This Greek word is practically untranslatable in English. “Memorial,” “commemoration,” “remembrance” all suggest a recollection of the past, whereas anamnesis means making present an object or person from the past. Sometimes the term “reactualization” has been used to indicate the force of anamnesis.

In Semitic thought memorial is a “recalling to God” of a past person or promise. J. Jeremias suggests that the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:26), mean that his disciples should pray “… that God may remember me.” The point of re-calling to God the sacrifice of Christ is that its benefits may be made present to the faithful here and now. In the eucharistic tradition the formal remembering before God of the sacrificial life and death of Christ is therefore connected with the offering of the bread and wine, through which the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice will be received in holy communion.

A formal anamnesis came into the eucharistic prayer in connection with the institution narrative. In the Anaphora of Hippolytus the institution narrative is the climax of the thanksgiving for the wonders of God in salvation history. The words “Do this in remembrance of me” serve to introduce the anamnesis: “Remembering, therefore, his death and resurrection …”; and the anamnesis, in turn, introduces the oblation. Eucharistic traditions which lack an institution text, such as the Didache, the Acts of Thomas, and the Mar Esaya text of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, also lack a formal anamnesis. In the West Syrian anaphoras the anamnesis serves as a reprise of the thanksgiving in remembrance of God’s saving work in Christ and introduces the supplicatory part of the prayer, including the oblation, epiclesis, and intercessions. Cesare Giraudo points to the transition in the Jewish todah tradition from remembrance to supplication by way of a succinct recall of what has been commemorated. He calls this a move from memores to memento, or from the faithfulness of the people in keeping the memorial that has been commanded by God to the prayer that God will remember his covenantal promises. While caution must be maintained in drawing comparisons between the Christian eucharistia and the Jewish berakoth, we may at least observe a similar pattern in this connection.

The Roman tradition places the institution narrative and anamnesis in the supplicatory section of the prayer (the post-Sanctus “Canon”) rather than at the end of the thanksgiving in remembrance of Christ. In this tradition the institution text and anamnesis serve more as a warrant for the church’s oblation than as a recapitulation of salvation history. It is noteworthy that the sacrificial aspect of the eucharist is more prominent in the Alexandrian and Roman traditions than in traditions which lack a formal anamnesis, such as the Didache and Addai and Mari. Because the words of institution acquired consecratory force in the Western church, associated with the transubstantiation of the elements, medieval theologians misunderstood the anamnesis-oblation to be an offering of the body and blood of Christ. While the text of the Roman Canon speaks only of the “holy and spotless” oblation in reference to the bread and wine, although they are called the “bread of life” and the “cup of salvation,” Roman eucharistic prayer IV in the current Roman Sacramentary has, for the first time in the history of the eucharistic prayer, referred to the oblation as the body and blood of Christ. This can only exacerbate the controversy over the eucharistic sacrifice which has plagued Western Christianity since the 16th-century Reformation. A study of the ancient anamnesis formularies would show the polysemous nature of offering-language in the eucharistic prayers and bring to light images of redemption other than that of sacrifice.

See also Anaphora; Eucharistic prayers; Sacrifice.


Bibliography: Louis Bouyer, Eucharist, trans. by Charles U. Quinn (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968). Cesare Giraudo, La Struttura Letteraria della Preghiera Eucharistica (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981). Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, trans. by Norman Perrin (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966). Louis Ligier, “The Origins of the Eucharistic Prayer,” Studia Liturgica 9 (1973), 161–85. David N. Power, “The Anamnesis: Remembering, We Offer,” in Frank C. Senn, ed., New Eucharistic Prayers (New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1987), pp. 146–68.


The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship