Tag Archives: Religion

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.

Psalm 39: An Individual Lament

13 Nov

In The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Roland E. Murphy identifies Psalm 39 as “an individual lament, in a highly original form” (1:582). I will describe in this paper how Psalm 39 exemplifies an individual lament, following an identification of the characteristic elements of this type of psalm. I will then discuss ways in which Psalm 39 is unique: How it diverges from the typical form of the individual lament, and what elements of the psalm of lament are emphasized to a greater degree in Psalm 39 than in the usual individual lament.

Claus Westermann specifies eight distinctive parts of the “Psalms of petition or lament of the individual” (Westermann 64). The first of these parts is the address. In Israelite psalms of lament, addresses are notably brief, especially in comparison to the frequently lengthy introductory addresses of ancient “Babylonian and Egyptian laments” (Kolarcik 15). The addresses of Israelite psalms of lament presume “proximity [to] and familiarity” (Ibid.) with their addressee, who is invariably God. The second component of a psalm of lament, according to Westermann, is the lament proper or the complaint, directed against God or against enemies of the psalmist, who are often depicted as a “powerful army,” deceitful accusers in a “court scene,” or animals, for example (Kolarcik 16). In the case of a penitential psalm, the psalmist’s complaint is self-directed, in lament of his own sin. Complaints may be aimed at more than one of God, an enemy, or the psalmist’s self, even within the same psalm. Laments also feature expressions of “hope and trust in God,” termed by Westermann as a “confession of trust” (64) and by Michael Kolarcik as a “review of past” (15, 17). The psalmist expresses trust in God based on a historical record of God’s intervention on behalf of Israel. The “review of past” may also adopt the form of a sapiential reflection.

“In light of the trust” in God that Kolarcik cites as “the foundation of the lament, the psalmist then makes known the specific petition” (17). Such petitions are imperatives; the psalmist demands that God respond to them.  Psalms of lament may also include a series of “additional motive[s]” for God to answer the psalmist’s plea: God, says the psalmist, “will benefit from intervention on the psalmist’s behalf” (Kolarcik 18).  Some psalms of lament feature a “double wish,” whereby in entreating God to act in the psalmist’s defence, the psalmist also calls for a divine curse or punishment upon his enemy. Notably, in no psalm does the psalmist ask for the ability or strength to crush an enemy, but the psalmist entrusts this action to God. A statement of “divine response,” which conveys “assurance that the lament and the petition have been heard” (Ibid.), is included in some psalms of lament. Lastly, most psalms of lament contain a “vow to praise” God (Ibid.) should God alleviate the causes of the lament.

Of Westermann’s eight elements of an individual lament, he names five of these as “constituent parts” of this type of psalm: the “address, lament, confession of trust…petition, [and] vow of praise” (Westermann 64). The order in which these parts appear in a particular lament are unimportant to Westermann (Ibid.): “This… basic scheme… never becomes stereotyped.” Psalm 39 contains four of five of Westermann’s essential parts of an individual lament, lacking entirely a vow to praise. This psalm incorporates none of the other three elements of individual laments: motives, a double wish formula, or a statement of divine response.

Psalm 39 does include a brief address to God that, not unusually with respect to psalms of lament, is linked closely with the core of the psalmist’s address: “Listen to my prayer, LORD, hear my cry” (New American Bible, Psalm 39:13). However, Psalm 39 is atypical in the placement of its address in its next-to-last verse. The address, Kolarcik observes, is designed to open “the dialogue to what is important for the psalmist”: that God answer the petition (15). As such, the address most frequently serves as an introduction to the remainder of the psalm of lament, and is therefore not placed near the end of such a psalm. Instead of beginning with an address to God, Psalm 39 opens with a lengthy review of the past relationship between God and the psalmist (vv 2-4).  This review of the past is followed by the psalmist’s petition: “LORD, let me know my end, the number of my days, that I may learn how frail I am” (v 5). The placement of this petition within Psalm 39 is not unusual for an individual lament. However, James L. Crenshaw writes that “a peculiar feature of laments within Psalms [is] a decisive transition from plea to confident trust that [the LORD] will act to rectify the situation” (Crenshaw 81-82). Such a transition is present in Psalm 39. However, the expression of trust  (vv 6-8) begins as a sapiential reflection that continues until verse seven– a true statement of trust occurs in verse eight, “You are my only hope”– but also, according to Murphy (1:582), as a complaint against God: “You have given my days a very short span” (v 6a).

Several alternations, in fact, from review of past (vv 2-4, 6-8, 12, 13b), much of which is contained in sapiential reflections (vv 6-7, 12, 13b), to petition (vv 5, 9, 11a, 13, 14), take place in Psalm 39. The first lament cited by Murphy (v 6) is contained within a sapiential reflection, but the first clear complaint, directed against God, is expressed well into Psalm 39: “You were the one who did this… I am ravaged by the touch of your hand” (vv 10, 11b). The lament here is split by the petition, “Take your plague away from me” (vv 11a). Psalm 39 then concludes with an unresolved petition: “Turn your gaze from me…” (v 14). As Murphy suggests, the “dark note” on which Psalm 39 ends nonetheless conveys the trust of the psalmist in God amid what is likely mortal illness. This verse may also serve as a reminder from Torah: “[God’s] face you cannot see, for no [one] sees [God] and still lives” (Exodus 33:20).

I have thus analyzed how, in its elements, structure, and emphasis, Psalm 39 exemplifies a psalm of individual lament, and I have highlighted differences in this psalm from the typical form of an individual lament.


Crenshaw, James L. The Psalms: An Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Kolarcik, Michael. “The Psalms of Lament,” in RGB2263H F Lecture Notes, 15-19. http://individual.utoronto.ca/mfkolarcik/PSALMS3_3Laments.PDF. Accessed 16 October 2011.

Murphy, Roland E. “Psalms.” In The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, 2:569-602. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

 New American Bible.

Westermann, Claus. Praise and Lament in the Psalms. Translated by Keith R. Crim and Richard N. Soulen. Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1981.

This paper was submitted in November, 2011; MDiv Year III, Semester 1; for a course entitled “Psalms” (RGB 2263HF) at Regis College, Toronto, Canada. Hopefully this Christmas season is not causing  many to lament, but as I show, the purpose of the lament in the Psalms is to convey trust in God that is at the root of any good complaint!

Serving with Our Whole Being- Reflection for Mass of September 16, 2011

16 Sep

Friday, September 16, 2011
Memorial of St. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr, and St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr
Readings: 1 Timothy 6:2c-12; Psalm 45:5-6, 7-9, 16-17, 18-19 (R: see Matthew 5:3); Luke 8:1-3

As a Basilian Associate teaching high school French and English at Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA) in Cali, Colombia, three years ago, when I would teach the last class period of the day, there would not be much time between the end of my class and Evening Prayer in the house. I certainly did not have enough time then to prepare lesson plans or to grade homework. I did have just enough time to clear my mind after teaching before walking across the schoolyard to the house for silent reflection before Evening Prayer with our community there.

Before proceeding to the house, I would stop in regularly to speak with the school’s psychologist, who had become a good friend of mine. She would practice her English with me, while I would speak to her in Spanish. During one of our conversations, a woman came to greet the psychologist. She had two of her children, students at INSA, in tow. The mother and children smiled brightly, sharing what was clearly a joyful moment with the psychologist. When they left the room, the psychologist turned to me and said, “You wouldn’t know this by what you just saw, but the woman who was here is a single mother with HIV.”

Sadly, this story is not unique in the apostolate we Basilians serve in Cali. In addition to poverty and diseases such as HIV-AIDS, rates of substance abuse and violence are extremely high. Women are frequently the single parents; the poorest of the poor; the abused; those who serve their communities most eagerly, and often serve us with the deepest reminders of the ills of a society and of the socially-ingrained sin of the world[1] on one hand, and of profound joy and charity amid these ills and sin on the other.

Of the four evangelists, Luke arguably pays most attention to the social position of women of his time.[2] When the story I just recounted occurred, I was writing a reflection on the passage we hear in today’s Gospel, the first three verses of Chapter 8 of Luke. These verses break from the narrative before it of the sinful woman in the Pharisee’s house[3] (although, significantly, that story also centers upon a woman and Jesus), and the Parable of the Sower directly after it.[4] Luke introduces characters as though he will continue with a story about Jesus, the women, the Twelve, and the unnamed “many others.”[5] However, at least in the case of the women, two of them, Mary Magdalene and Joanna– if this is even the same person as in Luke 8– are only named in one other place in this Gospel, at the empty tomb along with Mary, mother of James, in its resurrection narrative.[6] Susanna is mentioned in Luke only in the passage we hear today.

Luke tells us so little about “Mary, called Magdalene,”[7] Joanna, and Susanna. We know that Mary had been healed of “seven demons,” a grave spiritual infirmity,[8] and that Joanna had marital ties to Herod’s court.[9] Yet there is so much in so little in this passage. Indeed, I am drawn to just two words. First, in English, Mary, Joanna, and Susanna, among “many others,” are said to have “provided for Jesus and the Twelve out of their resources.”[10] The Greek word in this sentence for provided is διηκόνουν, a conjugated form of the verb διακονέω (di-a-ko-ne’-o).[11] We derive the English word “deacon” from διακονέω. This is not to say that the women in today’s Gospel reading were engaging in institutionally-ordained diaconal ministry; this meaning of “deacon” is anachronistic to the Biblical context. However, these women were engaging in important service (διακονία)[12] in the nascent Church at a time when lively debate among Jewish and Judeo-Christian leaders was taking place about the role of women in public worship.[13] Luke undoubtedly goes beyond what many of these leaders deemed comfortable in the place he accords to women, but he goes further yet in writing that the women provided for Jesus and the Twelve “out of their resources.”[14] The Greek word translated as “resources” is ὑπαρχόντων (u-par-chón-ton).[15] The English word here limits the range of meanings of a Greek word that has connotations of being in addition to one’s resources or goods.

I speculate therefore whether the Evangelist might have wanted to convey that the women were serving Jesus and the Twelve out of their being– who they were– more than merely out of their material resources. These little-known women and “many others,” then and now, in a special way the poor and the infirm– the single mother in Cali with HIV, for example– model for us the dedication of our whole being to the service of one another and of our Lord, who graciously gives to us his whole being in the Eucharist we celebrate.

[1] Richard M. Gula, Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 116-121. Gula discusses social sin, “a relatively new… concept in Roman Catholic theology,” at some length. He writes that “the notion of social sin articulates how social structures can shape our existence for the worse.” Gula highlights “but a few examples” of what he defines as social sin: “patterns of racial discrimination, economic systems that exploit migrant farm workers, structures [that] make it necessary that persons be illegal aliens and that sanctuaries harbour them, and the exclusion of women from certain positions in the church.” (Reason Informed by Faith, 116).

[2] Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:138.

[3]  Luke 7:36-50.

[4] Luke 8:4-8.

[5] v 3.

[6] Luke 24:10.

[7] Luke 8:2.

[8] Ibid.

[9] v 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11]διηκόνουν,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, edited by Wesley J. Perschbacher (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 101.

[12]διακονία,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, 92.

[13] Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:138.

[14] Luke 8:3.

[15]ὑπαρχόντων,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, 417.

Like the Teacher in Mercy- Reflection for Mass of September 9, 2011

9 Sep

Friday, September 9, 2011
Optional Memorial of St. Peter Claver, Priest; Friday of the Twenty-Third Week of Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Timothy 1:1-2, 12-14; Psalm 16:1-2a+5, 7-8, 11 (R: see 5a); Luke 6:39-42

One might find it difficult to see mercy as the focal point of the words of Jesus that we hear in today’s Gospel: “How can you say to your neighbour, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite…”[1] That last word, “hypocrite,” is especially harsh to my– to our– ears, yet by criticizing his hearers and calling them hypocrites, Jesus draws attention beyond the criticism itself to the mercy of God.

