Superstition, blind to the age-old gods,
Imposed this ritual on us, and this feast,
No… we carry out these rites,
Renewed each year, as men saved from barbaric
Dangers in the past.”
Virgil, The Aeneid
Thus speaks King Evander–ruler of the small city where Rome will later rise– when he receives Aeneas as a guest during his people’s annual festival. Religious rites of sacrifice are followed by a magnificent feast, all in honor of this people’s deliverance from a death-dealing monster that was half beast and half man. Evander wants Aeneas to understand: this is not empty-headed superstition.
Here is a remarkable expression of one pagan culture’s cult and creed. We are a people who have been saved. In these rites, we remember that we have been saved, and who has saved us. To live in such memory is to live out our identity. It is to be renewed, year in and year out.
This week Christians too seek to be renewed, by ritual and by feasting: bringing into the present saving actions from the past. To live in such memory is how we become ourselves in the present.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day,
and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord;
throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever.”
Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy he appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.