Saturday, August 24, 2013

Anamnesis - Some thoughts of Fr Robert Taft S.J.

The word “anamnesis” (“memorial”) means NOT “jogging the memory”, but - especially in the context of the Passover -  “bringing the past into the present.” Understanding this has been fruitful in drawing Christians of different traditions into closer agreement on the sacrificial dimensions of the Eucharist. The concept of “anamnesis” underlies, for example, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s 1971 Agreed Statement.   

Fr Robert Taft S.J., the foremost Catholic scholar of Byzantine Liturgy, helps us to appreciate what this is all about. He is always great to read, for - unlike some other scholars - his writings convey a sense of excitement and spiritual challenge. In his book Through Their Own Eyes: Liturgy as the Byzantines Saw It, he unfolds the experience of the Eastern Church’s liturgy down through the ages. Here are two short passages that give me pause for thought:

“. . . a liturgy rooted in the mystery of the Risen Christ not only symbolizes the heavenly reality; it also renders permanently active on earth whatever the Incarnate Word was and did. In other words, Byzantine Orthodox Christians base the realism of their liturgy on faith in the reality of the Risen Christ. Because the Risen Jesus is humanity glorified, he is present through his Spirit to every place and age not only as Saviour, but as saving; not only as Lord, but as priest and sacrifice and victim. This is because nothing in his being or action is ever past except the historical mode of its manifestation. Hence Jesus is not extraneous to the heavenly-earthly liturgy of the Church, but its first protagonist . . . The basis for liturgical anamnesis is not psychological recall but theophany, an active, faith encounter now with the present saving activity of Christ. For what Christ was and did, he still is and does; it is he who preaches the Word, he who calls us to himself, he who binds the wounds of our sin and washes us in the waters of salvation, he who feeds us with his own life, he who is the pillar of fire leading us across the horizon of our own salvation history, lighting our sin-darkened path . . . In this theology, church ritual constitutes not only a representation, but also a re-presentation - a rendering present again - of the earthly saving work of Christ.” (pages 138-140)


“In the present age of the Church, the divine grace is mediated out to those in the world from the divine abode and its worship, icon of the heavenly liturgy. In this dynamic, our worship rises to the throne of God from the earthly altar only to be returned to us as the heavenly gift of the Spirit.” (page 149)


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