Remembering at the Liturgy

What seems to be the oldest account of the institution of the Eucharist occurs in a letter of St Paul, where Christ’s words are given in the form ‘Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ (1 Cor 11:24f) In what sense are the words ‘in remembrance’ being used? ‘Remembrance means in the scripture not simply going back over something in the memory, the recollection of past events, but the reliving and renewal of a relationship, of an event of life.’ (Christos Yannaras) ‘This is memory not only in the sense of recollection, but of calling into the present experience of human heart and mind – or nous – the reality of God’s redeeming work.’ (Matthew Steenberg)

Christ’s words occur in slightly different forms in the Gospels. Among other areas of divergence, Matthew and Mark give them in a form that makes no mention of a command to do things in remembrance (Matt 26:26f, Mark 14:22f), while Luke (22:19f) is like Paul is supplying this. Liturgies that quote Christ’s words therefore have various possibilities. As early as the time of St Ambrose, Western liturgy has given a form including the command to do something in remembrance, that is also found in the Roman mass and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church, on the other hand, has the shorter form. But remembrance is not fogotten, for after repeating the words of Christ the priest immediately continues: ‘Remembering, then, this commandment of the Saviour and all that has been done for us, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascent into heaven, the sitting at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again…’

Hence the Church sees itself as remembering the second coming, something that has yet to occur. This would be easy to understand if we took remembering in the sense of bring something to mind, but the authors quoted above suggest this is not the way to understand it. The only way of making sense of this seems to be that in some way the second coming is part of the present experience of the Church. Sometimes the stature of the Church in Orthodox thought can be overwhelming; perhaps it is enough to say, ‘Lord. remember me…’

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