Maureen Pratt

It has been several years since the church instituted word changes to some parts of the Mass, but I still get tripped up from time to time. Perhaps it was hard for me because I was attending Mass in French when the changes were instituted.

But, even now, I still stumble over the words and I know I’m not alone. Each Sunday, I still hear someone stumble along with me, or fumble for the right page so that they can read the correct wording. For some of us, it’s hard to memorize them.

I’m not complaining at all about the changes, mind you. But, some days, it seems so difficult to do away with the old and embrace the new.

Bad Catholic, or just challenged?

Lately, I’ve been exploring information about memorization. I’ve learned that we start memorizing words as youngsters at home. We learn, as toddlers, for example, by asking “What’s that?” and pointing to an object over and over, asking for its name. Spiritually, we learn some prayers at an early age, too. This establishes a “pathway” in the brain for prayer and that is the beginning of our conversation with God.

Parents sometimes coach us in prayerful memorization, which reinforces how and what we learn spiritually. That foundation remains into adulthood.

In school, memorization becomes an exercise of repetition and “meaningful learning.” We learn to attach context to the words or phrases we want to recall. As we move through religious education, we attend classes that help us learn, not only prayers but their context and meaning.

It’s here that most adults today learned the “old” way of saying the words that were recently changed, and to reinforce them, we also learned where they are placed in the Mass and what they mean.

Many adult Catholics did not continue formal religious education beyond the sacrament of confirmation. But we have kept learning — and memorizing — encountering an ever-burgeoning amount of data that needs sorting, learning and recalling.

From school, to work, to home, to life in general, our days of having oodles of time to sit and memorize something are mostly past. Yet, our need to learn, retain and use information only increases.

Of course, as we age, the brain changes subtly, and memorizing becomes more of a challenge. Illness can interfere. Environment and other distractions steal our focus. Fatigue affects us more. But this doesn’t mean we give up. In fact, we can help our brains stay relatively resilient and limber, benefiting from more confidence and ability to adapt to inevitable change.

To improve memorization, try some of these tips I gathered from websites, books and other available information:

Focus: Eliminate distractions while learning something new.

Write out what you want to memorize, over and over again, until you know the information by heart.

Sing the words or use other levels of your voice to key your brain into the newness of what you’re trying to learn.

Visualize the words, their length and letters.

Be persistent and try to memorize at different times of the day, when your attention is strongest.

Finally, be forgiving and use a “crib sheet” or, in the case of Mass, a prayer book, instead of fumbling for the words. God knows what’s in your heart and with time and attention we’ll all be on the same page.