Sister Holda, my Franciscan sixth-grade teacher
at St. Peter’s in Skokie, Illinois, made all of us memorize
this prayer. She taught other things I thought similarly arcane
at the time, like diagramming sentences. But because this
poetic version in English, attributed to Cardinal John Henry
Newman, has rhythm and rhyme, I still remember it. Only now,
though, do I realize why Sister Holda shared this lovely eucharistic
meditation with us.
The original text was in Latin and has long been
used as an after-Communion prayer. The thoughts move logically
from the tangible sacrament to singing “with Thy saints” forever.
Set to music, the words became the hymn “Soul of My Savior.”
The authorship of the Anima Christi
is in question, as is the exact date of composition.
St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) is often credited
with composing the prayer, but erroneously. He merely put
his favorite prayer at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises.
Sometimes Pope John XXII is considered the author because
his name was linked to the indulgences attached in 1330. Some
Irish scholars claim the Anima Christi is a prayer
of St. Patrick, which goes back to fifth-century Ireland.
Michael Walsh in Dictionary of Catholic Devotions
(1993, Harper Collins) says, “The earliest indisputable reference
appears to be from Germany in the mid-14th century, though
the prayer itself must be older and is possibly from a Dominican
This prayer begins by seeing the soul of
Christ, his anima, as “animating” us. Jesus needs to
become our life principle, says Mother Mary Francis, the Poor
Clare abbess from Roswell, New Mexico, who wrote Anima
Christi: Soul of Christ (2002, Ignatius Press). Jesus’
soul can be glimpsed in his choices. Our choices will be our
Christ’s body is not just the host received in
Communion but also his Mystical Body, the Church, which we
pray will be our “salvation.”
Cardinal Newman’s translation avoids the suggestion
that wine can inebriate, but truly the blood of Christ should
“fill all my veins” to such an extent that we, like the apostles
at Pentecost, appear drunk on the love of the Lord.
When the soldier’s spear released the water in
the sac around Jesus’ heart, it was a sign that he was clearly
dead. Ironically, that water, like Baptism, can give us life
by washing away our sins.
Christ’s passion can “comfort” us because he has
experienced our human pain—from little pains of rejection
to a horrible death.
The next phrase, the bridge between the two parts
of this prayer, asks Jesus to hear even what we dare not articulate.
Hiding in Jesus’ wounds is not for purposes of
retreat but for engagement. We offer ourselves as a salve
to heal the wounds in the Mystical Body.
After the triple entreaties to “guard me,” “call
me” and “bid me,” the prayer wraps to a classic Catholic ending.
If we want to get to God’s “world without end,” we must utter
a heartfelt “Amen” and accept Jesus—body and soul.
Next month: Our Father