'We still remember...'


LotR as a "Fundamentally Catholic and Religious Work"    

'We still remember...'

"Anamnesis" is a Greek word theologians keep around because there's no good English equivalent for it. Quite possibly this is because we linear-thinking English-speakers aren't sure what to do with the concept; as Professor Tolkien the philologist said, language affects culture and culture affects language.

The closest we can get in English is "remembrance," or something done "in memory of," and any Catholics reading this will immediately recognize that terminology from Jesus' words that are quoted following the Consecration at Mass. In fact, many liturgical texts refer to that as "the anamnesis" of the Mass - because the liturgists don't have a good English word for it, either. It's the statement that Catholics take as Jesus' command to have Mass in the first place: to "Do this in memory of me."
Our English translations of Scripture give a hint of the mystery behind anamnesis with, "Where two or more of you are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of you." Most Christians, including Catholics, would understand this as meaning more than gathering to remember Jesus as someone who lived long ago, because we believe that he still lives. But when looked at through the concept of the Eternal Now, this takes on a more radical appearance. To do a little mind bending, anamnesis doesn't mean to simply remember something that happened in the past; it means to be present to that event now, in the moment of time in which we're living. Sound familiar? Try reading the following passage from the perspective of the Eternal Now:

Though he walked and breathed, and about him living leaves and flowers were stirred by the same cool wind as fanned his face, Frodo felt that he was in a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness. When he had gone and passed again into the outer world, still Frodo the wanderer from the Shire would walk there, upon the grass among elanor and niphredil in fair Lothlórien.

Immediately after the anamnesis of the Mass, the priest invites the congregation to "proclaim the mystery of our faith." The response of the people can take several forms, but the most basic is, "Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again."  Not: Christ died; Christ rose; Christ will come again.  But: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. We evidently haven't quite figured out how to project the terminology into the future - maybe it should be "Christ is coming again." These are dynamic statements rather than static ones. If you asked an individual Catholic why we word our proclamation of faith that way, you might get anything from a shrug to a doctoral dissertation. It's a proclamation of the mystery of our faith, and as such it deals with some of those infinitely knowable things that can never be completely explained.  Mysteries being the difficult things they are, it's not surprising that this one was partially responsible for a little dust-up called the Reformation. In fact, Tolkien believed it was primarily responsible.  

Above is the central part of a painting by Salvador Dali that shows a representation of what Catholics would call the Paschal mystery: the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as one inseparable event. As shown by the inclusion of the altar, this is the mystery we believe we become present to (not repeat) in the Mass.
I think this is one of the rare cases where there actually is something of a split between the Catholic and the Protestant ways of looking at things, rather than just a matter of degree or slant. People whose spiritual thought process is steeped in Catholicism can't understand the problem Protestants have with "the Sacrifice of the Mass," and those from a Protestant background can't understand why Catholics don't see the problem with it. Don't we believe that Christ died once for all people, that his death on the cross was the one sacrifice needed for our redemption? Of course we believe that. Then why do we think we need to keep repeating it? We don't. Not any more than Frodo the wanderer from the Shire needed to return bodily to Cerin Amroth in order to walk in its grass. Each Mass isn't a repetition of Christ's sacrifice on the cross; it's the primary way that we finite, temporal creatures can "remember" it in a way that's more than memory - that we can "walk in the grass," if you will, of Christ's death and resurrection.

This passage about Frodo and Cerin Amroth is one that many people read metaphorically. If it's read with the thought in mind that it comes from what Frodo himself wrote in the Red Book, and read literally, it can provide a hint of what the Mass means to Catholics. As the mystic that he was, Frodo probably experienced anamnesis more than most people do, but it's also very basic to Catholic understanding that something being true, and our belief in its truth, isn't based on whether or not we experience it. (To avoid seeming completely out of touch with primary reality here, let me add that there's much in Tolkien's writing - both in his fiction and in his nonfiction - that would cause me to say, "As the mystic that he was, Tolkien probably experienced anamnesis more than most people do." Of course, he couldn't completely communicate the experience himself, so neither could the character he created. Even to those who experience it, it remains a mystery.)

As the Fellowship leaves Lothlórien, Gimli cries openly after parting from Galadriel. Legolas comforts him by saying that the memory will always be in his heart. Gimli responds by saying that, for Dwarves, this brings no comfort because memory is only a mirror. It may be different for Elves, he continues; he has heard that, for them, memory is more like the waking world than a dream. But Elves are bound to the created world, and to time as it exists here, until its end. Remembrance for them is also bound to time. Gildor and his companions, whom we meet in "Three Is Company" are High Elves, and Gildor says they are Exiles. Both titles (and both, importantly, capitalized in the text) tell us that they have been in the West, so when they sing of "remembering," they mean it in its normal English language sense - thinking about something they have experienced in the past:

O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.

It's only mortals who can live within the Eternal Now even while they live within time, because it's their ultimate goal and true home. This wasn't any less true in the Third Age than it is now, even if people then didn't understand it in the same way we do. For Elves, memory may be "like" waking life. But it's Frodo, the mortal wanderer from the Shire, who can truly experience, with no qualification of "like" or "seemed," Lothlórien even after he has physically left it forever.