Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Friday, February 25, 2011

ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν

For the tradition I received from the Lord and also handed on to you is that on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.' Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
I figured, a couple posts ago, I gave you a Latin title, so for this article, I thought I'd give you the Greek. But if it's all Greek to you, know that it's taken from the passage quoted above. Specifically, it says, "Do this as a memorial of me." It is this memorial aspect of the Eucharist that we'll examine in this article, particularly how Jesus' command to celebrate the Eucharist "in remembrance of Me" ties into the sacrificial nature of the Blessed Sacrament.

Just a Memorial?
Those who deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist often try to use these words to show that Jesus wasn't speaking literally or sacrificially at the Last Supper. The school of thought that holds to this position is known as "Memorialism", since it tries to base itself on Jesus' instruction to "Do this as a memorial of Me." Their argument is that a memorial is just a symbolic act of remembrance of a past event, that helps us, in this case, to recall Christ's death on the Cross for our sins. The problem with this understanding of Christ's words (other than their failure to address the Scriptural evidence for Christ's Real Presence and the Sacrificial nature of the Sacrament discussed in the last two articles), is that their understanding of "memorial" runs contrary to the usage of that term in Scripture itself, and the Hebrew concept of memorial underpinning that Scriptural usage. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it,
The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body. In all the Eucharistic Prayers we find after the words of institution a prayer called the anamnesis or memorial. (# 1362)
Let us then look at the word in question in its original language, and in the context of the entire Word of God. As well, we shall examine the Hebrew people's own understanding of the idea in their culture and liturgical celebration, and see how this biblical and historical understanding of Memorial relates to the Catholic Church's teaching about what Jesus was commanding us to do at the Last Supper.

The Greek word used during the Institution Narratives which is translated as "remembrance" or "memorial" is "anamnesis". As far as it goes, it literally means to remember, or to bring to mind. Broken down, it is ana- meaning "again" and mnesis, or "memory" (compare "amnesia" which is forgetting--substitute the negative prefix a- in this case). Those, of course, who deny that the Eucharist is sacrificial will say to this, "See? It literally just means 'remembrance'. The word itself has nothing to do with sacrifice!" This is the same mistake committed by those who believe that baptism is only by immersion. Basing their understanding solely on the the literal, denotative meaning of the word, they build a whole doctrine around what a word "literally" means, while ignoring its usage throughout Scripture. One of the more sound Protestant hermeneutical principles is to interpret a disputed passage of Scripture by referring to clearer passages. Let's apply that principle to our study of anamnesis.

When we look at the New Testament, the only times the Greek word occurs are in the Institution Narratives and in Hebrews 10:3. Passing over the institution narratives because they are precisely the texts in question, let us look at Hebrews: "But in fact the sins are recalled (anamnesis) year after year in the sacrifices." The usage here is unmistakably in a sacrificial context--that during the OT atonement sacrifices, one's sins are "recalled" in order to be expiated. We'll examine the Semitic understanding of that remembrance later; for now it is enough to note that the term anamnesis is used in a specifically sacrificial context in its only other New Testament usage. This lends weight to the notion that its appearance in the Institution Narratives also implies that the Eucharist is a sacrifice.

Of course, two points make a line, not a pattern. The fact that there is only one other usage of anamnesis in the New Testament does not itself lend conclusive support to the concept of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. As such, let us turn our attention to the Old Testament, and see in what way anamnesis was used by the seventy scholars who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.

In the Septuagint (LXX) translation, the word anamnesis is used four times, to translate the Hebrew word zikkaron. The four passages are Leviticus 24:5-9, Numbers 10:9-10, and the titles of Psalms 38 and 70. Let's examine these passages to see what further light they shed on the Institution Narratives' use of anamnesis.

Leviticus 24:5-9
"You will take wheaten flour and with it bake twelve loaves, each with two-tenths of an ephah. You will place them in two rows of six on the pure table before Yahweh and put pure incense on each row, to make it food offered as a memorial (LXX anamnesis), food burnt for Yahweh. Every Sabbath they will be arranged before Yahweh. The Israelites will provide them as a permanent covenant. They will belong to Aaron and his sons, who will eat them inside the holy place since, for him, they are an especially holy part of the food burnt for Yahweh. This is a permanent law."
This passage in Leviticus describes the sacrificial Showbread offered to God with frankincense. Not only, then, is anamnesis used here in a sacrificial context, but interestingly the Showbread here described serves typologically as a forerunner of the Mass: Bread presented before God on the Sabbath by the priests with incense in the holy place as a permanent covenant--the Jewish roots of the Catholic Mass are rather obvious.

