Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Memento homo

Mass this morning at Carmel was solemn and sombre, as is fitting for the opening of Lent.

While the words were said to me in English at the imposition of ashes, I had re-echoing in my mind the Latin: Memento, homo, quia cinis es, in in cinerem reverteris.

But of course, my memory was playing tricks on me: in the Dominican and other Uses (such as the Carmelite as late as 1733), homo is omitted, while cinis ("ashes") is the word used, but in the Use of Rome, it is instead Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.  (Pulvis means dust.)

I had unconsciously conflated the two versions.  (Oh, and the Carthusians apparently said Recognosce, homo...)

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...

These awful words remind us proud sinners, who even affect that declaration "I'm a sinner" as a shrug-of-the-shoulders way of avoiding coming closer to God (lest we leave our comfort zone), and likewise of shirking our strict responsibility to fight manfully against sin, that we are mortal men doomed to die, and that it is only by God's power that there is any hope.

Indeed, the Lord told Adam this horrifying truth, that his Fall entails the fearful dissolution that is death (Genesis iii, 19), only after His Divine Mercy first revealed the Protoëvangelium (Genesis iii, 15), lest Man despair: first He curst the serpent, signifying Christ's future victory over the Devil by being born of a Woman to redeem the subjects of the Law at the price of dying on the Cross; only then God gave the sentence of death to Man, that it might be seen as a just punishment, but not one without hope or end.

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