Dear Peregrinus (Tuesday, 3:30 PM):
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 Thy wounds, hide me.
Separated from Thee let me never be.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
At the hour of death, call me.
To come to Thee, bid me,
That I may praise Thee in the company
Of Thy Saints, for all eternity.
You asked me to help you understand why the famous prayer, Anima Christi, requests that God “inebriate” us with the blood of Christ. It would seem a strange verb to use, and a word not usually associated with an earnest prayer’s request.
I also noticed this awkward choice of verb many years ago, and I have thought about it in the following ways. Perhaps this will help you to be able to pray this prayer earnestly, making it your own.
It is always work making sure that we understand a word by getting clear about its origin, and in this case, its roots in the Latin language. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) presents this Etymology: < inebriate adj., or participial stem of Latin inēbriāre to inebriate, intoxicate, < in- (in- prefix2) + ēbriāre to intoxicate, < ēbrius drunk.
But the meaning of the verb “inebriate” we find attested in a Catholic translation of the whole Bible, in the Douay Bible published in 1610, where the verb means: “To refresh as with drink; to water, drench, moisten.” Do you see? The verb’s meaning has generalized and recast itself to concentrate on refreshment.
As a result, we find attested throughout the 17th century this meaning, and several of which meanings the OED records, indicating the text where that meaning is found, and in what year that appeared. They are:
In the year 1610 – Bible (Douay) II. Psalms lxiv. 10 [lxv. 9] “Thou hast visited the earth, and hast inebriated [L. inebriasti] it.”
In the Lexham English Bible translation – Psalm 64:10 reads this way:
10 You drench its furrows,
penetrating its ridges.
With rains you soften it;
its growth you bless.
In the year 1624 – T. Gataker Discuss. Transubstant. 72 “The Chalice is our Saviours blood to cleanse and inebriate devout Soules.”
In the year 1649 – F. Roberts Clavis Bibliorum (ed. 2) 83 “With bloud I will inebriate Mine arrows.”
Isn’t it interesting to discover how the meaning of a word can change over time, and how time taken to understand this history opens up our capacity to use a word accurately in different ways?
So, “inebriate me” in the prayer means to “give me a thorough soaking,” but which meaning includes the idea that this action is received by me as a source of divine refreshment.
However, once one is on to a meaning that has to do with “a thorough soaking,” then one must also consider the significance of something able to absorb so much of that soaking! And so, the use of this verb “inebriate” in the prayer could be my asking for an increased capacity to absorb more the gift of Christ offered me in the eucharistic Cup of Blessing. I have often counseled a person who is receiving a grace from God to say to God something like this: “Thank you, dearest Lord, for hearing my prayers. But this grace that You give is not enough for me. Give it more, and deeper, because I know that I will forget this grace unless you send it deeper into me.” I counsel them to ask God for, if you will, “a thorough soaking” with this grace, “pressed down and running over.”
Further, I have thought about the verb as referring not as much to the person who drinks too much, as referring to the happy result with which drunkenness has often been associated in literature: the freeing of a person, for a time, from the burdens of life through the relaxing effect of the alcohol. We often find this meaning in the Bible when it speaks of wine as a gift of God that helps people celebrate, who are able to put aside the weight of daily burdens. It is pretty clear the Bible celebrates some degree of drunkenness, but achieving that state communally and in celebratory moments of a community’s shared life.
And further, I thought about my experiences of being around people who drink too much. Though I do not usually enjoy being around such people, simply because it bothers me that people need chemical help simply to be happy and able to relate to others, I have come to recognize that alcohol magnifies personality. There is a Latin expression first attested in a work by Pliny the Elder – in vino veritas (“in wine is the truth”), by which is meant that wine can free the tongue enough so that a person says what is really on his or her mind. But I have come to understand this expression as meaning that a drunken person starts to reveal, and in sometimes unpleasant ways, just what kind of person he or she is, who might normally keep that part of himself or herself hidden from public view. So if a person is mean, then such a person with alcohol is revealed as “a mean drunk.” If a person is lugubrious, then alcohol will magnify that truth about him or her, and so we have a depressed and depressing drunk. You see?
So, then, in this latter case, we can think of the Anima Christi prayer as praying that the blood of Christ will reveal who truly we are to others – as belonging to Christ; as in love with Him, committed to Him. In the former case, we can think of the prayer as something that helps us not take ourselves so seriously, causing us to learn part of the meaning of “Sabbath” as a spiritual discipline: a capacity to decide to be happy, to practice jollity and bright-spiritedness in communion with others who also bear the weight of many responsibilities.
These are some of my thoughts, dear Peregrinus.