Numbers 10:9-10
"When in your country you go to war against an enemy who is oppressing you, you will sound trumpets with a battle cry, and Yahweh your God will remember (LXX anamninesko) you, and you will be delivered from your enemies. At your festivals, solemnities and new-moon feasts, you will sound the trumpets over your burnt offereings and communion sacrifices, so that they recall you to the remembrance (LXX anamnesis) of your God. I am Yahweh your God."
In this passage, two different terms are used for remembering. Anamnesis is reserved for the remembrance connected to a sacrificial offering, where as anamninesko is devoid of those connotations. This again further bolsters the point that anamnesis in the New Testament has a sacrificial connotation.

Psalms 38 and 70: Titles
Psalm of David; in commemoration (LXX anamnesis) (Psalm 38)

For the choirmaster: Of David; in commemoration (LXX anamnesis) (Psalm 70)
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be any sort of sacrificial context to these two Psalms, called "commemorations" in the title. The first is a Psalm of repentance for sin, and the second a plea for salvation from one's enemies. Some Protestant apologists have siezed on this fact in order to discredit the Catholic claim that anamnesis has a sacrificial dimension in Scripture--particularly in light of the Catholic claim that every time anamnesis occurs, it is in a sacrificial context, and thus could be rendered "Memorial Offering" rather than simply memorial or remembrance.

However, it is important to understand how the Jewish people themselves viewed these Psalms, and whether they considered them to have any sort of sacrificial role. The answer to this is indicated in the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, known as the Targums. In the Targum of Psalm 38, the title reads, "A Psalm of David: over a bunch of frankincense, as a memorial for Israel." The note given in the margin for this title says, "MT, lhzkyr, 'to make a memorial.' This psalm and likewise Ps 70, which also has lhzkyr in its title (given a similar rendering in TgPss), may have been associated with the 'zkrh, 'memorial offering.' That frankincense was used in the memorial offering is seen from Lev. 2:2, 16; 6:8; 24:7; cf. also Isa. 66:3." The note on the Targum of Psalm 70 refers the reader back to this note. As such, it becomes clear that the Jewish understanding of these two Psalms was directly associated with the memorial offering. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that every other occurence of anamnesis in Scripture is sacrificial in nature. If this is the case, then the use of anamnesis at the Last Supper institution of the Eucharist should also be seen in this light. There is no grounds for any other understanding.

If this is the case, then we must consider just what a "Memorial Sacrifice" means. For that, we'll consider the Hebrew word that is rendered anamnesis by the Septuagint, and the Semitic understanding of it, to see just how it relates to the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.

As I have heretofore hinted in this article, the Hebrew conception of remembrance is different than our modern idea of mentally recalling an event in the past. For them, the very action of remembrance made the event itself somehow present for the Israelite, and so they themselves, through the remembering, participate in that action. We see this most clearly in the Passover Seder, in which the liturgical act of remembrance places the Jewish family in the midst of the Exodus event, as if they themselves were being led out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. Catechism paragraph 1363 tells us
In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them.
But if you don't want to take the Catholic catechism's word for it, Messianic Jewish Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD, comments on his blog, and references eminent biblical scholar Brevard Childs' work, Memory and Tradition in Israel, saying,
"Each generation of Israel, living in a concrete situation within history, was challenged by God to obedient response through the medium of her tradition. Not a mere subjective reflection, but in the biblical category, a real event as a moment of redemptive time from the past initiated a genuine encounter in the present" (Childs, 83-84). The events of Israel's redemption were such significant realizations in history of divine redemptive intervention, that together with the rituals, rites, and commandments they entail, they have the authority to assess each successive generation of Israel, including ours. Our response to these events, rites, rituals and obligations, is our response to God, for which we are accountable.
Dauermann follows this up with a quote from the Jewish Haggadah, "The Haggadah, echoing the Talmud, agrees. It reminds us, 'In every generation a man is bound to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt' (cf. TB Pesachim)." In other words, the zikkaron, the Memorial Sacrifice, for the Hebrew, was not simply the ancient equivalent of "Remembrance Day" here in Canada ("Veterans Day" in the States), where we mentally recall the sacrifices of fallen soldiers with a moment of silence, and then go about our day. In fact, were we to celebrate Remembrance Day with the same mindset as the Jew, we would actually consider ourselves to be with the soldiers on the banks of Normandy, or at the Battle of Ypres. In fact, the Holocaust Memorial in Israel is on "Zikkaron Street".