However difficult it is to see mercy in these severe words, in between the metaphors of the blind person leading another blind person[2] and of the speck or log in one’s eye,[3] Jesus speaks words of warning against pride, but then words of consolation. On one hand we, Jesus’ disciples, cannot be “above the teacher.”[4] To think we could be greater than God is foolish as it is futile but, despite the logical impossibility of exceeding God in any particular divine quality, for example mercy, Jesus tells us on the other hand that “everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.”[5]

How, though, does one become “qualified” and thus “like the teacher?” Let us take up again the example of mercy, and how we might become as merciful as Jesus, the incarnate God; our teacher. In the Gospel of Luke mercy is singled out among the most important attributes of God. Moreover, this Gospel’s author teaches that mercy is not just characteristic of God, but that we, too, are expected to act mercifully toward one another. Just three verses before the beginning of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus teaches his disciples: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”[6]

One who is merciful does not hold grudges against another for small (and often not-so-small) wrongs, the proverbial specks in the eyes of other people. One who is merciful is at once mature and continuing to grow in self-knowledge. By self-knowledge, I do not mean a narcissistic self-flattery that fails to recognize our own wrongs, but an awareness of where we stand before God and openness to the mercy of God, who knows us even better than we could ever know ourselves. Only by God’s mercy, in which we are called to be “like the teacher,” are the logs in our eyes– our more grievous faults compared to the specks of others that might escape our awareness but for God’s grace toward us– removed. Only then are we disposed to lead the blind toward God in mercy and in purity of heart.

I have long been both challenged and encouraged by the fact that, while Matthew’s Gospel includes the extensive Sermon on the Mount, more than half of Luke’s Chapter 6 from which we hear today is taken up by the Sermon on the Mount’s Lukan parallel, the Sermon on the Plain. Many exegetes contend that Matthew portrays a more transcendent God (this is debatable) with Jesus teaching from the mount.[7] In contrast, Luke writes of Jesus teaching on a level plain, in the midst of the crowds. Luke’s lesson is that the instruction of Jesus on the plain is not too lofty for us; in fact, again, the more “accessible” Jesus of Luke’s Gospel expects us to follow after his example and his teachings, especially that on the abundance of mercy that God has toward us and asks us to have toward others.

We have great examples in the saints in how to follow Christ’s teachings: “Be merciful… everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.”[8] One such saintly example is Peter Claver, a prophetic voice for the African slaves in colonial Cartagena in what is now Colombia. Born in Barcelona, Spain, St. Peter Claver’s missionary vocation was recognized by Alfonso Rodriguez, another saint who was a Jesuit lay brother and mystic in Mallorca. After arriving in Cartagena in 1610, St. Peter Claver’s advocacy for the humane treatment of the Africans and indeed for the abolition of the slave trade that saw one third of African slaves die in transit between Africa and the Americas, drew the ire of slave traders and even of many of his own Jesuit brothers. After forty-four years in Cartagena, Peter Claver died, bedridden and neglected. Peter Claver, patron saint of Colombia, is nevertheless one of the Church’s great messengers of God’s mercy, giving his life as one “like the teacher.”[9]

As we continue this Eucharistic celebration, let us pray that, through the intercession of St. Peter Claver, our Basilian apostolates in Colombia and throughout the world might be beacons of mercy to the disadvantaged. May we be to all people “fully qualified” in the mercy of God, following after our Teacher, Lord, and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

[1] Luke 6:42

[2] v 39

[3] vv 41-42

[4] v 40

[5] Ibid.

[6] v 36

[7] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:69. Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 2:115.

[8] vv 36, 40

[9] Pierre Suau, “St. Peter Claver.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11763a.htm. Accessed 9 September 2011.

Clothed with Humility- Reflection for Evening Prayer of August 31, 2011

31 Aug

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Liturgy of the Hours: Wednesday, Week III
Reading for Evening Prayer: 1 Peter 5:5b-7

During a recent family reunion, I came across two icons of Christ, ruler of all– in Greek, Χριστος Παντοκράτωρ (Christos Pantokrator)– that belonged to two different relatives of mine. Since taking a course in New Testament Greek last year, I have become even more fascinated by icons, especially this one, Christos Pantokrator, than I had been previously.

What does the Christos Pantokrator icon have to do with the reading from 1 Peter from tonight’s Evening Prayer, though, and what does it have to do with our lives as religious, as Basilians, as priests or, in my case, as one in formation for ordained priesthood?

In the very first verse of the reading from tonight’s Vespers, the author of 1 Peter exhorts us: “Clothe yourselves with humility.”[1] When we look at the icon of Christos Pantokrator, and indeed of many icons of our Lord, he is clothed on the inside with a red garment, symbol of divinity. Overlaying the red, though, is an outer blue garment: Christ’s divinity has been clothed in our humanity. Therefore, by his Incarnation, Jesus Christ assumed our frail nature, of course without losing any of his divine nature. This is a valuable lesson in the virtue of humility. Not only does God show “kindness”[2] toward the humble, but God also shows us concretely the way of humility by becoming one like us, just as the ruler of all once created us in his image and likeness.[3]

Humility, I think, is one of the most difficult virtues for most people to practice. Perhaps this is because of the greatness of our human nature. One of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 8, praises God thus for the creation of human beings: “You have made them little less than a god.”[4] I know all too well by experience that this nearness to divine essence with which we have been created so easily leads to misplaced ambition and hubris. I am the last person who should be leading a reflection about humility!

When Jesus’ own Apostles let their pride get in the way of acceptance of the Cross– of giving everything they were in hope of the Kingdom of God– Jesus reminded them of their place in bringing about that Kingdom. Examples abound of Jesus reminding the Twelve– and us– of the humility with which he himself lived. The most striking instance of this to me is when he placed a child among his followers, who had been quarrelling over who among them was the greatest.[5]

As I was leaving the Vancouver airport to come home to Toronto just days ago, my two-year-old niece provided me with a reminder of humility clothed in godlike dignity. As I held her and said, “Bye, Molly, I love you,” she laid a big, sloppy kiss on my cheek that brought tears to my eyes. If Molly were to be represented in an icon, she would be wearing a blue inner garment draped in red which, of course, is how our humble Queen and Mother, Mary, is often depicted.

