I have always had a special bond with my grandmother (my mother’s mother). She was the only grandparent that I had ever known because my other grandparents had died before my birth or shortly thereafter. My grandmother always impressed me as a very strong person. I know that when she was younger she was forced to go to work as a child during the Great Depression, and I know she worked very hard to take care of my grandfather when he was suffering from Alzheimer’s.
One of my favorite memories about my grandmother hearkens back to my grade school days. On half-days of school, I would walk over to her house and spend the afternoon with her. As soon as I arrived, she would give me money and send me off to the local ice-cream store. I would go and bring back two ice-cream cones, and we would race to see who could finish their ice cream first.
Grandmother Moved In
My grandmother moved in with my family when I was a sophomore in high school. My parents added a room onto the back of the house for her, and despite the fact that her presence now made nine people living under one roof, nobody complained. In fact, often you could find all of us back in my grandmother’s room lying on her bed watching television with her.
Toward the end of my grandmother’s life, it became hard to watch her grow old. In addition to her physical deterioration, she also began to suffer from dementia and anxiety attacks. She refused to go out in public because she did not want people to see her with her cane, and she was also becoming intimidated by new spaces — something made worse because, with her memory problems, almost every place was a new place for her. All she wanted to do was stay at home with my mother near her side. This once-independent woman had become almost a prisoner in her own home. To make matters worse, she was becoming verbally abusive to the people around her.
Mother Amazed Me
Throughout all of this, though, I had grown in amazement at the way my mother cared for my grandmother. In a time when old people are being placed in nursing homes and forgotten about, and society at large is debating whether or not to start euthanizing people like my grandmother, my mother did not even raise her voice toward my grandmother. My mom took all the abuse that my grandmother gave her and continued to give her mother the best care that she could.
I once had the opportunity to ask my mother where it was that she found the strength to take care of my grandmother. Her answer amazed me. She simply told me that she would never be able to repay my grandmother for all that she had done for her, and then she gave me one particular example. She told me that when she was pregnant with my twin sisters, the doctor told her she would have to go on complete bed rest if she expected to give birth to two healthy babies. My mother told me that she was frantic. How, confined to bed, was she going to care for the four children she already had?
This is where my grandmother stepped in and saved the day. For nine months, my grandmother came over early in the morning to take care of us and stayed late into the night making sure that we were fed and that the housework was finished. To this day, my mother is convinced that, had it had not been for my grandmother’s unselfish love and service, my sisters would not be here today.
Remembered All the Selfless Acts of Love
My mother went on to tell me that every time she began to think about giving up or screaming at my grandmother, she simply remembered all the selfless acts of love my grandmother had done for her.
Her reasoning struck me as being very profound, but I did not realize just how profound until I came across the phrase: “Salvation lies in Remembrance.” The story of my mother and my grandmother was for me a clear example of this profound teaching. Despite her own personal weaknesses and struggles, my mother found the strength to care for my grandmother by remembering the love that my grandmother had demonstrated for her.
The key to this insight is that my mother chose to remember. She could have walked away from my grandmother and not had anything more to do with her. But instead, she chose to remember, and because she remembered she obligated herself to a life of service — a life of returning the love she had received.
‘Do This In Remembrance of Me’
In a very real way we choose to obligate ourselves to a life of service each and every time we come to celebrate the Eucharist and fulfill the Lord’s command: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Nowhere is this more evident in our Catholic liturgies than on Holy Thursday night when we remember how our Lord humbled himself to come among us as a servant king and how he demonstrated this by washing the feet of His disciples, commanding them to regard themselves as the servants of all.
At almost every point of the Mass, God’s Word is leaping out in signs, gestures, words and songs urging us to remember how He loves us, and thus we commit ourselves to a life of service to Him by rendering service to our brothers and sisters.
At the beginning of each Mass, we call upon the name of the Lord to invite Him to act in our lives today much as Abraham, Moses and Jesus did throughout Scripture. We sign ourselves with the sign of the cross, drawing from images in the Book of Revelation. We mark ourselves with a seal on our foreheads to set us apart as God’s people and to protect us from divine judgment.
When the priest announces the words, “The Lord be with you,” and we respond, “and with your spirit,” we remind ourselves that God has given each of us a sacred mission to perform. From a biblical perspective, these words represent a divine summons, an invitation to a daunting undertaking. Throughout Sacred Scripture, when God calls someone to an important role, He gives assurance that He will be present with them to help them fulfill their mission. We have only to look at Moses, Mary and Paul to see the power of those words.
At the beginning of the Mass, we cry out “Lord Have Mercy,” three times because it forces us to remember that our God has forgiven our sins and demands us to forgive those who sin against us.
At Mass we sing the songs of the angels, the Gloria, to enable us to remember that our God loves us so much that He sent His only Son. We sing the song inspired by the angels to remind us that our service should be done with the joy of Christmas.
The Liturgy of The Word invites us to remember in a particular way all that God has done for us in salvation history. The stories of the Bible come alive to us in a way that shows us how God is working in our lives today and of our obligation to service that comes from remembering God’s actions in the history of the world.
We profess our faith by reciting the Creed. We do so in order to better understand our identity as the Church of God, as the Body of Christ on earth.
The prayers of the faithful remind us that God did not stop taking an active part in our lives 2,000 years ago, but rather that He is actively involved in our lives today.
As we enter the second part of the Mass, we are drawn deeper in to the mystery of God. At the heart of the Eucharistic prayer is the retelling of the Last Supper — a chance for us to participate not only in the Last Supper, but also in our Lord’s sacrifice on Good Friday.
Perhaps, though, the most telling sign of the commitment we make when we choose to remember that Christ has died, Christ is risen and that Christ will come again is contained in the word “Mass” itself which comes from the Latin word “Missio.” It is the same Latin word that gives us the word “mission” in English. Once we have fulfilled the Lord’s command to do this in remembrance of Him and have received Him in the Eucharist, we are sent forth to bring the Good News of Christ to those we meet.
I have learned a lot about my Catholic faith from my mother and grandmother that textbooks simply could not teach, and I am forever grateful to them and to God for their love and demonstrations of faith. Each time I celebrate Mass, I cannot help but remember this great lesson from them. As I say the words “Do this in remembrance to me,” I joyfully recommit myself to remembering all that God has done for me, and I obligate myself once again to serving His people to the best of my ability. May Jesus Christ be praised!
FATHER PASTORIUS, ordained a priest in 2003 for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis, Missouri.