In remembrance of things past (and present)

Returning to George Guiver’s book on the daily office, Company of Voices (see previous post), in his second chapter Guiver describes how the church’s liturgy functions as anamnesis, or “remembrance”: “Do this in anamnesis of me”.

This applies above all to the sacrament of the altar, of course, and also to our private prayers. However, the daily office is another form of this “remembrance”:

So in the daily offices of the Church anamnesis is made as we hear the “myth”, salvation-history, recounted and reflect on, and then move on from that to pray to the risen, living Christ who is in the midst. It is in this way that we can speak of the real presence of Christ in the Church’s daily liturgical prayer.

(Note that Guiver makes it clear that use of the word “myth” is used “as a technical term for a particular use we make of a story”, and “is not intended in any way to cast the slightest doubt on the historicity of the biblical events”. A very Lewisian point, of course.)

However, this is not the only “layer” to this anamnesis, for:

…we pray conscious not only of the saving events up to and including the earthly Christ, but also his work in the Church after his resurrection. In this way we are in effect making anamnesis of the history of the Church.

For example, our own commemoration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter (Guiver specifically cites the Paschal Vigil) is “heightened and redoubled” by our consciousness that we are following in the footsteps of other Christians since the earliest days of the church. And this has implications for our approach towards the church’s liturgy:

This fact of cumulative anamnesis helps to explain why it is important not to make unnecessary changes in liturgy – for we are doing it as it has been done in order make anamnesis of Christ’s work in his church since his resurrection. We are making anemnesis of all past anamneses. This helps to explain the importance of tradition.

The direction of this remembrance is not only temporal, but spatial:

[N]ot only are we recalling all of the past until today, but we are also very conscious that all the people the world over are doing the same thing together at the same time … [We are] making anamnesis of all that the Lord is doing in his Church today.

This, too, has consequences for how we worship:

This helps to explain why some basic things must be held in common in the Church’s prayer, in order that the contemporary unity of the one Body may find expression.

All of which is to say that we need to take care over the ecclesiology of our worship, to ensure that it adequately reflects our confession that the church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”. The church’s traditions of liturgy are the most effective means of ensuring we achieve this.

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7 Responses to In remembrance of things past (and present)

  1. Josh S says:

    There was an interesting article in CTQ a while back about how anamnesis most certainly does not mean a “reenactment” or “making present,” and this understanding of the word wholly originates with Roman Catholic scholars searching for a biblical basis for the Sacrifice of the Mass. He brought up a couple places in old-tymie Greek where it was used to refer to remembering a great catastrophe.

    Just sayin’.

  2. Chris Jones says:

    this understanding of the word wholly originates with Roman Catholic scholars searching for a biblical basis for the Sacrifice of the Mass

    I don’t think it’s helpful to view things entirely in terms of Catholic/Protestant polemics; and in particular, this sweeping statement (wholly originates with Roman Catholics) has no basis in fact. Dom Gregory Dix was not a Roman Catholic, and neither were Affanasiev or Alexander Schmemann. The twentieth-century Liturgical Movement, in the context of which this understanding of anamnesis became popular, was by no means limited to Roman Catholicism.

    Further, attributing a motivation (searching for a biblical basis for the sacrifice of the Mass) for the idea does nothing to show that the idea is not true. Whatever their motivations for putting the idea forward may have been, the twentieth-century liturgiologists (Dix and (especially) Schmemann) make a very strong case for it; to me, a compelling and dispositive case.

    In actuality, the understanding of anamnesis as “making present a past reality” undermines, rather than strengthens, the distinctively Roman Catholic understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass. If the meaning of “the sacrifice of the Mass” is that the unique sacrifice of Christ is made present in the Mass, then the sacrifice of the Mass is in no way distinct from the sacrifice of Christ, has no distinguishable value of its own, and can in no way be regarded as a repetition or even as a “re-offering” of Christ’s sacrifice. Because if in the Mass Christ’s sacrifice is made present, then Christ Himself is present not only as the victim (in His body and blood), but also as the priest. Thus it remains His offering, not ours.

    All of that is implicit in the understanding of anamnesis which the CTQ article attacked, and it does not support the teaching on the sacrifice of the Mass which the Reformers attacked.

    If you have a specific reference to the CTQ article, I’d like to read it.

  3. Chris Jones says:

    By the way, John:

    What’s a low-Church, “Church Society”-style (ex-)Anglican like you doing reading Anglo-Catholic liturgiologists? Don’t you know their ideas can be dangerous?

    I’ve had a lot of different intellectual influences that have led me to the funny ideas I have today; but looking back at how I got to where I am today, I have to say that it all started with Dom Gregory Dix. So be careful out there.

    This … could happen to you!

  4. Josh S says:

    I think Schultz wrote the article in CTQ; it was very convincing for the simple reason that he cited other sources more relevant to the 1st century, such as the Septuagint and the New Testament and examines both the verb and the noun form. In addition, he cited a Jewish text or two mentioning an “αναμνησις” of catastrophes such as the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. Such a remembering is clearly not a “making present” or “reenactment,” so we have little warrant to conclude this what Jesus meant by the term. Perhaps this is what the word came to mean in Greek theology after a few centuries, but the Bible was written in the first century, not the fourth.

