Growing up Catholic

Our church included a collection each Mass. Mom furnished us a dime, and we quickly put it in our envelope. We mindfully marked ‘ten cents’ on the line below our name.

In the church bulletin each week was listed what everybody contributed the week before. Mr. Leonard offered the most each week. He owned Leonard’s motors and sold Mercury’s. Mr. George was often close behind, however; he owned George’s book store in Charleroi. Mr. George shook hands with people at church; we heard he converted from Protestantism. No one in our church shook hands but Mr. George.

Collection was brilliantly handled with the long-baskets. These were wicker pannier types featuring a broom like pole attached. They stood probably 6-7 feet or more, top to bottom. The usher managed to skillfully navigate the basket down each pew, hand over hand, extending basket and then arm to reach the end group, as people, ready with their envelope, dropped it inside.

Careful timing of the pull-out to not poke another usher in the eye or head with the long handle was imperative; a thing of beauty also, as the crew demonstrated extreme coordination with one another. From the rear of the church, the scene appeared as the oars of a galley boat, perfectly sequenced, rowing just as we had seen on the “Ben Hur” movie.

Our choir sang behind us, holy songs and these high-hymns evoked seriousness, often using the Latin language. All this promoted mystery in our young hearts, surfacing the religious gene in us melancholics. Austerity carried enchantment. The mystique however was tempered by the rote of it all. We learned all the Latin phrases by heart; interpretation was not important.

The ladies in our church were urged to wear hats or at least a hanky on their head, men wore ties. I sported a snap-on bow tie with my white shirt and later was given cufflinks. We shined our black shoes every Sunday; the paint-on liquid brand made the shine appear without much work. Hair had to be parted on the right and mom used water with a wire brush (my take.) We were able to ease the pain of this operation by doing it ourselves later.

On another note, folks were not permitted to eat till after communion, Sunday mornings. On Sundays when we would miss communion, (we had mortal sins on our souls and hadn’t been to confession), we didn’t eat either. There was no point in agitating our folks that time of day —they would be plenty angry later when we didn’t go up for the communion!

Well, we were picking up on the game and were true hearted for a long while. We mastered “genuflect” before going into a pew and when exiting. The middle aisle was an automatic “genuflect,” and “genuflect” meant simply a one-knee floor touch with a simultaneous making of the sign of the cross. Some did two knees; they were showing off. This act symbolized a reverent honoring of The Tabernacle in front of the sanctuary.

Entering or leaving the church put us face to face with the holy water font. You dipped your hand in the water and made the sign of the cross here too, touching the wet hand on forehead, then sternum, then left shoulder, and finally right, forming a cross. Some people had a shortened version touching lips and no shoulders. They were more holy than us, I figured. 

Thankfully the many little ritualitys and genuflects showed us how to act throughout the Mass. After we mastered these we were free to daydream as we pleased. Our real world was a mixture of trying to have fun while also trying hard to be austere. Fun was pretty much forbidden and left us wanting it more, but fun lead to bad, we were told, and so the rigid show. We were learning how to stifle our inward self, but found it quite a task. 

When I became a will-decided Christian at 25 years old, I quit the games. We didn’t have to anymore, because Jesus accepts us as we are. I asked Him to take over my life and set my house in order. I quit the pretending and also the reckless opposite, which I tried also for a while. O, it creeps back in on occasion, but not long; God’s plan worked the phony-balony out and left “what you see is what you get.” I’m a lot happier. love ya

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