Physical inebriation is bad, no doubt. But spiritual intoxication is good. Very good. The disciples experienced it at Pentecost.
Powerful in its pithiness, arresting for its boldness, the Anima Christi is a prayer that Catholics have loved for centuries. St. Ignatius of Loyola appealed to it often in his Spiritual Exercises. St. John Henry Newman made it his own by rendering a new English translation.
The Anima Christi is a popular prayer that contains a peculiar line—a verse worth meditating on as the Feast of Corpus Christi draws near. In the third line of the prayer we ask:
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Inebriate, really? After all, intoxication is bad, isn’t it? When we overdo it, we impair what is most dignified in us—our rational control over ourselves. Getting drunk leads one to behave in ways that are less than fully human. So what exactly could we be asking God for here?
Physical inebriation is bad, no doubt. But spiritual intoxication is good. Very good. There is such a thing as getting drunk on God. The disciples experienced it at Pentecost. When they emerged from the Upper Room filled with the Holy Spirit, they were dismissed by some who could only surmise such exhilaration was the product of drunkenness, of enjoying too much new wine (Acts 2:13). And indeed, they were inebriated. But the wine that filled them was spiritual, the “new wine” that is the Holy Spirit. The disciples were themselves the new wineskins about which Christ had spoken—skins filled and overflowing with the intoxicating goodness of God. The impact manifested itself physically, but the source was spiritual.
The soul has the capacity to become intoxicated, just like the body. To the Lord the Psalmist pines, “for you my soul is thirsting” (Ps 63:2). This prayer to the Blood of Christ in the Anima Christi issues from this innate thirst felt for God. It also specifies the kind of satisfaction that the Blood of the Savior supplies: not the contentment that a cold glass of water gives, but something much more sublime and transcendent. Receiving the Blood of Christ, the soul is filled and inebriated with divinity. As St. Leo the Great puts it, we are “filled and inebriated with the Lord himself. For the effect of our sharing in the body and blood of Christ is to change us into what we receive.” The Eucharist is the sacrament of divine charity. In receiving Christ, the soul is filled with the love of God. Being loved, and loving in return, such divine delight produces an exalting, inebriating effect. By the power of the Eucharist, St. Thomas Aquinas explains, the soul is “spiritually gladdened, and as it were inebriated with the sweetness of Divine goodness.”
God is infinite. Therefore divine inebriation means God intoxicates with his infinity. It is a delight that simultaneously satisfies and inspires even deeper desire—infinite desire. A story from the life of St. Dominic helps provide some small insight into what this means. Having already offered an edifying spiritual conference to a convent of Dominican nuns, St. Dominic remarked, “It would be good, my daughters, to have something to drink.” He called for a cup brimful with wine. Blessing it, he, the friars with him, and each of the nuns proceeded to drink deeply. The cup could neither be spilled nor drained, however; miraculously, it remained full for all. “Drink up, my daughters!” St. Dominic kept exclaiming. No matter how much they consumed, they did not grow physically inebriated, but experienced spiritual delights only. When we pray that the Blood of Christ might inebriate us, we are appealing to a joy that knows no end, flowing from a source that cannot be exhausted.
“Drink up, my daughters!” St. Dominic’s joyful invitation is in some ways a reflection of Christ’s appeal to every soul, an appeal captured in the Song of Songs: “Eat, friends; drink! Be drunk with love!” (5:1). Christ desires to fill us with himself, and fill us forever. And so the petition in the Anima Christi actually forms a response to this divine initiative. It is a request for something everlasting—namely, a place at the eternal banquet of heaven. There the saints “are free from all need, being inebriated with the plenty of God’s house,” as Aquinas observes. It is to those who the Soul of Christ sanctifies and the Body of Christ saves that an invitation to eternal inebriation is then extended.
In order for this Blood to inebriate, it must be consumed. For it to be consumed, it must be first poured out. To be poured out it must be drawn: Christ must subject himself to the Passion. As we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi this year, it appears the Church and the world are being invited to participate in that suffering of Christ in a particular way. To be poured out ourselves. For many of the faithful, reception of the Eucharist is still not a possibility this Sunday; communion must remain spiritual, not sacramental. Even so, by accepting some taste of the Cross’ bitterness, we are united to Christ, and are being prepared to drink deeply, joyfully, infinitely.