Image: Robert Cheaib from Pixabay
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.”
Who Wrote It?
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 source.”
Superb Christology Applied
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 “sanctification,” too.
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.
Soul of Christ, be my sanctification;
Body of Christ, be my salvation.
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins;
Water from Christ’s side, wash out my stains.
Passion of Christ, my comfort be.
O good Jesus, listen to me.
In Thy wounds I fain would hide
Ne’er to be parted from Thy side.
Guard me should the foe assail me;
Call me when my life shall fail me.
Bid me come to Thee above
With Thy saints to sing Thy love
World without end. Amen.
(Poetic text by Cardinal Newman)
Barbara Beckwith was the managing editor and book review editor of St. Anthony Messenger. She is a graduate of Marquette University’s College of Journalism in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was awarded the highest award of the Catholic Press Association in 1994.