seder meal.[32] Chapter 10 contains a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s presence in salvation history‒ for having “[caused] to tabernacle in our hearts… for knowledge and faith and immortality,” for creation, and for “food and drink” first earthly and then spiritual‒ interspersed with doxology and ending in a prayer for deliverance of the Church from evil and for God to gather it “into [God’s] kingdom and for the Lord’s second coming: “Maranatha. Amen.”[33] This chapter includes no explicit reference to remembrance and, perhaps besides the exclamation, “Hosanna to the God (Son) of David”[34]‒ which is disputed as to whether it alludes specifically to the Son or simply to God as “vine of David,” with the latter view advanced by a majority of scholars including Bradshaw‒ makes no reference to Christ.[35]

A direct progression also cannot be drawn from the Didache to the Eucharistic prayer patterns of the Apostolic Constitutions. The latter text includes two distinct Eucharistic rites, one each in Books VII and VIII, which were unlikely to “have been current alongside one another in the same liturgical community.”[36] The second of these rites, which parallels a pattern from the Apostolic Tradition, is a short prayer of thanksgiving with no anamnesis. The rite in Book VII of the Apostolic Constitutions, though, is similar to that of the Didache 9-10, with a lengthy two-part anamnesis added to the centre of what had been the Didache’s post-Eucharistic prayer. The first of these parts, a “Christological anamnesis” as per Bradshaw, “recalls the incarnation, passion, resurrection, seating in glory, and hope for the eschaton.”[37] Both of these units link anamnesis with thanksgiving, but only in the second unit is anamnesis‒ Christ “commanded us to proclaim his death”‒ correlated with offering. This offering is not ours but that of Jesus’ “precious blood… poured out for us, and his precious body.”[38] However, this prayer does acknowledge our Eucharistic celebration as the “antitype” of Christ’s self-sacrifice.[39] Therefore, the relationship of elements of anamnesis and of sacrifice is novel in the Apostolic Constitutions in comparison to the Didache. Another significant difference between the Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions is the reversal of the sequence of anamnetic thanksgiving over the Eucharistic species, which is over the bread and then the wine in the Apostolic Constitutions, and in the opposite order in the Didache. The order in Book VII of the Apostolic Constitutions has been maintained in the institution narrative in the current Roman Missal.

Even more expanded anamneses than that in the Apostolic Constitutions are found in two Egyptian patristic documents, the Sacramentary of Sarapion and the Strasbourg Papyrus, which includes an early precursor to “the standard Eucharistic prayer of the Coptic Church, the Anaphora of St. Mark.”[40] Moreover, in both the Sacramentary of Sarapion and the Strasbourg Papyrus, the anamnesis is integrated with a prayer of offering. In the latter text, an elaborate theological anamnesis focused on creation‒ as opposed to the Christological anamnesis in the Apostolic Constitutions‒ shifts rapidly in its concluding sentences to doxology and then to offering: “You made everything through your wisdom… Your name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to your holy name and a pure sacrifice. Over this sacrifice and offering we pray and beseech you, remember your holy and only Catholic Church…”[41] The link between anamnesis and offering in the Strasbourg Papyrus is found also in the Sacramentary of Sarapion, as is reference to the sacrifice of the body and blood as both that of Christ and, by participation, that of partakers in the Eucharist.[42] This form occurs most clearly in Eucharistic Prayer II of the current Roman Missal which, among post-Vatican II Eucharistic Prayers, most closely resembles Eucharistic prayer structures of the Apostolic Constitutions.