Out of the mouth of this babe, to paraphrase Psalm 8 again, came a defence “to silence the enemy”[6] that is pride, which deludes us into thinking that we do not need God.

Lastly, humility does not mean that we ought not to have dreams, cares, and ambitions. Such dreams, cares, and ambitions are normal and should be encouraged, as long as they draw us closer, especially as Basilian religious, to the dignity given to all of us by God. 1 Peter says, “Cast all your cares on [God], because he cares for you.”[7] After all, our God is a God who has clothed us “mere mortals”[8] in his image. As the Psalmist says, we are thus “crowned with glory and honour.”[9]

“O LORD, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!”[10]

This reflection was originally given during Evening Prayer (Vespers) of August 31, 2011, during a retreat of the Basilian Fathers’ Scholasticate in which I am currently living.

[1] 1 Peter 5:5

[2] Ibid.

[3] Genesis 1:27

[4] Psalm 8:6

[5] Mark 9:33-37, Luke 9:46-48

[6] Psalm 8:3

[7] 1 Peter 5:7

[8] Psalm 8:5

[9] v 6

[10] vv 2, 10

Followers of the Way

13 May

Shortly before leaving Canada to spend this summer in Madrid preparing for World Youth Day 2011, I purchased Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume on the life of Jesus, entitled Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. Just two chapters into this book, I am drawn into it especially by the theme of pilgrimage present from Pope Benedict’s opening page. Reflecting upon Jesus’ entrance or “ascent” into Jerusalem, an ascent both geographical– Jesus’ journey took him from the Sea of Galilee, below sea level, to Jerusalem, ” on average 2 500 feet above sea level”– and in theological terms, as Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) with the express purpose of accepting death for our salvation, Pope Benedict characterizes our Lord’s definitive travel to the Holy City as a pilgrimage:

The Synoptics [the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke] contain just one Passover feast– that of the Cross and Resurrection; indeed, in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ path is presented as a single pilgrim ascent from Galilee to Jerusalem (Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week, 2).

Similarly, the “ascent” on Madrid to be made by potentially over one million youth in August is also a pilgrimage. World Youth Day, of course, cannot have the same salvific goal as the once-for-all pilgrimage made by our Saviour nearly two thousand years ago, but we volunteers in Madrid are preparing for a pilgrimage nonetheless. Youth will arrive en masse to welcome and to be welcomed by the Pope; by the Church hierarchy of Spain and from around the world; by the People of God; by one another. However, our main purpose remains to welcome Christ, Lord of youth– of the “little ones”– as the faithful of Jerusalem once did, receiving the Prince of Peace by lining his path with palm branches. As Pope Benedict writes, drawing upon Psalm 8:2 and the Palm Sunday motif,

From these “little ones,” praise will always come to him; from those able to see with pure and undivided hearts, from those who are open to [God’s] goodness (Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week, 23). 

 With “pure and undivided hearts,” let us then welcome Christ, the God-man who, as the theme of World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany, in which I participated as a pilgrim,  reminds us, is always with us: Gott ist mit uns (Matt 1:23).

These related themes of welcoming God and of pilgrimage bring me to a last thought to integrate into this article: Much has been spoken in these last few days I have been in Madrid about the previous and only other time that Spain hosted World Youth Day, in Santiago de Compostela in August, 1989. Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral in honour of the Apostle St. James is the terminus of the famous Camino de Santiago de Compostela, whose main section originates in the French Pyrenées and is over seven hundred kilometres long. El Camino is a pilgrimage par excellence!

Christians at all times and in all places, from the Apostolic Age to the contemporary World Youth Day movement, must consider themselves to be on pilgrimage; our camino of life must be one of bringing before God the praise of his servants, the “little ones,” the youth. I end on this note, that the first Christians considered themselves to be on a camino, a pigrimage. They self-identified simply as “the Way.” We, like them, follow Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), as the very first paragraph of the Basilian Way of Life, my religious Congregation’s Constitution, quoted on the bookmark I am using as I read Pope Benedict’s book, attests:

The early Christians knew themselves as ‘followers of the Way’; they were instructed in the Way of the Lord. All Christian life must find its centre in Christ our Lord, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the authentic teaching of the Gospel is the first and essential guide for anyone who wants to follow this way of life (Basilian Way of Life, no. 1).

Desde Madrid (from Madrid), Warren Schmidt, CSB.

First Full Day of Work toward World Youth Day in Madrid

12 May

¡Ya vamos! Here we go!

Today was the first full day of work for me, in the Department of Communications, and for a friend and university colleague with whom I travelled here and with whom I am living in Madrid, who is in the Department of Culture, in preparation for World Youth Day 2011 that will take place August 16-21. So far, I have been impressed by Madrid, from the helpfulness of our host family to the cleanliness, order, and expanse of Madrid’s metro system, to the climate– that said, we have yet to feel the brunt of the renowned Madrid summer heat– to the welcome we have received from fellow World Youth Day staff and volunteers.

My first day consisted of meetings and of e-mailing Canadian and American youth ministers from several parishes and dioceses. In establishing new contacts and following up on old ones with youth ministers and the youth that they serve, I am searching for stories from English-speaking youth who will be participating in this year’s “JMJ” (the Spanish acronym for World Youth Day, la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud) for web-based publication.

The Spanish work day begins and ends much later than the usual work day in Canada. Meal times are also longer and much later; with a fellow Canadian in Communications I concurred that for my Canadian stomach to get used to this it will take some time.

Warren Schmidt, desde Madrid (from Madrid) JMJ/WYD 2011.

Homily Assignment on Vatican II’s Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius

8 May

The following is the last of three assignments I submitted for my course entitled “Thought of Vatican II” at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON Canada (MDiv Year II, Semester I, dated 7 December 2010). One of the options for this “integrative” assignment for those who foresee entering ordained ministry was to write a “homily,” taking into account one of the Decrees or Declarations (not one of the constitutions: Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dei Verbum, Lumen Gentium, or Gaudium et Spes)  of the Second Vatican Council as well as liturgical readings for the day on which the homily would be preached (It was not actually required to deliver the homily orally; only to write it). As I had presented earlier in this course on the Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, my homily assignment focused on the same document. The original preface I wrote to explain the imagined liturgical setting and readings appears before the homily itself, and an appendix with the readings appears after it.


