Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Anima Christi: A Prayer for All Centuries


From Friar Jack's latest E-spiration newsletter

This prayer touches us on emotional and mystical levels. The words are most sacred and, with the Spirit’s help, happily lead us into an immediate union with Christ and, through him, with those we love, as we shall discuss later.

Photo by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

The Anima Christi (Soul of Christ) has been attributed at times to St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), but historians say that the prayer predates Ignatius by as much as a century and-a-half. A long tradition tells us, moreover, that it was a favorite prayer of Ignatius’. Indeed, in many cases, it has served as the opening prayer of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The prayer is so sacred and sublime that it transcends all time, all centuries. We ask the Spirit to guide us into the sacredness and hope spelled out by these ancient words:

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds, hide me.
Let me never be separated from you.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
In the hour of my death, call me,
And bid me come to you,
That with your saints I may praise you
Forever and ever.


Although there are many translations of this prayer, the wording here is a literal translation of the original Latin. Let me share how this prayer inspires me at this juncture of my life’s journey:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Jesus, risen one, let your soul, which is as vast as the universe, invade my whole being and make me holy. Breathe your Holy Spirit, the sanctifier, upon me just as you breathed upon the first disciples after you rose from the dead. Set me free of sin, and fill me with the holiness that fills your own soul.

Body of Christ, save me. I open myself to your love. Embrace me with your healing and transforming power. Jesus, this prayer moves me especially when I say it after receiving your body and blood in holy Communion or after Mass has ended. But the prayer is meaningful at any time. I believe you are with me always and ever standing at my door knocking (Rv 3:20)—inviting me to open the door and enjoy a mystical union with you, the risen one.

Blood of Christ, inebriate me. You have redeemed us, Jesus, by your blood shed upon the cross. At the Eucharist, we receive that blood in the form of wine. Your burning love is so overwhelming that one becomes intoxicated by the intensity of your care for each one of us. Such love prompted St. Anthony of Padua to proclaim, “The humanity of Christ is like the grape because it was crushed in the winepress of the cross so that his blood flowed forth over all the earth…. How great is the charity of the beloved! How great the love of the bridegroom for his spouse, the Church!”

Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Yes, Jesus, let the water flowing from your side cleanse me, as did the life-giving water that flowed over me at baptism. And this saving stream never stops flowing through me—unless I separate myself from your love. You are the vine, I am the branch. If I remain in you, your abundant life continues flowing into me. As St. Paul attested long ago, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Passion of Christ, strengthen me. It is your power, and not my own, which heals me and makes me strong. As the psalmist says, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Ps 127:1). Your strength alone is my source of hope.

O good Jesus, hear me. Within your wounds hide me. There is something so mystical, and dare I say intimate, Jesus, in our hiding in those holy wounds through which we are saved. As Isaiah tells us, “by his bruises we are healed” (Is 53:5). Draw us into this most loving mystery—this sacred fountainhead of our salvation!

Let me never be separated from you. Loving savior, this expresses, perhaps, the most central theme of Anima Christi. Keep reminding me that the best part of prayer is not so much gaining information about you, O Jesus, as it is growing into a more intimate love union with you. So, loving savior, hold us close to you.

From the malignant enemy, defend me. This line is similar to the closing line of that special prayer that you yourself taught us—the Our Father: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.” We rely on your healing power, O Lord, to set us free of any malignant force that might cause us to be separated from you—from life itself.

In the hour of my death, call me, and bid me come to you, that with your saints I may praise you forever and ever. Amen. Jesus, I need your help to reach my final destiny in your Kingdom. Stay with me to the end—until I can join in singing your praises with all those saved by your immense love.

Additional thoughts

No doubt you have noticed how my reflections on the Anima Christi have strayed from the “me” and “my” vocabulary of this very personal prayer—and I have begun to use words like “we” and “us” and “our.” The Anima Christi is very much a prayer focused on my personal relationship with Christ. We also know from the changes ushered into the Church by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that we have come to more communal ways of celebrating the sacraments and of praying together as Church. This in no way contradicts the importance of recognizing those times in our lives when the Spirit calls us to more personal styles of prayer.

I have found it very fruitful in my own praying of the Anima Christi to alternate between the personal and the communal—and I’ve heard others also speak very favorably of doing the same. Perhaps you will find this fruitful as well. A number of people have the prayer memorized and may say the Anima Christi first personally in the traditional form quoted above, and afterwards in the “us” and “our” form, so to speak, by including coworkers, family members or a sick relative, spouse or loved one in the prayer. Thus, in the same prayer, individuals can contemplate their personal love relationship and union with Christ and, at the same time, think lovingly of a sick relative, dear friend or other persons in need. One might focus simply upon one special person or, on the other hand, a whole assembly of people.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night or before dawn and am unable to sleep for maybe an hour or more. I sometimes find great peace and meaning in contemplating my union with Christ as well as with those I include in my prayer. Having memorized the Anima Christi, I keep going through the prayer and meditating on it, phrase by phrase, perhaps while fingering rosary beads. At times, it becomes a profound mystical experience. This cherished experience doesn’t come from me, but from the goodness of God. After all, the Anima Christi expresses nothing less than Christ’s incredible love not only for me but also for any others (and all others) who come into my consciousness. Lord Jesus, may we never be separated from you and from those we love! Amen.


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