The addition of a Christological anamnesis in Book VII of the Apostolic Constitutions to Eucharistic prayers adopted especially from the Didache, along with similar prayer structures in the Strasbourg Papyrus and in the Sacramentary of Sarapion, show a trend toward expansion of Eucharistic prayers, and in particular their anamnesis units, from the second through the fourth century. Bradshaw, though, cautions that, despite this expansionary trend and like diction and imagery in and organization of these Eucharistic prayers, one ought not to assume that they had a common source. A more probable explanation, says Bradshaw, is that “shared features” of these texts, especially those “in common [also] with the Didache, arose from “common Eucharistic image[s] circulating independently” in the eastern Roman Empire and in North Africa than from “a literary adaptation of [one] particular text.”[43]

Furthermore, by the fourth century, the trend toward expansion of the anamnesis unit in the Roman East had been halted. For example, in the Egyptian Anaphora of St. Basil, still “used in the Coptic Church today”[44] yet unlikely to have been the provenance of St. Basil, the anamnesis has been collapsed into a single sentence. It bears little resemblance to the anamnesis of the Apostolic Constitutions Book VII, except for its rapid conclusion with a mention of our offering back to God what humankind has been offered in the Eucharistic species:

We, therefore, remembering [Christ’s] holy sufferings, and his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, and his session at the right hand of the Father, and his glorious and fearful coming to us again, have set forth before you your own from your own gifts, this bread and this cup.[45]

The anamnesis in the Byzantine Liturgy of St. Basil, similarly to that of the Egyptian Anaphora of St. Basil, is also brief. The anaphora of the Byzantine Liturgy, according to R.C.D. Jasper and G.J. Cuming, is likely a late adaptation by the Cappadocian bishop of the Egyptian Anaphora, known as the Egyptian Basil. The hand of Basil in the Byzantine anaphora is attested by “Syriac and Armenian” translations of an intermediate text between its Egyptian and Byzantine versions. Basil’s intention in revising the Egyptian Anaphora was to add to it more references to Scripture. Consequently, even “the brief reference to creation in Egyptian Basil is… eliminated”[46] in the Byzantine Liturgy, wherein the anamnesis is much more succinct than that of the Egyptian text. Nonetheless, in the Byzantine Liturgy’s anamnesis, the Egyptian Basil’s focus on the Paschal mystery and swift transition to mention of offering are maintained.

The trend toward brevity in the anamnetic unit of liturgies that began prior to St. Basil’s time has reached a zenith in the post-Vatican II Roman Missal. The anamnesis in Eucharistic Prayer II, of the four regular Eucharistic Prayers the one that most closely resembles the form in the Apostolic Constitutions, is not even a full sentence long before it becomes a prayer of offering: “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of [Christ’s] death and resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the bread of life and the chalice of salvation.”[47] The anamnetic units of Eucharistic Prayers III and IV are more expansive than that in Eucharistic Prayer II, but still the anamnesis of all three prayers form less than a full sentence before their transition into offertory prayer. In Eucharistic Prayer IV, a proclamation of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, and of hope for “his coming in glory,”[48] is inserted between the anamnesis and the prayer of offering. This proclamation reprises the memorial acclamation of the paschal mystery and faith in the Lord’s second coming. Eucharistic Prayer I, unlike Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV, does not contain a single clear anamnetic unit. Enrico Mazza postulates that memorial whereby past encounters present pervades the Roman Canon, in order to emphasize that anamnesis is not “a conclusion or at least a consecutive proposition,” but the very “nature of the [Church’s] celebration,” grounded in Christ’s command, “Do this in memory of me.”[49]

This command, as Bruce T. Morrill and Margaret Scott point out, extends beyond Eucharistic celebration. Our memory of the Lord has social implications. Anamnesis, says Scott, is “living memory” that “who cares and forgives; who hears his people’s cry and does not let their brokenness and pain go on forever… who really does change death into life and overcome evil with good.”[50] Such memory of Christ’s “promise of presence”[51] to us, Morrill writes, is only possible if worship is grounded in solidarity with Christ poured out for us on the cross. Morrill criticizes much of contemporary liturgy that commemorates Christ risen while ignoring Christ crucified. Instead, following Johann Baptist Metz’s political theology, Morrill challenges contemporary Christians “to imitate” the kenosis of Christ on the cross, “by taking on the pattern of his selfless action on behalf of freedom for everyone, living and dead.”[52] The same Christ present in the Eucharist yearns to be present in those who participate in the Eucharist, in acts of solidarity with the suffering and with the dying. Solidarity, with its imperative to liberate as God liberates from suffering and death, is the link between Eucharistic liturgy and the liturgy of a life of social responsibility. Only thus, says Morrill, the Christian proclaims through living and perpetually present memory “the death of the Lord until he comes.”[53]