The liturgical setting of the following homily is a Mass of ordination to the presbyterate. In this homily assignment, I will correlate the core teachings of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, with the Scriptural readings I have selected for this Mass.  The first reading, Isaiah 61:3a, focuses on the universal divine commission to serve persons most in need. The Gospel acclamation, Luke’s quotation from Isaiah 61:1, carries forward this notion of service into the Gospel reading, Luke 22:14-20, 24-30, which joins the imperative of humble service given by Jesus to his apostles and to their successors with the institution of the Eucharist. Likewise, Psalm 116:12-13, 17-18 and its responsorial verse, 1 Corinthians 10:16, relate the themes of service in God’s name an Eucharist as both communion– among human beings and between humankind and God– and thanksgiving for God’s goodness. The second reading, 1 Peter 5:1-4, applies the Christian obligation of humility specifically to presbyteral ministry; a presbyter is not to work for his own gain, but for the good of all among whom the presbyter ministers.


The Fathers of Vatican II were highly attentive toward the significance of formation for ordained priesthood and toward presbyteral ministry itself. Two Conciliar decrees, Optatam Totius and Presbyterorum Ordinis, focused on these respective subjects. Vatican II as a whole was primarily a council of renewal of the Catholic Church, a council at once of aggiornamento, or bringing the Church up to date, and of ressourcement, a return to sources– to tradition both Biblical and extra-Biblical, with a special esteem of the early Church Fathers– and ultimately to God. This need for renewal of the Church is acknowledged in the opening sentence of Optatam Totius, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation. This document begins by entrusting much of this ecclesial renewal to its priests and those who form men discerning the Sacrament of Orders. Optatam Totius declares: “This sacred Synod well knows that the wished-for renewal of the whole Church depends in large measure on a ministry of priests [that] is vitalized by the Spirit of Christ.”

The foundation of all priestly formation, then, is Christ, in whose priesthood the ordained participate. The priest is called, says Optatam Totius, to be vitalized, that is, enlivened, by the Spirit of Christ. In Christ’s Spirit– as our first reading from Isaiah puts it, “the Spirit of the LORD God”– the priest is anointed for service to God and to the Church, the people of God. During this very liturgy of priestly ordination, the priests, once vested with stole and chasuble, will be anointed with chrism on the palms of their hands. The Holy Spirit of Christ, begotten of the Father, is at this point called to rest upon the candidate for Orders, through the prayer from the Rite of Ordination that coincides with the anointing of hands: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.” Together, the anointing with chrism of the hands of the newly ordained and this prayer recall the constant presence of the Holy Spirit among us. Not only in Holy Orders, but in our Baptism into the priesthood of the faithful, in Confirmation, and in the Anointing of the Sick recipients of these Sacraments are anointed with chrism. Thus, from our reception into the Church until our reception into the company of the saints in heaven, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us as God’s Spirit is on the prophets and upon Christ. In the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life” (cf. the Nicene Creed), we are perpetually vitalized.

Renewed by the Spirit of the Lord, the Church and priesthood within it are by nature transcendent of earthly borders, such as those between nations, languages, cultures, and social classes, yet at the same time God shows preference toward the poor, the captives, and the oppressed. To these, Isaiah writes, he had been “anointed to bring good news… to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour.” Jesus made Isaiah’s mission his own from the beginning of his ministry, as we have heard in today’s Gospel Acclamation. That verse is drawn from Luke who, uniquely among the Gospel authors, includes Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah 61 before the Synagogue assembly in Nazareth on the Sabbath. In Luke, this is Jesus’ first act of public ministry. Jesus begins, as had Isaiah before him, by announcing that he had been sealed by the Spirit to evangelize, to free those held captive by that which is not of God, to restore sight to the blind, and “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour.” We might recall that Jesus’ first act of prophecy, the words of Isaiah from the scroll, was well-received by his audience. However, for declaring that his message of reconciliation and of healing would extend to those most in need, whether Jews or Gentiles, Jesus draws the assembly’s rejection. Undeterred, Jesus continues his mission, as the concluding sentence of Luke 4 illustrates: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”

The same proclamation of the kingdom of God for which Jesus was sent is also our purpose and our imperative in priestly ministry in Christ’s stead. An entire chapter of Optatam Totius is devoted to “matters [that] have a special bearing on the sacred ministry” of the presbyterate, namely those of pastoral service: “catechetics, preaching, liturgical worship, the conferral of the Sacraments, works of charity, [and] the duty of seeking out the straying sheep and unbelievers,” according to article nineteen of this decree. Not to be disconnected from the intellectual and spiritual formation for priesthood treated in previous chapters of Vatican II’s Decree on Priestly Formation, nonetheless “the promotion of strictly pastoral training” for priests-to-be is given a special place as the title of the sixth chapter of Optatam Totius. Without this pastoral dimension, the import of the Catholic priesthood and of priestly formation is minimized. As pastoral training is necessarily linked to intellectual and spiritual formation of clergy if priestly formation is to be considered holistic so, too, I go as far as to say that those pastoral services enumerated in article nineteen of Optatam Totius all ought to be understood as works of charity. Here I do not read into Optatam Totius a concept not in the document; the same article nineteen of this decree underscores the chief “qualities to be developed in seminarians,” such as promotion of dialogue, and “a capacity to listen to other people and to open their hearts in a spirit of charity to the various circumstances of human need.”

