The motto of the great ones might well be “Winner Take All—Even the Memories.” The winner owns history and bends it to his will.
-Daniel Berrigan, S.J., The Kings and Their gods
Mrs. Rooney lived down the street from me in the 1940s when I was a little kid. The street was a small dirt road going between two moderately used paved roads. For the most part it was only driven-on by the few residents who lived on it. Mrs. Rooney was in her eighties. Most of the day she sat at a first floor window of her home in a rocking chair and watched the children playing in the street. She also prayed the Rosary all day long, while looking out of the window. When asked for whom she did all that praying, she would say, “For the children playing out there.”
Now suppose, someone asked me, if I remember Mrs. Rooney. I would answer, “Yes, she was the old woman who sat at the window all day.” Would that be a historically accurate memory and a truthful answer? Yes. Would it be a historically complete memory? No. Would it be a memory that was leaving out a very important and well-known piece of her life at that time? Yes. If my questioner was trying to find out information about Mrs. Rooney’s religious belief or spiritual life or sense of compassion or spiritual consciousness would my brief response that “She was the old woman who sat at the window all day” be sufficient? No. If my questioner was trying to write a book, presenting models that others could be inspired by and imitate, on good and kind things anonymous people do would my “She was the old lady who sat in the window all day,” be of any significant psychological, emotional, cognitive or spiritual value to the author or to those he wished to help by his writing? No!
Mrs. Rooney and Jesus
Jesus does not merely “suffer and die,” as the texts say in most of the Eucharistic Prayers of most of the Churches. He does not die of a heart attack. Jesus is tortured and murdered. He dies when His heart is attacked by human beings inebriated with the diabolical spirit of justified, religiously endorsed homicide and enmity—and He dies giving a definite, discernible, and consistent response to that satanic spirit in action. The Gospel fact, of the Way He responded with love to even lethal evil, cannot be insignificant in discerning the Truth of the revelation God is trying to communicate to humanity for the good of humanity in Jesus. Yet, it is absent from nearly all Eucharistic Prayers.
The Sacrifice of the Cross is not about mere animal pain that is meant to assuage the lust of a sadistic, bloodthirsty, parochial god. It is about the revelation of the nature and meaning, Way and Power of Divine Love, a Love that saves from an Enemy and a menace that the darkest phenomena of history can only but hint at. The historically and theologically emaciated phraseology of “suffered and died” in Eucharistic Prayers, while not erroneous, is anemic revelatory remembrance (anamnesis).
There may be more to remembering Jesus in his passion and death at the Eucharist than the historical memory. But, there is no substitute for accurately and actually remembering the historical content of His passion and death—which is not just that He “suffered and died.” It must also include the Spirit in which He suffered and died: rejecting the use of violence, loving His enemies, returning good for evil, praying for His persecutors, and forgiving His torturers and murderers. This is Gospel fact, not spiritual conjecture. It is Gospel fact every bit as much as the Gospel fact that He was crucified.
To consistently ignore and to structurally bracket-out within the Eucharistic Prayer this major fact in the God-given revelatory memory, is to assure that little of what God intended to be communicated and accomplished by this costly revelation will be communicated and accomplished by it. To side-step this authentic Apostolic memory in order to get to a more profound or holy or deep spirituality of the Eucharist is sheer folly. One has to have the humility to accept and work with revelation as God offers it. If one does not want to prayerfully enter into revelation as presented by God, then one has no access to revelation, for who but God can author revelation?
So, while the mere use of the words “suffered” and “died” in the Eucharistic Prayer is not theologically inaccurate and does meet the letter of the law in fulfilling Jesus’ Eucharistic command, “Do this in memory of me,” it is pastorally shriveled revelatory remembrance (anamnesis). It has all the depth of truth and meaning and witness that there would be in describing Mrs. Rooney as merely “the old woman who sat at the window all day.”
The terrible pastoral danger of a mere skin and bones, “suffer and died Eucharistic Prayer,” with no serious communication of the Spirit in which Jesus suffered and died, is that it leaves the Eucharistic Prayer wide open to being transformed from an avenue of anamnesis to an agency for amnesia.
The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetfulness. -Milan Kundera
(To be continued)