Anamnesis is not therefore restricted to worship, or to a particular part of the Eucharistic celebration. The succinct summary of the paschal mystery and statement of eschatological hope that bears the technical name of anamnesis serves to focus the entire Eucharistic celebration, which is essentially anamnetic. I have shown in this paper, with reference to key historical figures in Christianity, this anamnetic character of Christian and, in particular, Roman Catholic liturgy. While the term anamnesis and the related Hebrew word zikkaron are rare in Scripture, the Biblical canon, which grounds Christian and, in the case of the Old Testament, also Jewish faith, is also anamnetic at its core. Pre-Christian and non-religious notions of anamnesis approach the Christian understanding of anamnesis to varying degrees, and also serve to show the development toward the Christian sense of anamnesis as living and actualizing memory.

[1] ἀνάμνησις, in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, ed. Wesley J. Perschbacher (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 23.

[2] Dennis C. Smolarski, Liturgical Literacy: From Anamnesis to Worship (New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1990), 11.

[3] Bruce T. Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 177.

[4] R.E. Allen, “Anamnesis in Plato’s Meno and Phaedo,” The Review of Metaphysics 13, no. 1 (September 1959): 165.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Frederick Maxwell Schroeder, Form and Transformation: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus (Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992), 56-57.

[7] Laurence Dahan-Gaida, “Présentation,” in Mémoire, savoir, innovation, ed. Yves Abrioux et al. (Saint-Denis, FR: Presses Universitaires de Vinciennes, 2009), 8-10.

[8] Smolarski, Liturgical Literacy, 10.

[9] Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, “God’s Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching,” in The Jewish Roots of Christian Liturgy, ed. Eugene J. Fisher (New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1990), 184.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Smolarski, Liturgical Literacy, 11.

[12] Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, “God’s Mercy Endures Forever,” 184.

[13] “Eucharistic Prayer IV,” in The Roman Missal (Ottawa, ON: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 635.

[14] Strong’s Concordance, “Zikkaron: Memorial, Remembrance (זִכָּרוֹן).” http://concordances.org/ hebrew/2146.htm. Accessed 10 April 2012.

[15] Aelred Arnesen, “The Myth of Anamnesis,” Theology 105, no. 6 (November 2002): 436-437.

[16] Ibid., 436.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 439.

[19] Ibid., 436.

[20] Ibid., 439.

[21] Ibid., 436.

[22] Julie Gittoes, Anamnesis and the Eucharist: Contemporary Anglican Approaches (Aldershot UK/Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2008), 94.

[23] Gabriel R. Ricci, Time Consciousness: The Philosophical Uses of History (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002), 70.

[24] Augustine, Confessions XI.20.

[25] Ricci, Time Consciousness, 70.

[26] Augustine, De Trinitate XV.8.14. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130115.htm. Accessed 12 April 2012.

[27] Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978), 73.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I.79.6. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1079.htm. Accessed 12 April 2012.

[30] Thérèse de Lisieux, “Mon Chant d’Aujourd’hui,” in Oeuvres Complètes (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2006), 645-646. Translations from French are mine.

[31] Early Christian Writings, “Didache,” Chapter 9. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html. Accessed 12 April 2012.

[32] Paul F. Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 116.

[33] Early Christian Writings, “Didache,” Chapter 10. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html. Accessed 12 April 2012.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins, 117.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Apostolic Constitutions 7.25, quoted in Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins, 118.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Paul F. Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship: A Basic Introduction to Ideas and Practice, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010), 52.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins, 118-119.

[43] Ibid., 121.

[44] R.C.D. Jasper and C.J. Cuming, “The Egyptian Anaphora of St. Basil,” in Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed, 3rd ed. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 67.

[45] Ibid., 71.