My emphasis on the pastoral aspect of the presbyterate and of priestly formation, and on all pastoral works as works of charity, comes from my experience as an associate of the religious community of priests to which I belong, the Basilian Fathers. I was sent early in my priestly formation to Cali, Colombia, to teach high school French and English and to learn Spanish. As I gradually learned not only a new language but a new culture, I noted that, in addition to abject poverty, most people of the Basilian school and parish had received little catechetical instruction. The mission of the Basilians in Cali, then, was at once to alleviate the material poverty of those whom we served, as well as to provide an education– often entirely subsidized– to these people in both religious and secular disciplines. From that, there developed a deep bond of love between the Basilians and the residents of our parish neighbourhood. This was impressed upon me one day when, as a community manual labour exercise, I was washing clay roofing shingles in our schoolyard. A poor man on the street approached the schoolyard gate and greeted me with a smile, “Hola, Padre”– “Hello, Father!” Not yet ordained at that time, I had difficulty then– and I still do– with being called “Father,” for the pastoral responsibility that this title denotes, yet if I were to be called Father, all my works, I prayed, would be acts of charity. My priesthood, modeled after that of Christ, would be pastoral by definition. Priesthood is an anointing to pastoral acts of charity, whether one is a parish priest, a high-school, university, or seminary instructor, a scholar; whether one is praying, in recreation, or is washing shingles in a schoolyard. Priesthood is pastoral charity, oriented toward the good of human community and finally toward God.

My appointment to Colombia increased my awareness that priesthood, as a ministry of ecclesial leadership in charity, takes into account both the universal Church and the local church.  At the same time, the universality– the catholicity– of the Church became more evident to me as did the particular needs of local churches, regions, and nations. I was sent from Edmonton to Cali, after only six months as a Basilian associate, the earliest stage of formation in our religious community. The differences between the two churches are remarkable; the relative affluence of Edmonton over Cali, the religious devotion inherent in Colombian culture, and the linguistic dissimilarity between the two places are but a few of these distinctions. Nonetheless, the same Mass is celebrated in both Edmonton and Cali; Edmontonian and Caleño Catholics belong to the same Church in communion with the See of Rome.

Regarding priestly formation in particular, Optatam Totius holds in tension the recognition of the necessities of local churches and of those of the universal Church. The decree begins with an accent on the former: “Since the variety of peoples is so great,” says article one of Optatam Totius, “only general rules,” such as the establishment of “Program[s] of Priestly Formation” by regional bishops’ conferences, “can be legislated.” In Optatam Totius’ next article, though, which begins its chapter on “the intensified encouragement of priestly vocations,” the document is clear that “the task of fostering vocations devolves on the whole Christian community.” The encouragement of vocations to ordained priesthood evidently begins at the local level– in homes, in schools, and in parishes– yet it extends universally. To those who will be ordained shortly: The best way to encourage vocations, not only to the priesthood but to the specific vocation to which God calls each Christian, is to live your own divine calling to Holy Orders joyfully. In today’s second reading, the author of 1 Peter acknowledges that his vocation as an elder– literally, a presbyter– is not easy. He is “a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed.” Articles nine and ten of Optatam Totius echo this eschatological balance of 1 Peter of the “obligations” and even “hardship of the priestly life” with joy “in the blessedness promised by the Gospel” and by a “profound identification of” the priest’s entire life with that of Jesus Christ.

Priesthood, configured to Christ, is more than the power to confect the Eucharist, although this sacerdotal privilege is not unimportant. As per article eight of Optatam Totius, the priest must “be taught to look for Christ in many places: in faithful meditation on God’s word, in active communion with the holy mysteries of the Church… in the bishop” whom they assist, “the poor, the young, the sick, the sinful, and the unbelieving.” The Eucharist is only the beginning of Christian service; the priest who confects it for and receives it with the people of God must not, as today’s Gospel and second reading both affirm, “lord it over” those whom we serve as leaders. The Eucharistic feast must be united with and must give way to service. Moreover, as we heard in today’s Responsorial Psalm, the Eucharist, over which the priest presides, is at once an act of thanksgiving and one that draws human beings into ever-closer communion with one another and with God.

Let us pray, then, for the priestly candidates present before us here, and for all priests and those in formation for Holy Orders, that they might be joyful instruments of and participants in the priesthood of Christ. In this Eucharistic celebration we thank God for the gift of priests, “the hope of the Church,” as concludes Optatam Totius, and for those entrusted with their formation.

Appendix: Readings for Homily Assignment on Optatam Totius

Thought of Vatican II- SMT 3670 HF

Readings are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, selected according to The Rites of the Catholic Church, trans. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (New York: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1980), 2:102-106.

First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-3a

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 116:12-13, 17-18 (Response: 1 Corinthians 10:16)

12What shall I return to the Lord
   for all his bounty to me?
13I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord

 R: Our blessing-cup is a communion with the blood of Christ.

17I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
   and call on the name of the Lord.
18I will pay my vows to the Lord
   in the presence of all his people. R.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 5:1-4

1Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it— not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 4And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.

Gospel Acclamation (Luke 4:18-19)


 The Lord sent me to bring good news to the poor and freedom to prisoners.


Gospel Reading: Luke 22:14-20, 24-30

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it* until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

24A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Per Ipsum, cum Ipso, in Ipso: George Bernard Cardinal Flahiff, Father of Vatican II

16 Apr

Archbishop George Bernard Flahiff attended every session of Vatican II, but “spoke only once to the assembled council fathers,” on ecumenism.[1] However, I have chosen Flahiff as the subject of my biography of a council father because of his significant involvement in the promotion and development of Vatican II’s theological appreciation of religious life, and because the study of Flahiff’s life is of special interest to me as a Basilian in formation for priestly service. I will therefore consider Flahiff’s efforts in preparation for the Second Vatican Council, his role as a Father of the Second Vatican Council, and how Flahiff’s teaching and example, notably as Superior General of the Congregation of St. Basil, were an anticipation of the Council. Lastly, I will discuss Flahiff’s post-Conciliar application of the theological legacy of Vatican II.

