Growing Up Catholic

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

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So, even though I spent fifteen minutes on the phone tonight reassuring my mom that vegetarianism and Easter dinner is not a recipe for disaster, it only just occurred to me that it is Holy Week. I hated Holy Week when I was growing up. It meant going to church on a day that wasn’t Sunday, like protestants do, and masses that were longer than 30 minutes, a practically unheard of thing when I was a child.


It started with reading the Passion ensemble style on Palm Sunday. The longest freaking mass of the year, and you spent at least half of it on your feet. No slouching. No leaning. Back straight. Missile open. Attention paid. Not that I was ever paying attention. My favorite place to hide when I was a child was deep inside my head where I had many stories to occupy me when the world around me was too intense, or in the case of mass or school, too pointless.



In school that week we had prayer services and did the stations of the cross everyday. As often as I have done them, the stations, I still don’t know them by heart. Not like a Hail Mary or the responses during the consecration which come back unbidden and  virtually word for word no matter how many years it has been.


Thursday night, we went to mass to watch Father wash feet and to read yet another version of the Passion. There are four gospels you know.


Friday. Stations of the Cross. This time in a packed church in the middle of the day. The consecrated host was taken from the altar and the tabernacle draped to indicate Jesus’ death. Fun times.


Saturday night. Mass again and since there couldn’t be a consecration, no resurrection yet, you would think it wouldn’t take as long. You’d be wrong.


Sunday morning mass, the day of the Resurrection of God’s only son made flesh, was actually the shortest mass of the week. It was like a reward for having made it through Holy Week boot camp. The gospel was about Mary Magdalene finding the tomb empty and running to fetch the apostles. It was always interesting to me that Jesus appeared to Mary first. Didn’t that make her important? The answer to that is no. Mary was a woman. My Irish Catholic view of the world told me that women ruled it, but in the Catholic church, we ran and fetched. God only loved us second best and even that was predicated on our shunning birth control in favor of Kennedyesque broods or taking the veil.


Easter was crammed full of rituals I detested. Lent with its fasting and meaningless deprivation. Confession. The sisters made us go once a week during Lent. We were children. At some point over the course of forty days, we had to start making up sins. And of course, there were the endless hours of rosary my dad would insist we recite every night after the dishes were done. Praying as a family was something the church encouraged although I didn’t notice it making my family a happier group of people.


The last Easter Sunday mass I attended was with Will the spring before we got married. We had to sit in the overflow because everyone who was ever even nominally Catholic goes to mass on Easter Sunday. I remember he thought we spent an awful lot of time on our feet and knees, and why were there seats if we weren’t going to use them? Sometimes I wonder if I am making a mistake by not raising my daughter in the faith. It certainly shaped who I am in some ways.

Maybe that is why.

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