Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Having Once Been Catholic: Allure of Rites Gone Past

Some of my friends stayed Catholic whereas I did not. Curiously, some of those still with it are divorced, "living in sin" as in with a man but not married to him, married but childless or married with only one or two children. These things you previously were unable to blend with being Catholic. Even more curious, it is not as if those things suddenly became legit. They are still outlawed. However, when they tell me about their parishes, it appears that the parishes they use are kinder and gentler than the ones in which we came of age. One of these friends from my youth even told me that a monk from a gentle, loving order runs his parish. There are things they tell me about their practices that I remember somewhat fondly so I thought I would share today some of the things which might have kept me in the church. They are closely tied to rites and rituals which offer comfort to the followers.

Votive Candles. If you want to hedge your bets by giving someone better odds of survival, votive candles are and were the number one choice. I never saw anything but red votive candles, top, but apparently some parishes now use white ones, bottom. One of my earliest memories is of a friend of mine when we were both about ten. Her father was in the hospital and in bad shape. She wanted me to take her to the church to light one of these as she was not Catholic. I remember trying a number of doors with her until we found one that was open. We went in and lit the candle. (Her father did recover.) Then when I had cancer, my childhood friend Mary would go to her church and light one for me every time I hit a critical juncture with my six months of severe chemo. Really if most of the religion centered on votive candles, I might still be in it.

Stations of the Cross. These may seem rather grisly images but taking the stations of the cross was a rather soothing, ritualistic experience. The church had pieces of art on the wall, evenly spaced, which were representations of Christ's journey to being crucified. You stopped before each art work and prayed specific prayers. It was very similar to saying a rosary but you were moving in front of art work instead. This became even more important to do during Lent and approaching Easter because that is the time it happened. 

Rosaries. These are quite personal to the user. Either you are given one as a gift or you select your own, usually in your favorite stones or wood. These can be expensive if you want one made of actual gemstones, which some people do. However, for such a person there probably will be no more used piece of "jewelry".  Some actually do wear them as well. There are a series of prayers one says on the rosary, ten Hail Marys to one Our Father per set of stones. The rosary is most closely linked with Christ's mother Mary. If you were given a penance after confession to atone for your sins, a most common one was to simply say the rosary. Both my grandmother and Jim's mother used their rosaries until the day they died. A hospital surgical waiting room is one place where rosaries abound. I remember Jim's Mom using hers all during his Dad's emergency appendectomy. Jim's Mom left the Catholic Church for the Episcopal one in the late 1940s but never left off using the rosary. I still have my rosary but I have not used it. It hangs atop a big handmade basket which is filled with my fabrics.

Patron Saints. Just about every cause imaginable has its own patron saint. Put your cause in the Google search engine along with the words patron saint and you will discover yours. Most Catholic imagery is grisly and especially those of saints because saints were typically martyrs to their faith. Click on all of these below saints and angels to see the huge art work version.

Saint Agatha is the patron saint of breast cancer. When she was tortured for her faith, it was her breasts which were tortured and ultimately cut off. The grisly image is probably quite apt for those going through the torture of breast cancer treatment.

With the two eye surgeries for me and three for Jim which have all taken place since last October I think that we more than qualify for Saint Lucy as our patron saint. Here she is holding a set of eyes on a plate. Saint Lucy's eyes were gouged out when she foretold that the persecutions of Diocletian were coming to an end. Then she was killed. When she was being prepared for burial, her eyes were miraculously restored to her body.

This saint, Jude, is quite well known because he is the patron saint of hopeless or desperate causes. Thus, just about everyone has the need to call upon his intercession from time to time. He too was martyred but with an axe.

After his martyrdom, pilgrims came to his grave to pray and they experienced his intercession as a result. (They reported being cured or the hopeless cause being fixed.) Thereafter he was identified with hopeless causes.

Angels. Somewhat similar to the saints are the angels. Each of us have our own guardian angel plus various angels are identified with various special interests.

Archangel Michael is the most famous. Here he is conquering Satan, the embodiment of the forces of evil. Not surprisingly, he is thus the patron of police officers, the military and paramedics who identify themselves as doing the same.

Archangel Raphael is identified with healing and is the angel mentioned in the Gospel of John as stirring the water at the healing pool of Bethesda. One woman he healed was Sarah, possessed by a demon, who caused her to kill every man she married on their wedding night before the wedding could be consummated.

This is a depiction of a guardian angel watching over two children. We were told that each of us had one of these and were given the angel at the time we were born. This angel would be with us always.

Pageantry. The services were everything one could want in pageantry. It was spoken in a language no longer used, Latin.  It had beautiful costumes, angelic voices, gold and jewel encrusted objects, like chalices, and the smell of incense infusing the air. Christmas and Easter were especially filled with beautiful services. 

Catholic Retreats. I did one of these as a teenager. When I compared it with Jim's experience as an Episcopalian going on retreat, the two were quite different. As a teen I would have preferred his, which was more like an extended party. At this stage of my life I probably would prefer the Catholic type as it is more spiritual and withdrawn. I've met people as an adult who've gone on them present day, especially to the ones now available with orders of monks.  One person went to a monastery which had the Gregorian chanting and loved it.  If interested in this, check the retreats out further here.  I was really gratified to see the Jesuit Retreat House holding a retreat in October of 2014 that is for gays and their families. Frankly, you could have knocked me over with a feather as being gay was not tolerated when I was a practicing Catholic. So apparently some branches of the Church are making headway on their own.  Here is an image capture of this event:

In conclusion,  I personally reached an all or nothing point back in 1967. There was so much I did not agree with that was supposedly bedrock doctrine of the church that I could not imagine staying in it. I am less of an all or nothing person today and if there are indeed parishes that are kinder and gentler to people, perhaps I would have endured in one of those. But since we really don't change that much as people past a very young age, some say 7, some say a bit later, I think it is safe to say that a part of me has never left.

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