Saturday, July 23, 2016

“In Mei Memoriam Facietis”; Liturgical Externals and Memory - Guest Article by Veronica Arntz

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.

The heated debate surrounding Cardinal Robert Sarah’s call to celebrate the liturgy ad orientem shows deep division within the Church. If the liturgy is the “source and summit of the whole Christian life,” as Lumen gentium 11 proclaims, then it is essential for Catholics to celebrate it in unity of heart and mind. If we wish to accomplish anything within the fields of social justice, morality, and catechesis, we must approach the liturgy as a gift from God and as an organic whole, meant to unify the universal Church, not divide her. The question of ad orientem worship is extremely important for this unity of the Church and cannot be dismissed lightly. It is necessary, therefore, to understand how the external aspects of the liturgy are important to its celebration, for they assist in forming how we know, love, and serve God. In particular, our memories, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, are formed and shaped by the externals of the liturgy, which means that we cannot ignore them or disregard them as unimportant.

Solemn High Mass in Notre-Dame de Paris
When St. Thomas Aquinas is discussing whether memory is part of prudence in the Summa Theologiae, he lists four ways by which man perfects his memory. The first of these, which shall be our focus, is the following: “When a man wishes to remember a thing, he should take some suitable yet somewhat unwonted illustration of it, since the unwonted strikes us more, and so makes a greater and stronger impression on the mind.” Aquinas gives the following reason for why we need illustrations: “Simple and spiritual impressions easily slip from the mind, unless they be tied as it were to some corporeal image, because human knowledge has a greater hold on sensible objects.” (II-II Q. 49, art. 1, ad 1) In other words, a man’s mind works best by connecting spiritual or invisible realities to a sensible image, for sensible realities are more knowable by him. When he tries to understand a spiritual reality, therefore, it is more likely to remain in his memory if he connects it with a sensible reality.

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.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI argues that time and eternity meet in the Incarnation and in the liturgy. He writes, “All time is God’s time. When the eternal Word assumed human existence at his Incarnation, he also assumed temporality. He drew time into the sphere of eternity. Christ is himself the bridge between time and eternity.” Thus, because the Word took flesh, God has a connection with man, and indeed, with his memory. “In the Word incarnate, who remains man forever, the presence of eternity with time becomes bodily and concrete.” We thus see a connection to Aquinas’s remarks on memory. God, who is the most intelligible reality and thereby the most difficult for man to understand, took on human form, and now man has a concrete way to understand and know Him. Because Christ entered into time, He is likewise able to transform man’s memory, which exists in time, but is also beyond time, since it is ultimately united with God’s eternity.

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)
This connection of memory and liturgy is one of the reasons that Cardinal Sarah is calling for liturgies to be celebrated ad orientem once again. Since Vatican II, our memories of the liturgy have been shaped by the priest facing versus populum. But, as Pope Benedict explains regarding this orientation, “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle.” Thus, our memories of the liturgy are not, generally, connected with God (as they should be), but rather, they are connected with a humanistic, self-centered sort of liturgy. We expect the priest to face us, so we can see him and understand his personality. We expect the priest to put on a show for us, so that we can be entertained for an hour and feel good about ourselves. The corporeal image we have connected with the liturgy in our mind is that of the priest himself. Our memories, however, have been trained with the wrong expectations. We ought to be turned together toward the Lord—our minds and our memories should be oriented toward God in the liturgy, for the liturgy is the anticipation of the coming Christ. This is the purpose of the priest celebrating ad orientem: all who are part of the Mass, including the priest, are meant to be awaiting the Lord’s return. The sacrifice of the Mass is an offering to the Lord, not to the people.

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.”

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: