What is anamnesis and what does it have to do with the Mass? ?

I have a 12-string guitar that I have had for many years.   Whenever I pick it up to play, more than just music comes forth from my actions.   I am reminded of events from the past that were related to my guitar playing.   For instance, I met most of my old girl friends (including my wife) through my guitar.   My guitar (which even has a name) has played an important part in my emotional and spiritual growth, and, in a very real way, was partly responsible for my entering into ministry (but that is another story!).

When I play my guitar I am experiencing something that theologians call anamnesis. To put it simply, anamnesis is a remembrance of the past through an action that unites you in a special way to the remembered events of the past.  A perfect example is the Jewish Passover Sedar. At the Passover Sedar, a Jewish family remembers the salvation that God won for them thousands of years ago from Pharaoh in Egypt, and the remembrance, at that moment, also, unites every Jewish person who celebrates the Sedar to every Jewish person who has celebrated this meal and ritual in the past.   Even more, they are all united in the past and in the now with the salvation won for them by God. That may seem a little hard to understand, but it has been the basis of Catholic Christian thought for centuries.

In the Catholic Christian Tradition (both Latin and Greek), we have a similar remembrance (anamnesis), known as the Mass. At the Mass, we begin with the reading of Scripture (Hebrew and Christian) and in that action, the Holy Spirit recalls for us the marvelous works of God inspiring us to praise and thanksgiving. Then we remember through liturgical action, the last supper (the last Sedar) that Jesus celebrated with his disciples, but just like our Jewish brothers and sisters, this remembrance through ritual goes beyond a simple recalling.   As we remember, we are joined to all those who have broken bread in Jesus's name throughout the centuries.   From that last Sedar celebrated around 33 AD , to the celebrations of the early Jewish followers of the Jesus movement, to the Gentiles converted by St. Paul and the other disciples, and to all those others, living and dead, who have celebrated in Jesus's name. However, as in the Sedar celebration, we also are joined in God's act of salvation. In this case, to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, at the Mass, , the grace of salvation comes alive in us as we remember.  As St. Paul so eloquently said in his first letter to the Corinthians: " The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not participation in the blood of Christ?   The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?   Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."

If one looks at the ancient writings of the early Church Fathers such as Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch (both friends and companions of Peter), or Justin Martyr (who tried to reason with the Roman Authorities) or even the Didache, the Teaching of the Apostles from the 1st Century, one can see how this liturgical action and remembrance has continued unbroken into modern times.  On the road to Emmaus in 33 AD after the crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans, two followers of Jesus, who were running away, were met by a stranger who explained the Hebrew Scriptures to them and explained how they related to Jesus of Nazareth and how Jesus was the Messiah who would save Israel and the world.   Later, as he broke bread with them, they recognized that this stranger was really Jesus.   They knew him in the breaking of the bread.   At the Mass, we have the same experience, we know him at the breaking of the bread.

- Deacon George Kozak (6/02)

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