Those who are old enough to remember some of the classic radio programs of the last century might think this column is going to be about Bob Hope and the signature song with which he closed his show each week; in other words, about nostalgia. But you would be wrong!
Rather, I write about memories for which we thank God. The first of these memories were mediated by Moses. The first five books of the Bible are called the Books of Moses, or the Pentateuch. For us and for this column it matters little who put these books in their final form as we have them today. We shall simply say that through these books God is teaching us great truths, and the tradition attributes the conduit of this teaching to the servant of God, Moses.
While the power and love of God are manifested to us through creation every day of our lives, yet the events of the Exodus of a people freed from oppression in Egypt brings the action of God into focus. The Book of Exodus in the Bible recalls these events and establishes a yearly remembrance. “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate” (Ex 12: 14). And: “You shall observe this as a perpetual ordinance for yourselves and your descendants” (Ex 12:24).
When Jesus reached the age of adulthood according to Jewish custom, He would have announced this fact to the community: 12 years of age, “Today, I am a man.” Mary and Joseph took Him with them to the Passover in Jerusalem. This gave the young Jesus an opportunity to learn more about the memory and heritage of Moses from those learned Jews who kept the memory of Moses alive (see Lk 2:41-52). It is in this memory of Moses that we are made aware of the goodness of creation, that we have a guide for living in the Ten Commandments, and so much more.
Several times the Gospels give us parallels between Moses and Jesus. This is not by way of contrast, nor with the idea of replacement, but to show us the continuity of Revelation. It is a reminder of the continued goodness and love of God despite how we have turned aside from the way of life that we have been shown.
In the context of a Passover celebration, remembering what God had done for His people, Jesus instituted a new ritual in memory of Himself, not Moses (“do this in memory of Me.” (Lk 22:19).Moses is known as the great law giver because of the Ten Commandments; Jesus gave us a new commandment: “I give you a new Commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:14,35).’
While the scriptures clearly state that Jesus gave thanks when He instituted this new ritual, the words of thanks are not recorded. Nor do any accounts of the earliest enactments of this new ritual.
As the liturgy of Christian worship developed, this thanks came to reflect the feast or season. I shall quote the thanks as given in the Preface of the Mass for several formularies in the current Missal.
From the Preface of the First Sunday of Advent: “It is truly right and just … to give You thanks … through Christ our Lord. For He assumed at His first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design You formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, that, when He comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.”
From the third Preface of Lent: “It is truly right and just … to give You thanks … For You will that our self-denial should give You thanks, humble our sinful pride, contribute to the feeding of the poor, and so help us to imitate You in Your kindness.”
From the Preface of Holy Martyrs: “It is truly right and just to give You thanks … For You are glorified when Your saints are praised; their very sufferings are but wonders of Your might; in Your mercy You give ardor to their faith, to their endurance you grant firm resolve, and in their struggle, the victory is yours.”
Now, moving from the formal words of the Universal Church, what did you thank God for the last time you participated at Mass? The song of birds and other aspects of creation as you came to Mass? The love you felt the first time you held your new-born child in your arms? The gift of sight, or hearing, or mobility? Perhaps it was the fact that your mother protected you for nine months in her womb? (It wasn’t easy.) The fact that you can still love an adult child who has gone astray?
Thank God for the memories we have because of this servant Moses.
Thank God for the memories we have through His servant and Son Jesus.
Through this little exercise to make the thanksgiving of the Mass more meaningful as worship, you may gain a greater sense of personal worship of God as you stand, kneel, sit before Him at Mass.
Now I am going to give you another way to make the Mass your own. You have just expressed to God your thanks for any number of things. Perhaps you can share those thanks with another member of the family or a friend at the Sign of Peace. Can you think of a better way to prepare to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord?
Thanks, God, for the Memories.
Father Buote is a retired priest of the Diocese of Fall River and a regular contributor to The Anchor.