“And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me. In like manner the chalice also, after he had supped, saying: This is the chalice, the new testament in my blood, which shall be shed for you.” –Luke 22:19-20
The Greek word translated as “commemoration,” or sometimes “remembrance,” is actually “anamnesis,” which is an ancient Greek word, rich with meaning in both Greek philosophy and the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. History and tradition tell us that Luke’s intended audiences were Greek speaking gentiles, so we should attempt to have at least an appreciation of what the word anamnesis meant to them, as well as to the Jewish people.
Plato first used the word “anamnesis” in his theory of epistemology to suggest that when we learn eternal truths, we are actually recalling something which was part of the soul from all eternity, but has been forgotten. Plato saw himself as a mid-wife, helping souls to draw forth knowledge they already possessed, hidden in the recesses of their soul. Amamnesis was linked to Plato’s theory of the forms. For Plato, the type of remembering known as “anamnesis” was to actually grasp the eternal forms. It meant in some sense to make the eternal present in your mind.
Now let’s turn to the word anamnesis in the Septuagint.
The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures which was translated in about 70 BC by Jewish scholars in Alexandria. It was an important and carefully executed project because most of the Jewish world spoke Greek at that time. This translation of the scriptures was the one used by Our Lord and His disciples.
In the Septuagint, the word anamnesis appears in conjunction with memorial sacrifices.(See Leviticus 24:7, and Numbers 10:10.) For the Jews these sacrifices were a renewal of their covenant with God. For Christians the anamnesis of the Eucharistic banquet is a making present of the one eternal sacrifice of Christ. (I Corinthians 10:16) Christian liturgy is based off of this idea of a mystical anamnesis, in which the eternal is made present so that the faithful might more perfectly enter into the mysteries of God.
The Trinity is a communion of Divine Persons. From all eternity the Father exists. From all eternity He has one Divine thought, one Eternal Word into which He pours Himself entirely. This Eternal Word having all the perfections of the Father exists eternally as a second Divine Person with the same nature and glory of the Father. (John 1:1-3) This Divine Son, the Eternal Word, eternally loves and offers Himself to the Father. Their Love being Divine, eternal and perfect is itself a third and Divine person, the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a communion of persons, eternally offering themselves to one another with the total self gift, the offering of agape love.
Agape, or Divine Love, is a gift of self. A gift of self is an offering. From all eternity the Eternal Word offered Himself to God the Father. When Christ became incarnate, He brought His humanity into that eternal offering. On the cross His human nature was offered par excellence, on behalf of the faithful. The faithful participate and share in that offering of Christ because they are united to His mystical body through baptism. They have been grafted into Christ. (Romans 6:3, Romans 11:16, Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 5:20, etc.)
The incarnate Christ offered a bloody sacrifice of immolation on Calvary once and for all, as a satisfaction for men’s sins, but He still offers Himself eternally to His Father in Heaven, as an offering of pure oblation. (Hebrews 7:26-8:2)
When Christ said “this is my body, do this for an anamnesis of me,” He was establishing a true sacrifice, a memorial sacrifice. Christ was giving Christians the gift of Himself, literally and substantially in the Eucharist. He was giving them a way to truly and substantially make present the eternal sacrifice, the offering of pure oblation He forever makes to His Father. In giving us this sacrifice of pure oblation, Christ has fulfilled the prophecy of Malachai.
“For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts” –Malachai 1:11
This is a great mystery, not easily understood. It is the principal mystery of the Christian faith, at which we will spend a lifetime and an eternity marveling over. (Revelation 7:9-10)
Testimony of Early Christians
“Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations.’ [Mal. 1:11, 14]”
-The Didache, 70 AD
“Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters who have already finished their course, and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release.”
-Pope St. Clement I, Letter to the Corinthians, 80 AD
“Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God.”
-Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians, 110 AD
“God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [minor prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles . . . [Mal. 1:10–11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist.”
-Saint Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 155 AD
“He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand: ‘You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty’ [Mal. 1:10–11]. By these words he makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles.”
-Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 189 AD
“When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?”
-Saint John Chrysostom, The Priesthood, 387 AD
“What then? Do we not offer daily? Yes, we offer, but making remembrance of his death; and this remembrance is one and not many. How is it one and not many? Because this sacrifice is offered once, like that in the Holy of Holies. This sacrifice is a type of that, and this remembrance a type of that. We offer always the same, not one sheep now and another tomorrow, but the same thing always. Thus there is one sacrifice. By this reasoning, since the sacrifice is offered everywhere, are there, then, a multiplicity of Christs? By no means! Christ is one everywhere. He is complete here, complete there, one body. And just as he is one body and not many though offered everywhere, so too is there one sacrifice.”
-Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews, 403 AD
“Proclaiming the death, according to the flesh, of the Only-begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, confessing his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, we offer the Unbloody Sacrifice in the churches, and so go on to the mystical thanksgivings, and are sanctified, having received his Holy Flesh and the Precious Blood of Christ the Saviour of us all. Andnot as common flesh do we receive it; God forbid: nor as of a man sanctified and as sociated with the Word according to the unity of worth, or as having a divine indwelling, but as truly the Life-giving and very flesh of the Word himself. For he is the Life according to his nature as God, and when he became united to his Flesh, he made it also to be Life-giving, as also he said to us: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood.”
-Saint Cyril, Third Epistle to Nestorius, 431 AD
“Hold most firmly and never doubt in the least that the only-begotten God the Word himself became flesh [and] offered himself in an odor of sweetness as a sacrifice and victim to God on our behalf; to whom . . . in the time of the Old Testament animals were sacrificed by the patriarchs and prophets and priests; and to whom now, I mean in the time of the New Testament . . . the holy Catholic Church does not cease in faith and love to offer throughout all the lands of the world a sacrifice of bread and wine. In those former sacrifices what would be given us in the future was signified figuratively, but in this sacrifice which has now been given us is shown plainly. In those former sacrifices it was fore-announced that the Son of God would be killed for the impious, but in the present sacrifice it is announced that he has been killed for the impious.”
-Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, The Rule of Faith, 524 AD