The past is made present through the liturgy of the Memorial Sacrifice almost as if one had entered a time machine and travelled back to the time the events honoured took place. This effect is summed up in Stephen Todd Kaster's paper, Zikkaron: Liturgical Remembrance and Sacred History:
The cultic representation of the foundational events in the Sacred History of the Jewish people has a twofold nature; it is both subjective and objective. Subjectively the ritual actions produce an interior psychological state which allows the worshiper to experience the saving events on a personal and interpersonal level. Objectively the events are exhibited in God's eternal remembrance, and thus are rendered present as a living reality. The worshiper's subjective state is ultimately dependent upon, and is caused by, the objective element which has its source in the memory of God; because when God remembers an event of the past it can rightly be conceived of as eternally present.
God, who lives in the eternal Now, perceives all events as present. When Scripture describes God as "remembering", it does not mean that God has forgotten, but that He is acting in our present moment in accord with a past event or promise of sacred history. Our participation in that Divine Remembrance applies the promise or action of God to our own lives and circumstances. Kaster concludes his paper, saying,
It is this liturgical remembrance (zikkaron) that enables the Jewish people throughout time to experience the foundational events of the covenant with the Lord; and to do so in such a way that they become real witnesses to and participants in the Sacred Acts which formed the Jewish nation and made them the Lord's chosen people. However, this focus of the liturgy on the actions of God in the past does not mean that the events of the present moment are unimportant; instead, the events of Sacred History give meaning to the experiences of the Jewish community of today. In some sense the events of today are assimilated to, and are included in, the remembrance of the foundational events of the covenant[...]. The whole purpose of the liturgy is to bring the mighty works of God in Sacred History into contact with each successive generation of the People of God. For if the actions of God in forming His people were only a reality of the distant past it would, as a consequence, empty modern life of any real value, and God would appear to have become silent and inactive.

But Judaism has always seen God as the Lord of history, and not just of the history of biblical times, but of the history of all times; and so through the liturgy the People of Israel are able to re-live God's redemptive actions in all times and in all places.
It is this notion of Zikkaron that Jesus intended at the Last Supper, when He told His Apostles to "Do this in remembrance of Me." Moreover, as the Eternal God in the flesh, instituting the New Covenant (which the Book of Hebrews teaches us is superior to the Old Covenant), the "making present" of the Sacred Event in the Eucharistic Liturgy brings us into even greater contact with Christ's saving action, as the Catechism again points out:
In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover, and it is made present the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. "As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which 'Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed' is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out." (# 1364)
This understanding of the Semitic notion of Anamnesis/Zikkaron answers the question posed at the end of my last article: how could the Eucharist be a Sacrifice, and not contradict the teaching of the Book of Hebrews that Jesus' sacrificial death on the Cross was once and for all? Through the act of the memorial sacrifice of the Eucharist, Calvary becomes mystically present in time. Moreover, since Jesus is Himself truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, this presence-at-Calvary is even more true than the presence-at-Passover in the Seder Liturgy.

It is then, at Mass, that we can truly answer "yes" to the old Spiritual, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,
The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:
[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper "on the night when he was betrayed," [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit. (# 1366)
This is why Jesus said in John 6 that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood will have eternal life, but those who do not will have no life in them. The Eucharist is how Christ's sacrifice is applied to our lives, because in the Eucharist, He not only truly makes Himself present to us, but He truly makes us present at the foot of the Cross (cf. CCC #1370).

Conclusion: One Single Sacrifice
Since, then, the Eucharist takes us to Calvary, as it re-presents, or makes present to us, Christ's sacrifice, the accusation leveled against Catholics that in the Eucharist we "re-sacrifice" Christ is groundless. It is not that Catholics "re-crucify" Christ, or that He suffers again and again, but rather, as the Catechism states in paragraph 1367,
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner...this sacrifice is truly propitiatory."
John's Apocalypse shows the reality of this one, single sacrifice from a heavenly perspective, when in chapter 5, he describes Jesus as the Lamb who had been slain presenting Himself before the altar of Heaven and receiving the worship of all the angels and saints. Later on in chapter 13, verse 8, John tells us that this Lamb had been slain "before the foundation of the world." In other words, for God, who is in the Eternal Now, Christ's sacrifice is itself eternally present before Him. Christ, our High Priest, suffered once, as Hebrews states, and then entered into the Holy of Holies of Heaven in order to present that sacrifice forever before the Father in order that our sins might be forgiven (Hebrews 4:14; 9:11-28). In the Eucharist, we come before that Throne of Grace with boldness (cf. Heb. 4:16; 10:19-27), having appropriated the saving and propitiatory grace given to us through this Most Blessed Sacrament.

This is what Christ meant when He said, "Do this in remembrance of Me."

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)


Joey said...


" the Eucharist, He not only truly makes Himself present to us, but He truly makes us present at the foot of the Cross."

Amazing post.

Ave verum corpus
natum de Maria virgine
Vere passum
Immolatum in cruce pro homine
Cujus latus perforatum
Fluxit aqua et sanguine
Esto nobis praegustatum
In mortis examine


Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Joni said...

I haven't been by in awhile. Never disappointed, though. Such deep truths.


Gregory said...

Joni, you just made my day. I was just thinking recently about how I hadn't heard much from you in forever. I saw your name in my inbox and literally exclaimed, "Yay! Joni's back!"

Anyway, thanks for the comment!
Hopefully the next installment in the Eucharist series will be up later tonight or tomorrow.

God bless,