Examining The Eucharistic Prayer's Memorial And Offering
Following the Consecration, the priest continues with the prayer consisting of two parts – the memorial and the offering. The memorial recalls the eternal salvation Jesus accomplished for us in his death and resurrection. This memorial prayer is not “recalling” a memory such as George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. Washington’s action is restricted to the past and, as such, is only a “memory.” This memorial prayer is much richer.
To grasp the meaning of this memorial prayer, we need to understand the Jewish people’s concept of “remembrance” regarding their festivals and the annual celebration of the Passover commemorating their Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Since the historical events on behalf of the Chosen People’s salvation were divine actions, these events belong to God’s “timelessness.” They do not suffer the fate of other historical events, which simply slip back into the past.
The Jewish people’s celebration of a particular feast brought God’s historical action, being remembered in worship, into the present time. The worshipping community actually participated in the historical event being celebrated because God himself acts through their ritual celebrations. “Memory” is not recollection, which has a sense of distance to it, but rather “re-actualization.” By remembering God’s mighty acts in the liturgy, the people become truly present for them. Through their liturgical remembrance, the Jewish People throughout the ages experienced the Lord’s loving actions on their behalf.
The Jewish people in every generation become actual witnesses to and participants in the divine acts that made them the God’s chosen people. Remembering liturgically God’s past actions does not mean that the events of the present are unimportant. The events from their history give meaning to the experiences of the Jewish community of today. The events of today are included in the remembrance of God’s past activity. The whole purpose of the liturgy is to bring God’s mighty works, in their history, into contact with each successive generation. If God’s actions were only a reality of the distant past, God would appear to have become silent, absent and inactive. Because God is the Lord of history, through their worship the Chosen People re-live God’s redemptive actions in all times and places.
Since the Church’s worship has its origins in Jewish worship, this same idea of remembrance is central to our understanding of the Memorial. When the Church prays “we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection,” the Church is not just remembering Christ’s salvific events as if they are only “memories” of some past events. Although these words do recall the historical events of Jesus’ life, Jesus’ death and resurrection are made present once again for us in the worshipping community. The Church speaks of this reality as the re-representation of the un-bloody sacrifice of Christ. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, he remains present with his beloved people. Jesus is not a figure relegated to the past, nor are his Body and Blood only “symbols” of him. They are sacramental signs of his presence among u,s which is always present but remains hidden. Now in the Eucharistic assembly, the hidden Christ reveals himself and his eternal love in his death and resurrection. Christ is the one who bears for all eternity the marks of his passion and death as eternal signs of his love for all humanity in every age.
Father Sauer continues his exploration of the Mass in the Nov. 17 issue of The Message.