Fr. Finigan @FatherTF and the importance of memorization

From time to time I comment on the importance of memorization in our life of the Faith.  Memorization was demonized by libs.  The reason is obvious.  Once a person memorizes something, it is his.  It sticks in him, sometimes waiting years or decades to come back.

I have related here in these pages an experience I had with a woman, bitterly angry with God at the time of her father’s death.  At a certain moment I asked her, “Why did God make you?”  The answer came flooding forth.

I have sometimes suggested that priests ought to memorize a couple of Mass formularies, against the day when they may have to flee or live without books.  It could happen.  Don’t kid yourselves.

Today His Hermeneuticalness, the great Fr. Finigan – PLEASE say a prayer for him right now, as he has serious health issues – has a post about memorization.   It is well worth your while.


It is interesting that he posted on this just now.  Last night I was thinking about going back to an old practice of memorizing something every day, or working on some longer bit daily.

BTW, Father’s reference to “the American Z” is orthographic, not personal.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Therese says:

    A good argument for studying Latin!

  2. BrionyB says:

    I’m sure @FatherTF knows this very well and has tongue firmly in cheek, but the ‘-ize’ ending is of course ‘Oxford spelling’ and not an American invention!

    Continuing to pray daily for Fr Finigan and other good priests struggling with health problems.

  3. Ed S says:

    This past Fall, the phrase, “Hail and Blessed be the hour and moment in the which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary….”. It drove me crazy as I could not complete the sentence. Just days later, the Novena was mentioned in an email that I received. Heavenly intervention or as my wife said, the Holy Spirit at work.

  4. acardnal says:

    AND let us be clear, the American Z(ee) is certainly not Z(ed).

  5. Lurker 59 says:

    Three points:

    1. Memorize while one is young and it is easy. It may be tedious, but it will be more so when the brain is older and less plastic.
    2. When we memorize a thing, if we engrain it not just in our memory, but etch it on our soul, it is ours and we are its. The thing so memorized cannot be taken away from the individual.
    3. The way we think and thus act is formed from that which we repeatedly have done and have thought about. Memorization of good things helps to form healthy physical connections in the brain and healthy psychological connections in the mind. This makes thinking and acting well in the future easier; providing crutch, shield, and sword for the adventures of life.

  6. iamlucky13 says:

    “a child who has learnt the more important definitions will have the framework of the Catholic faith available for the rest of his life. “

    Quite true. I was raised in the era where apparently I should have been protected from memorization, but instead spent a respectable amount of time learning from the Baltimore Catechism with my parents.

    Countless times throughout my life, when complex questions have arisen, whether theological or moral, and whether they arise during my own contemplation or in discussions with others (Catholic or otherwise), that I’ve been able to start from the key tenents I have memorized, and work out the answer to the question.

    That might not be enough to answer the more complex or subtle questions, but it at least still provides a hint what topic I might look up for more information from a more authoritative source.

  7. Hugh says:

    I’ve memorized a few poems in my life. All have been rewarding. I’ve merely dipped my toe.

    “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot was one. I had to study it in school. I didn’t have a clue what it was about, and hated it! Rebelliously against myself, I determined to master it by memorization. It worked! Curiously, snatches of it have encapsulated episodes of my life ever since, and spring to mind spontaneously. “Do I dare to eat a peach?” “We linger in chambers of the sea …”

    Belloc’s “Heroic Poem In Praise of Wine” has been equally rewarding, especially the ending. And all his Cautionary Verses, which, recited, go down well with kids, even today.

    A few of Hopkins’ poems – “God’s Grandeur”, “Spring and Fall to a Young Child”, “Felix Randall”, and (took a while) “The Wreck of the ‘Deutschland'”.

    Some of Donne’s sonnets and “The Journey of the Magi”.

    And Keats’ “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” … a poem famous for its historical inaccuracy, but magical nevertheless.

    I’ve never really “got” poetry. At the same time, lines and snatches from these have haunted me all my life, to my great benefit. When I watch “Rumpole of the Bailey”, I know what’s going on in his mind.

    Does anyone have other poems they recommend memorizing?

  8. Hugh says:

    Sorry, “Journey of the Magi” is Eliot, of course. Imagine Donne writing in that style! Crucifixion!

  9. Maximilian75 says:

    Am I alone in that the website is only showing a picture of St. Peter’s and nothing else?

