October 29, 2008
 

Anima Christi: A Prayer for All Centuries

by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

 

Q U I C K S C A N

 

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. Amen.

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.


Friar Jim’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jim’s “Abortion and the Gift of Life” and “An Important Word for Anyone Touched by an Abortion.”

Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for your words on babies that have been aborted. I agree with you completely. As a mother of a stillborn son, I was very upset with a priest who said that babies who had not been baptized were in "limbo." I spoke with the priest and told him that I was the mother of a stillborn son and the loving God that I know would not withhold h is love for eternity from my son because he was not born alive in order to be baptized. The priest said that he was sorry if he upset me, but he was preaching what the Catholic Church teaches. I would love to hear your thoughts on babies that were stillborn. Lynn

Dear Lynn: I'm so glad you wrote me. I want to assure you that you have a little saint in heaven. No one's salvation is determined by chance (e.g., being stillborn). Your infant was created by God to spend eternity with him and that's where he is. No theologian teaches the existence of limbo…. As I said in my article, limbo was based on a strict interpretation of "unless you are baptized…." That does not apply to your infant at all. There are zillions of people who have never been baptized who will be with God for eternity. Those in hell actually reject God because that is what hell is: life separated from God because of rejection NOT by God but by the sinner. So, on All Saints Day, celebrate that feast with special joy. Pray to your little one who is with you all through your journey on earth, waiting for you someday to join him in heaven. Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: I, too, suffered the guilt of several abortions when I was in my 20s. For several years I struggled with the same guilt as the woman of whom you wrote. During a very serious discussion with my sister-in-law regarding this guilt, she said, "Forgiveness is like a gift, you have to open the package in order to enjoy the gift within." That analogy spoke volumes to me, and my accepting of God's forgiveness finally began. Thank you for your beautiful article. Chris

Dear Chris: Thanks so much for your wonderful e-mail message about your experience. If my article brought additional peace, I'm very grateful. It's what I was hoping for. You have those little ones with you even as they are in heaven with the Lord. Talk to them when you have problems and struggles. They would love nothing more than to help you and strengthen you. You are so dear to them that they can't take their eyes off you. Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: Your message this month really touched my soul and is one, although I have heard before, need to hear over and over again.

As a young man I fathered a child that was aborted. It is not often we hear of the pain and guilt that the father feels from an abortion, but it is there. A wonderful priest shared the very same thoughts with me and my wife as you did in this article…. (He) assured us that our child was in heaven with God, and that we should pray to our baby and give this child a name. His gentle care and love eased our guilt, but it is still in my heart and mind on a daily basis.

I pray for the loving forgiveness of God for what has happened and that someday I will see my child in heaven.

You should know that when our abortion took place we were unmarried teenagers. We are now married for 27 years, with 3 children and a granddaughter…. WP

Dear WP: Thanks for your kind words. I rejoice with you that you had such good advice and help at that very difficult time in your lives. Yes, the fathers are often the ones neglected, and that is unfortunate. Men often flee responsibility, but they can't escape it altogether. Your life is an inspiration to me. I know you are forgiven and that you can include your little one in heaven in your life right now. Your love, I'm sure, causes your child to experience a joy that cannot be measured. You and your wife will be in my prayers. Friar Jim

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