This is the first of a series of posts reflecting line-by-line on the Anima Christi.
When I first thought about taking part in this series, I was a little nervous. The Anima Christi? I know I’ve heard of it before, but I really don’t know the prayer, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t even read the whole thing through before now! (that’s mildly embarrassing for a cradle Catholic with 12 years of Catholic schooling to admit, but there it is.) So I decided to begin by looking at the prayer as a whole before focusing on one line of it.
The origins of the Anima Christi are somewhat unknown. While there have been those who believed it was written by Pope John XXII or Saint Ignatius Loyola (he included it in his “spiritual exercises”), it appears it was in use before either of those men. There are even some scholars who believe it was authored by St. Patrick in 5th century Ireland. We don’t know for certain who first wrote the prayer, but we know it has been in use since at least the 14th century, especially as a prayer after receiving Holy Eucharist. The words lend themselves to reflecting on the gift Christ gives us in the Eucharist, the gift of his very self, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. I know that I, for one, plan to start using this in my own post-Eucharist prayers. I looked last week, and found that it is in our Missal, so I don’t even have to memorize it or remember to write it out and bring it with me!
So, let’s begin our line-by-line reflection of this beautiful prayer, shall we? It starts with a bold petition: Soul of Christ, sanctify me. But what exactly are we asking? While I have an idea of what “sanctify” means, I love digging in and exploring the dictionary meanings of words when reflecting on a prayer. So a quick search found these definitions for sanctify:
1. to make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate.
2. to purify or free from sin: Sanctify your hearts.
3. to impart religious sanction to; render legitimate or binding: to sanctify a vow.
4.to entitle to reverence or respect.
5. to make productive of or conducive to spiritual blessing.
I see three main themes or meanings here: to purify or make something holy; to sanction, legitimize, or make binding; and to set aside as deserving of respect or reverence. The first is how I usually think of the word. When I say “sanctify me” I usually think of asking to be purified or made holy, and while that can seem like a fairly innocuous request, for some reaon I always think of how we purify some metals – with fire! We melt and burn out imperfections and impurities, and oftentimes that is how God purifies us for his purposes, too. It can be a painful process, but hopefully it renders us more perfect tools for God’s hand. The other day I saw a meme on Facebook that made me laugh, but also reminded me of one aspect where Got frequently seems to be working on purifying my heart – patience. I struggle with having patience in many situations, and it so often seems that when I pray for more patience, I am suddenly given even more moments that try my patience! Virtues take practice, and while opportunities to practice patience are sometimes painful for me, each one helps purify me just a little bit.
The second general meaning – to sanction, legitimize, or make binding – is not one I usually think of when considering the word, but it makes sense. We are all God’s children, and are part of the New Testament Covenant, so we ask God to acknowledge us as his legitimate daughters and sons, to bind us a his children and subjects. Sanctifying us makes our relationship with God (and the Covenant of salvation) real, solid, binding and legitimate.
The third general meaning took me a bit by surprise. To set aside as deserving of respect or reverence? Wait, I’m asking to be made deserving of respect and reverence? Me? I have struggled throughout my life with depression (which has at times been a source of that painful purification I mentioned above), and with that has come the fact that it is extremely difficult for me to think of myself as deserving respect, let alone reverence! Yet, praying this line asks the very Soul of our Lord to come into me and entitle me to exactly that!
I’m constantly amazed, when I reflect on some of the prayers we may say every day, how we can just speed past these amazing, bold, incredible requests and statements! In these five little words, I’m asking Christ, who I have perhaps just physically welcomed into my body, to burn out my impurities and imperfections, to give me legitimacy and binding power as his daughter, and to entitle to me to respect and reverence! Whoa! And that’s just the beginning, folks. This prayer goes on, in a progression of requests, asking more and more of our God, all towards the end of making our will and actions and life more in line with His. Stay tuned next month as we continue our reflections on this beautiful prayer, and perhaps the next time you’re in Mass, praying after receiving our Lord in the Eucharist, you’ll join me in praying this beautiful prayer.