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    Fr. Finigan, feel better soon! Prayers going up. God bless.

  11. Gab says:

    Maximilian75, no you’re not alone. I overcame the same issue by copying and pasting The site address into Explorer. Chrome doesn’t open up Fr Finigan’s site for some reason.

  12. bobbortolin says:

    Maximilian 75: You can fix the problem too by turning off your ad blocker.

  13. acardnal says:

    Chrome browser worked just fine on my tablet but NOT on my laptop with the Fr. Finigan link. Go figure.

  14. RKR says:

    My elementary school years were spent at a Lutheran day school where memorization was a separate grade on your report card (one Bible verse a week or something). So I guess I developed the skill then. Later in life when I used to run a lot I would carry a page with parts of Scripture to memorize along the way. I learned the whole book of Galatians, and several chapters of Romans as I recall.
    It helped lay the ground work for now, as a Catholic, learning all my prayers in Latin. I highly recommend the practice of memorization!

  15. adriennep says:

    Amen to memorization. And it is much easier when you write it all down on paper with a pen. That really imprints the brain fast. Consider the one-room schoolhouse students with only a small slate to write on; they managed to become the most literate and literary. Our brain responds to what is real, in the hand. There are many programs out there to help. The Catholic writer Kevin Vost has written several books like “Memorize the Faith!” He mentions an 11 year old boy easily memorized all the Popes. IEW has a series called Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization. Contrary to all the stupid STEM mania (especially in our Catholic schools), it is linguistic development that wins the soul.

  16. Mariana2 says:

    I thought Fr. Finigan had taken down his blog as all I’ve got for quite some time is the view of Rome. I’m practically computer illiterate (everything is set up by my husband) – what could I do?

  17. Gab says:

    Mariana2, you could try opening the link up in Internet Explorer.

    Or if you have an adblock plug in, then disable it when on Fr Finnegan’s site.

  18. Grant M says:

    Many years ago, I was reading a novel by Michener, in which a college student is required to memorize a long poem, and chooses to recite from memory Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard. Inspired, I proceeded to memorize the Elegy myself, as well as Milton’s Lycidas, and some other works. have since forgotten most of what I memorized, except that some of the following from Lycidas remains in my memory:

    Last came, and last did go,
    The pilot of the Galilean Lake;
    Two massy keys he bore of metals twain
    (The golden opes, the iron shuts amain).
    He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake:—
    “How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
    Anow of such as, for their bellies’ sake,
    Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold!
    Of other care they little reckoning make
    Than how to scramble at the shearers’ feast,
    And shove away the worthy bidden guest.
    Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
    A sheep-hook, or have learnt aught else the least
    That to the faithful Herdman’s art belongs!
    What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
    And, when they list, their lean and fleshy songs
    Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;
    The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
    But, swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw,
    Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread…

  19. JonPatrick says:

    When I was in high school we had to memorize chunks of Shakespeare. I still remember Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy. Portia’s “Quality of mercy is not strained” I have mostly forgotten.

    One thing I have noticed is that it is easier to memorize things that are sung. I can sing the Credo in Latin from memory (using Credo III) but have trouble reciting it.

    I would like to learn to say the entire rosary in Latin. I have the Pater, Ave, and Gloria Patri down, need to work on the Fatima prayer and the Salve Regina which are a little more challenging.

  20. Imrahil says:

    1. Interesting observation, dear JohnPatrick. I can sing the Salve Regina in the ferial tone. I also can recite it in Latin, but with more effort. I have trouble reciting it in German.

    2. One of these days, when I get the time, I’ll memorize the Hackamordax [furikrass zuckex krackabule; dirneflex drak hurnehass]: lugefluchs gesule!” (or similar) from The Night of Wishes, just for the fun of it. (In brackets what I’m not sure about.) It may not be the best spiritual use of memorization, but it is fun.

    I mean, speaking of Michael Ende:

    Three brothers are living under one roof;
    in looks each one is from the others aloof.
    The first one is
    not there; he will yet come home.
    The second is
    not there; he’s gone out to roam.
    Just the third one is there, be’ng the smallest of three;
    without him the other twain weren’t there to see.
    And yet he, about whom the story’s arranged,
    ‘s but there ’cause the first to the second is changed.
    And can you now, child, give their names onto me,
    it is three mighty rulers you’re going to see;
    together they rule a magnificent realm;
    and are it themselves; quite the same at the helm.

    Though I did not memorize it in English, of course.

    Of course, the Song of Uyulala is better, but it’s longer, so more difficult to translate^^

  21. BrionyB says:

    I agree singing is a great help in memorization – I can usually remember song lyrics much better than poems.

    I learned the Salve Regina by joining in singing it after Mass every Sunday. Haven’t quite got the other Marian anthems down yet, as they’re less frequently heard, though I was put to shame the other week by a five-year-old singing the Alma Redemptoris Mater beautifully from memory. It can be done!

  22. I’m with Fr. Finigan in that last paragraph, of how much fun memorizing is. I’ve memorized hoards of things in my life (it was part of school from kindergarten to ninth grade), not all of which I remember entirely, but there are at least pieces still there (Lewis Carroll’s “Jaberwoky” for some reason remains in entirety). Music, poetry, Shakespeare, Catechism questions, Latin prayers (and verb conjugations and noun declensions!)… I love it when something suddenly sets me or my brothers off on a recitation (a sign for the town of “Somerset” is enough to prompt a stanza or two of “Paul Revere’s Ride”). Thanks, Mom!

  23. JesusFreak84 says:

    If someone re-wrote the Baltimore Catechism in rhyme, I could probably memorize it quickly enough, but these days I’m lucky if I can remember what I ate for lunch, and I’m not even close to 40 yet >.<;;; Even as a kid, memorization, like route memorization, was hard.

  24. TonyO says:

    Yayyy to memorization.

    Can I register a complaint? Booo to making irrelevant and useless changes to the Novus Ordo lectionary – with respect to language that had been a constant for many decades!

    I am fine – more than fine – with correcting the old pre-2011 NO missal where it translated the Latin prayers incorrectly, inserting words (and concepts, and whole phrases) where there was not a jot of the concept in the Latin. (Who were these “translators” who took upon themselves to change the meaning of the Mass?) Thanks to Benedict for making the English in 2011 conform better to WHAT THE ACTUAL LATIN PRAYERS HAVE.

    But there is an issue with re-doing the lectionary by the same process. While the prayers of the Mass are of the Church’s own production and under her purview to change or not, not so the readings from the Bible. The prayers of the Church enjoy the kind of protection from grave wrong that the Church has as a whole – its indefectibility – implies. But this does not mean that each and every prayer in the missal is inspired. The Bible – and each passage in it – is inspired. This means that when the Church identifies a Latin version of one of its prayers as the “official” version of that prayer, it has a positive right to insist that the other versions be translations from the Latin, and be conformed to the Latin as to the “original” in an absolute sense. Not so the Latin Vulgate for the biblical readings: Latin is not the original language, Hebrew and Greek were, and it is THOSE that bear the inspiration. The Latin Vulgate is indeed an officially approved text, but it is so by reference to the originals. Other translations, such as into French or Italian or English can also be officially approved under the same principle – and many versions have been approved.

    English-speaking people had effectively the same phrasings of many, many important passages from the Bible continue without change from before 1970 straight through to 2011. Now we come along and change the phrasings, presumably to be “more accurate” or something, but sometimes the change is entirely trivial and carries no import – it has the effect of being a change for the sake of change. And being closer to the Latin does not guarantee being closer to the original, given the vagaries of interpretation / translation and how they stack up in different languages.

    This, of course, is an affront to the memories of all those Catholics who learned it in the prior version. Especially for passages that every good Christian should know by heart, insisting on a change in phrasing not because of an actual defect but because of a less-than-ideal capture of the original sense, is not satisfactory. I want the lectionary to go back to what I had memorized, to the extent feasible.

  25. Fr. Kelly says:

    The Three Brothers are of course, Future, Past and Present, the Rulers of Time.

  26. teachermom24 says:

    “The Catholic writer Kevin Vost has written several books like “Memorize the Faith!” He mentions an 11 year old boy easily memorized all the Popes. IEW has a series called Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization. Contrary to all the stupid STEM mania (especially in our Catholic schools), it is linguistic development that wins the soul.”

    I was amazed at all the lists my children memorized on their own through their school years–these of their own choosing because they had learned what fun memorization is through our Mother of Divine Grace curriculum. “STEM mania” is everywhere except in the few classically-oriented schools scattered here and there (and in many Catholic homeschools). I have been subbing lately in the public schools and want to weep seeing these poor children being robbed a good education, and that through such complex, expensive programs (largely technology-driven).

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