Whenever I come home over summer or Christmas breaks, I always end up recalling childhood memories with my family. Sometimes old pictures or family videos resurface and I laugh as I watch the moment when I crashed my bike into a bush or find the picture where Chuck E. Cheese made me cry so much that I turned red in the face. Other times, when we’re around the dinner table, conversation is bound to bring up embarrassing moments of the past (like when my pants fell down when I was jump-roping in gym class in third grade). Certainly we all have some memories we wish we could forget, but there are also some memories we have that we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives.
As if recalling these individual memories weren’t enough, I’ve had a few events occur in these last few days which have given me a greater appreciation for the beauty of memory: Watching Finding Dory, celebrating Independence Day, and attending Mass.
[Warning: Contains some spoilers] We’ll start with Finding Dory, the sequel to the 2003 Pixar hit, Finding Nemo. In Finding Dory, the beloved protagonist Dory seeks to be reunited with her parents whom she was separated from as a child. Because Dory suffers from short-term memory loss, she spent most of her life unaware of her family’s whereabouts. Eventually her memories trickle back and by the end of the movie she’s able to be reunited with her family again. The act of remembering played an important role in helping Dory find her way home where she belonged.
This past Monday, America celebrated Independence Day. This is also an event in which memory plays a crucial role. Where Dory utilizes personal memories she has of historical events she’d been a part of, we Americans “remember” our country’s declaration of independence from the British monarchy on July 4, 1776. None of us were there for the signing of that famous document, yet we still celebrate that event every year as a memorial. In addition, understanding the roots of our country tells us something about ourselves and helps us better appreciate our American citizenship.
Yet this past Sunday I had the opportunity to participate in the memorial of the single greatest moment in human history; I went to Mass and encountered the re-presentation of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. It happens every time we go to Mass. The priest, acting in persona Christi, repeats the words of Christ who said at His Last Supper, “Take this, all of you, and drink of it. For this is the chalice of My Blood, the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME” (emphasis added). Jesus did not simply say “Remember me” and leave it up to us to decide how we wanted to recall the Paschal Mystery. If it were up to us, we’d probably settle for something like fireworks and hot dogs once a year to recall the crucifixion of God-made-man. Instead, Christ instituted the precise way that His sacrifice should be recalled until the end of time; the Mass. The theological term for this active participation in this unique act of remembrance is anamnesis.
Like Finding Dory, the Mass uses memory (albeit in a different variation) to help us be reunited with our Heavenly Home as we find ourselves surrounded by the communion of saints, our Heavenly Family. Like Independence Day, the Mass recalls a historical event we weren’t physically present at to help us rediscover our spiritual roots and thus better appreciate our deepest identity as beloved sons and daughters of God.
However, there’s an even greater mystery involved in this concept of anamnesis. The Mass isn’t merely a memorial of a past event. The late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen explains: “…the Sacrifice of the Cross is not something which happened nineteen hundred years ago. It is still happening. It is not something past like the signing of the Declaration of Independence; it is an abiding drama on which the curtain has not yet rung down.” How is that possible? He continues, “If a motion picture reel, for example, were conscious of itself, it would know the drama from beginning to end, but the spectators in the theater would not know it until they had seen it unrolled upon the screen. In like manner, Our Lord on the Cross saw in His eternal mind the whole drama of history, the story of each individual soul, and how later on it would react to his crucifixion; but though He saw all, we could not know how we would react to the Cross until we were unrolled upon the screen of time.”
Christ went through the Paschal Mystery two-thousand years ago, but because His sacrifice was eternal in nature it is still being made present to each of us today. If you’re interested in seeing how we can “remember” in such a beautiful way the single most important event in human history, go to Mass this Sunday keeping these themes in mind. Through anamnesis, God will draw you closer to your Eternal Home and help you rediscover your roots, thus revealing to you your deepest identity. You can gaze on Our Lord present in the Eucharist and tell Him what Dory says to Marlin in Finding Nemo, “When I look at you, I can feel it. I look at you and I’m home. I don’t want that to go away. I don’t want to forget.”