I was in New York on September 11, 2001. In fact, we were having our monthly meeting of the entire Pastoral Team of Priests for Life from various cities. From the front windows of our Staten Island office, we could see the smoke emanating from the towers. Midway through the morning, we decided to have a Mass. Fr. Denis Wilde, our Associate Director, was the celebrant. I stood next to him on his left, and as he held up the Host after the consecration, I could see in the same glance the Host, the chapel window (facing Manhattan), and the smoke from the buildings. “This is my body, given up for you…Do this in remembrance of me.”
The Mass has its roots in the Passover commemoration of the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Both have their roots in the power of “remembrance,” which is more than a “recalling,” but also a bringing of the full power of a past event into the present, so that we can continue moving toward its fulfillment in the future. For the Christian world, the great “anamnesis,” or remembering, of the Lord’s Supper, is what gives meaning to life and death, to love and sacrifice. And that is very much tied in with the events of September 11.
Remembering, then, has an inherently religious quality. “Memorials” evoke thoughts of religious ritual and prayer. When we remember, we seek and often receive perspective, and in that context seek to increase the amount of meaning we can find in the events of life, some of which are very fragmented and disturbing.
I have no problem with ceremonies whose predominant emphasis and structure is secular; nor do I have a problem with religious ceremonies in a secular environment. But when it comes to the events of September 11, which touch so deeply on the most fundamental questions of life and death, of good and evil, of malice and sacrifice, it seems both absurd and offensive to deliberately leave out an explicit religious dimension. It does not send the right signal to our nation or the world, nor does it correspond to what is a fundamental aspect of our human nature – an aspect so well represented by the numbers of people in the churches after September 11 – namely, the need to reach out to the Divine to deal with what we know we cannot deal with on our own.
Frank Pavone | Sep 7, 2011 2:09 PM