    Numbers 10:9 tells Israel to blow the trumpets that they will be “αναμνησθησεσθε” by God.
    Psalm 37 is for “αναμνησις” of the Sabbath.
    Wisdom 16:6 speaks of an “αναμνησις” of the Torah
    Mark 10:72 tells us that Peter “αναμνησθη” what Jesus said to him.
    Hebrews 10:3 calls the sacrifices an “αναμνησις” of sins.
    Hebrews 10:32 admonishes the readers to “αναμιμνησκεσθε” the times of persecution.

    And so on and so forth. There’s a very good reason the word is translated as “remembrance” rather than “making present in a mystical, ontological reality.” The latter can at best be shoehorned into only a few uses of the word, but “remembrance” works for all of them.

    If the meaning of “the sacrifice of the Mass” is that the unique sacrifice of Christ is made present in the Mass

    That’s the understanding put forward at Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a “making present of the sacrifice” (whatever that means) in such a way that the sacrifice is ongoing, and its re-presentation does in fact win additional benefits. Also, who is doing the αναμνησις? That’s right, us. So we join ourselves to Christ in his offering of himself to the Father, offer ourselves, make an oblation, and so on and so forth.

    I really do thing αναμνησις is driven by searching for biblical support for some version of the Sacrifice of the Mass. For people who deny or neglect the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, or somehow make it a minor thing, they need something besides Christ’s body and blood to be there. They need the Mass to be a sacrifice, or a “sacramental action,” or where somehow, in some way or another, something really important happens by our doing something.

  5. John H says:

    Josh: I think it’s pretty clear that Guiver is using the term “anamnesis” to mean “remembrance”: remembrance of Christ’s work, and remembrance of the past and present life of the church.


    What’s a low-Church, “Church Society”-style (ex-)Anglican like you doing reading Anglo-Catholic liturgiologists?

    Well, I always had my “All Souls Langham Place” side and my “All Saints Margaret Street” side. Indeed, the “All Saints” aspect goes back rather further and deeper than “All Souls”: I grew up in a moderately Anglo-Catholic milieu (particularly through church music), whereas I only encountered conservative evangelicalism on my return to faith in the mid-90s.

    This was a near-constant source of frustration, as I could never quite see why one was forced to choose between the two – as I’ve written on at some length before – and one of the blessings of Lutheranism is finding a place where that choice doesn’t need to be made. Biblical preaching and liturgical worship. Justification by faith and a high view of the sacraments. We-ird.

    And the fact that my breviary habit took hold in my conservative evangelical days is testimony to my dissatisfaction with a purely “evangelical” approach in which the “quiet time” (= “Bible reading + ACTS”) is the centre of personal devotional life.

  6. Chris Jones says:

    I really do think αναμνησις is driven by searching for biblical support for some version of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

    Well, you are entitled to your opinion. I will confess that I have not read too much specifically Roman Catholic liturgiology, so you could be entirely right about the motivation of the RC scholars who have promoted this understanding of αναμνησις.

    They need the Mass to be a sacrifice, or a “sacramental action,” or where somehow, in some way or another, something really important happens …

    Well, it is something in which “something really important happens,” but NOT … by our doing something. Rather:

    For Thou, O Christ our God, art the Offerer and Thou art the One offered; it is Thou Who receivest the offering and Thou art Thyself the offering which is distributed.

    It could hardly be clearer from this Whose sacrifice it is.

    I should be careful, if I were you, of totally rejecting the notion of αναμνησις as “making present”. Our liturgical αναμνησις does “make present” the Saviour in His body and blood. If αναμνησις can only mean the mental recollection of a past reality which is not present, then you are on the road to a Zwinglian understanding of the sacrament.

  7. weedon says:

    I would not say that it is our anamnesis that makes present our Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and all that comes with that. Rather, it is because the Lord’s promise holds that this bread and this cup so used are truly His body and blood and consequently we “remember” Him – not an absent Lord, but a present One – and so proclaim His death *until He comes* (which obviously means confessing that He has been raised also!).

    The question of who is remembering though is delightfully ambiguous. We know what happens when Yahweh “remembers” – He saves! And so it is possible to have the meaning run in that direction also. Through this Body and Blood God “remembers” us and so mercies pour down in and through them.

    Note that the form of anamnesis in LSB (following the Mozarabic tradition of addressing the anamnesis to the Son) does not let the “remembering” come unglued from the reception of the promised Body and Blood and also celebrates the ambiguity of who is remembering:

    “O Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, in giving us Your body and blood to eat and to drink, You lead us to remember and confess Your holy cross and passion, Your blessed death, Your rest in the tomb, Your resurrection from the dead, Your ascension into heaven, and Your coming for the final judgment. So remember us in Your kingdom and teach us to pray…”

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