Flahiff, thirty years ordained, was elected to his second term as Superior General of the Basilian Fathers on 14 June 1960.[2] During his inaugural six-year term in this position, Flahiff was instrumental in the 1955 reunification of the Basilian Fathers of Viviers, France, and of Toronto, Canada, divided since 1922.[3] As head of the Basilians, he also anticipated the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, especially in the areas of Catholic education, of liturgy, of missions, and of religious life. Flahiff, though, perpetually deemed himself unworthy of positions of ecclesial leadership. In what may have been a reference to a quotation from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Flahiff’s baptismal namesake, when one of his fellow monks became Pope Eugene III in 1145, Flahiff said to Basilian Chapter delegates upon his second election as Superior General, “May God forgive you for what you have done.”[4] Recalled nonetheless by his successor as Superior General, Fr. Joseph Wey, as a “man of God” and an example to his confreres of charity, of care for his fellow Basilians and for those to whom he ministered, and of a “vigourous interior life,”[5] Flahiff was named Archbishop of Winnipeg on 15 March 1961.[6] Vatican II, convoked on Christmas Day, 1961, by Pope John XXIII, opened in October of the following year.[7]

Formal planning for Vatican II had commenced with the motu proprio of June 5, 1960, Superno Dei Nutu, in which John XXIII established the Council’s preparatory commissions and secretariats. Once Flahiff had been appointed to head the See of Winnipeg, “the Council organizers,” Fr. P. Wallace Platt writes, “were not long in fingering the new archbishop to help in the preparation.”[8] His assignment to the Preparatory Commission on Religious Life was an added surprise for the self-effacing Flahiff, who had begun his episcopacy only six months earlier. Flahiff’s progression from Basilian Superior General to archbishop to father of an ecumenical council was indeed swift, even astonishing many of his Basilian confreres.[9] Flahiff cautiously accepted the new responsibilities long foreseen for him by Rome, as he noted concerning his April, 1961, private audience with Pope John XXIII. Archbishop-elect for less than a month at that time, Flahiff replied hesitantly to a question from the pontiff about his age: “Fifty-five years, Holy Father.”[10] John XXIII then responded:

That is fine. I was forty-four [years old] when I was consecrated a bishop. I will tell you something. It is all in the Pater Noster– three things: hallowed- kingdom- will. [God’s] will only matters. [God] chooses you.[11]

The pope’s entreaty failed to dispel Flahiff’s anxiety at becoming a bishop. John XXIII, though, remained convinced that Flahiff was a worthy selection to the episcopate. Christ Himself, pleaded Pope John again, willed that Flahiff serve as a bishop. The pope informed Flahiff that he had seen the scrutinium, “the document outlining the qualifications of the candidate for a bishopric,” and that “we were all pleased: you were for this post.” Flahiff then told John XXIII his episcopal motto, Per Ipsum, cum Ipso, in Ipso, at which the pope “beamed, ‘Ah, bene, bene! That is it!’”[12] Flahiff was sustained as he had been before his episcopal consecration, by a deep life of prayer. Amid rumours that Flahiff would fill the vacant See of Winnipeg, before the Vatican Radio announcement that he had in fact been named its bishop, another Canadian bishop cynically remarked: “I hear they are going to appoint a bishop who prays.”[13] Flahiff’s reputation for prayerful discernment of God’s will and of the good of his confreres both individually and congregationally had gained him widespread admiration among Basilians. As Basilian Superior General from 1954 to 1961, he was keenly interested in the welfare of the burgeoning community, especially in the areas of vocations and religious and priestly formation and vocations, as well as the missions. Flahiff’s commitment to such matters, to which five letters written by, to, or about Flahiff during or immediately following his generalate attest, foreshadowed the attention paid to those themes at Vatican II a decade later.

The first of these letters, dated 21 May 1955, is addressed to Flahiff by Fr. John Collins, Director of the Basilian Mission Centre in Rosenberg, Texas.[14] Collins had met with Bishop Wendelin J. Nold of Galveston, who asked for the appointment of two additional Basilian priests to serve the rapidly growing Mexican community in his diocese. Two days later, Bishop Nold sent this request in writing to Collins. He proposed not only that the Basilian presence in Rosenberg be maintained, but that the Basilians also replace the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in immigrant chaplaincy in Sugar Land or Stafford and establish a second mission centre in Angleton.[15] Upon notification via Collins of Bishop Nold’s petition, Flahiff appointed Fr. William F. McGee as Superior in Angleton and Collins to the parishes in Sugar Land and in Stafford.[16] Flahiff’s acceptance of this increased Basilian commitment to the missions was only the beginning of the order’s rapid spread into mission territory; by the end of Flahiff’s generalate, the Basilians were established in Mexico City.[17] As Superior General, Flahiff also actively sought religious vocations, as shown by his letters to Frs. A. Leland Higgins, Basilian General Councillor, and John Corrigan. Two letters of 3 March 1961 chronicle one of Flahiff’s last appointments of his generalate, that of Fr. Edmund Brennan as Vocation Director.[18] Although Flahiff had chosen Brennan to succeed Corrigan due to the latter’s poor health, he recognized Corrigan’s expertise in religious formation- he had published a book, Theology of Religious Vocation- and assured him of the need for his collaboration with the newly-assigned Brennan.[19] A fifth letter, from Fr. John Fiore congratulating Flahiff on his consecration as bishop, shows that a Vatican II understanding of the episcopacy as the “fullness”[20] of Holy Orders, as Fiore wrote, was already ingrained in the Basilian order before the Council.

During Vatican II, Archbishop Flahiff’s input before the assembly was limited. Behind the scenes, though, Flahiff participated actively in conciliar discussions. A member of the pre-conciliar Commission on Religious Life, Flahiff later contributed to the writing of Perfectae caritatis, Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life.[21] Flahiff’s sole opportunity to speak before the assembly came during the Council’s third session on 2 October 1964. His speech on “the schema on ecumenism” that became Unitatis redintegratio[22] was remarkable for his assessment of the purifying role of intra-Christian divisions. Flahiff stated that “schisms can remind the Church that ‘she is not yet as holy as she should be and not yet perfectly obedient to her vocation to be catholic.’”[23]

