This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Anamnesis and the concept of ritual remembrance

In the Eucharist, the ecclesial community is enabled to participate in the ‘divine work’ which Christ accomplished via the mystery of His death and resurrection. The purpose of the rite is, in fact, to enable this participate.

We have said that ritual procedures are effective only insofar as they imitate and ‘make real’ a divine reality. They do not control or influence the divine, but rather re-present it in time and place.

When we come to the Mass, in which the ritual celebration of the Eucharist is situated, what we are dealing with is a ‘ritual remembrance’, hence the command of Christ, which in modern language is so drastically misunderstood: “Do this in memory of me.”

This last phrase indicates the mode of this rite: a memorial. The Mass is the ‘Memorial of the Lord’. It centers around the ‘remembering’ of the whole economy of salvation. But what does it mean to ‘remember’ in the context of this rite?

To understand this we must keep in mind that the terms we are familiar with are actually modern English words derived from more ancient languages. To understand what we mean in English, we cannot simply ask what the term means in English today, but rather we must admit that this English term was selected as an acceptable (but often weak) representative of a more ancient term from another language, and sometimes the modern term, although found acceptable, is only a weak representation, and also, due to constant changes in the way words are used, it can be rendered quite confusing over time.

Thus, we must set aside the term ‘remember’ and look to the more ancient concept that is really in question, and in this case it is the Greek notion of anamnesis, which serves as the underlying ‘formula’ of the rite.

Anamnesis is properly translated as ‘remembrance’ or ‘commemoration’, and here we can already anticipate the danger of misinterpretation, and this is why we insist that all translation also involves interpretation of meaning, or at least must be accompanied by it. This danger would come to fruition in Protestantism, where Calvin, for example, understood the liturgy as a memorial that would simply call to mind the blessings of Christ’s death and kindle piety. This is the interpretation shared by contemporary Protestantism in general, and it completely destroys the nature of the Mass.

If the Mass is nothing more than a piece of ‘theatre’ intended to kindle pious feeling, then one could say that it is not essential to the Christian life but is simply one way of fueling devotion, and there are obviously others available to believers, making the Mass a thing that could disappear from Christianity entirely without compromising its integrity, just as it has disappeared from Protestantism.

This sentimentalist way of dealing with the ‘memorial’ of the Mass is completely alien to the teachings of the Church Fathers, not to mention the Latin and Eastern Churches in their entirety, wherein the Mass is always a real (albeit non-bloody) sacrifice of the god and therefore involves the real presence of Christ in the ‘gifts’, and where this sacrifice is essential to the believer as a means of participating in and ‘making real’ the saving work of Christ. Hence the warning given by the deacon in the Armenian Mass:

“Let no catechumens or anyone with doubtful faith, no penitents or the impure approach the Divine Mysteries: the Body of the Lord and the Blood of the Redeemer are about to become present here.”

And again, in what can be described as a most concise summary of the theology of the Mass:

“Grant, O Lord, that we may worthily approach these Holy Mysteries, for, each time this sacrifice is celebrated in remembrance of Thy passion, the work of our redemption is accomplished.”[1]

Here, as a summary of all that has been said so far, we will quote the work of Jean Hani, whose excellent The Divine Liturgy contributed much to our research:

“In the Holy Mysteries, Christ makes Himself substantially present; He performs the same sacrifice of expiation and praise as at Calvary. The divine Victim arises in our midst and communion of his Body and Blood associates us ontologically with His Sacrifice, His salvation, his person even. That is to say that, as far as the Mass is concerned, the words remembrance and commemorate do not have the meaning they have in modern languages. And this is because these languages vehicles a culture from which the very notion that these words express in traditional societies is absent…

“Commemoration, in an authentic religious context, is what could be called a ritual remembrance. It is the celebration of a divine work upon which a religious community is founded, a celebration that re-presents, in the etymological sense of the word, that is to say, makes present anew, that divine work whose goal is union with the god and immortality. The ritual recitation of the divine story of the founding of the community ‘is not,’ as M. Eliade has so well put it, ‘a commemoration [in the ordinary sense] of mythic events, but a reiteration of them. The protagonists of the myth are made present, one becomes their contemporary.’ The ritual recitation takes us out of ordinary time in order to place us again in primordial time when the divine event occurred…

“The aim of remembrance, for the archaic Greeks, was not to situate events in a temporal frame, but to attain the depth of being, the original, primordial reality, which is equivalent to stepping out of time.”[2]

[1] Latin Rite, Secret of the ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

[2] Jean Hani, The Divine Liturgy, p. 30-31.

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