[46] R.C.D. Jasper and C.J. Cuming, “The Byzantine Liturgy of St. Basil,” in Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed, 3rd ed. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 114.

[47] “Eucharistic Prayer II,” in The Roman Missal, 624.

[48] “Eucharistic Prayer II,” in The Roman Missal, 638.

[49] Enrico Mazza, The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986), 75.

[50] Margaret Scott, The Eucharist and Social Justice (New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press), 69.

[51] Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory, 34.

[52] Ibid., 34.

[53] Ibid., 179.

This essay was originally submitted for the course Introduction to Liturgy, SMT2402 HS, at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Canada, on 17 April 2012.


 Allen, R.E. “Anamnesis in Plato’s Meno and Phaedo.” The Review of Metaphysics 13, no. 1 (September 1959): 165-174.

ἀνάμνησις. In The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, edited by Wesley J. Perschbacher, 23. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990.

Arnesen, Aelred. “The Myth of Anamnesis.” Theology 105, no. 6 (November 2002): 436-437.

Apostolic Constitutions.” http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/07157.htm. Accessed 13 April 2012.

Augustine. Confessions.

            . De Trinitate XV.8. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130115.htm. Accessed 12 April 2012.

Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, “God’s Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching.” In The Jewish Roots of Christian Liturgy, edited by Eugene J. Fisher, 180-196. New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1990.

Bradshaw, Paul F. Eucharistic Origins. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

            . Early Christian Worship: A Basic Introduction to Ideas and Practice. 2nd ed. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010.

Dahan-Gaida, Laurence. “Présentation.” In Mémoire, savoir, innovation, edited by Yves Abrioux et al., 5-15. Saint-Denis, FR: Presses Universitaires de Vinciennes, 2009.

Early Christian Writings. “Didache.” http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html. Accessed 12 April 2012.

Gittoes, Julie. Anamnesis and the Eucharist: Contemporary Anglican Approaches. Aldershot UK/Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2008.

Jasper, R.C.D., and C.J. Cuming. Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed, 3rd ed. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990.

Mazza, Enrico. The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986.

Morrill, Bruce T. Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2000.

New American Bible.

Ricci, Gabriel R. Time Consciousness: The Philosophical Uses of History. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002.

 Roman Missal, The. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011.

Schroeder, Frederick Maxwell. Form and Transformation: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992.

Second Vatican Council. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.” http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html. Accessed 14 April 2012.

Smolarski, Dennis C. Liturgical Literacy: From Anamnesis to Worship. New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1990.

Strong’s Concordance. “Zikkaron: Memorial, Remembrance (זִכָּרוֹן).” http://concordances.org/ hebrew/2146.htm. Accessed 10 April 2012.

Thérèse de Lisieux. “Mon Chant d’Aujourd’hui.” In Oeuvres Complètes, 645-646. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2006.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae I.79.6. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1079.htm. Accessed 12 April 2012.

Plato. “Meno,” translated by Benjamin Jowett. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/meno.html. Accessed 10 April 2012.

Voegelin, Eric. Anamnesis. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978.

Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament.

A Greater Good- Reflection for Mass of June 14, 2010

14 Jun

Monday, June 14, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-16; Psalm 5: 1-2, 4-5, 6+, 12; Matthew 5:38-42

Nine chapters of 1 Kings before the passage that is today’s first reading, the story of Naboth’s vineyard, the chaos began that would bring down Israel’s monarchy. The disorder started in about 930 B.C.E. with the schism between the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel.[1]

From the viewpoint of the author 1 Kings, there were only three righteous kings, all of the south: David, Solomon, and Asa.[2] The forty-one-year reign of Asa over Judah overlaps with those of Jeroboam, first king of the North post-schism, and six kings of Israel, two of whom ruled for two years or less.[3] 1 Kings describes each of these northern monarchs as having done all the evil and worse of their predecessors back to Jeroboam.[4]

The two Books of Kings and the preceding two Books of Samuel, which together comprise the Biblical history of monarchical Israel, are clearly written from a Judahite perspective. The southern kings were not as good, nor were the northern kings as bad as they are made to appear.[5] Nevertheless, significant truth is found in these pro-Judahite and pro-Davidic accounts. Foremost of these truths is the danger of falling to false gods. The alarm is sounded even before the first king is anointed; a danger existed in the Israelites’ plea to Samuel to appoint for them “a king… as other nations have.”[6]

Ahab, the king featured in today’s first reading, was like his northern predecessors in his worship of foreign idols. He had even sealed his dependence on those gods in his marriage to Jezebel. Such worship of foreign deities was the chief evil of the northern kings that prophets like Elijah were sent to suppress.[7] Moreover, Ahab was given a long reign of twenty-two years in which the LORD gave him a chance to set right the evils of his predecessors.[8]

He did the opposite, and worse; Ahab did evil under the guise of keeping religious and social tradition. Ahab’s attempt to acquire Naboth’s vineyard was not wrong in and of itself; Naboth would have been expected by that tradition to give his excess land to his neighbour or to the poor and landless.[9] He refused to do so, which makes me question whenever I read this story why no prophet is said to have criticized Naboth’s lack of charity. Ahab, though, had no right to the land, or to have Jezebel force Naboth to part with his vineyard. On the surface, the actions of Ahab and of Jezebel do not seem wicked; the same ancient tradition in which two witnesses are sent to Naboth to bring a capital charge against him was also longstanding.[10] Here again, though, we see abuse of the vulnerable by those who have power over them. The treatment of Naboth by a king who has fallen for the gods of greed and affluence becomes a question of social justice and a question of to whom we bear allegiance: to God or to someone or something else.[11]

The account of Naboth’s vineyard and again today’s Gospel in which Jesus warns his disciples against the unjust application of a religious law that was designed to mitigate retaliatory violence- “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”[12]– remind us that charity must govern our actions as Christians. That charity must take precedence even over actions that are merely right by legal or by religious tradition.

Let us pray accordingly that our liturgy might strengthen us; that through the Sacrament of the Eucharist we might act with justice and with charity in applying laws that are good in and of themselves to the even greater good of ourselves, of our neighbour, of the world in which we live, and of our relationship with our God.


[1] Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984), 292-294.

[2] David and Solomon enjoyed the Lord’s favour despite their many cycles of sin and repentance. Both are said to have “rested with [their] ancestors” upon their deaths (see 1 Kings 2:10, 11:43). Asa, too, “pleased the LORD like his forefather David.” (1 Kings 15:11) 2 Kings chronicles the lives of two more righteous southern kings, Hezekiah and Josiah (see 2 Kings 16-20, 22, 23:1-30; see also Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 296).

[3] During the reign of Asa in Judah, the following kings came to power in the north of the split kingdom: Nadab (reigned for two years; see 1 Kings 15:25-32), Baasha (twenty-four years; see 1 Kings 15:33- 16:7), Elah (two years; see 1 Kings 16:8-14), Zimri (seven days; see 1 Kings 16:15-22), Omri (twelve years; see 1 Kings 16:23-28), and Ahab (twenty-two years, the first three of which overlapped with the reign of Asa; see 1 Kings 16:23-34).

[4] 1 Kings 15:26, 34, 13, 19, 25, 30.

[5] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 295-297.

[6] 1 Samuel 8:5

[7] John J. McDermott, “Weekday Homily Helps: June 14, 2010, Monday of the 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Exegesis of the First Reading.” Edited by Diane M Houdek (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2010).

[8] 1 Kings 16:29

[9] Ibid. See also Leviticus 25:13-17, which provides for the transfer in ancient Israel during the Jubilee year- every forty-nine years- of excess land from the wealthy to those who had less land. This ideal of charity was often not observed, and its observation was frequently not enforced.

[10] Ibid. See also Deuteronomy 17:6.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Matthew 5:38. Jesus’ saying there is based on the Old Testament law written in Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:19-20.

