Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Church and Altzeimer's Disease

Have you ever sat in a church, surrounded by a professional worship band, state-of-the-art technology, a dynamic speaker - and asked yourself, "Is this what the gathering of believers is supposed to be? Is this what we're to be doing?"

I have. Many, many times. I don't know why I analyze church structures, approaches, etc., but I do. Most people, I'm sure, simply go to church, enjoy the worship and teaching, and then go out for a bite to eat with some friends before heading home to watch a football game. However, for me, church has always been deeply important and if it became "just another activity" then I really wasn't interested. It is meant to reflect my beliefs about God and support them. It is meant to join my voice with others in encouraging us all to keep the faith amidst an increasingly dark and wicked world. And perhaps most important of all - it is meant to help me become holy.

I had a feeling this new book I was reading would open my eyes and already it has. On page 10 (barely in the Introduction, no less!), are these powerful words (emphasis mine):

Memory is what tells us who we are. Without memory, I could not complete this sentence, nor could you read it. Without memory, I could not know who I am from one moment to the next. I believe that memory may be what modern psychologists and philosophers are groping toward when they speak of "identity" or "self-conscience."

The soul of the Church also possesses this faculty. The Church has a memory and it's called the liturgy. The liturgy is the memory of the Church.

The Mass of the Early Christians, p10, by Mike Aquilina

When I read the above words, I was just stunned. I laid the book down and thought about what the author had just said. Suddenly, all the years of those questions and thoughts about church made sense. Something within me recognized that an important part of our identity as believers was being overlooked, or forgotten. Little did I know that I would find a satisfying answer in a small Catholic book that is probably largely unknown by most Catholics, let alone other believers.

I believe this is why I felt as though I was on firmer footing when I started to attend Mass again. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass helps us remember and my goodness - how we need to remember! Liturgy keeps us on track. When we start to stray from liturgy and "do our own thing," it gets confusing real fast. The focus shifts away from Jesus Christ and onto the charismatic speaker or the the highly talented worship team.

This is not to say there is no place for excellent oratorical skills or musicianship. However, these two things can never, nor should they be expected to, take the place of liturgy.

Many, including myself when I was away from the Catholic church, saw liturgy as very dry and dull. "For pete's sake," I'd say. "It's the same thing, week, after week, month after month, year after year..." I longed for 'experimentation' and 'newness.' Yes, I did find that, in bucketfuls - but I also lost something I never realized was contained within the liturgy: My memory of the simplicity of our fellowship, the profound act of sacrifice, and how it involved me.

I need to be reminded of this week after week, month after month, and year after year because it is so, so easy to become consumed by the flesh. Our egos are tough old birds. As Christians, we like to echo St. Paul's words to the Galatians and say, "I have been crucified with Christ..." (Gal. 2:20), but have we really been crucified when we spend an hour in church on Sunday to supposedly please God, and then please our egos the rest of the week?

This is why I pray the Rosary daily. Yes, it's repetitious, but you know what? It's another part of my "memory" that I'm reclaiming. I realize that I am in dire need of God's mercy and grace each day. With each decade, I focus on a Mystery, meditating on how Jesus Christ is Everything and I am nothing apart from Him. I need that help in remembering because goodness knows, the world would love for us to forget.

I am hoping for my memory to become stronger and I'm sensing that it is. I love going to Mass in a way that I never, ever thought I would. I look forward to the weekends and attending my Solemn High Mass in Latin. I look forward to my weekly Wednesday morning Mass. I used to attend an evening mid-week service at my non-denominational church, which was pretty much a big Bible study. But I find that I don't need some big, chatty group to connect with God. In fact, the simpler the surroundings, the better. Early morning Mass on Wednesdays helps me remember once again that Jesus loved me so much that He gave His life up for me.

When we as a church really absorb that truth, really chew on it as we take His Body and Blood - it can be more transformative than a hundred Bible teachings by the most accomplished scholar.

Ah, memory. Be restored.


*Linda Pinda* said...

Beautifully said :)

There was a time, as a young person when I did not truly appreciate the liturgy of the Catholic Church, but the more I have learned... the more I have listened.... I am so in love with our Lord in the holy mass. What a gift... what a treasure...

Even when I am distracted by 3 little children, even when I have attended mass in different languages... I am in awe of His presence and His providence.

Love & Prayers... *Linda*

X said...

All I could think of when I read this were Jesus' words, "Do this in memory of me."

For many years I couldn't understand why Jesus said that and then expected us to believe Holy Communion was not symbolic. But one Holy Thursday I finally understood when Father explained that the Jews have a different understanding of memory than we do. To them recalling an event makes it actually present. I read Exodus, particularly the verses about Passover and it all became clear to me!

Great post, MR!