‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me….This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11: 24-26).
This solemn celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins the Paschal Triduum during which the Church will celebrate the greatest mysteries of the Redemption. Holy Week, Easter and the holy fifty days of the Easter season culminating in the celebration of Pentecost, all combine to spread the Easter mystery out before us in time in all its detail. In the Holy Thursday Mass three mysteries are commemorated in their detail: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the Priesthood, and Our Lord’s command of brotherly love. In commemorating these mysteries, we recall them; we remember them, but not in the way that we remember an event in the past as we would for example, a birthday or an anniversary. The Church uses a very specific word to describe the remembering that takes place in this sacred synaxis or assembly; the word is anamnesis. Anamnesis has the sense of recalling or re-presenting a past event so it becomes actively present.
The understanding of the Eucharist as the recalling before God of the one sacrifice of Christ in all its accomplished and effectual fullness so that it is here and now operative by it effects is clearly brought out in all traditions of the early Church. And these traditions are in keeping with the oldest written account of the Eucharistic celebration; transmitted to us by the Apostle St Paul: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over took bread….‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me….This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ (1 Cor. 11: 24-25). It is to this tradition that the Church is bound at this Mass and indeed at every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, We offer even now that which was then offered, which cannot be exhausted. This is done for an anamnesis of that which was then done, for ‘Do this’ said He’, ‘for the anamnesis of Me’. We do not offer a different sacrifice like the high-priest of old, but we offer the same. Or rather, we offer the anamnesis of the Sacrifice (St. John Chrysostom in Heb hom. 17:3; quoted in Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 243). The unbroken, orthodox tradition of the Church does not deviate from the affirmation of this truth.