Discipline, Hope, Discipleship, and Good News- Reflection for Mass of May 25, 2010

24 May

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Ferial- Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Peter 1:10-16; Psalm 98:1-4; Mark 10:28-31

Two themes are especially prominent in the Gospel of Mark, kingdom and discipleship, and these take on an even greater focus as the Gospel progresses. Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry begins with the concise instruction, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”[1] That message, which puts into focus the kingdom of God and discipleship, remains true near the end of Christ’s ministry according to Mark.

Today we hear the corollary to yesterday’s story of the rich man, who had begun by asking Jesus what he had to do “to inherit eternal life,”[2] and had finished by going away saddened, “for he had many possessions.”[3] The story becomes all the more poignant, because Peter, the leader of the Twelve Apostles, is the one to exclaim in bewilderment to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.”[4] However, Peter, like the rich man before him, misses Jesus’ point- and the major point of the Gospel of Mark- about what it means to repent, and what it means to be a disciple of the Good News.

Peter, like the rich man and like us, must be liberated from our many possessions, those preoccupations that might be better understood as that which can possess us and that is not of God: excessive ambition for power, for affluence, and for ease in discerning and proclaiming the word by our speech and by our example. To repent is literally to turn around or to turn back from that which is non-conducive to living the Gospel. Repentance, though, must not simply be to turn away or to give away something, but to turn toward God, source of all that is good and holy.

The first letter of Peter also speaks to us of turning toward God, that we might be holy as God is holy.[5] While all our works are for naught in the absence of God, that does not mean that these are unimportant. Today’s reading from 1 Peter gives us two prescriptions for discipleship and for the perpetual discernment of God: “Discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when He is revealed.”[6] The first, discipline, requires prayer. God directs us through prayer and will not allow the one who discerns prayerfully to perish. God will also bring to eternal life those who hope. Christian hope is a central theme in 1 Peter, which goes on to instruct us: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”[7]

Discipleship, then, must be about discipline and hope. These bring us to the charity and holiness that is God. While we wait for the full revelation of God the Son in His return, we have already been given in Sacrament the gifts of Christ and of the “Good News of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.”[8] The very angels, says the First Letter of Peter, “long to look”[9] upon the gifts that we have received and yet for whose fulfillment we await.[10]

Let us pray, then, that we might be messengers of those divine gifts. We pray that our discipleship, strengthened by discipline and hope, might draw us ever closer to our God.


[1] Mark 1:15

[2] Mark 10:17

[3] Mark 10:22

[4] Mark 10:28

[5] 1 Peter 1:16. See also Leviticus 11:44, 19:2; Matthew 5:48; Luke 6:36.

[6] 1 Peter 1:13

[7] 1 Peter 3:15

[8] 1 Peter 1:12

[9] Ibid.

[10] 1 Peter 1:12-13

The Prophetic Body of Christ- Reflection for Mass of August 9, 2009

9 Aug

Sunday, August 9, 2009
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:2-9; Ephesians 4:30- 5:2; John 6:41-51 

Prophecy is a difficult, even dangerous, undertaking. Elijah knew this well. He contended with the unprecedented depravity of King Ahab who, as Scripture recounts, had done “evil in the sight of the Lord more than any of his predecessors.” (1) Just when Ahab would have been hard-pressed to do any worse, he married Jezebel, who proceeded to murder all the prophets of the Lord and to impose the worship of foreign idols upon Israel. Elijah was the only one of the Lord’s prophets to escape Jezebel’s rampage. He was left to end a crippling famine and to turn Israel back toward its God by slaying Jezebel’s idolatrous army of false prophets. Jezebel responded with renewed wrath, forcing Elijah to flee for his life into the wilderness. (2)

Neither the length of the journey, nor the heat, nor fatigue threatened Elijah’s resolve to prophesy; Elijah felt like a failure. He had brought a drought to an end and shown Israel’s God to be greater than the imported pagan deities. Yet, there he was, a fugitive under a flimsy broom tree in the desert. His end would be no more glorious than that of his ancestors. Therefore Elijah did not pray to God for the strength to continue. Instead, in his hopelessness he wished to die. (3)

