I was working my way through an interesting article by John B. Buescher, Ars Memoriæ. (If you follow the link, be aware he gets pretty polemic.) He lays his cards on the table from the start:
In the 1960s, contrary to the inherited wisdom of mankind, educators in general and Catholic educators, too, decided that having students memorize things was a terrible notion.
After a long detour through Calvinism and twentieth-century Progressivism, he gets down to the point:
The practice of catechesis now began to condemn the “rote” memorization of the catechism. Such a method, it was now believed, produced only parrots, who could recite without truly understanding.
Fortunately, the tide seems to have turned, though even catechists I respect occasionally fall victim to this thinking.
Mr Buescher goes on:
Sheer memorization was no guarantee of holiness, but committing the content of Faith to one’s memory was more like a necessary condition, although, of course, not a sufficient one, on the road to holiness. The Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed—these are the “seal of the Faith,” a kind of testament to what one strives for and dedicated oneself to. The catechism—in the form of its content in one’s memory—was the armor and weapons with which one waged spiritual battle, not only against one’s external opponents, but against the still-unreconstructed parts of oneself.
I say it still is. As a convert, one of the great lapses in my RCIA is that I was never expected to memorize, at least, the Apostles’ Creed. Of course it’s my own fault for not doing so on my own initiative and, as a result, I still need a cheat sheet when I say the Rosary.
Last year we started a “Prayer Wall”. Freddie recites the Glory Be from memory, we put a star with his name and “Glory Be” on the wall. Claire says the Apostles’ Creed without missing a beat, she gets a star. I didn’t think kids were still motivated by things like that, but their response was very positive. I’m sure we’ll have it again this year.
In Latin they used to say repetitio est mater studiorum, that is, repetition is the mother of learning. Now repeat after me…