We are pleased to share with our readers this guest article by Veronica Arntz, a recent graduate of Wyoming Catholic College who will begin graduate studies in theology this fall at the Augustine Institute.
|Solemn High Mass in Notre-Dame de Paris|
In Book 10 of The Confessions, St. Augustine gives us an interesting perspective on how our memories are connected with God. Augustine is in awe over the immense power of his memory: “Great is this power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God, a spreading limitless room within me. Who can reach its uttermost depth? Yet it is a faculty of my soul and belongs to my nature. In fact I cannot totally grasp all that I am.” We here find testimony to the fact that this faculty of his human nature, which exists in time, is also something beyond him. Even within his own memory, he finds it impossible to grasp his identity and his role in the world. The crux of the treatise, however, occurs when he realizes that God is within his memory, which is why his memory is beyond himself. “See now how great a space I have covered in my memory, in search of Thee, O Lord; and I have not found Thee outside it…From the time I learned of Thee, Thou hast remained in my memory, and there do I find Thee, when I turn my mind to Thee and find delight in Thee.” Thus, even though his memory knows things within time, it is still capable of holding within itself God, who is outside of time.
For Augustine, memory makes present the things of the past, for time is measured in his mind. How then can God come to be in his mind, if He is eternal and exists outside of time? As Augustine explains, “You are before all the past by the eminence of Your ever-present eternity: and You dominate all the future in as much as it is still to be: and once it has come it will be past: but ‘Thou art always the Selfsame, and Thy years shall not fail.’ ” Thus, it is because God is the “eternal Creator of minds” that he is able to dwell in the mind, and specifically, in the memory. Augustine believes that, given how much our memory is able to hold and understand, then so much more God’s memory, which holds all knowledge, because He is eternal.
For Pope Benedict, liturgy is man’s window into Heaven, the place where heaven touches earth, and we are able to receive Christ daily in the Eucharist. In the liturgy, man experiences the Beatific Vision for a brief moment of time while still on earth. “The historical liturgy of Christendom is and always will be cosmic, without separation and without confusion, and only as such does it stand erect in its full grandeur.” Liturgy, although an action occurring within time, is ultimately cosmic, for it expands beyond the present time and points man toward his future life in Heaven. The cosmic time of the liturgy “becomes a representation of human time and of historical time, which moves toward the union of God and world, of history and universe, of matter and spirit—in a word, toward the New City whose light is God Himself.” This union of God and world achieved in the liturgy also occurs within the memory, which is an interior power of the soul. A man’s memory is united with the knowledge of eternity and God in the liturgy, and thereby becomes more like God’s own mind.
Thus, the liturgy is not merely a spiritual reality; it is the place where God and man unite, which means that it is necessary to worship in a bodily way. Furthermore, we cannot merely reduce liturgy to the structure of a meal, which many do when simplifying the essence of the liturgy to the Consecration of the Body and Blood, for this removes those externals that remind man of God’s presence in the liturgy. Because Christ’s presence is manifest in the liturgy, which occurs within man’s history, the externals of the liturgy are important for forming man’s memory. As we saw in Aquinas, the memory is formed through connections made between sensible and spiritual realities, which explain the rich external signs within the liturgy that help man become more united to God. The gestures of the priest, the beautiful vestments, the scent of incense, the detailed artwork, the ethereal music: all these external signs are meant to point to God.
Moreover, because these signs are so intimately connected with the liturgy, they form man’s memory about the liturgy and about God. When a man remembers a beautifully celebrated Mass, he often remembers the corporeal signs he experienced, and we see this evident in the Pope-Emeritus’ memory of his Bavarian hometown celebration of Corpus Christi. “I can still smell those carpets of flowers and the freshness of the birch trees; I can see all the houses decorated, the banners, the singing; I can still hear the village band, which indeed sometimes dared more, on this occasion, than it was able!” All of the sights and smells of Corpus Christi are still deeply engraved within the memory; the liturgical life of the community created a beautiful memory for him, which he still connects with the glory of God. We are losing so much in our liturgical tradition with the loss of Corpus Christi celebrations; how many have such vivid memories of that feast? How many can say that Christ has entered deeply into their memories because of Corpus Christi processions and celebrations?
|Corpus Christ Procession, Madison Wisconsin (from one of our 2015 photoposts)|
If we humbly follow Cardinal Sarah’s request, we shall retrain our memories to turn toward the Lord in the liturgy. Our memories will once again reconnect with God, who is present within us, not only in our minds, but most especially in the Eucharist. We cannot simply toss aside the liturgical traditions that have formed 1500 years of Saints: in doing so, we lose our connection with the Church and with God. If we refocus our minds and memories on God, “we will go out to meet the Lord who has already been coming all along, we will enter into his coming—and so we will allow ourselves to be fitted into a greater reality, beyond the everyday.”