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"Do This in Remembrance of Me” Probably Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means


A good resource for this topic is Darwell Stone’s A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.


Introduction

At the last supper, after Our Lord uttered the words “this is My Body,” he continued on and said “Do this in remembrance of me” to the great delight of memorialists. Memorialists—following Huldrych Zwingli—when faced with the phrase “this is my body” point to the next phrase, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This phrase “in remembrance of me” acts as a bulwark of defense for the memorialists in their denial of real presence and is used by protestant bodies at large to deny a sacrificial eucharist.


How are we to respond to such claims made by memorialists? Are we to deny fifteen centuries of the teaching of the Fathers of the church and the liturgy which they formed? It is my conviction that the exact opposite is true, that in fact “Do this in remembrance of me” does not signify a bare commemoration of what happened 2000 years ago but is a true sacramental participation in the one sacrifice of Christ, by which life is given to us and sin is blotted out. This phrase “do this in remembrance of me” was actually—as the Fathers put it—the institution of the “bloodless sacrifice of the New Covenant." Rather than teaching the bare memorialism of Zwingli, the words of institution teach the catholic doctrine of the eucharist, as accepted by the Anglican,[1] Roman, and Eastern churches.


In order to prove this, we will look at 4 phrases within the context of the words of institution and show how they all connect and witness to this being the institution of “the bloodless sacrifice” and not a “bare memorial.” First, διαθήκη (covenant), then, ποιεῖτε (do), third, ἀνάμνησιν (remembrance), and fourth, ἐκχυννόμενον (Being poured out).

Διαθήκη

This word is most often translated as “covenant,” or in usage more familiar to us “testament” (it is where our phrase “new testament” comes from). It is found in the phrase “this is my blood of the Covenant (διαθηκη),” and in another account “This cup is the New Covenant (or testament, διαθηκη) in my blood." This language of “covenant/διαθήκη” brings to mind the Old covenant sacrificial feasts by which the Israelites ate “Old Covenant” sacrifices and through it achieved remission of sin and blessing sacramentally. It can be naturally understood through the lens of Hebrews 9:15ff with the language of the “blood of the New Covenant”:

"And for this cause he [Christ] is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance….neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you."

Interestingly, though the ratifying of the covenant is by blood (sprinkling it on the people, altar, and book of the covenant), this was followed with a sacrificial meal with God himself,

"Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink."

The ratification of the covenant was effected through both the application of the sacrificial blood and a meal with God himself, both of these ideas in the ratification of the covenant are brought together by bringing “the blood of the covenant” into the sacramental meal itself.


It is impossible to escape the fact that for Jews of the 1st century the idea of the “blood of the covenant” was explicitly sacrificial, even when brought into the event of a meal (though as we have seen it is a natural place for it). The idea of “blood” and “covenant” brought together means sacrifice each and every time. Therefore, we ought to catch these sacrificial overtones which were present at the last supper. Our continuing investigation will strengthen this conclusion.

ποιεῖτε

Though the meaning of “do” seems pretty straightforward (i.e. “perform this action”) there is much more nuance that can be placed behind it, revealing a sacrificial context that is spoken of. Both the Greek word ποιεῖτε and its' Hebrew counterpart עָשָׂה in certain contexts have the sense of “offering a sacrifice.” A few examples of this are,


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