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THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer III (6)
Eucharistic Prayer III
The last words of the institution account are, “Do this in memory of me.” After the mysterium fidei we pray what is called the anamnesis in its proper sense, even though the entire celebration of the Eucharist is an anamnesis. The term anamnesis comes from the Greek word ἀνάμνησις, which means “a calling to mind” or a “recollection,” but it goes beyond a simple commemoration of a historical event, taking on a deeper Biblical and spiritual meaning in the light of faith.
“Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, and as we look forward to his second coming, …”
The “Therefore” at the start of this part of the Eucharist Prayer is where we verbalize that we are remembering what Christ said, did, and commanded. We are doing this in memory of him. The Eucharistic Prayer has already recalled the wonders of salvation at length, so here the prayer concisely brings to mind the mysteries of Christ’s life.
We don’t just remember the night of the Last Supper; we remember the entire Paschal mystery, the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Our Lord, as well as his promised return. Reciting the words of the institution account has done something amazing; it has transubstantiated bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. They are not something simply arbitrary and symbolic that are trying the express another reality, as when the sanctuary is decorated with symbols of doves, grapes, and wheat. The bread and wine through the words of the priest or bishop, words entrusted to him by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, make the bread and wine something else, Someone else. A new term had to be invented to try and describe what is happening, transubstantiation, because ordinary language was inadequate.
Similarly, the memorial we celebrate brings Christ’s saving mysteries to the here and now. Before the Greeks coined the term anamnesis the Hebrews coined the term zikkaron; when they celebrated the Passover, for example, they believe those liberating events (delivery from slavery in Egypt) were being rendered present in their historical moment and pointing toward a future liberation. When we speak of anamnesis we speak of it in this rich Biblical and spiritual sense of zikkaron.
St. Thomas Aquinas described the sacramental signs, including the Eucharist, as signifying in three ways:
a sacrament is a sign that is both a reminder of the past, i.e., the passion of Christ; and an indication of that which is effected in us by Christ’s passion, i.e., grace; and a prognostic, that is, a foretelling of future glory (Summa Theologica, III, 60, 3).
Our remembrance, our anamnesis extends from the past, to the present, and into the future, just as Christ’s mysteries do while their salvific action extends throughout history. We recall the Passion he suffered, the grace we’re receiving right now thanks to it, and our hope for his return in glory and a future abundance of grace that right now we can only imagine.
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