Perhaps many of us can relate to such despair, even as deep as that of Elijah. We might feel underappreciated for our work. We’re too old, too young, too sad, or too sick. We complain bitterly. We struggle spiritually, and little consolation comes from prayer or from going to Mass. We feel like we’ve failed. But even total failure is redeemed by our God. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus delivers an astounding promise: “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (4) This bread is not perishable, as Jesus explains, like the manna that was provided from Heaven in Moses’ time. The Israelites ate that manna, “and they died.” (5) Jesus is the everlasting, “living bread that comes down from Heaven.” (6) But, as Jesus’ allusion to His flesh indicates, eternal life can only come through the Cross.

Christ crucified is the ultimate symbol of complete failure, but only by the Cross are we drawn forever to the Father with the Risen Jesus. St. John’s use of the verb “to draw” (7), in the context of the Father drawing us to Jesus, is remarkable, but its significance is easily missed. The next occurrence of this verb in Greek in John’s Gospel is when Jesus predicts His death: “When I am lifted up… I will draw everyone to Myself.” (8) The third appearance of this verb is less obvious in English because of differing translation; on the sea of Tiberias after the Resurrection, when Jesus tells the seven disciples to cast their net over the right side of the boat after a long night fishing without a catch, there are so many fish that the disciples are barely able “to pull” the net to shore. (9) But, as the net is pulled to shore but does not tear under the strain, so we, redeemed from sinful failure by a loving and merciful God, are drawn to Our Father by Christ who died and is risen for us.

The three instances of this verb, “to draw” or “to pull”, in the Gospel of John emphasize three related themes: the Passion, the Resurrection, and prophecy. The last of these stands out more in conjunction with today’s first reading centered on Elijah, who stands for the prophets. Last week’s first reading featured Moses, symbolic of the law. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and of the prophets. His Bread of Life Discourse- Chapter six of John- from which we read for four weeks in a row this month, superimposes a fourth theme upon the previous three: that of the Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist, we profess our belief in the Body and Blood of Christ crucified and risen by whom we are saved. Therefore, we become prophets of Christ’s death and Resurrection because we bear the “bread for the life of the world” (10), the flesh of Christ, within our own flesh. By our reception of the fullness of God made human, we are “all… taught by God” in the intimacy of our hearts and are thus drawn to the Father (11), as Jesus highlights by His references to the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah in today’s Gospel.

The universal call to be bearers and prophets of Christ to the world was made particularly clear to me two years ago, when I participated in a delegation to the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in New York. During the week we visited a different church in Manhattan for Mass each day. One of the daily Masses was at the home parish of the UN, the Church of the Holy Family. There, I was captivated by the beauty of the tabernacle. It was inscribed in Latin with the words from the prologue to John’s Gospel: Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis – The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (12) Indeed the Incarnate Word dwells among us and within us. We acknowledge this mystery every time we respond to the reception of the host at Communion: “Amen.”

To be a prophet of Christ is not easy. We are faced with times of despair. We are tempted to grumble and to want to give up. But St. Paul, whose letter to the Ephesians challenges us to “be imitators of God,” (13) offers us consolation also. We are “beloved children” (14) whom God has forgiven and calls to be like Him- “kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another.” (15) This is how we are to prophesy as Christians- by supporting and loving one another as one Church, as God loves us. (16)

St. Augustine offers another insight into our goal of prophetic discipleship in Christ. In two separate sermons focused on the Eucharist, he wrote: “If you receive worthily, you are what you have received” (17)… “To that which you are, you answer: ‘Amen’; and by answering, you subscribe to it. For you hear: ‘The Body of Christ!’ and you answer: ‘Amen!’ Be a member of Christ’s Body, so that your ‘Amen’ may be the truth.” (18)

When we receive the Body of Christ, that is what we become, so our “Amen” is both recognition of the Lord who comes to live among us, as well as a special greeting. Let us then, when we receive the Communion host, greet one another as fellow disciples and prophets of the Lord made flesh for our salvation. We are the Church- “the Body of Christ.” “Amen.”