Pope Francis: Mass is celebration of a living memory, not just a social event

According to Pope Francis, the Mass is not just a social event, it is the living memory of a saving event. This must not become merely a custom or a vague memory, he said at his homily this morning at a Mass concelebrated with the Council of Cardinals, the eight cardinals from around the world advising him on church reform.

“I wonder,” he said, “if this saving reality is near to us, or if it is a distant memory, something vague and archaic, like a museum.” He said that the Mass, as the place of the presence of Christ, represents the “principle of our Christian life.” When this touches people inwardly, “it warms the heart and brings about joy.”

Here is a quick Pray Tell translation of the end of Francis’s homily from the Italian report at Vatican Radio:

And this joy is our strength. The joy of a memory close at hand. Sometimes the memory is domesticated, it becomes distant, and it becomes a mere historical account, it does not warm the heart, it does not give us joy and strength. But this encounter with the memory is an event of salvation, it is an encounter with the love of God who has made history with us and saved us; it is an encounter of salvation. And it is so beautiful to be saved, that we must have a celebration!

When God comes close, there is always a celebration. And many times, we Christians are afraid of this celebration: this simple and fraternal celebration which is a gift of the nearness of the Lord.

Life leads us to push away this nearness, to preserve only the historical account of this salvation, not the living memory… It happens to us that we push away this memory and change into a historical account, a habitual event.

We go to church every week, and it is dead, we go to a funeral … and this memory, much of the time, bores us, because it is not near to us. It is sad, but many times the Mass is turned into a social event and we are not near to the memory of the Church, which is the presence of the Lord standing before us.

Let us picture this beautiful scene in the Book of Nehemiah: Ezra carries the Book of the memory of Israel and the people come near to their memory and weep, the heart is warmed, it is joyful, it senses that the joy of the Lord is its strength. There is simply a celebration, without fear.

Let us ask the Lord for the grace always to keep this memory close to us, a memory that is near and not domesticated by habit or other things and fades into merely a past account.


  1. I’m putting my comment here rather than within the post, which I chose to let be Francis’s homily in his own words.
    It strikes me that he is going to the heart of Christian worship as celebration in a way that helpfully gets beyond our tired categories of liberal or conservative or high church or low church or reform of the reform or whatever. His comments aren’t a “win” for “either side.” He is simply reaffirming that God is with us and we must celebrate that with joy. His statement that worship shouldn’t be boring or unengaging or a museum or rote or mere social event could really apply to any form and style of Mass, new or old.

  2. Thank you, Fr. Ruff, for letting the pope speak and for highlighting the way these comments open our hearts and minds to celebrate the living memory, the living God.

    I think this homily will be required reading/resource for a good long while!

  3. Pope Francis [PTB trans; RV 3 October 2013]: It is sad, but many times the Mass is turned into a social event and we are not near to the memory of the Church, [e non siamo vicini alla memoria della Chiesa] which is the presence of the Lord standing before us.

    Pope Francis, idem: Ezra carries the Book of the memory of Israel [Esdra che porta il Libro della memoria di Israele] and the people come near to their memory and weep, […] [my ellipsis]

    Pope Francis’s striking parallel metaphor contrasts two living memories. In my view, both the memory of the Church and the memory of Israel reside in minds as well as hearts. The intellect coexists with a heartfelt and emotional yearning. Similarly the memoria of Mass requires not only a charity of heart but also a charity of intellect. The “simple and fraternal gift is a “gift” and “nearness”, but not one which is entirely affective or emotional.

    Pope Francis has offered few direct statements during his brief tenure about the necessity of an informed and inquisitive mind for living participation in the Lord. Unfortunately, I sense that his calls for works of corporal mercy will be heard, and the spiritual charity of the sharing of knowledge deprecated. Still, memoria cannot exist without the existence of a continuous chain of generations to transmit a intellectual understanding of belief, faith, and its social reality. Mass becomes a “social event” only when emotional gratification overtakes or even obscures an intimate knowledge of not only the language of prayer and ritual, but also its historical mutability and fragility.. Indeed, a rejection of memoria is a steep slope towards moral therapeutic deism.

    Knowledge is not credentials; thought is not only for a few. All are called to think and know. Still, for many, the Mass is a shelter from the imperative to share knowledge.

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