Flahiff was appointed after Vatican II to the Congregations for Religious Life and Secular Institutes and for Catholic Education. He was also one of four Canadian bishops to attend each of the first two Synods of Bishops in Rome in 1967 and 1971. Pope Paul VI named Flahiff a Cardinal on 28 March 1969.[24] P. Wallace Platt speculates that Cardinal Flahiff’s further rise in ecclesial ranks was thus halted by a strong minority in the Roman Curia who were suspicious of him. For instance, Flahiff’s recommendation to the 1971 Synod of Bishops for greater recognition of “the aspirations of women… in the life of the Church” was met with criticism from those who regarded Flahiff as advocating the ordination of women.[25] Nonetheless, within the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and the Congregation of St. Basil, Cardinal Flahiff was particularly respected. He reminded his fellow Basilians, most notably at the order’s 1966 General Chapter that, in keeping with Perfectae caritatis, all aspects of religious life require constant scrutiny and renewal. Flahiff also frequently emphasized the interconnection among the documents of Vatican II.[26] He retired to the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada in 1982 and died in the same city on 22 August 1989. George Bernard Cardinal Flahiff, father of Vatican II, is remembered primarily by P. Wallace Platt for his “example” as “a zealous pastor, a humble religious, a faithful [priest,] and an admirable human person.”[27]



This essay was originally submitted on 12 October 2010 for a course entitled “Thought of Vatican II,” at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON, Canada, MDiv Year II, Semester I.

[1] P. Wallace Platt, Gentle Eminence: A Life of Cardinal Flahiff (Montreal/ Kingston/ London/ Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999), 101.

[2] P. Wallace Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” in Dictionary of Basilian Biography, 2nd ed. (Toronto/ Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 2005), 216-217.

[3] Ibid., 216.

[4] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 66.

[5] Ibid., 66-67.

[6] Ibid., 224.

[7] Walter M. Abbott, ed. “Important Dates of Vatican II,” in The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press, 1966), 741.

[8] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 91.

[9] Ibid., 68.

[10] Ibid., 74.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 75.

[13] Ibid., 75.

[14] John Collins to George B. Flahiff, 21 May 1955, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[15] Wendelin J. Nold to John Collins, 23 May 1955, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[16] George B. Flahiff to Wendelin J. Nold, 18 June 1955, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[17] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 217.

[18] George B. Flahiff to A, Leland Higgins, 3 March 1961, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[19] George B. Flahiff to John Corrigan, 3 March 1961, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[20] John Fiore to George B. Flahiff, 2 May 1961, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[21] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 217.

[22] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 101.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 217.

[25] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 101.

[26] George B. Flahiff, “Vatican II and the Religious Life,”16 August 1966, Keynote address to the Basilian Convention, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY.

[27] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 213-218.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: We Believe as We Pray– Reflection for Mass of April 1, 2011

1 Apr

Friday, April 1, 2011
Ferial– Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: Hosea 14:1-9; Psalm 81: 5c-10ab, 13+16 (R: 10+8a); Mark 12:28b-34

Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheynu Adonai echad– Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD.”[1] This greatest of ancient Jewish prayers is a case of the principle Christians would later call lex orandi, lex credendi: the law that is prayed comes to be the law that is believed.[2] Indeed, Jews still pray the Shema twice daily as the LORD commanded them in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”[3]

These words of the LORD clearly were assigned a place of prominence; they were to be fixed as the primary focus on the hearts, on the homes, on the heads, and on the bodies, specifically the wrists, of the faithful. Similarly, Jesus affirms for us in today`s Gospel that this prayer leads us to a deepened faith, again illustrating for us the notion of lex orandi, lex credendi. That faith gives rise to a love of God that becomes affixed in our hearts, in our innermost homes that are our souls, in our minds, and in our bodies wherein lay our strength.[4]

Out of six hundred thirteen Mitzvot, or religious statutes, in the Torah,[5] Jesus cites only two as the Commandments than which there are none greater. The first is the Shema of Deuteronomy, while the second is from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”[6]

In its original context in Leviticus, the scope of this second of the greatest Commandments is restricted to the Israelites’ “fellow countrymen,”[7] those bound to the covenant between the LORD and Israel. However, Jesus challenges us to broaden our horizon of who our neighbour is. Of course, we need not to walk too far through downtown Toronto to have our concept of neighbour challenged: near to here we find the poor, the mentally ill, the addicts, the newcomers and refugees. Jesus reminds us that these, too, are our neighbours. One cannot be said to love God without loving these people, often the least valued and most forgotten of our preoccupied, capital-oriented society.

I have increasingly been taking note in my reading of the Gospels of late how many pericopes end in silence. Today’s Gospel reading is another example of this; the scribe who had asked Jesus which is the greatest Commandment, and indeed all the other religious leaders with him, did not dare “to ask [Jesus] any question.”[8] I doubt that these religious leaders fell silent because they were wholly satisfied with Jesus’ answer. They knew how correct and how wise Jesus had been in expanding their sense of neighbour and, with it, their sense of God. They knew all too well, as we know all too well, the rectitude of Jesus’ teaching and how difficult this teaching is to live out. If our love of neighbour does not extend to those who evoke the most disgust in us, then even our worship, our “burnt offerings and sacrifices,”[9] become not an act of love of God but an act of proud idolatry, of saying “‘Our god’ to the work of our hands.”[10]

Even amid our pride and our failure at times to see the least among us as our neighbour, though, Jesus still tells us comfortingly, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”[11] How, then, do we make up this distance from God’s kingdom? On our own, entrance into God’s kingdom is impossible. Only in relationship with God, through consistent prayer, will our weakness, our divided hearts, and our distance from God be overcome, and will we come to see our neighbour, and God, for who they truly are.

That regularity in prayer is the point of the Shema. By praying the Law enjoined on us, we will gradually come to believe in that which we pray: lex orandi, lex credendi. Then, that in which, or better yet in whom, we come to believe, God through an expanded notion of neighbour, we will come more fully to love.


[1] The Shema– Hear, O Israel! http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Torah/The_Shema/the_shema. html. Accessed 30 March 2011. See also Deuteronomy 6:4.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1124. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s1c1a2.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011. This section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.”

[3] Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

[4] See Mark 12:30.

[5] Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011.

[6] Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31.

[7] Leviticus 19:18.

[8] Mark 12:34.

[9] Mark 12:33.

[10] Hosea 14:4.

[11] Mark 12:34.